This winter our wine tasting club AuZone arranges a course on Austria in four installments with about one month between. This course is simply a series of our usual Thursday tastings that are tied together by this theme, and the label “course” means that also the more restless among our members may have to accept to suffer through a short talk before they actually get to taste. Since the initiator of the course has a great interest in the red wines from Austria, the four classes were divided into two for red wines and two for white wines, which is rather close to the look of the Austrian flag. The fist class took place in late November under the theme of Riesling.
So, what about Riesling in Austria? In 2009 there was 1 863 hectares (4 604 acres) of Riesling in the vineyards of Austria, which was only 4% of a total of 45 900 ha of vineyards. (All statistics has been taken from this publication.) This means that Riesling was only the fifth most cultivated white grape variety, after Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling, Müller-Thurgau, and Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc). The area of Riesling has increased 13.4% in 10 years, while almost all other white wine grapes are decreasing in Austria, in particular because the red wine grapes are increasing, but also to some extent because the total vineyard surface has decreased slightly.
4% may seem surprisingly low to some people in the export markets, who may connect Austrian white wines with Grüner Veltliner or Riesling, or generally assume that Riesling is a very common grape in Austria. As a comparison, in Germany Riesling accounts for 22% of the vineyard surface (but 79% in Rheingau and 60% in Mosel!) and in Alsace the proportion of Riesling is also 22%. The reason why Austria still is somewhat known for Riesling wines is that the proportion of Riesling is considerably higher than the national average in those regions that are most known for their dry wines. In the vineyards of Kamptal, the proportion of Riesling is 9%, in Kremstal 10%, and in Wachau 16%. The proportion in Vienna is also high at 14%.
If one tries to compare Austrian and German Rieslings in one broad brushstroke, the grape maturity is higher in Austria, which means that the fruit notes may be more in the direction of e.g. peach and sometimes a bit of tropical fruit, the acidity level is somewhat lower, and the flowery or perfumed notes are less pronounced. Off-dry wines are extremely rare, and almost all wines are dry, with the exception of a small amount of quite sweet wines.
At lower to medium prices, the Austrian Rieslings often perform well in relation to their price. I often find the cheaper wines to be more reliable than those at a similar price from Germany, and more consistent in style than those from Alsace. So at this level, I usually like them and could recommend them. At higher price levels, and then we’re particularly talking about Smaragd wines from Wachau (the highest quality level from that place, still dry wines), the wines are often very concentrated, “heavy” and sometimes rather spicy for being Riesling. Unfortunately, at this level I often find too much noticeable alcohol in the wines, which means that they get a little unbalanced due to too high ripeness. This is not always the case, but a bit too often to ignore, and it does definitely happen at some highly regarded producers. I must admit that over the years, I’ve lost most interest in Riesling Smaragd, although the Smaragd wines are often being regarded as the best dry white Austrian wines. In my opinion, the Smaragd style often works better for the more peppery Grüner Veltliner than it does for Riesling, although sometimes it’s actually not too easy to tell the difference between an Austrian Riesling and a Grüner Veltliner!
An interesting comment from a participant who is quite interested in Austrian wine was that Austrian Riesling doesn’t benefit that much from extended cellaring, and that Grüner Veltliner may often develop better. Cellaring typical Austrian Rieslings for a couple of years, or even a little longer than that, is not a problem, but the recommendation is to cellar them shorter than their German cousins.
The main flight consisted of eight wines served blind, and one wine turned out to be a Grüner Veltliner, while another was a German wine. We also tasted a Chardonnay before the main flight and two wines after it, one sweetish and one dry biodynamic wine, to cover some additional types of Austrian wines over the course of the course.
1998 Riesling Smaragd Kellerberg, Domäne Wachau
Golden yellow colour. Typical mature note with honey, yellow apples with some baked character, some almond, undergrowth and that age note that the Germans term “firne”. (It’s rather similar to the nose of an old rather than just mature off-dry German Riesling, and then I’m thinking of 25+ years.) Clearly dry palate, a bit “pointy” citrus note with grapefruit including rather noticeable bitterness, high acidity, a bit short aftertaste. Exciting nose but somewhat short and ungenerous palate, will not gain from further cellaring. 83 p
0 best and 5 worst votes, including mine.
This bottle was worse than the one I had tried some weeks earlier. It was newly purchased, as we now and then see releases of older wines from Domäne Wachau (ex-Freie Weingärtner Wachau) on the Swedish market. I have an impression that these older bottles often show significant bottle variation.
2001 Kremser Pfarrleithen Riesling Spätlese, Winzer Krems
Medium yellow. Nose with ripe yellow fruit, some citrus, a hint of tropical fruit, some honey, rather pronounced smoke notes, some petroleum. Palate with some residual sugar but still rather dry, rather oily and generous mouthfeel, citrus, high acidity, just a hint of bitterness, and a citrus-dominated aftertaste. A powerful and citrus-fresh profile with some development. Drinks well now but can be cellared more. 90 p
0 best and 2 worst votes. It seems that I was more positive to this wine than many other participants.
2007 Loibner Oberhauser Riesling, FX Pichler
Medium yellow colour. Nose with ripe fruit, citrus, a tiny hint of smoke, hints of flowers, rather pronounced muscat note with fresh grapes. The palate is quite dry, with apple, a hint of bitterness, some oiliness with a stony mineral note and medium acidity. Good but different from the rest. 88 p
1 best and 2 worst votes.
Here I and several others were quite convinced that we had a Muscat wine, a Gelber Muskateller, in our glass, because we found both a typical Muscat note in the nose and a lower acidity on the palate, and it deviated from the other wines.
2007 Zöbinger Heiligenstein Riesling Lyra, Bründlmayer
Light yellow colour. Nose with citrus, and specifically lemon, apple, stony mineral note, some petroleum, a hint of flowers; an elegant nose. Dry on the palate, a hint of bitterness, citrus, stony mineral note, high acidity, rather long and grapefruit-dominated aftertaste. 89 p
1 best vote.
2008 Renner Grüner Veltliner, Schloss Gobelsburg
Rather golden yellow colour. Nose with ripe yellow fruit, citrus including zest, tropical fruit, a hint of smoke, some flowery notes, possibly also some botrytis. Palate with good concentration, ripe citrus, some tropical fruit, medium+ acidity, slightly oily and with a hint of bitterness. Foody, but could be more fresh, and the bitterness reduces the score somewhat. 88 p
1 best and 5 worst votes.
Possibly, this wine received a slightly unfair treatment since I had “my Riesling nose” switched on. Some bitterness, often in the form of grapefruit notes, is a rather normal component in a Grüner Veltliner, even though it is less attractive in a Riesling.
2008 Achleiten Smaragd Riesling, Prager
Rather golden yellow colour. Nose with ripe fruit, citrus, some zest, slightly flowery, a tiny hint of herbaceous notes, noticeable botrytis; to me an Auslese-style nose. Palate with good concentration, citrus, stony mineral, a hint of bitterness, spice, and a high acidity. Foody, slightly firmer taste than the previous wine, but also here I’d prefer slightly less less bitterness. 90 p.
4 best votes, shared first place.
2009 Von der Fels Riesling, Keller
Light yellow colour. Nose with citrus, apple, some elderflower, some mineral, rather elegant. The palate is dry with a fruity attack, citrus, good acidity and just a hint of bitterness. Fruity, young. 90 p.
4 best and 1 worst votes.
Here many of us thought the style was somewhat German, so even a blind tasting hen sometimes finds a grain of corn.
2009 Kammerner Gaisberg Riesling, Schloss Gobelsburg
Light yellow colour. Nose with citrus, some elderflower, slightly smoky mineral notes, elegance. The palate is dry, with mineral, citrus, high acidity, a hint of bitterness. Somewhat young, but shows fine elegance. 90+ p.
4 best votes including mine, shared first place.
These three wines weren’t part of the main flight:
2007 Juris Altenberg Chardonnay, Axel Stiegelmar
Pale yellow colour. Nose with ripe yellow fruit, citrus, some honey, some mineral, a tiny hint of flowery notes. Palate with yellow fruit, some bitterness, rather good acidity, slightly oily, rather good concentration. 88 p
Perhaps expectations played in, but the nose of this wine was rather Riesling-like, although the palate wasn’t.
1997 Kremser Grüner Veltliner Auslese halbtrocken, Winzer Krems
Kremstal. Half bottle.
Golden yellow colour. Very discrete nose, some yellow apple. The palate is off-dry minus, oily, with mineral notes, spice and medium acidity. 85 p
I wrote “surprisingly dry for an Auslese” because it wasn’t until I wrote this blog post I realised that it was an Auslese halbtrocken! Halbtrocken means that it just has a little more sweetness than a dry wine (up to 18 grams per liter). The combination Auslese halbtrocken isn’t too common; Kabinett halbtrocken and Spätlese trocken are much easier to find.
2006 Vom Stein Federspiel Riesling, Nikolaihof
Wachau. Biodynamic wine.
Nose with blackcurrant buds, some citrus, some perfume and flowery notes, some mineral. Dry palate that is rather mineral-dominated, high acidity. 87 p