A Cross Of Riesling And Whoops!

8 August 2012
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I’ve been excited to try more Scheurebe ever since I had an Austrian Beerenauslese version (Beerenauslese indicates a very, very high level of ripeness in the grapes). This variety intrigues me; according to The Oxford Companion to Wine, it’s “the one early 20th-century German crossing that deserves attention from any connoisseur.” But what constitutes that crossing is a bit of a mystery.

Dr. Georg Scheu intended to cross Silvaner with Riesling, in order to produce a more productive version of Riesling (according to the Oxford Companion) or to produce a superior version of Silvaner (according to Wikipedia). Let us hope it was the first, because DNA analysis in the 1990s discovered that the cross has no Silvaner in it whatsoever. The Riesling is there, but the other parent in the cross has yet to be determined. Some speculate that it’s a wild variety Dr. Scheu had been experimenting with. The noble Riesling crossed with some sort of untamed table grape? Gott in Himmel!

Whatever he ended up crossing, Scheurebe (SHOI-ray-beh) seems to work quite well, though only if allowed to thoroughly ripen. The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia warns that Scheurebe “is not very pleasant at Qualitätswein level, but develops a beautiful aromatic character at higher levels of Prädikatswein.” The Oxford Companion agrees, calling it “distinctly unappetizing if picked too early.” But when handled properly, the Oxford Companion continues, Scheurebe can do a fine job in reflecting the specifics of its terroir.

I hoped for the best with 2010 Louis Guntrum Scheurebe Qualitätswein from Rheinhessen, the sandy terroir south of Mainz for which Scheurebe was developed in the first place. It didn’t have the ripeness level recommended by any of my sources, but In Fine Spirits, the wine shop where I found this wine, almost never steers me wrong. I needed something German to pair with the Beethoven playing in Grant Park one evening, and brought it along.


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.