Last year on a trip to the Pfalz with a friend, we passed by what looked to be a giant fairgrounds. A quick Google search told us we'd seen -- and missed -- the Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt, purportedly the largest wine festival in the world. Set on making sure we wouldn't miss the festival again, my friend booked us a hotel for the next one.
And so, on the weekend of September 16th, we hopped on a train out of Stuttgart headed for Freinsheim in the heart of the Palfz to start our weekend experience at the Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt. Just an hour and a half by train from Stuttgart, Freinsheim is very picturesque, with cobbled, winding streets and old-world charm. Our hotel, 1514 Boutique Hotel Freinsheim, a mixture of traditional German with just the right amount of quirk (there's a posed mannequin in the courtyard), was very comfortable and conveniently located.
That night, we stopped for a glass of wine at one of the town's wine bars, before sitting down to dinner at Restaurant zum Weingockel. Their menu features regional dishes and local wines, and we had a fantastic meal from start (baked goat cheese with Parma ham, plums, and lavender honey) to finish (grilled duck breast with a red wine sauce and pork Cordon bleu). We sipped on a bottle of Cuvée X from the local Weingut Knipser throughout dinner. A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc, this wine proves that Germany can make a rich, complex red wine!
The next morning, we got up for a traditional German breakfast of rolls with sliced meat, cheese, butter, and jam at Zucker und Salz just down the street from our hotel. From there, we picked up the local train and arrived in Bad Dürkheim around 11:00 for the Dürkheimer Würstmarkt.
You might be wondering why a wine festival is called the "sausage market", and we were, too. A pamphlet at one of the stalls explained that the original market dating from 1417, called the Michaelismarkt, served pilgrims on their way to a sanctuary dedicated to the archangel Michael. The local farmers and winemakers served sausages and wine to the pilgrims, though today it's known primarily as a wine festival. The festival sees up to 685,000 visitors each year and serves over 300 wines at some 54 different venders.
We went first to the Schubkarchstände where some 36 different outdoor wine stands were serving the festival's iconic 1/2-liter wine in Dubbegläsern (glasses shaped like pint glasses with grape-sized indents for gripping with your fingers). This area with its long beer-hall-style tables was a place to sit and talk with friends over a glass of wine to pass the time. I found it to be a bit like Stuttgart's fall and spring festivals at the Wasen, but with a focus on wine instead of beer (and less raucousness at 11 o'clock in the morning).
Despite the early hour, my husband ordered one for the team so we could see what the fuss was all about. The Riesling he ordered was light and tastier than the average cheap wine at the grocery store. However, I can't imagine how people come to the festival to drink a couple of Dubbegläsern without passing out at the tables! (I imagine many of them do.) With this in mind, we made sure our next stop was to eat some lunch (Käsespätzle) before venturing further into the festival.
Our next stop was the Weindorf, a series of tents owned by the local wineries with plastic tables and chairs set out front. This area resembled a set of cafés more than a picnic area, and we felt the emphasis here was on quality, not quantity. Our first stop was to Weingut Hanewald-Schwerdt where I tried the slightly sweet Hochbenn Riesling with notes of apple. Next we stopped by Weingut Egon Schmitt for more complex Pfalz red wines (we tried both the Merlot and the Spätburgunder [pinot noir]). Again, the emphasis here was on quality, so we were drinking 0,1L or 0,25L glasses for 3,50-4,50€ per glass. I much preferred this kind of tasting to downing a 0,5L of wine, though the 0,5L at 5-6€ a glass was certainly more economical if you were just there for the event.
Along the way, we sampled several of the festival foods, from Kartoffelpuffer mit Apfelmus (potato pancakes with apple sauce) to some delicious mini-donuts with espresso. We also tried a few of the games, which were much less expensive than at Stuttgart's Wasen. I had a lot of fun at the skeeball racing game (though my aim was too poor to win anything).
Also like at the Wasen, there were lots of rides for families, and we found the CitySkyliner with it panoramic view over the area to be particularly worthwhile. We could take in the small town of Bad Dürkheim surrounded by rows upon rows of ripening grape vines. We also got to see a bird's-eye view of the Riesenfass, the world's largest wine barrel. Built in 1934, it stands 40 meters high and would hold 1.7 million liters of wine if it weren't for the restaurant housed inside.
After a full day of drinking and thickening crowds, we were pretty tired by about 18:00 and so took the train back to Freinsheim for dinner, a stroll around the town's Medieval wall, and bed. The next morning we had brunch reservations at one of my favorite stops on our last trip to the Pfalz: Blank Roast Kaffeemanufakturer in Neustadt. The brunch featured a choice of one of their several deliciously roasted coffees along with a buffet of cheese, sliced meats, tomatoes with mozarella, red beet carpaccio with walnuts, smoked salmon and trout, melon and prosciutto, fresh fruit, müsli, jams, and the best croissants that I've had in Germany. (Space is limited, though, so reservations are a must!)
And finally, with a couple of hours left before our train's departure, we made one last stop at Weingut von Winning in Deidesheim (one of my favorites!) for a quick Riesling tasting and a bottle each of their deliciously sweet Muskateller and Weißer Burgunder I, which we've dubbed the "dill pickle wine" for its vinegary dill smell and surprisingly buttery taste. They made some great souvenirs to take home from our trip!
My final impression of the Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt is that it's a really fun event and definitely worth the trip. I found the Weindorf preferable to the stands and other tents for its emphasis on wine tasting rather than pure drinking. That said, I would have liked to have had more smaller tastings so that I could have tried more wines, but logistically (due to the number of glasses, servers, etc.) that seems impossible at such a venue. As such, this is a great event for groups: if everyone orders something different, then you can try more while you're there!
Did you make it to the Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt this year, or have you been in the past? What do you think of this wine festival?