Welschriesling

Austria’s Other Whites

7 July 2012

This ongoing heat wave calls for refreshing white wines, and you can hardly go wrong by turning to Austria. Even just picturing this little Alpine country makes me feel cooler; centuries-old castles and tidy thick-walled villages watching over steep vineyards, above which the dulcet tones of Julie Andrews float.

In recent years, Austria has become justly famous (at least in some circles) for its high-quality and food-friendly Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners, both of which regularly make appearances on restaurant wine lists. I love these, and I tasted some fantastic examples at a recent tasting of Austrian wines.

But of course, I can’t resist going even deeper into obscurity. If you see a well-priced Austrian Riesling or Grüner, buy it; it will likely be an excellent value. But if you happen to find an Austrian white made with some other variety, grab that sucker and hold on with two fists. Some examples:

Johanneshof Reinisch Rotgipfler, 2011: The late-ripening Rotgipfler variety — the result of a cross between Roter Veltliner and Traminer — flourishes in the Thermenregion’s warm vineyards south of Vienna. This pale straw-colored example had a sweet pineapply aroma and a bit of prickle on the tongue. It turned surprisingly (but not unpleasantly) sour at the end, making it easy to pair with a range of foods.

Sattlerhof Steirische Klassik Gelber Muskateller, 2011: The Sattlerhof estate enjoys a particularly picturesque setting in the hills of the small Südsteiermark region bordering Slovenia. According to The Oxford Companion to Wine, many of the area’s best producers belong to the Steirische Klassik association, which works to ensure that wines represent the local terroir to its full potential. “Gelber Muskateller” is simply Muscat Blanc, one of the oldest known (and to my mind, one of the most delicious) wine grape varieties. It looked almost clear in the glass, with just a hint of yellow, and I loved its exquisitely floral aroma of overripe pineapple and lily-of-the-valley. Its juicy and almost tart flavor profile was not over sweet, and again, it would be sure to work well with all sorts of light summer recipes.

Sattlerhof Trockenbeerenauslese, 2010: Don’t be intimidated by the name (pronounced “Traw-ken-bear-en-owss-lay-seh). This typically German compound word indicates that the fruit used to make this wine is as ripe as ripe can be, with flavors and sugars concentrated by Noble Rot. If you like Sauternes or Tokaji Aszu, this wine is right up your alley. If you don’t like sweet wines, this one might just change your mind. Crafted with Sauvignon Blanc, this deeply golden wine had rich fruit and a lush, luxurious sweetness balanced — perfectly, beautifully, improbably — by a veritable kick line of acids. Sheer, unadulterated delight.

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Neither Welsh Nor Riesling, Part 2: Spring Green

11 May 2011

In honor of spring, we feasted on a wonderfully green, satisfying meal of pearl barley risotto with zucchini, mushrooms and fresh basil and a side of roasted asparagus and ramps. To match, I searched for the greenest thing in my wine collection, which turned out to be a 2009 Iločki Podrumi Welschriesling.

The Iločki Podrumi winery lies on the right bank of the Danube near Ilok, the easternmost town of Croatia. Romans manning the local fortress likely maintained vineyards here, and wine certainly factored into the economy by the time the 15th-century “Old Cellar” was built. Capable of aging up to a million liters of wine, the Old Cellar reached the pinnacle of its fame when it supplied approximately 11,000 bottles of wine to the coronation celebrations of Elizabeth II.

(According to Decanter, William and Kate served Pol Roger Champagne at their reception, as I’m sure you’re all deeply curious to know.) (more…)

Correction!

6 May 2011

I recently wrote a post about the 2009 Belje Welschriesling, and my description of the wine concerned the distributor. He thought the bottle I tasted must have been corked.

He provided another bottle for me to taste, and I discovered that he was quite right: The first bottle had indeed been tainted. In retrospect, I should perhaps have realized that notes of “aged cheddar” were not meant to appear in the nose.

I so rarely encounter a corked bottle that it hadn’t even occured to me at the time. Cork taint, according to Wikipedia, occurs in only 1.5% to 7%  of bottles, depending on whether you trust the cork industry or Wine Spectator. (The cork industry is at pains to point out that “cork taint” can also be caused by affected barrels.)

While I certainly didn’t dislike the first bottle of Belje Welschriesling, this uncorked second bottle tasted much better. (more…)

Neither Welsh Nor Riesling: Part 1

18 April 2011

Please also see the updated review of this wine here. The bottle described in this post was corked.

Welschriesling is a confusing varietal, in that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the sweeter, more famous Riesling. And, perhaps less surprisingly, it did not originate in the sunny vineyards of Wales.

All my sources agree that this high-yielding white varietal dates back to ancient times, but there the agreement stops. Some simply call the origin a “mystery,” but others conjecture a Roman or Eastern European ancestry. Now mostly grown in Central Europe, this varietal — especially in the hands of a thoughtful winemaker — can produce some very intriguing wine.

Continuing my Balkan explorations, I sampled a 2009 Belje Welschriesling from Podunavlje, in the far northeast of Croatia. In his weighty tome Wine, André Dominé encouragingly asserts that “The best Graševina grapes come from the area around Kutjevo in the northeast.” (Note: Graševina is the Croatian name for Welschriesling.)

Belje, a  winery dating back to 1697, has earned numerous awards for its Welschriesling, and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate awarded the 2009 vintage an impressive 90 points, noting “hints of pineapple, water cress and apricot on the nose” and “vibrant fruit of dried apricot.”

I must admit I was a bit surprised when I took a whiff of the greenish-gold wine and smelled…not pineapple. (more…)