German and Austrian wines have a slightly dodgy reputation – sweet white sickly wines like Blue Nun and Liebfraumilch – but this is a dated attitude. I’ve just returned from a visit to Berlin and Vienna where I drank German and Austrian wines with most meals and, dear reader, I was impressed. Winetrust sells several, some of which I’ll describe here.
The most famous German grape is Riesling, mostly grown near the Rhine river, but also further south, in the Alsace and in parts of Austria. Riesling has a strong character, with petrol notes, which can be controversial. The vines, being so northerly, are picked very late, starting at the end of September and even onto January, unlike wines in more southern regions of the world, where picking begins in August. For this reason German wines are labelled in terms of how late they are picked, via a system called Prädikatswein, with different levels of lateness/ripeness starting with kabinett, Spatlese then Auslese, beerenauslese, eiswein, and finally Trockenbeerenauslese. When wines are picked later in the season, they generally have a higher sugar content; the higher the sugar content, the more ageing a wine can stand. Good Rieslings can be aged for between ten and thirty years.
Most Rieslings are fairly sweet, but there are also dry ones. Look for the words trocken (dry), halbtrocken (half-dry, quite sweet), feinherb (a bit sweeter) and lieblich (sweet, usually of lower quality). I find as I grow older, I enjoy sweeter wine such as dessert wines; beerenauslese, eiswein, while Trockenbeerenauslese are delicious as end of meal wines with desserts, cheeses, nuts, fruits or even as an aperitif.
Riesling is one of the few wines that can be drunk with sushi and Asian food in general – anything from a strong oily spicy Indian curry, a citrus coriander light Vietnamese pho, a zingy Thai hot and sour soup or a Chinese stir fry.
Here are a few examples you might like to add to your basket this month:
- 2012 FRITZ’S RIESLING, GUNDERLOCH Germany, £9.95. This is particularly good as an aperitif wine with its peachy flavours. Agnes, Fritz’s wife, grew up in the vineyard, and Fritz trained to be an oenologist and viticulteur, so this is a family with wine in its bones. On their Facebook page you can even see the granddaughter, a mere toddler, helping box the wines. The mineral rich red slate soil where the vineyards are planted is referred to as the red hill. This is a great wine to drink with a summer bbq.
- 2011 EINS-ZWEI-DRY, RIESLING TROCKEN, LEITZ Germany, £12.95. Well you can’t say the Germans don’t have a sense of humour, look at the name of this admittedly brilliant wine. I drank this in Berlin with my parents, accompanied by fat white asparagus and creamy yellow hollandaise sauce. (The Germans and Austrians are obsessed by the asparagus season in May and June.) We all loved this wine, a dryish riesling with minerality. A fair price for the quality.
- 2013 GOBELSBERG URGESTEIN Austria, £15. Perfect summer drinking, light, fragrant, fruity from a young vine.
- 2010 SYBILLE KUNTZ ESTATE RIESLING Germany, £16. Great as an aperitif but also good with food. Quite sweet. Have to say I love the name of this wine. Does it mean the same in German, made by a female winemaker, this is a truly feminine wine.
- 2010 VON HÖVEL OBEREMMELER HÜTTE RIESLING SPÄTLESE Germany, £22. I drank this last week with a home-made Indian curry and my first attempt at making Peshwari naan at home. This wine has a strong enough personality to stand up to curries. It’s not cheap but the 2010 vintage has been lauded for the crisp green apple and citrus flavours. One for a special occasion. Guests described it as: “Floral, candy in a glass, chewy”
The most famous Austrian grape is Gruner Veltliner or ‘gru-ve’, much flintier than Riesling. In various tastings Gruner Veltliner has consistently beaten top French whites. When I was in Vienna recently, I visited a ‘Heuriger’, something similar to a beer garden, but for wines. Vienna is fairly unique in having vineyards actually within Vienna, around its suburbs. You can tell when the wine garden is open because they have a garland of pine cones hanging over the door (as can be seen in the picture above). Traditionally, heurige only serve the wine that they make, generally a young wine. In fact ‘heurige’ means ‘this year’s wine’. I sat in the garden and ate plates of cheeses, pickles, or liptauer (a cheesy pimento dip) while listening to accordion music. The weather was sweltering but it was a gorgeous evening under a vine-covered trellis in the shade, with lederhosen-clad jolly hosts slapping one on the back. Definitely a sight not to be missed if you visit Austria.
- 2014 SCHLOSS GOBELSBURG, GRÜNER VELTLINER LÖESSTERRASSEN Austria, £11.95. Last year’s vintage is bright and zesty. The Schloss (castle) Gobelsburg from a pastel coloured estate in Austria, like something out of a picture book. Winetrust are listing several of their excellent wines on the site. The wines are virtually ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ (I say virtually as they do not have the certification), using traditional methods, some inherited from the Cistercian monks that ran this estate from the 18th century up until the mid 90s.
- 2012 JOHANN DONABAUM GRÜNER VELTLINER FEDERSPIEL Austria, £12. This estate only produces a few bottles but the prices are still quite reasonable. A dry mineral white wine that is nicely drunk with fish dishes.
- 2013 SCHLOSS GOBELSBURG, GRÜNER VELTLINER STEINSETZ KAMPTAL RESERVE Austria, £19. A very slow ripening grape harvested in November.
2013 ST. LAURENT DORFLAGEN, GERHARD PITTNAUER, £16, is an Austrian red that uses the St. Laurent grape, considered to be a relative of Pinot Noir. I found it worth trying as a very different kind of Austro-Germanic wine. This is a medium bodied fruity wine that I drank when trying out recipes on my new barbeque the Big Green Egg (expensive but highly recommended).
Don’t forget to come and see myself and WineTrust’s Master of Wines, Nick Adams, at the Bury St Edmunds theatre on September 8th. This is a gorgeous Georgian theatre and all proceeds go to help support this theatre. It is an evening of conversation where I will be talking about my books (you can also buy signed copies) and discussing wine matches with Nick. There will be wine tasting for the audience too.
Book tickets here: http://www.theatreroyal.org/shows/msmarmitelover-and-winetrust/