We leaped at the chance to sample a selection of aged Riesling from Austria during the recent Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC) in Corning, NY. We discovered the common axiom that only red wines are worth aging is simply bunk.
Courtyard Tasting At WBC
We received a special invite from Constance Chamberlain on behalf of Austrian Wine to sample a half dozen Austrian Rieslings from 1990 to 2012 during the WBC. How could we refuse?
To avoid creating a commotion in the lobby of the Radisson hotel, we moved the tasting into a convenient courtyard. You’ll be surprised at what we tasted, but first, some surprising facts about wine from Austria.
What Are They Growing In Austria?
In Austria there are 35 official grape varieties, 22 white and 13 red. I’ve always thought of Austria as a producer of superb white wines, but the proportion of red wines has doubled over the last two decades and now represents a third of Austria’s vineyards.
The most widely planted grape doesn’t surprise me. It is Gruner Veltliner. I was not expecting, however, that Riesling is only fifth on the list in terms of vineyard acreage. Gruner represents 29% of Austria’s output while Riesling is just a little over 4%. That Riesling, though, is quite remarkable.
They Are Old, But How Do They Taste?
Austria prides itself in taking the middle ground in Riesling – not as acidic and sometimes sweet as Germany, and not as powerful and high in alcohol as Alsace. Austria goes for a glorious balance.
Our first tasting was of the 1990 Domane Wachau Terrassen Thal Smaragd Riesling. I’ve had old Riesling before and it was something of a science experiment: heavy petrol smell and an “almost” wine-like flavor.
The Domane Wachau blew all that away with a delicate finesse and light floral flavors. The acidic edge had softened over the years into a limber, beautiful wine.
Mind-Blowing Label And Riesling
I loved the 1995 Knoll Wachau Smaragd Reid Loibenberg Loibner Riesling even without tasting a drop. This Riesling comes from the small but important Wachau wine region. The Weingut Knoll label has a cool illustration of St. Urban, the patron saint of winemakers and vineyards. This label was discolored in a artful way. This wine had a mix of subdued tropical flavors.
Proceeding to our next bottle, our tasting team sampled the 2002 Schloss Gobelsburg Kamptal Alte Reben Riesling. This wine, made from old vines, is mellow indeed. In fact, it tasted as if had faded a bit compared with the 1990 or 1995. Still, quite a great glass.
The 21st Century Isn’t All Bad Either
Of the “newbie” Austrian Rieslings we sampled – the newcomers in the 21st Century – the 2005 Brundlmayer Kamptal Zobinger Heilingenstein Riesling Lyra was my favorite. Brundlmayer is considered the best Austrian winery.
The Bundlmayer has clean flavors of peach and apple. A great pairing with chicken and fish.
The 2011 Jurtschitsch Kamptal Heiligenstein Erste Lage offered noticeably more acid in its profile. We were tasting these wines in the middle of Finger Lakes wine country and the difference in the acidity was striking. The Riesling from Austria offered good structure, but not a bone-jarring acidity.
To cap off our tasting, we sampled the 2012 Tergernseerhof Wachau Loibenberg Riesling, a wine that would be within the normal tasting window for a good Riesling. It offers citrus flavors with a dash of minerality and lively minerality. We can wait to taste it in another 15 years!
Riesling is the king of white wine. Our Riesling “tour” shows that not only does Austrian Riesling deserve prominence on the world stage, but the craftsmanship of the top wines lends itself to cellaring for a decade or more.