I find it rather fortuitous that the Stuttgarter Weindorf started this year on my first day back to work. I've had a particularly busy past couple of weeks, and the Weindorf provided a nice distraction (especially on the nights when neither I nor my husband felt like cooking). And so after three visits and multiple glasses of wine later, I finally feel able to write this post and accurately present the wealth of wine and food available to you.
About the Weindorf
The Stuttgarter Weindorf is a 1-1/2 week festival in late August/early September that celebrates the wine, food, and culture of the Swabian region. I've been to the event for the past two years in a row, and enjoy myself every time. The event features a good many stands selling Swabian food and wines to go, along with several sit-down locations from which you can enjoy a more formal meal. As such, there are many ways to experience the Weindorf.
This past year I made my first outing as part of large group of coworkers as we celebrated the end of our first week back to school and also got the chance to get to know our new coworkers better. We met up outside the entrance to the Weindorf in front of the Schlossplatz and then found a couple of tables together in one of the pop-up restaurant locations. We were quite lucky as the tables at the Weindorf seem to fill up rather quickly, so our 6:00 pm arrival time was a good time for the first Friday night. After that the Weindorf tends to get quite packed (think shoulder-to-shoulder), and so it's a good idea to arrive a bit early if you want to snag a seat and avoid the crowds.
On that particular night, I spent the evening at the table under the make-shift wooden pavilion, enjoying the wine and food. However, on my subsequent two returns with my husband, we spent our time walking around, tasting the food and wine, and enjoying the festive atmosphere. Personally, I prefer this manner of experiencing festivals because I feel like I get to try so much more. Then again, it's nice to sit down when enjoying a meal. In the end, it all really just depends on what you're looking for.
I find that Germany excels at white wine, and there's so much more to offer than the traditional Riesling. I remember German Riesling in the States to be very sweet, but here most of the Rieslings I try are Trocken (meaning dry), crisp, and light with notes of citrus fruits, peaches, and other light-fleshed fruits. Of course, the Spätlese Riesling that Matt and I tried was rather sweet, as reflected in the fact that Spätlese wines have been left on the vine a bit longer than usual to add more sugar.
While at the festival, I also had the opportunity to try a Müller-Thurgau (a crossing of Riesling and Madeleine Royale), a Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), and a Sauvignon Blanc. While I enjoy crisp German Reislings, I've also been surprised by the smooth Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blancs) of the area. They are both quickly becoming my favorite German white
All of the wine at the Weindorf comes from the southern Württemberg and Baden regions, which while popular for their whites, are also known for their reds. Sadly, I haven't found a good German red that I like. The most popular red wine here is Trollinger, and I just find it to be too watered-down and bland at best (and absolutely disgusting at worst). I'm still looking into the German Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Dornfelder, though I have found most of what I've tried paler and less full-bodied than the rich Californian and French reds that I'm used to. Unless you're feeling adventurous one day, I advise you to stick to white wine at most German wine festivals.
Another kind of wine that is common in Germany in early September and late October is Neuer Wein. New or "young" wine is a cloudy wine varying in color from white to red that tastes more like grape juice than like wine. It's served before the fermentation process really sets in, so the alcohol content is quite low and the beverage quite sweet. I tried some for the sake of my blog post, but I honestly don't much like the stuff. I think it's an acquired taste (or perhaps it's designed for children).
As a side note, many of the stalls were decked out for the fall with orange, red, and brown-colored flowers. Several of the doorways also featured brooms sticking up into the air, which is a symbol that an establishment (usual a winegrower's private house) will sell you wine and food. We also saw many people dressed in dirndls and lederhosen, making the event rather more festively German than most.
The food at the Weindorf is pretty much all traditional Swabian and other festival fair. The first night we sat down to a simple dish of Linsen und Spätzle (lentils and Swabian pasta with sausages) and a Flammkuchen (Alsatian thin pizza -- kind of -- with ham and onions). Flammkuchen continues to be one of my favorite festival dishes, probably because it's light and easy to nibble on, and because I haven't yet been able to make it at home.
After that first night, we had a free-for-all trying everything from Maultaschen to Schupfnudeln, which are large bits of spätzle sautéed with sauerkraut and bacon. It's kind of hard to describe everything we had, so I'll let my photos do the talking:
I will note that my new favorite discovery this year at the Weindorf are the chocolate-covered fruit skewers. I've seen them at every festival for the past two years, but I haven't bothered trying one because they seem so common next to the other candied nuts and crêpes available. But oh my goodness are they good! After sampling three kinds, my favorite is by far the mixed fruit skewer with strawberries, grapes, apples, bananas, and pineapple (the best) all covered in creamy milk chocolate. Yum!
The tables at the Weindorf are all communal, which means that as long as there's space, jump in. In Germany, it's customary for you to just sit down at any empty table you prefer rather than waiting to be seated, and at communal tables (mostly at festivals), the same rules apply. It's polite to say "Hallo" and "Auf Wiedersehen" when you arrive and leave, but otherwise you are under no obligation to speak to your table mates, which I find to be a rather nice understanding.
If you're served at a table, it's customary to tip your waiter or waitress about 10%, though of course you can tip more or less depending on the quality of the service. On our first visit we had horrible service since our waitress had trouble taking our orders and brought us the wrong wine more than once. On such occasions, it's okay to leave 5%. However, if the service is great, then don't hesitate to leave more. Waiters and waitresses are paid a living wage in Germany, unlike in the US, but tips for good service are still highly appreciated.
If you forgo a table and opt to travel from stall to stall, then be prepared to drink out of real glassware -- a pleasant departure from the all-too-comon American plastic cup -- and to pay the pfand for it. A pfand is a small deposit, usually a euro or two, that you pay for your glass, so that if you break it, you buy it, so to speak. Conversely, if you would like a souvenir glass featuring the Weindorf logo, then this is about as cheap as it gets. And I must say that despite all the drinking that goes on at these events, I rarely, if every, see someone break a glass. Most Europeans, at least in my opinion, seem to publicly have a better relationship with alcoholic than most Americans.
When going to the Weindorf, or any other German festival for that matter, you should definitely carry cash. Most stands don't have credit readers or bother with EC cards for the small amounts you're likely to spend, so it's a good idea to have enough cash to cover your meals. Luckily, there are several banks on the Königstraße for you to stock up at the Weindorf.
Along those lines, make sure you carry a 50-cent piece or two for the toilets. At German festivals the organizers often set up portable facilities that are maintained by cleaners on premises. While it's polite to pay to use the restrooms in most German restaurants and shops, it's customary at large festivals with lots of people. Trust me, once you experience a German toilet in comparison to an American one, you'll wonder why Americans haven't caught on to this ingenious idea.
The Stuttgarter Weindorf has ended for this year, but be sure to mark your calendar for next year's event. You can also check out the Weindorf in Hamburg during July, which is also when the Hamburger Fischmarkt comes to Stuttgart.
Did you attend the Weindorf this year? What do you think of German wines?