Austrian Wines: Don’t Let the Names Fool You
I love Austrian wines. Partly because I once coaxed a smile out of a “retired” Austrian winemaker during an otherwise boring trade tasting. He told me he had handed the reigns of the company over to his son and was just enjoying his time being the “face of the company.” I said, “I don’t know that I would be as trusting if it were I,” and he smiled. Then he poured me his Trockenbeerenauslese. Yum! It was enough to make me want to learn how to pronounce it and the other stuff he was pouring; Zwiegelt, Blaufränkisch and Grüner Veltliner.
Austrian wines are great food wines – but since they are difficult to pronounce, the average American wine drinker shies away from them at her local wine merchant. We have all pretty much mastered “Riesling.” Not the fact that the name covers a spectrum of flavors from dry to very sweet — but we have, at least conquered its pronunciation.
But let me clue you in on something — some of your local sommeliers cannot pronounce wine names correctly either. I don’t know how many times I have been told something was a Mer-it-TAHGE. Several have even corrected ME when I pronounced it correctly e.g. it rhymes with “Heritage.” Most recently a wine “expert” told me about his favorite Gah-WERTS-TRE-MY-NAR. (I am not making this up.)
I have been told I could never play poker. While I may be able to feign a non-committal visage to “Do they pants make my ass look big?” the on-line dictionary picture for “OMG” is my face when a sommelier cannot pronounce a basic varietal.
So do not be too embarrassed to ask for an Austrian wine with a difficult name. If you cannot bear the thought of being “schooled” by a snooty wine steward, might I suggest you pick up a little book called, “The Pocket Guide to Wine Pronunciation” by C.D. Thomas, which provides a phonetic spelling for over 1200 wine words. But for the major Austrian grapes, you can just refer to your friends at Another Wine Blog.
The stress is on the syllable in all caps:
The Austrians – Four Wines that are Hard to Pronounce
Blaufränkisch – Blahw-FRAHN-keesh – Yum! This is a dark-skinned variety of grape used for red wine. A late-ripening variety gives us red wines which are typically rich in tannins and with a pronounced spicy character.
Grüner Veltliner – GROO-nuhr FELT-lee-nuhr. In the Germanic languages, the “V” sounds like the English “F” and a “W” sounds like the English “V” – Extremely food friendly and made from the most widely grown grape in Austria, this white wine can be made to drink young, or to cellar for many years.
Riesling – REEZ-leeng – Riesling is an aromatic grape with flowery, almost perfumed, aromas as well as high acidity. When you ask about Riesling, many will say “I don’t like sweet wine.” But the truth is, it is used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet and sparkling white wines. While the late harvest and sweeter versions are great paired with blues like Stilton, Gorgonzola, Cabrales or Roquefort, a drier style works well with savory, meatier foods.
Zweigelt – TSVYE-gelt – Another of my favorite reds, the grape was developed in 1922 at the Federal Institute for Viticulture and Pomology at Klosterneuburg, Austria, by Fritz Zweigelt by crossing St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch. Now the most widely-grown red grape in Austria it is grown in Canada as well. Some have compared Zweigelt to Côtes-du-Rhône. Others are reminded me of a spicy Beaujolais.
Three Wines from Winzer Krems
There are certain aromas that take me back to childhood. Sometimes they take me by surprise, as they did when Joe embarked on a New Year’s recipe of bean soup. I finally prevailed in my repeated requests for a Christmas ham. While tradition in my and my grandparents households meant ham for Christmas and Easter, for Joe’s family it was always something-other-than-ham, usually duck or beef for Christmas and lamb for Easter.
After having quite enough ham sandwiches, Joe used the leftover ham bone and the last bit of ham to make a hearty navy bean soup to pair with three wines from the Kremstal region of Austria. The Kremstal DAC (Districus Austraie Controllatus – Latin for the Controlled District of Austria), which takes its name from the historic city of Krems, was established in 2007. This DAC allows wines from two grape varieties, both white; Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, and includes additional designations of Klassik and Reserve. For Klassik the minimum alcohol by volume is 12% and for Reserve, 13%. Klassik wines are fresh and aromatic, with no botrytis or oak notes. Reserve wines are fuller-bodied, and subtle botrytis and oak aging aromas are allowed.
2010 Kremser Riesling Pfaffenberg Kremstal DAC Reserve
We started with the 2010 Kremser Pfaffenberg Riesling Kremstal DAC Reserve. A hue of light golden straw, we noted a mild intensity of quinze, pear and apple on the nose with a whiff of petrol from this drier style Riesling. We tasted medium acidity, with petrol, apples and pair on the palate, with a medium finish. Refreshing and bright. Great with food or on its own.
2011 Kremser Goldberg Kellermeister Privat Grüner Veltliner
Light straw in color, the 2011 Kremser Goldberg Kellermeister Privat Grüner Veltliner has aromas of peach blossom, green apple and pear with notes of mint basil. A good food pairing wine with medium acidity, it is unctuous in the mouth, like a fine oil, sort of a cross between the acidity of pear and grapefruit. The taste is fruit-driven with a gentle spice, as is typical of Grüner Veltliner. We also got notes of fennel, and made for a great pairing for our bean soup and cornbread. In fact, it was our favorite of the three.
Kremser Wachtberg Grüner Veltliner Kremstal DAC Reserve
Another good food pairing wine. Effervescent, light and crisp. It will cleanse your palate with heavy food, but the unctuousness that is typical of Grüner Veltliner works as well. In addition to the hearty bean soup and cornbread, we would recommend typical Austrian dishes like Wiener Schnitzel, a thin butterflied cut of veal, coated in breadcrumbs and fried.
Each of these wines come from Winzer Krems, a cooperative guild of winemakers formed in 1938 with a rich history of winemaking in Krems harking back some 2,000 years.