A Winning Riesling

“The Wines of Germany, Austria and Hungary” – perhaps not the most popular choices for a wine course. But every place on a day course I ran recently at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Centre was booked. We tasted samples right across the spectrum: white, red, rosé, dry, off-dry and various degrees of sweetness. And, as usual, I asked the group to vote for their favourites at the end of the day.

Their top choices were as diverse as the wines. The narrow winner was Schloss Lieser’s classy, intense dry Riesling from the Mosel in Germany (Wine Society, £12.50).

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This showed the beautiful balance between fruit and acidity that all the best Rieslings have and was also beginning to develop interestingly in the glass – if only we could have lingered over it a little longer.

Just a single vote behind, there was a triple tie for 2nd place with one wine each from each of the 3 featured countries.

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From Germany, Johann Wolf’s Pinot Noir Rosé (Waitrose Cellar, £9.99) was deliciously clean and fresh with subtle strawberry fruit flavours. Above all, it was perfectly dry making it an ideal accompaniment to light food dishes.

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On the other hand, the group’s favourite red, A.Gere’s Kekfrankos from the volcanic Villany Hills region in southern Hungary (Wine Society, £11.25), needed to partner a really robust dish. Rich and with intense black fruits and a hint of spice, this is a bottle to leave under the stairs for a couple of years, as it will undoubtedly develop with time.

I might have guessed that the day’s final wine would have been the overall winner, but it, too, had to share 2nd place.

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Feiler-Artinger’s Traminer Beerenauslese from Rust in Austria (Waitrose Cellar, £12.49 per half bottle) is a wonderful, focussed sweet wine made by specially selecting the ripest grapes from the bunches. Yet, alongside the sweetness, there is a crisp balancing acidity meaning that the wine is not cloying at all, just really enjoyable either on its own or with a pudding or blue cheese.

So, although these 3 countries might not be among the most popular for all wine lovers, they certainly provided plenty of discussion and real drinking pleasure for our group.

Austria’s Revival

Wine lovers with long memories may be wary of Austrian wine.  The so-called ‘anti-freeze’ scandal of the 1980s has cast a long shadow.  For those readers who are puzzled by my opening comments, the problem was that a few of that country’s producers illegally added diethylene glycol (not anti-freeze, but with a chemically similar sounding name) to their wines to increase their sweetness.  The addition apparently caused no harm to anyone drinking the wines but it shouldn’t have happened and it proved far from harmless to the Austrian wine industry, which was devastated with sales collapsing both at home and abroad.

It has taken decades to rebuild but now, 30 years later and backed by some of the strictest wine laws in the world, Austria is re-emerging as a producer of high quality wines at generally affordable prices.  The local speciality is Grüner Veltliner, a grape that is becoming quite fashionable (with good reason) and there are some delicious Rieslings available, too, both dry, in the style of Alsace, and wonderfully sweet.  But a combination of changes in consumers’ taste and a bit of global warming has meant that Austrian reds, at one time, a tiny part of their output, have become much more important.  And that’s a good thing if a bottle I opened recently is a typical example:

ZweigeltHans Igler’s Zweigelt Classic (Wine Society, £9.50) is quite light-bodied but full of flavour – blackberries, black pepper and a subtle hint of wood.  The Zweigelt grape (another local speciality) gives it good, refreshing acidity and attractive soft tannins.  Good for drinking now (decant an hour or so in advance) or keep another couple of years.

As someone who remembers the Austrian wines of the 1980s and the scandal that followed, it’s been good to see their re-emergence onto the international scene over the past few years.  Austria today produces a range of reliable, good quality and good values wines – still mainly white but now their reds are clearly worth looking at, too.