October is the month to decant and test the first wines of the year. In southwest Germany a well known culinary treat of the season is Federweiße und Zwiebelkuchen, or partially fermented young white wine and Onion Tart.
Federweiße literally means ‘feather white,’ so-named because of its appearance. Federweiße is made by adding yeast to grapes, encouraging a rapid fermentation process, and leaving the drink unfiltered (the suspended yeast is what gives the drink its cloudy look). Once the alcohol level reaches 4%, Federweiße can be sold, although typical alcohol content ranges anywhere from 4-11%. Federweiße is often enjoyed near to where it is produced — because it ferments so quickly, it should be enjoyed within a couple days of being bottled. In addition, the high levels of carbonation which makes it so refreshing means that it cannot be bottled in airtight containers, thereby posing transportation challenges.
Federweiße is traditionally made of early ripening grape varieties, such as Bacchus, Ortega, and Siegerrebe (literally ‘victory vine’ in German), which are all white wine grapes. While much less common, Federweiße can also be made from red grapes and is then referred to as Federrotem (feather red). Depending on the region, Federweiße is also commonly known as: Neuer Süßer (new sweet) or Junger Wein (young wine), Suser, Sauser, Najer Woi (‘new wine’ in the Rhineland-Palatinate dialect), and Sturm in Austria.
In most towns and cities around the Mosel and Rhine rivers, people flock to marketplaces and wine gardens to sip a glass of slightly alcoholic, sweet, effervescent and cloudy Federweiße and feast on bites of crispy onion tarts. Because of its light and sweet taste, it pairs well with hearty and savory foods. The two festivals most known for their Federweiße are both located in the Rhineland-Palatinate, the state that leads Germany in grape cultivation and wine export). The Deutsche Weinlesefest (German Wine Harvest Festival) in Neustadt an der Weinstraße and the Fest des Federweißen (Festival of the Federweiße) in Landau in der Pfalz are two leading venues to celebrate the season.