Carl lived in Germany for five years as he was growing up. German was basically his first language, and he has a lot of nostalgia for Germany's tastes and traditions. I learned German in college (so that I could understand what his dad was saying during pre-dinner prayers) and had the wonderful fortune to spend a 10-week college term living in Vienna, studying music, literature, and art history.
It seems like many lifetimes ago, but Carl and I have been able to visit Germany together three times, most recently in December of 2017, when we took our boys to experience real Christkindlmärkte in Aachen and Köln.
Carl and I spent a wonderful and memorable three weeks together in France and Germany in the summer of 1999. He took a vacation from Mount Nittany Winery in State College and we made a trip specifically to learn more about French and German wine regions. In Germany, we split our time between the Mosel and Rhein river regions, where the grapes grow on the steep hillsides around the rivers. We traveled by boat up and down the rivers among the castles and small towns, tasting the wines of the region, which were memorably tart and fresh. It seemed like every town we visited was having either a wine or beer festival. It was a good time.
The wines took a bit of getting used to. Particularly in the Mosel region, they were so tart that drinking them was a puckering experience. We tried a few red wines but quickly decided to stick to whites. The red wine of Germany is Spätburgunder: a Pinot Noir which certainly was light compared to the outstanding reds we had just fallen in love with in Burgundy. The German Weißherbst is their light rosé.
The cool river climates of Germany are perfect for growing Riesling, but the challenge is often getting the grapes ripe enough to not be so tart. In a really good growing season in Germany, the Riesling will be left to hang as long as possible in the vineyards, and there is a whole classification system for quality, having to do with how far the ripening can go: from Kabinett through Spätlese and Auslese, all of the way to the dessert wines: Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese.
When we came to Allegro in 2001 there was Riesling in the vineyards in The Brogue, but we ultimately found that this isn't the right place for it to grow. We don't have the cool nights needed for Riesling flavor development, like they do in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Carl pulled out our Riesling after the 2016 harvest. These days, we source our Riesling from Johnson Estate Winery in the Lake Erie region of New York.
Last night was one of our favorite theme nights here: To celebrate the visit of our dear friends Margaret and Scott, we pulled out all the stops to enjoy a (socially-distanced outdoor) German feast together. Margaret is a friend of ours from college, and she was a German major who also was part of my wonderful term abroad in Vienna.
First, the beverages: We enjoyed some of Scott's homebrew, followed by four Allegro wines: the 2009 Riesling, 2008 Riesling, 2018 Gewürztraminer/Traminette, and (with dessert) the current semi-sweet Riesling. Aged Riesling is an acquired taste, since it tends to pick up flavors both of honey and petroleum (!) with time. Interestingly, I enjoyed the 2008 quite a bit more than the 2009. The wines--particularly the Gewürztraminer/Traminette--all really did pair well with the German-style foods.
Next: the foods! I pounded out some pork schnitzel and paired it with potato dumplings (Kartoffelklöße!) and these other sides:
-Skillet Spätzle: Similar to my recipe for Mac 'n Cheese 'n Onions, this is a comforting carb wonder. The fresh Spätzle are lightly sautéed with butter and caramelized onions before being stirred with grated cheeses. Fifteen minutes finishing in the oven make this one happy dish.
-German Red Cabbage (Rotkohl): While it takes a couple of hours to cook, this traditional German side dish brings so much to the table: color, acidity, and a bit of spice (cloves).
-Cool Cucumber Salad: We really love this creamy summer salad with cucumbers and dill. It's easy to make ahead of time and serve for contrast.
-Refriger-Pickles: So easy and tasty!
For dessert I made a full pan of blackberry custard Kuchen, similar to my Raspberry Custard Cakes, paired with the semi-sweet Riesling. Yum.
It's amazing how bringing these flavors all together with good friends sitting outside on a summer evening really did take us back to the days of visiting Weinkeller and Heurigen together in Germany and Austria. Wirklich toll!