Oompah! An Oktoberfest Feast With Wine—And Beer—Pairings
New Orleans has its Mardi Gras. Rio has its Carnival.
But in Munich, they have Oktoberfest—a celebration of good food, good drink and the good life as only Germans can do it. We don’t have plans on jumping across the pond this autumn, but celebrating rich, delicious Bavarian fare paired with some great beer and wine is definitely on our agenda.
Although traditionally held in September, you can celebrate your Oktoberfest just about any time now, once Labor Day bids farewell to summer and the first hint of crispness is in the air.
The Origin Of Oktoberfest
The first Oktoberfest was held in Munich in October 1810 during a large horse race in celebration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) and Princess Therese of Hildburghausen. The sporting event grew into a carnival-like atmosphere with entertainment and games and, of course, a lot of food and beer.
Here is a German eats and drinks primer. It is in no means an extensive list, but these are some edibles and imbibes you may encounter, along with some thoughts on Virginia beer and wine:
Altbier: A copper-colored, strongly hopped ale.
Apfelstrudel: Known as apple strudel, it’s a pastry made of dough topped with chopped apples, cinnamon, raisins and sometimes nuts, rolled, baked until crisp and sliced.
Bockbier: A smooth, sweet, rich and malty lager with a higher alcohol content with muted hop aroma and flavor.
Gewurztraminer: A golden-hued, highly aromatic white wine with notes of citrus, flowers, honey and marzipan, giving slight sweetness and a bit of spice on the palate.
Hefeweizen: Slightly cloudy, malted wheat (and also, usually, barley) ale with sometimes fruity components like banana and mild hop notes.
Helles: A mildly malty straw-blonde lager.
Kartoffelpuffer: Known as potato pancakes. Germans love potato dishes, and this is a classic, along with potato dumplings, potato salad and pan-fried potatoes. Potato pancakes are made with shredded or mashed potatoes mixed with egg, flour and seasonings and dried golden in an oil-lined skillet. They are typically served with sour cream and apple sauce.
Koelsch: A delicate, slightly fruity light ale with muted maltiness named for the city of origin Cologne/Koln.
Oktoberfestbier: An aged, amber-hued, malty, strong lager brewed for Oktoberfest.
Other German wines: Grape varietals largely found in Germany but often identified with other countries of origin include chardonnay, pinot grigio/pinot bris (labeled grauburgunder in Germany) and pinot noir (labeled spatburgunder in Germany).
Pilsner: A clear, golden lager with heavy hops on the nose and clean and refreshing on the palate.
Pretzels: These are often large, bready pretzels topped classically with coarse salt but sometimes seeds like sesame, sunflower or poppy. Pretzels are often presented in the traditional twisted shape but sometimes in rolls or bread sticks.
Riesling: A versatile, light, yellow-hued white wine with hints of apple and stone fruit, sometimes sweet but classically dry with muted tartness.
Rotkraut: A side dish in which red cabbage is shredded, seasoned and braised. It is slightly sweet and typically served warm, often with roasts.
Sauerbraten: A meat dish, usually beef but sometimes pork, lamb or venison. The literal translation is “sour roast” (sauer for sour/pickled and braten for roast). Meat is marinated for several days in a seasoned mixture that includes vinegar or wine, which not only tenderizes it but imparts a pleasant sourness that is prevalent even after roasting.
Suggested wine pairing:
Ankida Ridge Vineyards (Amherst) 2013 Pinot Noir
Suggested beer pairing:
Center of the Universe Brewing Company (Ashland) Slingshot Kolsch
Sauerkraut: A side dish of finely sliced, seasoned and fermented green cabbage. It can be served hot or cold.
Sausages/Wursts: Perhaps one of the best-known German foods are sausages, with dozens of variations. Among the most common:
• Bratwurst: A short, plump seasoned pork sausage in natural casing that is grilled or fried.
• Currywurst: A sliced bratwurst covered in a tomato-based sauce with curry and paprika.
• Frankfurter: A long, thin seasoned and smoked pork sausage classically boiled, named after Frankfurt, the city of origin.
• Knackwurst: A short, plump seasoned and smoked veal and pork sausage in natural casing that is grilled or fried. The name refers to the crisp skin cracking or popping when bitten into.
• Vienna sausage: A long, thin, seasoned sausage often made from chicken, beef or pork and sometimes called wiener, which means Viennese in German. (These are not those little canned meat products that your grandparents ate on saltine crackers.)
Bratwurst suggested wine pairing:
Pollak Vineyards (Greenwood) 2015 Pinot Gris
Bratwurst suggested beer pairing:
Lost Rhino Brewing Company (Ashland) Rhin O’Fest Märzen Amber Lager
Schnitzel: A meat cutlet that is breaded in flour, egg and bread crumbs and fried in butter or oil until golden brown. The classic is wiener schnitzel, which is a veal cutlet, served with lemon wedges. Sometimes a schnitzel is filled, as the case with cordon-bleu, where the meat (chicken, turkey, pork or veal) is stuffed with ham and cheese before being breaded and fried.
Wiener Schnitzel suggested wine pairing:
Rapidan River/Prince Michel (Leon) Dry Riesling
Wiener Schnitzel suggested beer pairing:
Belly Love Brewing Company (Purcellville) Narcissist Munich Helles
Cordon Bleu suggested wine pairing:
Chatham Vineyards (Eastern Shore) 2015 Church Creek Chardonnay—Steel Fermented
Cordon Bleu suggested beer pairing:
Port City Brewing Company (Alexandria) Oktoberfest
Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte: Also known as Black Forest Cake or Black Forest Torte, it’s a classic layer cake with chocolate sponge cake, whipped cream and cherries.
Suggested wine pairing:
Rockbridge Vineyard (Raphine) 2012 Vd’Or dessert wine
Suggested beer pairing:
Starr Hill Brewery (Crozet) Imperial Chocolate Cherry Stout
Schwarzbier: A dark, rich, malty lager with notes of chocolate and coffee.
Spatzle: A type of pasta made from flour, eggs, water (or beer) and salt that is pushed through a press to create short, oblong pieces and boiled. It is served as a main or side dish, often topped with items like braised mushrooms, grated cheese or beef and vegetable stew.
A special thanks to Kevin Osfolk and his staff at one of our favorite German eateries, The Bier Garden, located in Olde Towne Portsmouth for almost two decades, for preparing the authentic Bavarian dishes (from family recipes) featured in this article.
In addition to a warm and inviting atmosphere as well as great food and service, The Bier Garden features 23 taps and more than 400 beers. We raise a glass to that!
The Bier Garden is at 438 High St., Portsmouth. Call 757-393-6022 or visit BierGarden.com.