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.
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.
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.
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.
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.