Winemonger Talk

  • Ice Wine (aka: Eiswein, Icewein, Icewine, Eiswine)

    Frozen Vinefrozen vines

    What's with all the spellings?

    Ice wine has German roots, which is why you will commonly see the German spellings for ice, "Eis” and Wine, "Wein" combined as Eiswein. You will also come across a host of incorrect mixes of the two languages creating spellings such as Eiswine and icewein. You may also find it called Vin de Glacier and Ledove Vino. But all of them refer to one thing: Wine, made from grapes which have frozen on the vine.

    One would expect ice wine to have a long history in winemaking, but it does not. In fact, ice wine has only been around for about 200 years. In his book on the subject, John Schreiner tells the story of how ice wine was born: A German winemaker, surprised by an early frost, decided to press the frozen grapes anyway. However, he separated the frozen grapes from the rest of his vintage so as to avoid spoiling the whole lot. To the vintner's own surprise, the resulting juice was sweet and pure.

    Ever since, ice wine has been produced to some degree in all wine producing countries of the Northern hemisphere, including Austria, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland and others. It has been barely more than a decade, though, that ice wine has become a coveted jewel amongst wine lovers, as for many years its atypical production method gave it the presumption of being a “gimmicky” wine.

    ice wine Temperture: -7 Celsiusearly morning in the vineyards

    The difference between ice wine and other sweet wines, such as TBA (Trockenbeerenauslese), Sauternes, Beerenauslese or Schilfwein, is that ice wines show a much clearer fruit and varietal character. This is due to its production method: while other sweet wines are made from botrytis ("noble rot") affected grapes or grapes dried for weeks on mats of straw, ice wine grapes are usually healthy at the time of harvest. This causes the grapes to retain a good amount of acidity, which gives an ice wine a certain kind of raciness when compared to its dessert wine cousins.

    True ice wine is that made from grapes which are kept on the vine until the temperature sinks below 19, 4 Fahrenheit or -7 degree Celsius.

    Some producers in regions that allow to do so (namely the US and New Zealand) have started producing simulated ice wine by tossing the grapes into a commercial freezer.

    ice wine Harvest - Weiss Wineryice wine harvest

    Does nature impart nuances and layers of taste to the grapes while they remain on the vine, sometimes past Christmas and into the new year, that a commercial freezer can not provide? Most wine lovers don't consider this to be a serious question. Simulated ice wines are therefore considered to be of lower value and will typically sell at half the price of ice wine made the traditional way.

    Both methods do employ the same basic trick though: a grape is made up mostly of water, and since only the water will freeze at those low temperatures, the sweet grape juice can be pressed from the grapes while the water remains trapped in the skins of the grapes in the form of pressed ice.

    This is also the reason for it's high price: when you consider that the better part of each grape is deliberately lost, leaving behind only a small percentage of the harvest, which in itself is no easy pickings as it must be done at night so that the sun will not melt the ice, leaving the workers to, as it were, freeze their clusters off (and their fingers)….well, that’s a lot of work for a small amount of sweet nectar.

    It is also essential to harvest at the very first frost night of the year, because grapes left on the vine to go through a freeze-thaw-refreeze cycle can pick up unwanted flavors. Winemakers are therefore often nervous wrecks by the time the harvest is over as they will have spent night after night waking up many times to check the temperature. The wineries of Burgenland in Austria have a well working network of winemakers who will check on the temperature in the different vineyards and call each other when harvest can commence.

    "Keeping the harvest workers ready can be a tedious and embarrassing task" says Franz Heiss. He will often have to call a dozen harvest workers for the fifth or sixth time, only to see another night pass without the desired temperatures being reached.

    On top of this dance around the thermometer, an ice wine harvest is at times not even successful. Franz Heiss tells a story of when he started harvest at midnight at a comfortable minus eight degrees Celsius. Nobody thought much of a bank of fog moving in during picking, but they soon found out that this fog had lifted the temperature, resulting in slightly thawed grapes by the time they reached the cellar. Because the water in the grapes will now dilute the wine down, the legal requirements for an ice wine weren't met any longer. Instead of an ice wine, this one became an Auslese wine, very much to Heiss's dismay.

    The fact that the winemakers have to literally wait for the frost, and often it will never come and all the grapes and work are lost, means that the grapes stay on the vine and go through a full circle of ripening all the way to a state of being shriveled down to brown raisin-like grapes by late December.

    Franz HeissFranz Heiss

    Extra time on the vine means extra work for the winemaker. The grapes need to be defended against the “free harvest workers": the starling birds, small deer and snacking boars.

    In Austria the first frost hits right around Christmas and quite a few winemakers can tell stories of Santa arriving a day late as the ice wine harvest had to first be brought into the winery and pressed immediately.

    A good ice wine is clear and vibrant in its flavors and aromas. Amongst many other contenders, the aromatic Scheurebe grape has properties that make it a popular choice for use in ice wine .

    The most Austrian ice wine, one could argue, is an ice wine from Austria's flagship grape, the Grüner Veltliner. In fact, many producers prefers to use Grüner Veltliner in their ice wine because they are more resistant to botrytis, so the end result has notes as clear as, say, an icicle. For a fine example, try the Fahrenheit 19, which is from the Winzerkeller Andau and is 100% Gruner Veltliner.

    No need to mention that our ice wines are the real thing. In Austria, where wine laws are strictest in all of Europe, only ice wines created by Mother Nature are allowed to carry the proud name, and the winemakers wouldn't want it any other way.

  • What’s a Ruster Ausbruch?

    R is for RustR is for Rust

    Ruster Ausbruch is a sweet dessert wine. But before we plunge into the whys and hows of the wine, let’s take a look at the name itself: “Ruster”, pronounced “Rooster”, simply means that it comes from the town of Rust (again, pronounced “Roost”) in the Burgenland region of Austria. “Ausbruch,” (pronounced “AHS-brook”) comes from the German word “Ausbrechen” which means to “break out.” In this context it refers to the method for selecting the grapes during harvest. That is, the grapes on the vine that are affected by noble rot, AKA botrytis cinerea, are the only ones picked from the bunch, or “broken out” of the bunch, when harvesting.

    The quality of the final product depends upon how meticulously this selection process it is done. The simplest way involves taking two buckets and making one pass at the vines, roughly separating the merely ripe grapes from those affected by noble rot.

    RustThe Town of Rust

    The more labor intensive way involves going through the vineyard day after day, up to a half-dozen times, and only picking the most perfectly noble-rotted grapes with each pass and leaving the rest on the vine until they reach perfection. Those affected by the lesser black or green molds are also picked but then discarded. With this method, even the most experienced picker will collect only about enough grapes to produce 20 liters of wine with each pass. In fact, winemaker Michael Wenzel tells us of a year when it took a team of 7 harvesters working full-time for 10 days to pick enough grapes for a mere 300 liters of this precious wine. This is rare stuff indeed!

    Production then goes something like this: maceration generally takes between ½ and 2 days, depending upon the quality of the nobly rotted grapes. Then a gentle pressing, and the must is left to ferment until it reaches around 12% alcohol, which takes approximately four months. The wines are then aged in wooden casks or oak barrels, the length of time and type of barrel used depending upon the style of the vintner.

    Botrytis affected GrapesBotrytis Affected Grapes

    The most traditional blend of grapes used for making Ruster Ausbruch is Furmint and Muskateller, but you’ll find Rusters from Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Neuburger, Traminer and Welschriesling as well.

    As a bit of a history lesson, the first official record of Ausbruch wines comes from the communal register of the town of Weiden, which is on the opposite side of the Neusiedler Lake from Rust, and is dated 1617.

    We are proud to offer six different Ruster Ausbruch wines, produced by two of the premier wineries in Rust, for which we are the sole US importer: Feiler-Artinger and Wenzel. The Feiler-Artinger winery just celebrated its 100-year anniversary, and the Wenzel family has been making wine in Rust since 1647.

    Last year, Wine Enthusiast magazine named the 2001 Wenzel SAZ Ruster Ausbruch wine to it’s “Top 100 Wines in the World” list, a wine which vintner Michael Wenzel describes this way: “This is the flagship of our Ruster Ausbruch wines. “Saz” stands for the historically important lage [vineyard area] on our property. The idea was to create a Ruster Ausbruch from grapes that have been the traditional combination used for hundreds of years: 60% Furmint and 40% Muskateller. In the glass it is a beautiful sparkly yellow. The nose is immensely fruity, with notes of apricot and citrus fruits. An explosion of fruits. On the palate you are overwhelmed by the finesse of the acid that carries the wine and builds the backbone for long cellaring potential. The 2001 Saz was aged for 18 months in new wood barrels.”

    And just how long is the cellar potential for these wines? Vintner Kurt Feiler describes their passage into maturity this way: “The Ruster Ausbruch has a cellaring potential of up to 50, 60 years. It shows well in the first 2 years, then closes down in year 3 for about a year, and then opens back up with fruit and more complexity on the palate; more rounded and integrated. It will hold at this perfect taste for another 15 years and then slows development as it moves into its ripening period. The sweet impression of the sugar reduces during this final period, developing a more crispy, slightly drier finish. For our Ruster Ausbruch blends every grape is picked single varietal, at different times, and then after fermentation they are blended. This also helps us to control the final feeling.”

    Heaven: Fois Gras and Ruster AusbruchFois Gras and Dessert Wine

    One might be tempted to serve such a sweet dessert wine alongside the dessert course, but time and again our vintners recommend something different: pairing these wines with something savory, such as a blue-veined cheese or some prepared foie gras, to create an incredible balance and harmony. If you do elect to serve it as the finishing touch of the meal, we would recommend keeping the dessert simple and not-too-sweet, such as a white cake or ripe fruit dish. Or better yet, serve a glass of Ruster as the entire dessert course! This is one dessert wine which can certainly stand alone, and deserves to do so.



    These rare and exquisite wines are a must for the dessert wine connoisseur, and a knock-out for the sweet wine novice.

  • Halloween Sweet Wines Tasting Notes Contest

    Trick or Treat!

    Why should kids get all the sweet treats on Halloween?

    To help celebrate All Hallow's Eve this year, Winemonger is offering 10% off on all of our sweet wine flights and...

    ...hosting a sweet wine tasting notes contest!

    Until November 1st, 2005, the following sweet wine flights are 10% off:

    Once you've tasted, please send us your Halloween-esque tasting note. For example,

    "...boasts rich pear and dried apricot aromas that carry a 'frightening' hint of volatility. Would 'spook' the most jaded palette..."

    The one that literally makes us laugh out loud will win a free Riedel Vinum Decanter (retail $120.00).

    To qualify, you must

    1. Purchase one of our sweet wine flights listed above.
    2. Taste at least one bottle.
    3. Email your "spook-tacular" tasting notes to tastingnotes AT winemonger DOT com. Include the name of the wine in the subject line.

    Entries must be received by Friday, November 4th, 2005.

    The winning tasting notes will be published on Monday, November 7th, 2005.

    The winner's Riedel Vinum Decanter will arrive just in time for Thanksgiving.

    Happy Halloween,

    Your Winemonger

  • 2002 Austrian Vintage Report

    From the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, January 2003

    The beginning of this otherwise capricious year was unspectacular. A mild, dry winter was followed by an amiable and equally dry spring marked by several warm, sunny days as early as March and April. The resulting early budding and flowering at the end of May was unproblematic. After several very hot days in June, which remained the warmest of the entire year, a variable July followed.

    Continued warm weather interspersed with thundershowers brought a lead in fruit maturity that appeared to rival that of the hot 2000 vintage. The flooding catastrophes of August caused an abrupt change and the threat of rot required urgent attention from vintners in vineyards all over Austria. Certain parts of the wine areas Wachau, Kamptal, and Kremstal suffered disastrous damage from the tremendous precipitation volume during the second and third week of August.

    Some wet, variable weather continued in September, but precipitation was distributed among the wine areas unevenly. While the weather in Mittelburgenland and Südburgenland (central and south Burgenland) was predominantly pleasant, Donauland and Wien (Vienna) continued to suffer from rain. Although October began warm and dry, rain soon set in once again and often delayed harvest until mid-November with the exception of a few ideal black grape vineyards around Lake Neusiedl and Steinfeld. The entire harvest stretched over an exceptionally long time period.

    Considering all the pranks of the weather, the wine quality shows quite encouraging results. A good to very good year has been announced for the producers of quality wines. Equally surprising is that this appears to be true for all three major sectors of Austrian wine: dry white and red wines as well as the sweet wines. This result can be attributed only to the pedantic work in the vineyards. All rotting or acetic berries and bunches were cut away starting in July. The result is logically a reduced harvest volume.

    The dry white wines show high sugar-free dry extract, exceeding that of the very different previous 2001 and 2000 vintages. The structure of the refreshing, racy acidity is similar to that of the 1999 and 2001 vintages. Primary fruit and varietal character are clearly expressed in the young wines and seem to be best exemplified in the typical Sauvignons from Steiermark (Styria) and the spicy, peppery Grüner Veltliners of Niederösterreich (Lower Austria). The best Rieslings and Chardonnays convince even the most discerning palates. Whether or not the quality of the vintage can truly be classified between that of 1999 and 2001 can only be decided by the development of the wines once bottled.

    A considerable volume of noble sweet wines could be produced because of the early development of botrytis. Tasted during the last stages of their fermentation, these wines can be expected to have good tension and a piquant play of acidity.

    Enthusiasts of Austrian red wine will be thrilled to know that they can anticipate an unexpected pinnacle. The quality level of the 1999 vintage was not only achieved, but also in some cases exceeded. The very best growths were even able to equal the 2000 vintage. The reds show good depth of color and even at this early stage show intensive fruit and a relatively soft tannic structure. Particularly exciting are the Blaufränkisch wines of Mittelburgenland and Südburgenland (central and south Burgenland) which show such marked character and depth of fruit that there are hopes of these wines exceeding the excellent quality of the 2000 vintage. Excellent balance is distinctly apparent.

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    View our available wines from the 2002 vintage.

  • 2001 Austrian Vintage Report

    From the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, March 2002

    A dry winter which was so mild that it hardly deserved to be called winter at all was followed in most wine-growing areas by a spring that was dry and pleasant, allowing the vines to develop normally. The hot and summery weather in May even brought to mind the heat records of 2000. After a good blossoming period right up to mid-June a cool and rainy July finally brought the much-needed precipitation and a chance for the plants to recuperate. August was so hot and sunny that an early harvest date seemed on the cards. The general conditions even seemed to be better than those in 1999 and 2000.

    Just in time for the school year the weather changed. September came with never-ending rain: Vienna, for example, saw only four clear days in four weeks. The last weekend of September brought a change to the better which, with the exception of some persistent fog, lasted throughout October. The grapes, which had absorbed a good deal of water during the rains, were able to stabilize again and most varietals could fend off the danger of rot.

    Under these conditions very consciencious work in the vineyards during the summer was an absolute precondition for a good harvest. Only a light foliage and a considerable reduction in yields could protect the grapes right up to the end of the vegetation period. These difficult conditions also brought with them a very work-intensive harvest sorting out the healthy grapes from others, and a correspondingly very high financial outlay for the producers. The fermentation of the must was mostly allowed to happen slowly and using the cool outside temperatures. Two frosty periods in December, finally, allowed an ice wine harvest.

    The first tastings show that the majority of the 2001 whites are fruit-driven and spicy, with good varietal typicity and a text-book expression of the fine acidity which is so much loved by Austrian wine lovers. Fruit extracts seem high and will therefore be able to balance the wines. Only the lighter wines harvested during the rainy period are much lighter.

    Like the whites with their clarity and deep fruit, the 2001 reds show great fruit sweetness and elegance. If the previous vintage brought more powerful wines, the wines from 2001 will be able to make up for their lacking punch with their great charme. It will be seen to be better than 1995, 1996, and 1998, and can be expected to evolve a little more quickly than 1999 and 2000.

    September was ideal for botrytis and guaranteed a slow and continuous spread of the noble rot. Especially in the Burgenland we may look forward to an attractive vintage of dessert wines. The Seewinkel in the north of the area managed to harvest significant quantities as well as good quality.

    2001 was not the century vintage that many hoped it might be, and there are producers who rate it as a missed chance. In retrospect, however, the good late autumn has saved the vintage and wine lovers can look forward to wines with excellent balance and fruit. The range of qualities, however, is much larger in a year as capricious as this one, a year which asks much more from the winemaker than previous vintages did. In the hands of masters, however, these will be masterly wines. (Text by Viktor Siegl)

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    View our available wines from the 2001 vintage

  • 2000 Austrian Vintage Report

    From the Austrian Wine Marketing Board

    The expectations aroused by the 2000 vintage were bringing smiles to the faces of Austrian wine-growers and wine-lovers as early as Advent. Nevertheless, it is well to be cautious in judging the ultimate quality of such a promising vintage; many of the young wines have yet to be bottled and are still at a very early stage of their development. But let's stop to consider briefly how such an extreme year produced such pleasant and anything but extreme results.

    Following a rather wet winter devoid of periods of severe frost and a March with plentiful precipitation, the vineyard soils were full of moisture. That proved to be extremely important, because an unbelievably warm and sunny spring began the week before Easter and continued throughout May and June. Those two months were the warmest of any in the past two hundred years. In addition to wind and heat - with temperatures at the Feast of Corpus Christi of 38.3 C° - the "pre-summer summer" also produced extreme drought in the eastern wine-growing areas. Only Styria was somewhat spared. Flowering occurred by mid-May without any problems.

    A rather cool and rainy July finally provided the needed precipitation, which however remained rather sparse along a band stretching from the southern Weinviertel of Lower Austria to the Seewinkel of Burgenland. In August, sun-worshippers with short memories were already complaining about the fickle summer of 2000 when a new heat-wave arrived, practically roasting the grapes on the vine and hastening maturity by around three weeks. Thus red-wine grapes in Burgenland were already changing colour by the beginning of August! It was not just the vines recently planted that suffered during the hottest days of August, but in general also those that were planted on porous soils. At the end of August and in September light showers provided the necessary moisture, and September for the most part saw a continuation of the magnificent late-summer weather. A period of changeable, wet weather did not arrive until the second week of October. Combined with (too) warm nights in exposed areas such as the Wachau, this resulted in sudden botrytis growth. However, the rest of October was for the most part an Indian summer of calm, clear weather, permitting the individual wine-growers to harvest at will. Finally, a warm November with low precipitation and average temperatures well above 10 °C kept autumn spirits high. In particular, there was an almost complete lack of the dreaded periods of fog in low-lying areas.

    Redder Than Ever Before
    By this time, there were high spirits instead of early winter depression in the cellars of the red-wine specialists as well, where most of the red musts had undergone both alcoholic and malolactic fermentation without any problems. And it should be noted

    that the red-wine harvest had never occurred so early: in Wagram, for example, the best Pinot Noir vineyards had been harvested by the end of August; older wine-growers compared the vintage with that of the similar years of 1945 and 1947. By this time, the grapes of some red-wine varieties, especially Zweigelt and Pinot Noir, were already beginning to shrink like raisins. Haste was necessary, and the question was hanging in the air whether the juice of such unusually mature grapes wouldn't be too jam-like and low in fruit. Initially at least, such fears have fortunately proved to be completely unfounded, as may be tasted in the first samples from the barrel. While the young Austrian red wines are without exception of unbelievably deep colour - in the case of varieties such as Cabernet and Blaufränkisch almost deep-black in hue - they are characterised by the typical Austrian fruity brilliance, despite the record must readings. To the extent that such predictions are possible at this early stage, it appears they will be distinctly more heavy and concentrated than the 1999 vintage, which was already quite full-bodied and attractive. They also probably have just as much tannin and substance as the slow-to-develop 1997 vintage, but without its severity and pungency. In all, the red wines of the 2000 vintage combine the merits of the 1997 and 1999 vintages, resulting on the whole in a superior wine.

    Apart from the progress made in the vineyards and cellars, which makes a comparison with earlier vintages more difficult, the fabulous 2000 vintage is also said to surpass with greater or lesser clarity those of 1986, 1992 or 1993. Even lesser qualities of Zweigelt are persuasive in their warm fruitiness and supple structure, while Blaufränkisch wines are unbelievably profound, balanced and surprisingly soft. The Cabernets are characterised by enormous maturity, which completely inhibits grassy undertones, while St. Laurent and Pinot Noir may in any case be considered an inside tip. Summing up, the most impressive features are the early balance and fine-grained, ripe tannins as well as the fact that the specific fruity notes have been preserved, despite the heat-waves and resulting thick-skinned grapes.

    Consistently High Quality
    Also astonishing is the consistently high quality of the white wines. It is found in every wine-growing area and variety, so that it would be inappropriate to single out individual locations or types of grape. Veltliner grapes were enormously ripe and powerful; wine-growers attempting to achieve a "normal" Kabinett quality were practically forced to harvest early. The Riesling grapes, which develop more slowly, were characterised by elegant fruitiness and roundness. In both cases, acidity was in the mid to low range but without any deleterious effect on the taste. In contrast to the hot years of 1983 and 1992, which created distinct roasted aromas and sometimes burnt undertones, the 2000 vintage does not have the character of a particularly hot vintage year. In retrospect this is not so surprising: the spring was extreme but not the summer, which permitted the grapes to ripen under relatively normal and favourable conditions.

    Thus even the powerful white wines of the Burgenland were able to retain the qualities typical of their varieties. Ageing in oak barrels (en barrique) would seem more than logical, for example, for the Burgundy varieties.

    There is general rejoicing in the Styrian wine-growing areas over a vintage expected to outshine to some extent even the best years of "modern times": 1990, 1993 and 1997. A high degree of ripeness and yet expressive fruit are uniting at an early stage into a harmonious whole. The pleasant and unusual thing about it is that this description fits every grape variety from Welschriesling to Sauvignon. Compared with the rest of Austria, Styria perhaps enjoyed a small additional advantage in that repeated small Adriatic depressions provided short, light rain at just the right time, but there were no heavy rains, so that dangerous rot did not occur in some areas until the middle of October. The Sauvignons are characterised by unusually powerful extracts, which, however, did not displace the fruit and spice. After a long lean period, Muscat fans may again look forward to exceptionally grapey and attractive wines.

    It is only natural that the Schilcher wines of western Styria should do well in such a year, given their inherent acidity; the more daring producers will certainly have tried various "experiments" in making Spätlese and red wines from the Wildbacher grape. There are even reports of Trockenbeerenauslese wines (!) being made from this grape variety.

    All in all, it may be expected that with regard to white wines the competition between 1999 and 2000 vintages will be seen as a neck in neck race. At the moment the 1999 Veltliner and Riesling wines appear almost unsurpassable - whether the 2000 vintage can approach this high level remains to be seen in the coming years. In the case of the Burgundies and the varieties with a pronounced bouquet, such as Muscat, Traminer and Sauvignon, the profound 2000 vintage could lead by a head at some future time, but this must be considered purely speculative.

    In the case of sweet wines, the uniformly mild weather up to mid-December means that Eiswein - made from grapes frozen on the vine - will be available, if at all, only in extremely small quantities. Because of the delayed appearance of botrytis, Prädikatswein was also harvested in rather small quantities, even among specialists, i.e. in Rust and the surrounding area. There was a continued tendency to produce Prädikatswein of high and highest quality in areas that up to now were not known for such specialities. For example, both Styria and the Wachau region, where botrytis appeared late but then rather intensely, produced a surprising variety of dessert wines, sometimes in considerable quantity. Thus, all in all, the Austrian vintage year of 2000 may be said to be planted solidly on three legs!

    The full and creamy appearance and the discreet acidic structure of the white wines as well as the southerly, fully ripe red wines rich in tannin have raised expectations that the top Austrian wines of this year will create a sensation on export markets as well. (text by Viktor Siegl)

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    View our available wines from the 2000 vintage.

  • Austrian Riesling vs. German and Alsatian Riesling

    Riesling Grape

    Robert Parker Jr., the famous American wine critic, calls the best Rieslings of the Wachau “some of the finest white wines made”. On how they compare to Rieslings from other regions, he goes on to say that “Austrian Rieslings are extremely distinctive from those produced in Alsace or Germany. They have a harmony between acidity and fruit found in French Rieslings, as well as the sharp focus found in the Germans.”

    Perhaps just one man’s opinion, but British Riesling “specialist” Stuart Pigott has this to say: "Compared with the majority of Alsace Rieslings, [Austrian Rieslings] taste less alcoholic, crisper, and more forthrightly fruity. Tasted against fine dry German Rieslings, they are fuller-bodied, more aromatic, and generally have a better harmony owing to their softer acidity."

    Winemonger carries a selection of Austrian Rieslings, ranging from bone-dry to sweet. For comparative purposes though, we will focus on those dry Rieslings from the Wachau, which is part of wine growing region called Niederösterreich (Lower Austria).

    So what makes these dry Rieslings from the Wachau special? The first thing you will notice is that they will typically carry notes of stone fruit both in the nose and on the palate: peach, apricot and the mysterious “vineyard peach” (a variety of peach which, as the name suggests, grows in the vineyards here. Its distinctive taste is somewhere between a peach and apricot, and yet somehow otherworldly).

    An example which expresses the peach note beautifully is the Hogl Terrassen Spitzergraben (and it’s friendly to the pocketbook too).

    Alongside this Wachau-peach note you will find those from each specific vineyard where the grapes were grown. Take the winery Gritsch Mauritiushof Riesling from the 1000 Eimerberg vineyards (1000 Bucket Mountain) with its fantastic citrus notes, or the Donabaum Offenberg Riesling with its distinct note of the schist laden soil found on the Offenberg mountain.

    Urgestein - Primeval Stone"Urgestein" - Primeval Stone

    But, by literally digging deeper, we find what makes these wines truly shine: that taste of the place these wines come from, the terroir. Especially because these vines grow in a soil that has good things to add: primeval stone that has built up over thousands of years and is collectively called "Urgestein". This is where the Rieslings of the Wachau grow. To get to the water they will often have to dig their roots as far as 60 feet through weathered, primal crystalline stone, picking up mineral elements as they quench their thirst. Two factors make this effect more pronounced: the depth to which the roots must dig, which translates to longer exposure to the mineral elements, and the fact that Riesling like no other grape has an ability to extract those mineral elements from the soil. The result is a vineyard expression that is hard to beat: Wachau Rieslings gain an elegance and edge which makes the vintners from neighboring regions quite jealous. Understandably so, when you do everything else right.

    A noteworthy vineyard in regards to mineral notes is the Bruck vineyard at the northern end of the Wachau. Josef Hogl grows fantastic Riesling there which we will have a few cases of this fall, 2005. The Bruck vineyard (pronounced "brook" and meaning "bridge vineyard") adds a mineral note so strong that, once experienced, it is a scent you will not soon forget. For the budding wine geek, this might be the first time you’ll not only be able tell a winery and grape when tasting the wine blind, you will also be able to determine the vineyard. Quite impressive indeed.

    If you are playing with the idea of becoming a geologist, read the page on local topography on the official website of the Vinea Wachau, the honorable association of Wachau wineries. The composition of the different layers of primeval stone and it's influence on the wines of the Wachau might interest you.

    So why are these Austrian Rieslings created dry, and those from Germany and Alsace (typically) made sweeter? For pure food-pairing utility, the dry Rieslings tend to work better. An off-dry wine can be gorgeous, and with the right pairing, can be truly transcendent. But a dry wine pairs with many foods, while a sweet wine will often get in the way of the foods we like instead of complement them. But the differing styles are not just a preference; it’s a geographical necessity.

    Franz Josef Gritsch of the Gritsch Mauritiushof Winery explains further: "Our terraces build the perfect microclimate for Riesling. Sunny during the day [the terraces maximize the exposure to the sun] and cool and windy at night, the Riesling grapes have a chance to go the full vegetative cycle and develop physiological ripeness that German Rieslings will typically not reach due to the cooler northern climate. Because our grapes are riper, we can afford to ferment the wines through, thus creating dry Rieslings. In Germany the acidity in the wines is much higher and the winemakers therefore chose to stop fermentation earlier and create sweet Rieslings with less alcohol to counter the naturally high acidity with sweetness."

    The DonabaumsThe Donabaum Family

    Johann Donabaum of the Donabaum Winery was kind enough to ask esteemed Austrian wine priest Father Denk for a statement on Austrian Riesling. Hans Denk is someone you ought to know about. A priest in the small village of Albrechtsberg in Austria, Hans Denk has acquired an encyclopedic knowledge of wine next to a great nose and palate. Father Denk is not only extremely tall, he also seems to have shoulders wider than a standard doorway and rumor has it that he can drink and will drink anyone under the table who dares to challenge him. Father Denk's two dogs, Whisky and Vodka, complete the picture.

    “Despite the Grüner Veltliner being Austria’s strongest autochthonous varietal, Austrian Riesling can match the World’s best Rieslings” father Denk commends, “Especially the three valleys carved by the rivers Kamp, Krems and Danube lend a special peculiarity to the Riesling, which not only displays the terroir beautifully, but seems to also make these wines extremely age worthy. Austria has a warmer climate than the two comparable Riesling areas of Germany and Alsace and the grapes will reach a higher physiological ripeness which allows Austrian winemakers to vinify their wines without any additives.

    Wine Priest Father Hans DenkFather Denk drilling for Godliness

    Those who had the pleasure to try a Riesling like a 1903 Vom Zöbinger Heiligenstein will be surprised by its freshness and will agree with me that Austrian Rieslings are different and can age extremely well. “

    Father Denk goes on to explain the spicy character of the Austrian Riesling. His theory is that spicy air created in the Waldviertel hits the wine making regions as winds which pass through the grape and are absorbed. This "harmonica effect", as he calls it, is created by the grapes contracting at night and expanding during the day.

    Besides sugar, acid, water and alcohol, a wine contains what is referred to as “dry extract”. These minerals, trace elements, proteins and other substances that are being transported into the grape by air and water can easily be detected in a lab. "Dry extract" is what makes a great wine. The longer the vegetative cycle, the more time the grape will have to accumulate these elements in the grape. This is where Riesling shines: as a late ripening grape, Riesling has all the time in the world to accumulate high levels of dry extract in the grape.

    Hans Denk

    A 1903 Austrian Riesling? Well, wouldn’t we all like to taste that? But I guess some pleasures are reserved for those our Lord likes best.

    Rieslings mentioned in this article:

  • Melon KISS - a dessert recipe

    Melon KISSPrep Time: 5 minutes

    Is putting together appetizers and dinner all you can handle? Are you having your boss (or in-laws, or colleagues, or good friends) over and want to impress?

    Forget picking something up from the bakery or whipping something up that came out of a box: this is the fastest, easiest dessert you have ever put together and it is just shockingly good.

    You will look, quite frankly, like a culinary genius. Best yet, there’s no cooking involved: if you can cut with a knife, you can make this dessert. It’ll also take you about 5 minutes to do (10 if you start to get fancy.)

    So here’s what you do:

    Take a melon, cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and fill it with dessert wine. Serve with a spoon.

    That’s it. You're done.

    You can even cut some additional melon cubes and add them to the center.

    Melon Kiss Prep I
    Melon Kiss Prep 2
    Melon Kiss Prep 3
    Done

     

    If you can manage it, find a wonderfully ripe cantaloupe to do this with and put it into the refrigerator for a while first so that it’s nice and chilled.

    What sweet wine should you use? We would recommend a Beerenauslese or an Icewine. Something great that doesn’t break the bank. After all, this wine is being served in the melon, so it’s own finer nuances can’t truly be appreciated.

    Gsellman and Gsellman Eiswein

     

    Here are a few perfect wines to use for this dessert:

    Want to get just a little bit fancier for 5 minutes more?

    • Scoop out the melon half with a melon baller, put the melon balls back into the cantaloupe shell, and then pour the dessert wine in.
    • If you feel that half a melon is too large a portion, consider this method: Cut the melon halves down into smaller bowls. Put the cut-up melon pieces from that remaining middle section into the bowls. Pour on the dessert wine. (This also makes your bottle of dessert wine stretch further.)
    • Melon-ball the whole thing. Put the balls in a fancy dessert glass or bowl, pour in the dessert wine and serve it that way.
    • Freeze some melon balls. Put them in either the rustic melon bowl or other serving dish, and pour on the wine.
    • Serve some vanilla ice cream on the side.

    KISS, by the way, stands for "keep it simple, stupid." We think this is an excellent philosophy when it comes to dessert.

  • About Winemonger Talk

    Welcome to Winemonger Talk! This is where you’ll find articles about wine. Winemonger wines, Austrian wines, all wines. Interviews with winemakers and wine personalities. Food pairing ideas and recipes to try. Wine news and current events. Tasting notes and new releases. Tasting events and travel ideas. Not all at once, mind you, but as it happens and as we happen to find time to tell you about it.

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