We are between seasons here in Germany, with still warm and sunny days but cool nights and the first hints of fall foliage. September is also typically the main month of grape harvest in Germany, and alongside lots of work in the vineyards, this means something else: It is Federweißer season.
For many Germans, the short Federweißer season – running from early September to end October – is a cherished tradition that represents both the start of autumn as well as a great opportunity to head out to wine country on yet another occasion.
If you wonder what it is all about, read on and let me introduce you to Federweißer, how it is usually enjoyed here in Germany and why it is well worth putting this treat on your culinary bucket list.
What is Federweißer
Federweißer (feather white), or alternatively Rauscher, Sauser or Brauser as it can also be called, is a very young wine which is in an early and ongoing fermentation process. It is made from early ripening white grapes such as Bacchus or Ortega, although a less common red variety exists which is called Federroter or Red Sauser.
Federweißer tastes slightly sweet and is refreshingly light and fruity. In fact, it remembers a sparkling wine and it is often said to taste a bit like grape juice topped with champagne (or sparkling wine).
Furthermore, Federweißer is low in alcohol, typically around 5%, although since it continues to ferment even after it is bottled it can actually reach up to 11% alcohol, depending on how long it is conserved.
Which gets us to another important point.
How long can Federweißer be conserved
Federweißer is not a wine that should be conserved at all. Instead it should be enjoyed right after being produced, and at the most it should be conserved no longer than a few days after it was bottled.
This is also the reason why it will disappear from shops, bars, cafes, and restaurants at the end of October.
Remember: The longer you conserve Federweißer, the more it will continue to ferment and as it gets older – even just a few days – it will start tasting slightly tardier.
You might actually prefer the more mature version, which means keeping the bottle a few days before drinking. In this case, keep in mind: The fermentation process will be much slower if put into the fridge. So weather you keep at room temperature or in the fridge depends how quickly you want to drink your Federweißer and how far you want the fermentation process proceed during this time.
In any case, put the Federweißer into the fridge a couple of hours before serving as it tastes the best chilled.
Where can you buy / drink Federweißer
If you are getting curious now and want to get a taste of Federweißer yourself, you need to be lucky living or visiting where this type of wine is made. Thankfully, it can be found in various European countries, including France, Austria, South Tyrol, and most of the eastern European countries.
What about simply ordering Federweißer online, I hear you say.
Federweißer is not a wine that’s being sold online. Due to the ongoing fermentation process, bottles are under a significant pressure and need to be handled quite carefully. As such, Federweißer is not a wine to be shipped, and definitely not over a longer distance.
In countries where Federweißer is produced, it will be sold in shops and at farmers markets during September and October when it is in season. And off course it can be bought directly at many of the local wineries.
However – handle with care: If you intend to buy a bottle or more to take home, you need to handle it quite carefully. Remember the high pressure caused by ongoing fermentation I mentioned?
In order to avoid bottles to explode, they will not be totally sealed. Instead, caps will be punctured to allow the gas leaving the bottle. And here it can get messy. Bottles need to be transported and stored upright to avoid the liquid sipping out.
The best places to enjoy Federweisser
With all that hassle of transportation, the best way to enjoy Federweißer is like most Germans do: Head to a bar, café or winery across Germany where it is sold by the glass and typically enjoyed with a slice of onion cake.
Even better, head to the German wine regions during September and October. The many small wine-growing towns will brim with spots serving Federweißer.
Quite typical for Germany, where you can find festivals dedicated to nearly anything, there are also two well-known wine festivals celebrating Federweißer.
The German Wine Harvest Festival in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse takes place every year over few days from end September to the first days of October. There is plenty going on around wine during the festival and though it is not directly dedicated to Federweißer, given the timing of the event you will get lots of opportunities to enjoy the seasons earliest new wine there.
Taking place in Landau annually every third weekend in October (though not in 2020 – you know why) is the Festival of Federweißer. It is said to be the oldest festival dedicated to Federweißer. That said, there is also other wine offered at the festival and food stalls sell lots of local food.
What food to pair with Federweisser
The most classical food pairing to Federweisser here in Germany is onion cake. Zwiebelkuchen as it is called in German origins in the southern part of Germany, in Swabia but you in autumn it will be served anywhere across the country.
Onion cake is made of a flat dough topped with steamed onions, bacon and crème fraiche and really works well with the sweetness of the Federweisser.
Since I never really liked Zwiebelkuchen (I am OK with onions used for seasoning but never eat onion rings or lots of onions in a dish otherwise), I am usually pairing Federweisser with a flatbread or another German staple, a savoury Flammkuchen.
Like many other traditional German dishes, Flammkuchen offers an interesting story about its origins. Back in time when wood-fired ovens did not have temperature controls, bakers would test if the heat in the oven was right to bake their bread by putting small thin slices of the dough into the oven. If these slices were getting golden-brownish at the edges after around 1-2 minutes, this meant the temperature was right. And since wasting food was no option in historic times, the slices of dough used to test the temperature would off course be eaten as well. To make them taste better, a topping would be added which consisted of bacon (or ham), eggs and onions.
Today, toppings are nearly endless. Only your own imagination can stop you. There are all sorts of savoury toppings and quite a few sweet ones as well, meaning a Flammkuchen can make a fantastic desert too. Think apple and cinnamon, for example.
Have you ever tried a Federweißer? How do you like it? And if not, have I made you curious to try it?