Germany has a serious reputation for its beer and sausages, but it's also one of the world's largest wine producers, with a storied viticultural history that dates back to ancient Roman times. So when the German Wine Institute  invited me on a country tour of food and wine, how could I say nein?
My first trip to Deutschland proved to be a mix of fun and educational: there was as much to learn about the German people (kind, and ridiculously punctual) as there was to glean about the food (a blend of old and new) and the wine industry (rapidly evolving). From Frankfurt to Munich to the Pfalz and Baden wine regions in between, take a look at some of the highlights.
Apfelwein in Frankfurt
An arrival in Frankfurt wouldn't have been complete without the city's famous apfelwein (apple wine), which is served at apfelweinkneipe, or cider bars. I was forewarned by guidebooks that apple wine is an acquired taste, which is why I was pleasantly surprised to love it; in flavor, it resembled a cross between wine and — you guessed it! — apple cider.
One of the gems I quite literally stumbled upon in Frankfurt was the Kleinmarkthalle , a two-story indoor market filled with stands that sell everything from flowers to bread to Italian antipasti. But mostly, I saw sausage stands like this one.
Sausage and Mustard From Metzgerei Schreiber
One stall in particular was mobbed with locals waiting for sausage and bread, so I got in line too, figuring that when in Frankfurt, one ought to do as the Frankfurters do. Less than €2 later, I was noshing on the best sausage I'd ever had: it possessed just the right amount of snap in texture, and it had a robust flavor that was nicely foiled with the accompanying mustard's horseradish-y kick. Little did I know I was on queue at Metzgerei Schreiber , one of the city's classic snack stands.
VDP Tasting in Wiesbaden
Germany's quality wine producer's association, the VDP  (that'd be short for Verband Deutscher Pradikats- und Qualitatsweinguter), hosted its yearly tasting of wines in Wiesbaden, a historic spa town outside Frankfurt. This year, it unveiled 365 wines from the 2011 vintage that were designated as "great growth" wines. Our press junket was among the first to taste those wines.
This highly efficient, organized wine-tasting was unlike any I'd ever attended. Tasters (who were sent the extensive wine list in advance) were assigned seating in a quiet room lined with long rows of tables, and could request flights of six wines to servers waiting on hand for new orders. Admiring the scene , acclaimed wine writer Jancis Robinson wrote  that it was "a miracle of wine service."
Sunburnt Grapes in Deidesheim
Our press group headed to the quaint winemaking town of Deidesheim (population: 3,700), where we stayed for the night. On our walk to dinner, the head of our press tour pointed out some sunburnt Riesling grapes, the result of hotter Summer days in the Palatinate  climate.
"There Has Never Been a More Exciting Time"
Dr. Burklin-Wolf wine consultant Tom Benns welcomed us to organic restaurant Hofgut Ruppertsberg . "There has never been a more exciting time to live and make wine in Germany," Benns told us. "I think people are finally starting to get what German wine is all about."
Hofgut Ruppertsberg in Deidesheim
In addition to being a winery, Hofgut Ruppertsberg is also a restaurant that offers a bio-focused food in rustic, agrarian surroundings.
Hofgut Ruppertsberg's Garden Greens Salad
The food was reminiscent of California cuisine in that it was local, organic, and unadorned, only with a focus on Palatinate ingredients. Dinner started with a garden-greens salad, but many of the greens in the salad were cuttings I'd never seen before.
Never heard of Mirabelle? Neither had I, until someone in our press group enjoyed it as a nightcap at the hotel lobby bar. As it turns out, Mirabellenwasser, as it's technically called, is an eau de vie made from the small yellow Mirabelle plum variety. I so enjoyed its floral notes that I later bought some to take home with me.
Christmann Winery in Gimmeldingen
The next morning, we rose early to head to Gimmeldingen, a small village in the Palatinate township of Neustadt. There, we met up with winemaker Steffen Christmann of Weingut Christmann , who showed us around his estate.
Weingut von Winning in Deidesheim
After Christmann, it was off to another weingut (winery) for a tour of the cellar. At Weingut von Winning , we got a taste of the history behind the winemaking. The estate first started producing wine back in 1812.
Wise Wine Words
Wise words from a large wooden wine barrel in the cellar at von Winning translated to "From the cradle to the grave, drinking is the best thing you can do."
Assembly-Line Bottling at von Winning
Despite its respectful nod to the past, Weingut von Winning also proved to be quite modern, as evidenced by our tour of the winery's bottling plant.
Candied Fruit and Wine Pairing
While in Deidesheim, we hit up Biffar , a company that's been producing candied fruits since 1890. We toured the factory to see how orange slices are dipped and sour cherries glacéed, then sat down to enjoy a candied fruit and wine pairing.
After the candied fruit tasting, we headed in to Metzergei Hambel , the regionally famous butcher shop that's renowned for its Saumagen , where we got a primer on Palatinate forcemeats.
Klaus Hambel's Saumagen
Proprietor Klaus Hambel showed us how he makes saumagen , a Palatinate pork specialty that's stuffed into a sow's stomach.
A closer look at the saumagen. Despite its scary-sounding description, the delicacy, which reminded me of country paté, was actually quite delicious.
The following day, we started off the morning with a vinegar tasting at Weinessiggut Doktorenhof .
The vinegar house is known for its sipping vinegars, which are served in handblown glasses created exclusively for the purpose of drinking vinegars, like the "Tears of Cleopatra" blend shown here.
Winemaker Markus Klumpp
In the winemaking region of Baden, we visited Weingut Klumpp . There, Markus Klumpp showed us what to expect of a new generation of young German winemakers.
The View From Weingut Heitlinger
Our last winery visit, to Weingut Heitlinger  in Northern Baden, brought a special treat: individual tours of all of the estate's vineyards.
The estate's vineyards were all a short walk or drive from one another, and at each stop, we were greeted with the wine of that vineyard, lending new meaning to the idea of wine having a sense of place.
Head Winemaker Claus Burmeister
Winemaker Claus Burmeister showed us the vineyard's mix of limestone and sandstone.
Vegan Platter in Munich
After our wine tour, I wrapped up my weekend in the Bavarian town of Munich, where I discovered that the health-food trend has taken full force. Case in point: a platter of vegan options (beet salad, papaya salad, Japanese spinach salad, and tofu salad) at the Louis Hotel .