Every culture has its own traditions to celebrate historical events and the passing of the seasons. When an observance is a supernova of a party, it becomes mimicked around the globe. Such is the case with Oktoberfest, the two-week festival held annually in Munich, Germany.
The original Oktoberfest occurred in 1810 when Munich residents were invited to mark the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage. Thinking of modern versions of the event as a wedding reception fit for royalty is appropriate.
Between this year’s festival dates, roughly 6 million visitors will join in the merriment in Munich alone. With seemingly nonstop music, table-top dancing, colorful parades, countless pretzels and lots of libations, it is a party unlike any other.
Beers and bites
Ludwig’s German Table in San Jose commemorated Oktoberfest over the last two weekends of September.
“This is our third year of the event,” said Ludwig’s co-owner, Nicole Jacobi, a native of Germany. “It is wonderful to see the crowds of German and non-German guests enjoying a celebration that is dear to my heart.”
Jacobi also serves as the restaurant’s chef. She features family recipes on Ludwig’s sophisticated menu. For Oktoberfest, patrons enjoyed Bavarian sausages, potato salad, sauerkraut and freshly baked pretzels.
“This is an exciting time of year for us,” said co-owner Ben Bate, who added that in addition to Ludwig’s events, the restaurant caters the Oktoberfest gathering at San Francisco’s Fort Mason.
After the official Oktoberfest celebrations, Ludwig’s year-round menu includes a variety of German dishes that will make any visit to the biergarten feel like a vacation abroad.
“We aim to create a welcoming atmosphere by caring for every detail,” Jacobi said.
That effort is clear in the elevated comfort food the kitchen produces, but the drinks menu is equally enticing. While the beer list at Ludwig’s is a consistent highlight, its wine list is not to be overlooked. Bate puts great thought into the beer and wine served at Ludwig’s, sourcing some standout wine options from Europe, including an Austrian Gruner Veltliner by Markus Huber. The refreshing and aromatic dry white works beautifully alongside the spectrum of German flavors. On the red side, there’s a Trollinger, a medium-bodied wine made from a varietal unique to Germany, adding to the authentic experience of a meal at Ludwig’s.
“We refresh our offerings as the seasons change,” Bate said.
In November, Bate added, Ludwig’s will introduce its winter menu, which will include updates to both the food and the drinks. In December, the restaurant is scheduled to host its version of the traditional German Christmas market.
For more information on the new menu and Christmas market, visit ludwigssj.com.
Germany has a long history of producing wines. In recent years, focus on quality in the world’s northernmost major wine regions has resulted in fantastic exports of both white and red varietals to the U.S.
Look no farther than the wine shelves of Draeger’s Market in Los Altos to bring home wines for your own Oktoberfest. Villa Wolf is a large producer located in southwest Germany. Draeger’s carries both Villa Wolf’s dry 2017 Riesling ($12.99) and its 2017 rosé of Pinot Noir ($12.99).
It is the high level of minerality characteristic of the Riesling grape that enables a wine with nearly 9 percent residual sugar to also be dry and supple. Villa Wolf’s dry Riesling is very pretty, with stone-fruit aromas and an alluring tropical profile that balances the rich sausages and vinegar-dressed potato salad served at Oktoberfest meals.
Villa Wolf’s rosé (“Weissherbst” in German) is a deliciously bright wine for any rosé drinker to get to know. Rosé goes well with heavy meals in general, and Villa Wolf’s version is no exception. Light in color and fresh on the palate, this is an easy crowd-pleaser.
It may come as a surprise to learn that Germany is the third-largest producer of Pinot Noir wine. Known as “Spatburgunder” in German, winemakers in regions such as Baden, Pfalz and Rheinhessen are making uniquely German Pinot Noirs.
The 2014 Wittmann Spatburgunder Trocken ($26.99), also available at Draeger’s, has a subtle and intriguing smoky quality to it. Soft tannins and notes of dried red cherry make this wine very food-friendly. Serving this red wine at an Oktoberfest gathering in your home will have your guests proclaiming “prost” – or, cheers – as they clink wine glasses.
A feast at home
No Oktoberfest would be complete without potato salad to serve alongside the star of the meal – sausage. Visit Dittmer’s Gourmet Meats & Wurst-Haus in Los Altos for an incredible selection of Bavarian- and German-style links, all made in-house.
While American versions of German potato salad often call for the addition of bacon, I’m told by a German friend that this easy version (recipe at right) is more authentic. The inclusion of a small amount of heated broth (such as chicken or vegetable) is pretty brilliant, adding richness to the dressing without heavy mayonnaise.
Christine Moore is a Mountain View resident. To read her blog, visit sheepishsommelier.blogspot.com.
Traditional German Potato Salad
• 4 large russet potatoes, with skin on
• 2 tablespoons heated broth (vegetable or chicken)
• 2 small gherkins or 1 small pickle, plus 1 teaspoon pickling liquid, finely diced
• 2 shallots, finely diced
• 4 tablespoons grapeseed oil
• 1 tablespoon white vinegar
• Chives, finely chopped
• Salt and pepper to taste
Boil potatoes with skin on until tender but firm. Allow to cool, then peel and slice.
Make dressing by mixing broth, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Add shallots and gherkins. Pour over potatoes, then sprinkle chives. Fold gently until combined. Taste and add additional salt or pepper as needed.