Riesling is one of those grapes/wines that splits winos and non-winos alike pretty evenly. One camp finds the semi-aromatic flavors and aromas and the luscious sweetness that is balanced by the grape’s famously searing, racy acidity too great for words, but there are as many drinkers who just don’t get it – they’re often too sweet, and the grape’s effusively feminine but somehow still pungently funky olfactory traits can be just too much to bear. This divide is real and marked, but it comes with one big qualifier – it’s almost always regarding German Rieslings, but this great grape has a life away from the greater Rhine region, and that place is called Austria.
The set of differences between German and Austrian Rieslings is one of the clearest testaments to those who are skeptical about the effects of terroir. In fact, they are often so different that it’s difficult to believe the two places are working with the same grape. If the German Rieslings are rich, perfumed, and semi- to very sweet, and lowish in alcohol, the Austrian side of the family trends toward a steely structure, an earthier range of aromas, 12%-14% alcohol levels, and bone dryness. And again, it’s all about place – Germany’s completely different soil (lots of slate) and generally cooler temperatures and fewer hours of sunshine encourage the production of more opulent wines. Much to most folks’ surprise, Austria gets quite hot in the Summertime, has mostly granitic and limestone-based soils, and has much more intense sun due to the higher altitudes at which many of the vineyards are located.
I happen to enjoy Riesling wines from both places, depending on what’s being set on the table, but if you don’t care for the pervasive style of German Rieslings (like my wife Jen who has a pretty strong aversion to them), take one or two bottles from Austria for a spin (though Austrian Rieslings are definitely not Jen’s favorite white wine in the world, she does like them quite a bit). What a difference a place makes.
The dinner that I matched with this sophisticated, whistle-clean wine consisted of a creamy pureed vegetable soup with sour cream, and then a main course of chicken schnitzel flavored with sweet paprika and dill, with a side of red cabbage with onions braised with wine and flavored with dried savory.
Josef Ehmoser Vom Gelben Loss Wagram Riesling 2011
Very pale, “white gold” color. Stylish nose of creamy pear, mixed citrus, and banana fruit with notes of ground hazelnut, minerals, white flowers, sweet, fresh herbs and hints of kerosene. The quite elegant and medium-full body is dense, intense, and mildly oily in texture well-balanced by a finely honed acidity with well-defined flavors of fresh-squeezed apple juice, white currants and mango and secondary tastes of beeswax and flint. Long, bitterish tonic water finish.