Sommerwein in Österreich und Deutschland

A look down the steep vineyards of the Mosel, Germany.

A look down the steep vineyards of the Mosel, Germany.

We've spoken briefly about the Riesling conundrum. Thanks to imports of low quality Riesling in the early 60s and 70s, Riesling has been cast aside by the general populace as a cloyingly sweet wine, destined to be bought only as an alternative to White Zins, Moscato D'Asti and even (gulp!) Ruscato.   The truth was never that simple.

Despite the close proximity, the German language has always been viewed as obtuse to most American wine drinkers. The classic labels were awash in a byzantine labyrinth of words in almost impenetrable Gothic script.  It's no wonder, that one of the first things that wine professionals learn along the way to becoming a sommelier is just how to decode a German wine label. 

Yet in Germany, Riesling has always been considered a noble varietal despite some of the lower quality exports. This nobility isn't lost on wine critics, as Jancis Robinson remarks in her description of Riesling:  

Wine made from Riesling is quite unlike any other. It is generally light in alcohol, refreshingly high in fruity natural acidity (quite different from the harshness of added acid), has the ability to transmit the character of a place through its extract and unique aroma and, unlike Chardonnay, is capable of ageing for decades in bottle. Like top quality Chenin Blanc, but unlike Chardonnay, it performs best if fermented cool and bottled early without any malolactic fermentation or wood influence. Riesling is a star and, as you may discern, one of my great wine heroes.
Wine Grapes: Riesling

Along with many other wine aficionados, we want to say that Riesling is making a comeback. Ever so slowly, people are beginning to realize that "sweet" grapes aren't necessarily so, and most well-made wines will balance their sweetness with bracing acidity.

We had the pleasure of attending a lunch with the winemaker Martha Stoumen out of California recently, and what really stuck with me, along with the great quality of her wines, was her belief that acidity was the most important part of a wine. 

We should clarify that acidity is not just that bright high-tone grapefruit reminiscent flavor that permeates New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, nor the classic grassy flair that makes Sancerre, well, Sancerre.  Think of acidity as a balancing act. Wine, after all, is fermented fruit, and the character of a wine is always subliminally about that high-wire affair.  Napa Cabernets may be famous for their rich, redolent fruit notes, buttressed by years in oak, but the wines that are made well, and age, are ones that bring acidity along for the ride.

To that effect we have two tasty Rieslings, one from the Nahe region, the other from the Mosel.  Harald Hexamer is responsible for the former, sourced from his 7.5 hectares of vineyards located in the south facing slopes of Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg. Hexamer further distinguishes his yields by putting his wine through a very cold fermentation process (below 12 degrees Celsius) and uses all whole-cluster fruit before storing the wines in stainless steel and racking it once, three to six weeks after the fermentation is complete.  The Hexamer Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg Riesling Quarzit 2016 is a classic expression of Hexamer's off-dry style - steely, acid-driven with notes of sour lemon drop candies and ripe summer oranges.

Old map tracing the Mosel and Saar Rivers.

Old map tracing the Mosel and Saar Rivers.


Our other featured Riesling comes to us from two brothers in the Mosel. Harald and Alfred Merkelbach are driven by tradition, and the label even bears the old name for Mosel, Mosel Saar-Ruwer, indicating the path along the Mosel and Saar rivers where the first vineyards of the region were planted.  We're thrilled to have their (now) 14 year old Auslese, the 2004er Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling.  Auslese, like fellow German terms Spatlese and Kabinett, refers to the lateness of the harvest, and Auslese grapes are picked in late November or early December, and must be picked by hand, given their delicate consistency. At 8.5% ABV, this definitely is a Riesling with concentrated sweetness, but with the good amount of aging, this Mosel Auslese shows a great balance and structured acidity along with its sweet nature.   

Vineyards along the Heiligentstein in the Kamptal region of Austria.

Vineyards along the Heiligentstein in the Kamptal region of Austria.


On the other end of the spectrum from Riesling is the 'quaffable' Grüner Veltliner of Austria. Long prized as a fresh alternative to the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and for its versatility with food, Grüner often gets the reputation as an inoffensive white, with little memorable quality other than that it goes down easy.  Ludwig Hiedler is one of the Austrian winemakers looking to change that perception. 

Based in the Kamptal region of Austria, the Hiedler family has been making wine since the late 1800s, and their Löss Grüner, sourced from vineyards at the foot of the Heiligenstein Mountains, (Lamm, Grub, and Renner).  With one of the more ecological and sustainable footprints in the area, the  Löss Grüner is reflective of the mountainous terroir of Langenlois, and while the nose bursts with fresh flavors of spring greens, green pear, and grassy meadows, the body is more restrained and soft, with a clean, fresh finish, and it's an absolutely killer way to see what Grüner Veltliner is capable of.

We couldn't do a summer friendly wine tasting without featuring at least one summer friendly red, and the Paul D. Zweigelt Liter fits the bill. Sourced from Kirchberg am Wagram, part of the vast Wagram (a transmutation of Wogenrain or "shore") wine region that stretches some 30 kilometers along the Danube River, covering some 2,720 hectares of vineyard.  The Paul D. winery is the eponymous creation of Paul Direder and his grandfather Leopold, and they too practice sustainable agriculture in their vineyards.  Zweigelt is a cross of two older Austrian varietals, Blaufrankisch and Saint Laurent, and the result is a lightly fruity and fresh red wine that has hints of blackberries and plums and a peppery finish. 

The Fine Print:

Hiedler Löss Grüner 2014 -  ̶$̶2̶4̶.̶9̶9̶  $22.49

Hexamer Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg Riesling Quarzit 2016 -  ̶$̶2̶4̶.̶9̶9̶  $22.49

2004er Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese -  ̶$̶3̶3̶ $29.99

Paul D. Zweigelt -  ̶$̶1̶4̶.̶9̶9̶ $13.49

Further Reading:

Punch Magazine Article on Riesling

Learn more about the increasing popularity of 'dry Riesling'