I love Riesling. Especially dry Riesling.
Not the crap in the blue bottle (one big brand for which I may or may not have been responsible when I worked for large hulking winery...), but the good stuff. It's the little brands that you may not know about but that are out there just waiting for you to discover.
I've got some news for ya...Riesling isn't all sweet wine. Some of it is aromatic and dry with searing acid that will have your eyes watering. When I find a Riesling like this-- not too sweet, great aroma, great acid -- I kind of get giddy (these usually hail from places like Australia, Alsace, France and Austria).
So it makes sense that after tasting their (mainly dry) wines at the Wine Enthusiast Event in Atlanta, I signed up for the blogger list for Destination Riesling, a marketing organization that's dedicated solely to Riesling and to letting us know how great the stuff can be when properly handled. They sent me some samples and included was Forstreiter Riesling from Austria. Although not always the case with samples sent to me, today, I am a lucky woman.
Before I talk about the Riesling, I want to pause for a minute and address Austria (which was home to about a quarter of my relatives before they headed to Ellis Island and took Brooklyn by storm).
First things first, just because you haven't really seen or heard of Austrian wines, doesn't make them new. This country has been making wine for 4000 years. There were actually grape seeds found in urns from like 700 BC (according to Wines From Austria), and like everywhere else in Europe, the Romans had a hand in viticulture here too, where they planted vineyards along the Danube River.
Between the Romans and the 19th century wine grew and grew in Austria. Like the rest of Europe, globalization took its toll in the 1800s and diseases brought across the Pond courtesy of the USA -- powdery mildew, downy mildew, and the toxic insect phylloxera-- decimated a lot of vineyards to the point of no return. This proved to be a blessing -- some vineyards were replanted with quality vines, mostly of Austria's native grape, a white wine with a kind of peppery flavor called Gruner Veltliner (not for everyone but damn good if you like a little bitter spice).
You may think I'm full of it, but after World War I, Austria was the world's third largest wine producer. Was it good wine? God, no. It was bulk wine, exported to Germany and other countries that can't grow big volumes of grapes because of sketchy weather conditions. Even though it sucked, this reign of crap winemaking lasted clear into the mid 1980s. And that's when things got REAL bad.
So here's a wine business pop quiz. What do you do when your niche is crap wine that, suddenly, no one wants because they have access to better wine at a similar price? Well, if you're a handful of bigger Austrian producers (no jokes from the German peanut gallery who already think their neighbors are blathering idiots) then of course, you add diethylene glycol to your wine to sweeten it and add body. If you're the smartest of that handful, apparently you claim the chemical on your tax return, the media finds out and, being particularly dumb about chemicals, they all say you used anti-freeze (ethylene glycol) in your wine. Poof, your wine industry is devastated and most of that nasty wine that no one wants goes to the toxic dump.
Sounds really bad, right? Actually not so much. Without this scandal Austria wouldn't have the fabulous wines it has today. Out of this indiscretion, vineyards were replanted, the Austrian Wine Marketing Board was established, and the winemakers became aligned with a single-minded purpose -- make quality wines and don't compromise (seems like Hollywood should take a page from this story of redemption...Lindsey Lohan, are you listening?).
Today Austria is 17th in world production and the country cranks out insanely good wine.... evidence Forstreiter Riesling.
The Wine: Forstreiter Riesling
Where It's From: Kremstal, Austria
The Grapes: 100% Riesling
Color: An absolutely brilliant golden color like 14 karat gold. A beautiful wine with small bubbles at the bottom of the glass, probably from a touch of CO2 added to keep the wine fresh and bright. It was reflective and beautiful. The darker color made me a little worried though -- could this have sugar in it? That's not really typical of Austrian Riesling, so I hoped it was just ripe fruit and not sugar I was dealing with here.
Smell: Typical of Riesling, this wine is all about aroma. White jasmine flowers (like the tea), white peach, apricot, and honey, ahhhh! So good. It smelled tropical too -- like a pineapple lifesaver, and like this tree that grows on St. John (where I lived for a little while, but that's a story for another blog) called a Frangipani tree with a delicate, scented yellow flower. All this floral goodness and wet rock smell to boot. This was a characteristic Riesling smell and it was heady.
Taste: Wow! Honeysuckle, tangerine, and honey flavors. This wine is not bone dry, but it's got a very low level of sugar which is needed to balance the enamel eroding acidity. I felt the acid in my teeth, and I'm blessed with good teeth so that's saying something. Searing acidity is typical of Riesling, but it's often hidden in gobs of sugar. Here you could taste it and it was such a pure expression, it made me feel alive. All things considered, this was perfectly balanced. Yin and yang of acidity and fruit to make it so satisfying.
Food: Risotto with zucchini and English peas -- OMG. You need to try this pairing. The acid cuts the creaminess of the risotto, the floral aromatics complement the sweetness of the peas. I'm sure this could be a better pairing with something, but I'm at a loss to tell you what that is.
Drink or Down the Sink?: The Forstreiter Family has been making wine since 1868 in vineyards along the Danube River in some of the best areas for Riesling in Austria (Kremstal, which is adjacent to Wachau -- the best region). The climate is mild, at the intersection of cool humidity and dry air, and the soil is old granite and mica that provide the wine it's mineral spiciness. Riesling from this region is glorious, and the Forstreiter was absolutely delightful. If you haven't had a dry Riesling before, but enjoy the aromas of the wine -- try this wine. It is simply wonderful. I'm adding it to my stable of favorites!
July 12, 2010
I love Riesling. Especially dry Riesling.