As mentioned in a previous post, I love Germany’s food seasons: Erdbeerzeit, Spargelzeit, Pfifferlingszeit. In late September and early October, after the grape harvest, comes the best one of all: Federweißerzeit, the season of fermented freshly pressed grape juice that is in the midst of becoming wine. Federweißer means feather-white, and it encompasses all liminal stages between fermented grape juice and wine. It is a delightfully protean beast: as it sits on the shelf and on your counter and in your glass, it noticeably turns cloudier and less sweet. Stronger, too – its alcohol content rises from 4% to 10%.
Before the start of Federweißerzeit proper, there is an early September pre-season when purported Federweißer from Italy is displayed at the supermarket next to Zweibelkuchen and Flammkuchen. This Italian wannabe Federweißer is looked down upon, which is kind of hilarious, because when else is coming from Italy a strike against a wine? Federweißerzeit starts in earnest only when proto-wine arrives from Rheinland-Pfalz.
A few days ago I bought a bottle of Rheinischer Federweißer for about €3 at the Bio Company (the Bio Company is a surprisingly good source of Federweißer). While I have made some great strides of Integrationsfähigkeit recently, such as remembering to buy my son’s snowsuit in September this year, I remain a somewhat hapless foreigner. So when I brought the Federweißer up to the checkout counter, I laid the bottle down on its side as I thought one is supposed to do with bottles at checkout counters in Germany. The cashier and the woman behind me in line both urgently dove at the Federweißer to set it upright. “Don’t ever do that!” the cashier scolded me (in a looking-out-for-my-safety way, not a mean way). “Federweißer MUST ALWAYS REMAIN UPRIGHT. Otherwise there’s a great danger of the bottle exploding.” Apparently the things happening inside a Federweißer bottle are so wildly volatile that it not only has to remain upright at all times, but also can’t be corked – instead it has a thin seal, because a cork would make the pressure build up to the point of explosion. I felt like I was buying a chemistry experiment.
When I opened my Federweißer that evening, it looked clear and tasted sweet like grape juice; I didn’t much like it. So I left it out on the counter. The next night it was cloudy and pleasingly less sweet. As long as Federweißer‘s at room temperature it keeps fermenting quickly; you’re supposed to refrigerate it when it reaches the point you want. The third night my musicologist friend came over in her new badass leather jacket from the Flowmarkt and we drank the rest of the bottle. I had two glasses, and I woke up the next morning feeling like death warmed over, with the kind of headache that would suggest I’d been double-fisting White Russians and Long Island Iced Teas all night. Federweißer is notorious for inducing vile headaches even when drunk in moderation. Apparently the way you’re supposed to prevent this is to eat Zwiebelkuchen (pictured above) or Flammkuchen (pictured below) while drinking it; as hapless foreigners, my friend and I neglected to do so.
Learn from my mistakes, dear readers: always pair your Federweißer with hearty autumnal fare, and always keep the bottle upright. And hurry: Federweißerzeit is fleeting.