Wine at Oktoberfest? - Minnesota Uncorked™

Wine at Oktoberfest?

Think the leaves turning yellow means it’s time to put the white wines away? Not necessarily. If someone tries to give you any guff for ordering a glass of wine at an Oktoberfest party, read on so you can drop some knowledge on them

Wenn du in München bist… (When in Munich…)

Hermann Heights Monument, New Ulm. Source: Wikipedia
Hermann Heights Monument, New Ulm. Source: Wikipedia

More than 6 million people flock to Munich every fall (Oktoberfest confusingly starts in late September) for one of the world’s largest street festivals. Imitation gatherings and products appear around the world but domestically are more popular nowhere than in the German-dominated Midwest. You only have to walk down the beer aisle to see all the Oktoberfest special labels and imprints, and Minnesota has its own Oktoberfests at the State Fairgrounds, Rice Park in St. Paul, New Ulm, Pelican Falls, Longville and more.  If you can’t make it to an all-day drink-a-thon, there are even more Oktoberfest-themed events at German restaurants like the Black Forest Inn, New Bohemia and Gasthof zur Gemülichkeit (all in Minneapolis).

Oktoberfest isn’t only about the beer though. It has become a celebration of traditional German — or just Bavarian, depending on who you ask — culture, featuring traditional food, schnapps, a crossbow contest (!), oompah-bands and what looks a lot like The Sound of Music cosplay. Festival-goers now drink in huge “tents” that more closely resemble a beer hall by way of Harry Potter, replete with hanging light fixtures and balconies.

Originally held in 1810 for the wedding of then-crown prince Ludwig I and Therese of Bavaria, Oktoberfest has always had a weinzelt, or wine tent, as part of the festivities. Kuffler’s Weinzelt, the Munich (real) Oktoberfest’s main wine purveyor for the past 32 years, serves 15 German wines (and a wheat beer, but, hey, it’s Oktoberfest). Riesling is their number-one seller. Apfelwein, or apple tart wine, is a more recent addition that’s proven popular.



German wines

Southern Germany (where Bavaria is) produces most of Germany’s wines, two-thirds of which are white wines. Wines labeled in Germany feature a classification system that’s borderline-indecipherable to an international crowd: there’s tafelwein and landwein, inexpensive table wine ye need not bother with as an American looking for an imported treat. Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (hey, nobody ever accused the Germans of being concise), or QbA wine, is basic-quality drinking wine that you’d probably find at an Oktoberfest tent. But if you’re looking for something to take home from a liquor store, you’ll probably want something labeled Prädiskatswein, superior-quality wine that is barred from having any added sugar. Beyond this, there are six subdivisions of Prädiskatswein that refer not to quality but to the style of the wine –– sweetness, ripeness of the grapes used, etc. Assuming your short-term memory is already too full of German words to memorize another six, I’ll advise you to either take a chance or consult a knowledgeable liquor store employee (or internet-enabled phone) if you get this far.

When it comes to German wines, Riesling is king as far as many American consumers are concerned, and with good reason –– generally sweet but available in a range of levels of sweetness, Riesling pairs particularly well with savory foods such as bratwurst, making it the ideal Oktoberfest wine.

Gewürtzraminer — that’s ga-VOORTS-trah-meen-er, if you were wondering — means spice grapes, which is what makes it stand out from other German wines. A white wine, it’s available in sweet or dry styles, with the spicy aroma giving it its signature bold flavor.

Eiswein— one of those six Prädiskatswein divisions— is German dessert white wine made by letting the grapes freeze on the vine. Under German rules (they sure do like rules, don’t they?), no artificial freezing is allowed. Eiswein is very sweet with a full, fruity bouquet, usually served chilled.

Sekt is a German term for sparkling wine, employed because France has the lockdown on the term Champagne in the European Union, unlike in the United States, where Congress never actually ratified the WWI-ending Treaty of Versailles that codified the regulation. (While the USA and EU reached an agreement in 2005, it allowed producers who were already using Champagne on their labeling to retain the designation indefinitely, much to French winemakers’ chagrin. Ooh, feel that chagrin.) Sekt is popular at Oktoberfest, as is Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine served at the Cafezelt tent.

Local “German” wines

If learning a foreign tongue to pick out a wine sounds like a bit much, there are closer-to-home options that have many of the same characteristics. Minnesota’s climate and wine season have a lot in common with Germany’s— Minneapolis is about 45 degrees north of the equator, and Munich is about 48— and some of the grape stocks used to breed cold-climate wines in America were ones that had previously thrived in similar conditions in Europe. Consequently, many Minnesota-developed wine varietals are easily recognizable counterparts to better-known German wine varieties.

icewineMinnesota wines in general are on the sweeter side, and La Crescent in particular is similar to Riesling; many wines made with Minnesota varietals are styled as Rieslings to appeal to consumers who will enjoy them even if they’re not technically made from Riesling grapes. Edelweiss, one of the first varietals developed at the University of Minnesota in the ‘70s in conjunction with Elmer Swenson, has an obviously German inspiration in its name. It’s semi-sweet and resistant to harsh winters, and although it has been superseded by newer varietals in production volume, Minnesota’s first sparkling wine is still made from Edelweiss. Frontenac Gris and other Minnesota varietals are also popularly made into Eiswein (artificial freezing allowed— no word on what the Germans are going to do about it).

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About The Author

Mickey Caulfield

Mickey Caulfield is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and certified mixologist.
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