Attending Wurstmarkt is as easy as catching a flight to Frankfurt, and then taking the less-than-two-hour trip by rail to Mannheim. Mass transit is the only way to go, because for two weekends each September, Bad Dürkheim, a town of 20,000 or so ­residents, explodes with 600,000 joyous visitors, making parking a challenge. Just visualize the view from above, the miles of cars from every direction, slowly approaching Bad Dürkheim. It no doubt looks similar to the "if you build it, they will come" closing scene in Field of Dreams. Like I said, take the rail.

Reading the Wine Label

The good news is that German wine labels are being redesigned, making them easier for the average consumer to read. Contrary to common belief, not all German wines are sweet.

Troken: indicates a dry wine without perceptible residual sweetness.

Halbtrocken: considered half-dry by most wine lovers, though not bone-dry.

Quality: The four categories (rated lowest to highest) are Deutscher Tafelwein, Landwein, Qualitätswein, and Qualitätswein mit Prädikat.

Ripeness: The Qualitätswein mit Prädikat are divided into levels of ripeness (less ripe to most ripe, not to be confused with sweetness), being Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein (ice wine), and Trockenbeerenauslese.

Weingut (pronounced vine-goot): a wine-­producing property in Germany.

The local train connecting from Mann­heim conveniently terminates near the festival's entry walkway. Then it's as simple as following the other mass-transit participants headed toward the center of things. X-markts the spot.

"The days are very close to Wurstmarkt number 589 [2005]," says resident and winemaker Jan Eymael of Pfeffingen Winery. "In fact, the official website ticks off the days. It will be an opportunity to taste the wines of the 2004 vintage, an extraordinary year. It was a very good September, and the ideal weather resulted in good body, good acidity, and good aroma for the vintage." Eymael likens this vintage to the important 2001s and the revered wines of 1985. But if you're not headed there this year, don't worry:­ There will be another Wurstmarkt next year. And another. Then another.

Everywhere you look, people are smiling, and they're courteous to strangers passing by. Of course, you would be happy, too, if you were being served youthful, refreshing German white wine in half-liter containers called schoppen. In the local dialect, the glass is called a dubbe, a reference to the bumpy exterior of the clear glass. Make my dubbe a double, please.

This is one of Germany's warmest wine regions, making the fall nights quite comfortable. Residents in this part of the nation are experienced and upbeat about Americans, though it helps if you can speak German. The mood is festive, but families rule. Although consumption may be big, judgment is a tad bigger. Europeans have always surpassed Americans in the art of melding alcohol consumption with wholesome family life.

Strolling along a tree-lined pathway, I arrive at the wine tents and enormous seating areas. Deciding which wine to drink is easy - whatever is being served in the particular tent or simple stand that you find first. Then venture farther into the loud, festive pedestrian grid. You'll find large wine tents, as well as the traditional schubkärchler, a small wine stand with scrubbed wooden tables that show their age. There are 150 wine selections from over 50 producers within the Pfalz region. If you want to enjoy some finer wines in an intimate atmosphere, seek out the Weindorf, the wine village.