Tag Archives: traditions

#MWWC14: Traditions, oh, traditions…


My Canadian buddy Bill of Duff’s Wines won the last monthly wine writing challenge and chose “Tradition” as his topic of choice. And since there’s some nudging going on here and on Twitter, and since my writing hiatus has become really ridiculous by now, I’ve decided to accept the challenge.

Part of my immediate uneasiness with tradition stems from the fact that I used to be a very traditional kinda guy, with a longing for stability that traditions help create, with literally thousands of books in my “library”, with a craving for arm chairs and for anything traditional, entailing everything this term evokes.

A marriage fallen apart later, with some lessons learned and others not, I developed a keen embrace for change, and a disdain for traditions. Maybe not for traditions, but for what they can encapsulate: An attempt by the past to bind us living. Don’t get me wrong, they can be a nice bridge into the past, connecting us and our forebears, and connecting us and other cultures. But they still require that you follow them, and following expectations is really not my strong suit (anymore, I want to add).

So I tried shedding traditions and bonds, wanting nothing to do with what loved ones held dear. Let me tell you this much: It’s a great way to make others around you and yourself miserable. We just cannot escape traditions, and maybe we shouldn’t. But I also don’t think we should succumb to everything that is held out as a tradition. Traditions need to fit to us, they need to be relevant to us, they shouldn’t only be a means for others to make us behave in accordance with their traditions.

A move across the Atlantic made me re-evaluate many traditions and what is considered “traditional” for a German living abroad. The beauty of being a transplant is that you get to choose the traditions you want to embrace, both from your own culture and from your adopted culture. Heck, it even gives you a chance to alter both of them, make them more compatible with yourself, and most will find it enriching. I experience being a foreigner in a foreign land as exhilarating, and it appears my input matters to those that matter to me.

So here are a few traditions that we’ve accepted, adapted, created, embraced, and incorporated into our life:

Boy, turkey can be chewy

Boy, turkey can be chewy

Thanksgiving: My hands down favorite tradition of American traditions. I don’t even like turkey very much, nor gravy or stuffing or pumpkin pie for that matter, but the idea of having a holiday, devoid of expectations for peace, tranquility, and unity, or the exchange of gifts, a holiday that solely revolves around spending time with people you love, eating comfort food. What’s not to love about this? We’ve added my German red cabbage recipe to the mix (GREAT combo, email me if you want the recipe), we’re now drinking Riesling with the turkey. We celebrate with friends, because our families are thousands of miles away. But when we spent Thanksgiving in Germany in November 2013, we celebrated with an all-German group of family. And it was a blast.

One of the many amazing wines we drink at our feasts

One of the many amazing wines we drink at our feasts

A big Korean dinner with Riesling when in Trier: For most of my wine-loving life, I was able to hang out with my good friend ManSoo and drink Riesling and eat his wife’s delicious Korean food on a very regular basis. Now, with an ocean between us, we make it a priority to meet for a long evening of Rieslings, reds, and food, a celebration of life and friendship, whenever we are home.

Feuerzangenbowle in Alaska 2014

Feuerzangenbowle in Alaska 2014

Feuerzangenbowle: Say it three times! A German mulled wine punch, over which a large sugar chunk is put, which is drenched in rum, and then lit on fire. As the spectacular flames sizzle along, the melting sugar drips into the mulled wine and “enriches” it in many ways. It’s a winter tradition in Germany, you watch the 1940s movie named after it, and drink it in the lecture halls of colleges…but I never embraced that tradition until coming to the US. Now, we try to throw at least on Feuerzangenbowle party every year.

Stunningly fresh

Stunningly fresh

Nina gets to open a 1987 for her birthday: While we lived in Germany, Nina used to throw big birthday parties at our large apartment, with us providing meat and cheese, and friends required to bring a wine they like. We’d have 15 to 25 people over, and it was always a feast. I asked Nina how it started that we opened an 87, and she gave me that look and said: “Um, because I wanted one.” And this fast became a tradition: Every year since, we have opened a 1987 Riesling from the Mosel, we are still drinking Spaetlese levels, and they still work fine. Every year I am concerned we need to move on to Auslese or higher, but the Spaetlesen are still kicking it, even from a bad year like 1987.

Just opened a double magnum to go with beef burgundy

Just opened a double magnum to go with beef burgundy

A beef burgundy dinner between Christmas and New Year’s: I like to claim that half of Alaska visited and stayed with us while we lived in Germany (the first visitors arrived literally the day we moved into our apartment). It was a great way of getting to know people from Nina’s parents’ church community, which has made me entering church at Christmas a feast of hugs and smiles. Which I like a lot. The first Christmas in Alaska, 2011, I offered to cook a meal for a full table of people, and my mother in law thought it would be great to invite those that visited us in Germany. At first, I thought it was odd that we would throw a dinner for people that visited us, shouldn’t they buy us dinner? But over the years, this has become a staple: I cook a beef burgundy for anywhere between 15 and 20 people (in case you’re wondering, that’s about 12 to 15 pounds of meat and 5-6 liters of wine), it’s one of the most joyous nights of our time there, and I don’t want to miss this tradition (this year we opened our first 3 liter bottle to drink with it).

In short, don’t discard traditions altogether, but choose and pick which matter, and create your own, because those will truly matter to you.

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Re-posted: Federweisser Time

It is this time of year again. My Facebook feed lights up with wine bars offering and friends indulging in Federweisser (literally “feather white”), a German late summer/early fall wine tradition. I miss being in Germany for it, for it is one of my favorite times. Last year, around this time, I posted an article about it and I decided to re-post it, because I have many new readers. I hope you’ll enjoy!

German summer is usually filled with wine festivals in the villages along Mosel and Rhine. They initially began as a chance for wine makers to empty their cellars of the previous vintage and make room for their new harvest. There might still be some truth in this, but by now the festivals really are a highlight of local wines, good company and food. Along the Rhine in Rheinhessen for example, every weekend, another village will have its wine festival, so you can pretty much spend the whole summer drinking wine straight from the vintners. These festivals are coming to a close around this time of year, as the wine makers prepare for their harvest.

However, that is not universally true. The world’s largest wine festival, for example, takes place in Bad Dürkheim (Palatinate) in early September. It is called “Wurstmarkt” (Sausage Market) and this year’s is – believe it or not – the 597th time they are holding it. You can find more information here. The sheer size makes it different from the village festivals.

Anyway, in many parts, the harvest does not start until October, so it is a time of anticipation, checking the weather in the hope of a golden fall with lots of sunshine (for the grapes to fully ripen) and little rain (so that the grapes do not rot). And when October finally comes around, and the grapes are harvested and transported back to the cellars to be crushed and fermented, all those villages along the wine rivers will have a distinct smell hovering above them, a smell of grapes and yeast, and fermentation…to me, it is bliss.

The highlight of this part of the season, late August until end of September, is “Federweisser”. It has many different regional names, but this is the most common. This specialty is grape juice that is still fermenting. The color is a milky yellow to light brown (hence the name), it is bubbling, and it is delicious. Once the grapes have been crushed, the juice (or must) will rapidly start fermenting when combined with yeast. The sugar in the grapes will be turned into alcohol by the yeast until there is no sugar left. This happens in a matter of days. Winemakers are allowed to sell federweisser once the alcohol content reaches 4% ABV. Not all winemakers will produce it, and the grapes are not from top notch vineyards, because that would be a waste as you can only drink it for a few days and nothing sophisticated is coming from it…

Federweisser is filled in bottles or plastic containers, but you must not close it off with a cork because of the ongoing fermentation. Usually the producer just puts a plastic cap over the bottle head and you need to transport it carefully and not lay the bottle down in the fridge.

Federweisser at its best (Photo credit: http://www.ekneipe.de)

The supermarkets will carry stuff originating from Italy and other places. Fermentation in these Federweisser has usually been stopped which makes them boring and tasting slightly off. You want that bubbling still going on from fermentation. That is why it is imperative to buy it from a local winemaker. A bottle will cost you between $3 and $6, depending on winery and region, and that is a pretty good price for the winemaker because it brings in money fast (they do not have to wait for the release of their wine next year) and is less work than cellaring and storing the wines.

What does it taste like? I would describe it as a grape based soda. It is sweet, it is refreshing (you drink it chilled), and very fruity. Despite the low alcohol content, these drinks can get to you fast. I am usually wasted after three or four glasses. Nina lasts quite a bit longer.

We pair it with “Zwiebelkuchen” (onion pie), a bit like a pizza or a quiche with tons of onions, some cream and bacon bits on it (there are a million recipes for onion pie out there, some with meat, some with cumin…every family has their own recipe). It seems like an odd mixture, but the saltiness of the pie with the sweetness of Federweisser is great. It is hard on your digestive system, let me tell you, but it is as much a tradition in German households in wine regions as asparagus season in June all over Germany or Christmas markets in December.

If you ever get the chance to be in Germany around this of year, give Federweisser a try. It is a tradition worth experiencing. And it smoothens us over into harvest season. I hope to make onion pie for friends of ours this year, and I am cursing my fate that does not allow me to have Federweisser with it…

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