"I have my dreams like everybody else, but they're out of reach…"

by Katie Pizzuto on April 27, 2010

in Austrian Wine,Riesling

Austria is, no doubt, known for its children, boasting among them Sigmund Freud, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gustav Klimt. But if you ask most people where good European Riesling comes from, they will almost always tell you Germany, and perhaps if you’re lucky, France, but never Austria. Wiener Schnitzel, sure. Riesling, not so much. In fact, poor Austria often gets dealt this pathetic kick to the gonads:

“Whatcha drinking, Katie?”

“This fabulous Austrian Riesling.”

“Really, I thought they were more known for shiraz—I didn’t realize they made Rieslings.”

“Aus-tri-a, not Australia…” Ugh.

But the truth is that despite its youth as a serious wine-making nation, Austria goes beyond simply being another Riesling-producing country, because it easily makes some of the most elegant, well-structured Rieslings in the world—dare I say some of the most elegant, well-structured white wines, period. And while Austria started getting its 15 minutes thanks to the “groo-vee” Grüner Veltliner trend that hit the US a couple of years ago, it’s as if the Rieslings just can’t seem to get on its market-bound coattails. Fuck if I know why. Perhaps it’s this country’s inability to try or latch on to any wine that it isn’t readily being told to drink. Perhaps it’s that any wine label with umlauts is just too much for an average Riesling drinker to handle, in which case he/she reaches for the Chateau Ste. Michelle seemingly by default. In the end, if I’m still having trouble convincing someone at a wine tasting that not all Riesling is “sweet” and that they should at least try what I’m pouring, then turning their attention to Austria might very well be praying for the impossible…and we all know what they say about praying: Pray into one hand, shit into the other, and see which one fills up faster. Either way, the fact that you probably don’t have any Austrian Riesling laying around is beyond sinful—its a direct afront not only to your palate (which quite frankly deserves better) but to the regal grape itself. There’s no excuse for not trying these wines, especially now that you know better. For the love of all that’s holy, hunt these down, and while you’re at it drag a couple of your friends with you, as they’ll no doubt be eternally indebted to you afterward.

But besides putting focus on Austria’s Rieslings in general, this also serves as a wake-up call to just how versatile they are with food. Austria’s native Grüner is a common go-to for difficult food/wine pairings, but its Rieslings are every bit as flexible, oftentimes even to my surprise. And so these aren’t mere regurgitated tasting notes, scratched out like a cardiograph, meant to urge you to explore Austrian Rieslings. Consider these a wild, mad-scientist experiment, undergone to determine just how far alongside food we can push these amazing, seductive wines. All 4 sample bottles reviewed are imported by Skurnik Wines, and are therefore Terry Theise’s selections, a madman himself in the wine world, determined to turn the US palate on to killer, expressive, terroir-driven wines from Austria, Germany and France, even if it means personally handing every Veuve-chugging American a bottle of grower champagne. He sums up these Austrian wines more eloquently than even I can: “…Her Rieslings are about as celestially mystic as the variety can ever be.” Given that nearly 3/4 of Austrian wine is consumed within its own borders, I beg you to put down the “others” and flirt with these Austrian Rieslings for a while, and see if they don’t move you, too.

Schloss Gobelsburg 2008 Riesling Gaisberg (Kamptal Region) $32 – Full bodied even though the 2008s were leaner in general throughout the region. Rich, but laced with a beautiful, bright acidity, and loads of minerality…think wet stones, gravel, etc. Lively, citrusy/apple finish that opened up with some air time. Recently officially classified as a “Grand Cru” (Erste Lage) in 2009.

Food Pairings:

Foie Gras Paté with Truffles – Improved with wine, if that’s at all possible, which cut through the fatty richness.

Thai Basil Chicken – Amazing. Great foil for the spice and pepper. A damned dance in my mouth!

Churrasco with Chimichurri – Not mind blowing, but it held its own.

Hirsch 2008 Riesling Zöbing (Kamptal Region) $23 – Beautiful aroma of pit fruits, with lots of citrus and herbs on the palate. Round mouthfeel but again, with plenty of racy acidity. I’m going to keep repeating this, but these are incredibly balanced, elegant wines. From the younger, biodynamically grown vines in the Grand Cru territories of the village of Zöbing. Winemaking note: Spontaneous ferment, stainless steel production.

Food Pairings:

Pastrami on Rye with Mustard – Great to cut the fattiness and spice of pastrami.

Honey/Teriyaki Grilled Chicken Legs – Perfect for the spice and heat on the chicken.

Hummus – OK, fine, not so great…I’ll concede that. But then hummus is a pain in the ass to pair with.

Salomon Undhof 2008 “Sal’mon” Riesling (Kamptal Region) $20 – A bit more lithe and pale compared to the first two, but still elegant and graceful. Bone-fucking-dry. Lots of citrus and grassy/herbal notes on what is a really big nose and an equally impressive palate for what is the cheapest wine of the bunch.

Food Pairings:

Edamame Salad (w/cranberries, red onion & corn) – Nice foil for the rich soy beans, and to complement, the food brought out the bright acidity in the wine. Super bright!

Hiedler 2008 Riesling “Urgestein”* $22 – Really bright and crisp, there are once again the telltale citrus and herbaceous “tea” notes, but plenty of pit fruit aromas as well. This one had a monstrously intense, long finish…wow! Winemaking note: Spontaneous ferment, minimal to no temperature control, combination of stainless steel/neutral oak production.

Food Pairings:

Tuscan Chopped Liver “paté” – I said it already with the foie gras paté, the rieslings are a great counterpoint to the richness and the fat in this dish, especially with this one containing a bunch of pancetta!

BBQ Ribs – Most would drink red with this, but the Riesling paired great with the dozen or so spices I put into both my rub and my bbq sauce, not to mention the lovely smoke ring on the meat.

Fusilli w/Roasted Red Pepper & Walnut Sauce – Another dish most would run and get a red wine for, but with the Riesling, the sum was even better than the parts.

*Urgestein is essentially a group of soils based on primary rock. The term means ancient or primordial stone, and often these rock-based soils lend a distinct minerality to the region’s wines.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jeff April 27, 2010

The hills are alive with the sound of music…oh wait, wrong blog. Thank you for bringing Austrian Riesling to light. I’ve been enjoying them for a few years now. If you’re looking for some fantastic Austrian dessert white (and who isn’t??), check out the wines from Rust (aka Stork City…contrary to popular belief, they don’t have babies hanging from their beaks). Fantastic people and great wine!

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2 Katie Pizzuto April 28, 2010

You know, I thought to use that as the lyric headline, but it just didn’t make sense as the theme of this piece, LOL. I will definitely check out the dessert wines from Rust. Funny how Austrian whites are either bone dry or really sweet! Thanks for the tip, Jeff!!

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3 Heather April 28, 2010

Have you ever tried Nigl? (sp?) Smells like honey and tastes as good. A little pricey but soooo good. I am not generally a fan of super dry wines, but some of these I would definitely like to taste.

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4 Katie Pizzuto April 29, 2010

Heather, you really should. People tend to mistake fruity for sweet and think dry means absence of fruit, but it couldn’t be more wrong. These are extremely flavorful, aromatic wines that are really well balanced.

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5 John Maher April 29, 2010

Can I put in a word for Austria’s excellent red wines, mainly from Blaufränkish (Lemberger in Germany) and Zweigelt, though Blauer Portugieser and St Laurent also have a lot to offer.

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6 David J April 29, 2010

I thought Ludwig Van was born in Bonn?
…I would not mind at all delving into Riesling aus Oesterreich, but totally unavailable in P.R.
(You also neglected Adolf Alois Schickelgruber, which of course some of us would rather forget, but still…no se puede tapar el cielo con las manos, que no?)

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7 David J April 29, 2010

…I would not mind at all delving into Riesling aus Oesterreich– as I am partial to bone-dry liemstone or granite minerality myself.

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8 Katie Pizzuto April 30, 2010

Yup, David, which is why I removed him. I get a little ahead of myself sometimes when I write, and forgot that even though he lived in Austria for many years, he was in fact born in Bonn. You should seriously pick a couple of bottles up while in NY and bring them BACK WITH YOU!!

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9 Katie Pizzuto April 30, 2010

BTW, David, I know that Chambers St. Wines carries both Hiedler and Schloss Gobelsburg so you’ve got no excuse!

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10 Sue Richards May 2, 2010

Katie, when we visited Austria in 2005, we were fortunate to have a wine tasting event at the Abbey in Melk. All of the wines were outstanding, especially the Riesling. When we inquired, we were informed that Austria exported almost none of its wine, as they consumed all of it there!! I guess that has changed in recent years, so we’ll be looking for some in Tampa.

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11 Katie Pizzuto May 3, 2010

Absolutely right, Sue! The overwhelming majority of their amazing wines are consumed there, but with importers like Terry really giving the American public a wake-up call, hopefully there will be more and more hitting shelves soon. Good luck with the hunt…they’re certainly worth it!

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12 Bren May 3, 2010

Aprendi algo nueveo, chica. aunque yo no soy alguien que tome mucho vino, el Riesling es mi favorito blanco. I’ll take the Schloss Gobelsburg 2008 Riesling Gaisberg (Kamptal Region) any day, especially with that great pairing recommendation! NICE!

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13 Katie Pizzuto May 3, 2010

As I mentioned before, Chambers Street Wines happens to carry a couple of these (one being the Schloss Gobelsburg) and they ship, so you may want to check out their online store:

http://www.chambersstwines.com

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14 Coupe 60 May 3, 2010

When talking about famous Austrians how can you leave out Mel Gibson?

Coupe ducks for cover…ok how about Franz Klammer

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15 Katie Pizzuto May 4, 2010

I’ll readily admit that I had to look him up, Lou. But seriously, an Alpine skier? In a list with Mozart?!?

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16 Coupe 60 May 4, 2010

@Katie… maybe not with Mozart…but Klammer kicks Gustav Klimt’s ass in name recognition…I’m putting a poll up on WLTV to see what the general population thinks

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17 Coupe 60 May 4, 2010
18 Katie Pizzuto May 4, 2010

You’re on brother!

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19 Coupe 60 May 4, 2010

Gustav Klimt could show up at my door right now, and unless he had some free fucking Austrian Riesling with him, I’d tell him to hit the bricks and take his freaky looking drawings with him…the tatoo parlor is about a mile down the road…

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20 winesfromsantorini May 4, 2010

So happy to see you finally got to taste them! :) Excellent piece!

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21 Coupe 60 May 6, 2010

I was coming over to concede, but checked again and Klammer has tied Klimt at 5 votes apiece…

GFY and KaD are apparently far more well known Austrians as it leads the poll with 10 votes… Next vote wins…

If it end up a tie, I’ll award you victory based on your Angelina Jolie post…

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22 Katie Pizzuto May 6, 2010

But you haven’t taken into account the Twitter votes, in which case, I win :)

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23 Coupe 60 May 7, 2010

I do not recognize twitter…I asked my three brothers, and while all knew of Franz Klammer…none of them had any idea who Gustav Klimt was… That is a far more representative sample than a bunch of people that follow a food and wine blog (no matter how high the quality of said blog).

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24 Coupe 60 May 7, 2010

As an aside, I posted this poll on the other website that I moderate: http://www.europeanalpineskiracersfromthe1970s.com

and it was a landslide for the Hammer…

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25 Katie Pizzuto May 10, 2010

In no way is that fair….if your brothers are sports fans that don’t have a hair of artistic culture in their bodies, of course they’ll choose Klammer :) I asked family at Mother’s Day party yesterday and Klimt was the hands-down winner.

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