Feb 12 2009
I love good German Rieslings because of their perfect balance of unctuous fruit flavors, minerality, and naturally high acidity levels. This is why I was in heaven Monday night at the Thierry Thiese portfolio tasting of German and Austrian wines at Bluebird in Bucktown. After the walk-around tasting, we all sat down for a perfectly paired family-style meal of arrugula and wild mushroom pizza, homemade veal and pork sausage, mussels and frites, goat cheese mac ‘n cheese, green beans and shallots and sautéed pork loin. Delish!
Since the wine laws and quality and sugar classifications of grapes in these countries are so complicated they could make your head spin, I’m going to try to break it down as simply as possible. Here we go…
Germany’s climate is continental, meaning warm summers and cold winters. It also rains a lot, especially in the summer. Grapes here are able to ripen slowly and develop rich, complex flavors. The white grape varieties (which are the most successful) are Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner and Scheurebe. The popular black grapes are Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Dornfelder. Others are grown but mainly for locally consumed wines.
There are four styles of quality wine (or Prädikat) in Germany. Here they are, in ascending order (I told you this gets complicated, especially when you don’t speak German!):
• Deutscher Tafelwein
• Qualitätswein bestimmter Anabaugebiet (QbA)
• Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP)
To make it even easier on you (ha!), there are also sugar classifications of the grape juice, which designate the level of the sugar content before fermentation. Here they are in ascending order (Do you feel like you’re in school again yet?):
• Spätlese- or “late harvest”
• Auslese – or “select harvest”
• Beerenauslese (BA)- or “select berry harvest”
• Eiswein (ice wine)
• Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) – “select dry berry harvest” or “dry berry selection”
(Some other useful terms to know when picking out a German wine are “Trocken,” which means “dry” and “Halbtrocken,” meaning “off-dry.”)
German wine regions are as follows: Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Nahe, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz (all produce mostly Rieslings and other whites) and Baden (a source of red wines). The best Rieslings are thought to come from Mosel-Saar-Ruwer because of the steep, slatey, mineral-rich slopes where the grapes are grown. There are many different styles of vineyards (and wines) in Germany and the finest ones are grown on steep hills in river valleys where all the work must be done by hand.
Moving on to Austria, where the climate is Central European, meaning short cold winters and long, warm summers. The grape varieties are Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, and Welschriesling (whites) and Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and St. Laurent (for red wines).
The various levels of Prädikatswein (quality classifications) in Germany apply in Austria as well; although, it has two additional classifications: Ausbruch (b/w Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese) and Strohwein or Shilfwein (where grapes are laid out on straw or reeds during the winter to allow for extra sweetness).
The country is split into four regions, which may also be split into sub-regions and districts (all lie east of the Alps).
• Lower Austria (Niederösterreich) is the largest of regions and produces the most wine (some of the best whites). Of the eight sub-regions here, the most important for quality wines are Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal. Cheaper wines can be found from the Weinviertel region.
• Burgenland borders Hungary and produces high quality sweet wines. The four sub-regions are Neusiedlersee and Neusiedlersee-Hügelland, and Mittelburgenland and Südburgenland, which are the source of the country’s best red wines.
Whew! Now, wasn’t that just a piece of cake? It’s not really important that you memorize this information, but instead focus on familiarizing yourself with the terms. What is interesting to you will stick in your brain and help you in finding which German and Austrian wines you’ll love too.
Let me know if you have any questions about this little crash course à la Brooke, but more importantly, tell me some awesome German and Austrian wines that fit your particular fancy – and why!