Germany is brimming with wine festivals throughout August – but these delicious nibbles can be enjoyed at any time of year
If you like a good tipple, August is the time to visit Germany. Take your pick from the Stuttgart Wine Village (a huge celebration which sees the city centre transformed into a wine village), the Wine Festival of Aachen (a charming grape juice-glugging Roman spa town), and the Reisling Festival (three glorious days completely dedicated to Riesling).
In Germany, wine is to be taken very seriously. That’s probably because, like German cars, most German wine is a seriously high-quality product. And of course, any German worth his weight in bratwurst will be able to tell you the difference between a Spätlese and a Riesling.
But savvy swiggers beware: you should only eat certain things with certain kinds of wine. You don't want to be gobbling a sickly sweet strudel with your eiswein – causing the barman to stare at you in horror as you wash down your dessert with pricey speciality wine. So here's the low-down on German bar snacks, paired with the choicest German wines for a real Deutsches dinner...
1. Zwiebelkuchen (pronounced tsvee-bell-koo-hen) literally translates to ‘onion cake’. Like a quiche or tart, this savoury dish is made from sour cream, fried onion and bacon in a pastry case. Rich and filling, zwiebelkuchen is best served with a light beverage, like Federweißer. It's made from pressed grape juice that's bottled halfway through the fermentation process. As a result, it continues to ferment in the bottle, which has a permeable lid that allows the gas to escape. It tends to be produced during harvest-time, late August or early September according to the season.
2. Raclette, a Swiss-born dish adopted as Germany's own, traditionally involves a large hunk of cheese held near an open fire. The melted cheese is then scraped off onto a plate – the name comes from the French racler meaning 'to scrape' – and eaten with bread, dried meats and pickled vegetables. More commonly, however, raclette involves a table-top grill, which you can use to cook strips of vegetables or meat, with pans loaded with melted cheesy goodness.
You can buy cheese specifically for raclette at any German supermarket – and get a bottle of good-quality dry white to go with it – preferably a Riesling, a German favourite. Local understanding dictates that beer or even tea should be drunk with this particular dish – but don't drink water, as it causes the cheese to become a hard ball in your stomach, impairing digestion.
3. Handkäse mit Musik ('hand-cheese with music') is a strong yellowish cheese well-known in Frankfurt, traditionally served with chopped onion, caraway seeds, and well-buttered bread. Its odd name originates from the fact that it is first shaped by hand; post-consumption it produces a large amount of intestinal gas, thus lending the musical accompaniment.
The pungent cheese is typically served with Frankfurt's famous Apfelwein or 'apple-wine', an alcoholic beverage that more closely resembles cider than wine, but a refreshing accompaniment nonetheless. A festival in celebration of the beverage takes place in August, for hard-core fans.
4. Weinbeißer are small elongated ellipses formed from gingerbread and encased in a thin smooth frosting shell. Available throughout the year but more typically associated with Christmas, these fragrant biscuits are usually paired with an earthy Spätburgunder (the German version of Pinot Noir) for a high-class version of tea and biscuits - as Weinbeißer are usually dipped briefly into the wine before eating.
5. Eiswein (ice wine) is prized by wine aficionados around the globe. It's usually served as a 'dish' on its own, though it's occasionally paired with a fruit-based dessert or sorbet (as long as the dish isn't sweeter than the wine itself).
Produced by a laborious process of waiting past harvest-time through winter (the temperature must drop to at least -7°C before the grapes can be picked), the fruit must actually freeze on the vine. It is then picked in the early hours of morning and pressed while still frozen. This results in a naturally sweet wine unaffected by bortrytis – the 'noble rot' typical of standard dessert wines – but gives eiswein its refreshing sweetness. Definitely something to reserve for a special occasion – not least because it tends to be quite pricey.
6. Bratwurst sausage is served with a strong mustard and a heap of the notorious sauerkraut (sour pickled cabbage). Flavourful and mildly spicy, this dish fits perfectly with a glass of Gewürztraminer, a slightly-sweet wine which is lesser-known than its famous German rivals, yet delicious nonetheless. Its floral notes and fruity bouquet make it a perfect partner of the sharp mustard, which is why it is often drunk with Asian-style dishes.
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