Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tiny Feathers in the Wine!

Typical sign for a traditional treat

As September ends and October begins, it seems the right time to take a break from the history of the barnhouses of the Trier area and appreciate a current-day pleasure. The wine harvest is just about over and all over the Rhineland, the time for Federweißer and Zwiebelkuchen has come.

The first time I saw a sign like the one above, I stopped in puzzlement. My German being far from perfect, I thought my translation must be wrong. Literally it seemed to say "White feathers and onion cake." Walking along the streets of Trier, I saw another such sign and then another and another. Every snack bar, cafe, and restaurant were offering the same combination. I guessed that the white feathers had to do with young wine but an onion cake?

When questioned, my German relatives smiled, offered little explanation, and said, "Yes, we must have it before you leave." So on a trip to Cochem, my sister Marilyn, our relative Edeltrud, and I sat at a table in a small restaurant overlooking the Mosel and ordered Federweißer and Zwiebelkuchen. Marilyn and I were unanimous in our opinion that both were lecker(yummy). Never again would we cringe at the thought of white feathers and chopped onions in a pound cake .

Edeltrud and her daughter Dani had another surprise in store for us. They took us to the Wassermann Winery in Leiwen where we tasted Federweißer directly from a wine barrel where the newly harvested wine was fermenting and aging into an excellent Riesling wine.

Leiwen vineyards on the Mosel

Tasting Federweißer at Wassermann Winery

There is not much doubt in my mind that our Rhineland ancestors enjoyed the feathery new wine of autumn. With such a delicious brew in their wine barrels or stone jugs, why would they wait for it to mature completely? I can find no data about Zwiebelkuchen to tell me whether it is a recipe from earlier centuries or one that has been developed in recent times.

Miscellaneous information from the Internet as well as from friends and relatives:

Federweisser is described in some German wine journals as the "fresh foretaste of autumn." It gets its names from the tiny "feathers" of yeast that float in each glass of this new wine, a wine in its beginning stage. It is as sweet as grape juice, contains alcohol, and still has the yeast in it.

Golden Autumn celebration in Saarburg - with Federweisser

Federweißer, is known as Suser, Sauser or Junger Wein in Southwest Germany, Switzerland and South Tyrol, Sturm in Austria, Neuer Wein in the Palatinate, Bremser in Franconia, and burčák in the Czech Republic.

It is a fermenting grape must.
Once yeast has been added, grape must begins to ferment rapidly. The fructose contained in the grapes is broken down into alcohol and carbonic acid (glycolysis). As soon as an alcohol content of four percent has been reached, Federweißer may be sold. It continues to ferment until all the sugar has been broken down and an alcohol content of about ten percent has been reached.

Due to the carbonic acid, Federweißer tastes quite refreshing, not unlike a grape lemonade or a sweet sparkling wine. The yeast particles contained in Federweißer are responsible for its name, which literally means "white as a feather." In general, Federweißer is made from white grapes; red grapes are rarely used.

Due to the rapid fermentation, Federweißer cannot be stored for long and should be consumed within a few days of purchase. As carbonic acid is constantly produced, the bottles cannot be sealed (they would rupture otherwise) and must be stored in an upright position. In the past, the fermentation could not be decelerated by cooling. Thus, transportation over longer distances was impossible, and Federweißer was only available in wine-producing regions such as those along the Mosel and Saar.

Depending on the date of the grape harvest, Federweißer is available from early September to late October. The classic combination is Federweißer and Zwiebelkuchen, although Federweißer and chestnuts is also popular. Because a plentiful amount of sugar is present in the Federweißer, the alcohol content is masked and can quickly slip unnoticed into the bloodstream, making for unexpected inebriation and perhaps a hangover the next morning.

Zwiebelkuchen, which literally means onion cake in the German language, is a one-crust pie made of steamed onions, diced bacon, cream, and caraway seed on a yeast dough. It is particularly popular in the German wine-growing-regions. A similar pie called Flammkuchen is also eaten in Alsace. In the fall, it is traditionally accompanied by some Federweißer. At other times Zwiebelkuchen” will be served with a glass of white wine.

From the German Wine Institute's Internet Site

According to the DWI or Deutschen Wein Institute, the actual start of the wine harvest begins at the end of August or beginning of September. Federweißer, season sends an eagerly awaited message to wine lovers who have been looking forward to the tiny little feathers dancing in the young wine.

The ideal way to drink one the new wines is at the time it is half way from grape juice to wine, so that the sugars, alcohol and fruit acid are in good balance. At this time it exhibits an alcohol content of approximately five percent by volume. (The Federweißer will already show the first characteristics and fruit flavours of the new wine class.) In the further process of the fermentation, the initially seductive sweetness yields gradually to the alcohol and lends an increasingly harsh note.

The "new wine" industry is an important one. At the current time, some two million liters of Federweißer from the Rhineland and Palatinate are sold each year.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, the glories of Federwisser und Zweibelkuchen! What delicious memories your blog post brings to mind! Danke!

    Blogspot comes to the rescue when e-mail gets finicky ... 8-))