A German Holiday Celebration #winePW

I was really excited that this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend theme was Riesling. It’s a grape I really enjoy, but that I don’t drink often enough. It’s a great wine to pair with food because it is made in so many different styles, so don’t hesitate to try some, even if you normally don’t like sweet wines. My family has German ancestry, so I thought it would be fun to visit some of the foods of my childhood and remember my Grandmother at this time of year. The night we planned our dinner was also the first night of Chanukah, and when I was researching German holiday food traditions, I realized that the festive meals for both Christmas and Chanukah in Germany had a lot of overlap. So, what started out as a German Christmas became a fantastic way to honor both my and Dan’s heritage and a good excuse to open several bottles of tasty Riesling.

 The Menu

  • Kleine Zwiebelfladen – caramelized onion and sour cream tarts
  • Roast duck with apple and hazelnut stuffing and sour cherry sauce
  • Sauerbraten
  • Potato dumplings
  • Red Cabbage
  • Latkes with homemade apple sauce and sour cream
  • Grand Noir and Munster cheese
  • Berliners with marmalade and chestnut spread

One of the best things about this meal is how practical it is. Although there were a lot of different things on the table, most of them are foods that you prep and then leave to cook, which makes holiday entertaining a lot more fun. You can do most of the work in advance. While it cooks, you actually have some time to spend with your friends and family socializing, not fussing in the kitchen.

The Wines

Dr. L Riesling Sekt

Sekt is the German term for sparkling wine. Germans drink a lot of sparkling wine and a large percentage of the production of Sekt in the country stays home. Thankfully, this one does not. I’m a champion of sparkling wines as every day drinking wine. It pairs very well with a lot of foods and it’s a fun way to make a party seem festive. This wine is produced with the Charmat method, which gives it a very pretty citrusy fragrance, backed by a little bit of green apple and white flowers. In the glass, the bubbles are small and frequent and make the wine pleasantly fizzy. The bright, high acidity is well balanced by the sparkle and the lemon, lime and apple and nectarine that are present in the palate. This wine would be a fantastic aperitif, and also would be wonderful in any of the sparkling wine cocktails.

Gessinger Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett 2015 Old Vines

This wine is from the Mosel region. Clear, pale lemon. Slightly off dry, but only just. Low alcohol. Intense nose of white flowers, lemon, hints of petrol, lime, wet rock and apricots. Very complex, long finish and a creamy and round mouthfeel make this wine excellent with food or just on its own. The palate is just as intense as the nose with lemon peel, apricots, ginger and wet rock that persists for quite some time. The low alcohol and slight sweetness make it a good wine to introduce friends to a white that’s different than Chardonnay and gives you a lot of flexibility with pairing this wine with food. Riesling is also a fantastic wine to experiment with aging whites. You can drink and enjoy this wine now, but you can also hold it for 10 years and see how it develops over time.

J & H. A. Strub Niersteiner Paterberg Riesling Spatlese 2005

From the Rhinehessen. Beautifully aged, showing clear pale amber in the glass. If you were curious how wines age under stelven (screw) caps, this answers that question! Off dry, very intense nose of petrol, dried apricot, fennel, honey, wet rock, candied orange peel, cantaloupe, spice box. The palate is as intense as the nose and shows honey, lemon marmalade, candied orange, apricot, fennel and wet rock. Extremely complex, just starting to show its full potential, but still has room to develop. This is an outstanding wine that shows how well Riesling can age. Low alcohol, full body, well balanced. You can keep this wine for another 5-10 years if you can find it.

St August Sweet White Riesling for Dessert 2017

This was something of a ringer. We stopped by Aldi to pick up some groceries and they had this on the shelf. For $6.99, it wasn’t much of a risk to try. It was very good. In the glass, it showed very pale lemon. A medium intensity nose of lemon, honey, melon, grass, pineapple and vanilla. The palate follows along with medium intensity lemon, pineapple and honey. Quite sweet, very viscous full body, low acid, high alcohol, nicely balanced. This wine isn’t going to age, but if you’re looking for an inexpensive dessert wine or something to have around for friends and family who prefer sweet wines, this is a great value. It’s a fun wine for the holidays and a good introduction to a sweet, drinkable wine that is a bit higher quality than most.

Although this meal was designed to showcase Riesling, Germany also makes some very nice red wines. We also opened one red for a guest who prefers red to white. For this meal, we went with the Hooked Pinot Noir from Baden. German Pinot Noirs are often labeled Spätburgunder, but this one, clearly designed for the American market uses the more well-known varietal labeling. It’s a very light, high acid Pinot with medium tannins, medium alcohol and a medium nose of strawberry, red cherry, cranberry, smoke and vanilla. The palate is dominated by the bright red fruits and the tangy cranberry with some smoke and vanilla to round it out. Medium length finish but well balanced and a flexible wine to go with a range of foods.

The Pairings

This was a complex meal to pair wine with, but one that really shows the range and flexibility of the many different styles of Riesling. Sauerbraten is a strong dish with lots of big flavors. The slightly off-dry nature of the Rieslings we chose compete. Riesling is undersung for bold flavors. My favorite pairing with Rieslings, especially the medium-sweet ones is Asian food. Thai, Indian, Sichuan – the spice and heat of the food works really well with the sweet, round and generally low-alcohol character of German Riesling.

The cheeses also worked fantastically. Blue cheese and sweeter wine is an amazing light desert. We also brought back the Munster cheese and off-dry wine and washed rind cheese are amazing.

The Recipes

Kleine Zwiebelfladen

These is a traditional bread snack in the Rhine river valley. It’s often eaten during right after the grape harvest with some of the Federweisse (grape juice that’s just started to ferment). It’s a really simple snack or appetizer but it packs a lot of flavor. Some people make this recipe with a very thick crust, almost like a topped bread, but I prefer it more in the style of a flatbread that’s just puffy enough to contain the sour cream.

2 c. flour (or more if needed)

2 tsp. yeast

1 c. warm water

½ tsp honey

1 tsp. salt

3 tbsp. olive oil

2 onions, sliced thin

2 tbsp. butter

½ lb. Black Forest ham (optional)

2 egg yolks

5 tbsp. sour cream

1 tsp. caraway seeds

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the flour, yeast, water, honey, salt and oil in the bowl of a stand mixer. Kneed with dough hook attachment until the dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. It should be soft but not sticky. If the dough is still too wet to work, add more flour a tablespoon at a time until the dough is sticky. Place dough on a baking sheet and shape it either round or into a rectangle, building up a small lip of dough around the edges. Push the dough slightly flatter in the center so that you have a well for the onions and the sour cream. Allow to rise slightly while you caramelize the onions.

Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Cook the onions slowly until they turn golden brown. You can stir constantly if you want the onions to be uniform with no darker spots or you can just stir periodically while they brown. The important thing is keeping the heat low and giving the onions time. If you’re using the ham, slice or chop into bite-sized pieces and mix the egg yolks, sour cream, caraway seeds, salt and pepper together in a bowl while the onions are browning.

Put the caramelized onions into the well in the bread dough and top with the sour cream/egg mixture. Put in the oven and bake until the sour cream is set, and the bread has browned a bit. Can be eaten warm or cold.

Barbara’s Sauerbraten

There are a million recipes for sauerbraten on the internet. This is, to the best of my recollection, my grandma’s way of making it. We liked it sour and with a very thick sauce in our family, so if this is your first time eating sauerbraten or if you prefer yours to be a bit less sour, there are two ways to control the sourness: first, you can adjust the ratio of wine to vinegar; second: you can marinate it for less time. There are people who do the reverse proportion of wine and vinegar to this method, there are people who do 50/50 and there’s just about everything in between. My grandmother marinated hers for 4 days. It needs a minimum of 24 hours, I wouldn’t go longer than 4 days, but anything in between will be fine. The longer you marinate the sourer the meat will be and the more tender. You might want to think of trussing your roast if you’re going to do four days because it will fall apart after cooking. I don’t care about pretty slices, so if it looks a little like pulled beef, that works for me. This isn’t fancy food. It’s pot roast and it probably came about so that poor people who had meat that was a little past its prime could cover some of the taste with acid and spices.

Two notes: The mace is optional. I always have some in my kitchen, but if you don’t, replace it with a pinch of nutmeg or omit it altogether. The juniper berries might be hard to find. I didn’t see them at my local supermarkets, but the international market nearby had several choices. Don’t omit the juniper. If you can’t find the whole berries, add a teaspoon of cheap, junipery gin to the marinade.

One inexpensive beef roast. We used a small piece of chuck for ours. Don’t use a good-quality roasting cut. Brisket. Butt roast. Chuck. Eye of round. Whatever’s on sale!

For the marinade:

3/4 c. red wine

3 ¼ c. red wine vinegar

1 medium onion quartered

2 carrots quartered

2 stalks celery quartered

3 sprigs fresh parsley

3 sprigs fresh thyme

13 juniper berries

13 whole cloves

2 tsp mustard seed

1 tsp pickling spice

2 bay leaves

13 whole peppercorns

1 mace

For the gravy:

6 ginger snaps

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

Several days in advance (see note at top!)

Salt the meat with kosher salt and let sit while you prepare the marinade.

In a pot large enough to hold the meat, combine the red wine and red wine vinegar, the onion, carrot and celery. Tie the herbs and spices into a bouquet garni in some cheesecloth and add that. Heat the mixture until it steams but do not boil. Remove from burner and allow to cool slightly. It should smell pretty pungent. Put the salted meat into the marinade while the liquid is still warm (my grandmother insisted on this!) and allow to cool until it’s the temperature to put in the refrigerator. Make sure the meat is completely covered by the liquid. If it’s a little short you can top it off with either more vinegar, more wine, some of both or just some water. My grandmother just did this in the Dutch oven she cooked it in and put that in the fridge. I put the meat and marinade in a freezer bag so I’m not taking the space of the pot for 4 days. If you use the bag method, make sure you turn the meat every day so that it marinates evenly.

Day of:

Remove the meat from the marinade and pat it dry with a paper towel. Reserve the marinade. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a Dutch oven almost to smoking and sear the meat on all sides. Once it’s nicely browned, add the marinade liquid, vegetables and bouquet garni. Cover and put in a preheated 350-degree oven for 2 to 3 hours.

To make the gravy, take the meat out of the oven. Remove the beef to rest. Remove and discard the bouquet garni. You can take the vegetables out of the sauce, or you can leave some or all of them in if you want a thicker, richer gravy. My grandmother left them in, so I do too. Crumble the ginger snaps, add the apple cider vinegar and puree with a hand-blender until smooth. The more of the veg you leave in the sauce, the thicker it will be. The ginger snaps both thicken and add a sweet/spicy element to the gravy. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary. If the gravy winds up too thick for you, you can thin it with a bit of water.

To serve, slice the meat and place on a platter. Pour some gravy over the top and put the extra in a gravy boat to pass at the table. Serve with potato dumplings (my favorite!) or spätzle and red cabbage.

This post was inspired by the theme for this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend. #winepW is a group of bloggers and wine lovers who collaborate each month on planning and discussing wine, wine pairings, wine travel and all things wine related. We get together on Twitter to discuss our pairings and what we thought of the wines. The chats are really fun and very informative and this month we got some great pairing ideas. Check out what everyone else did:

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(10) Comments

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  2. David

    What a great German feast! I like the way you combined traditions here.

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  5. Nancy|Pull That Cork

    I remember my grandmother making some of these recipes too. Wonderful memories. I’m so interested in the 2005 Riesling — I bet it was very interesting. Cheers, Kat!

  6. Jade Helm / Tasting Pour

    Wow, what a spread! Grandma’s recipes are the best.

  7. Jennifer Martin

    Looks like quite the meal. Dr. Loosen was one of the very first German Rieslings I ever had and enjoyed. Great to see a variety of different rieslings to read about with the group this month.

  8. Wendy Klik

    What an amazing menu and feast…I want to come to your next party.w

  9. Deanna

    How lucky that your grandma made sauerbraten for you. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  10. Jill Barth

    Thanks for the cool recipes! We didn’t make an German classics, but I’m in the mood now!

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