It was Valentine's Day. We were having "girls' night in." And we hadn't realized until that moment how clever we were to make sausage stew for dinner. The punchlines were flowing, and we hadn't even really begun drinking yet.
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A journey to Austria isn't complete without a monster schnitzel (daily), and at least one stop at Vienna's käsekrainer stands, but I visited mostly to taste wine, especially riesling and gruner veltliner. Here are my snapshots, along with snippets of winemaker-conversation, and a peek at some of the food we tried.
Reisetbauer makes Blue Gin with whole botanicals—27 in all. Though many gins are either very floral or aggressively piney, Blue Gin is marked by smooth, rich texture and multifaceted flavor, with the juniper gentle and well-integrated, and a bright citrusy spice from the orange peel and hops.
Overall, this week's Grüner tasting was fantastic. It was incredible to discover how a single little grape could take on so many different flavors—some of these wines were tart and tangy, while others were alluringly spicy, with hints of smoke, fennel, and cloves. This made it difficult to rank the favorites and least favorites of the group—though some tasters preferred some bottles over others, there really weren't any losers in this bunch.
Anyone that knows me knows that I love BYOBs. Not only do I get to drink wine that I know I like, but I still get that "I did something today" feeling that comes with leaving the house. The challenge I find in New York is that a lot of the restaurants that allow you to bring your own wine serve dishes from around the world—from delicate sushi to fiery Indian dishes—and the big, bold reds I have sitting at home don't necessarily offer the best pairings. Enter Grüner Veltliner.
Sometimes a wine has a little peppery alcohol heat, or a hint of the slightly floral note of white pepper, but I have never tasted a wine with such a vivid freshly-cracked black pepper flavor as this. This wine is almost plush compared to the other Austrian rieslings we've tried lately, tart and slim but rounded with floral and vegetable flavors.
Dry (really dry) and front-loaded with powdery lemony notes and hints of bay leaf, jasmine, and tarragon that vanish in your mouth as you swallow. This is a compact wine, with minerality laced into an intensely tart acidity. The wine has enough body to support its taut, focused flavors; the question is, can your food handle it?
This muscular dry Austrian riesling has an intense, tangy acidity: almost-aggressive lime and puckeringly tart plum flavors ride on the sweeping alcohol. But what's noteworthy is a charming floral quality; the perfumey chamomile notes in the core of this wine keep it from austerity.
A dry Austrian sparkler made from riesling, precise and stony. We tasted gravel and grapefruit pith—it's tangy but also a little bit bitter (some tasters were reminded of the peppery bite of arugula or endive.)
From the Wachau. The scent reminded us of sage and stones, and the wine is full of the flavors of herbs and frilly lettuces, endives tossed in lemon. We tasted matcha and chives, tart green strawberries—this wine has a bite to it. As it opens up in the glass, muddled peaches and lime wedges, a splash of tonic and a mouthful of minerality.
If you filled a tea bag with apricots and gravel and let it steep, you might end up with this wine, shot through with lime, pear-scented and filled with green herbs, hints of flat leaf parsley and tarragon, tomatillos, fragrant meyer lemon and orange zest, spicy mustard seed, but mostly minerals, layers and layers of mica.
At the recent Theise portfolio tasting, the Nikolaihof wines stopped me in my tracks—not just the riesling, but the Grüner and Gelber Muskateller as well. Sipping these wines, the buzz of the room blurred into the background, and the flavors washed over me: fruit and stones, flowers pressing through slate, herbs releasing their oils. So I've been hoarding this bottle, waiting for a night when I had a good long time to spend with it.
We've tasted Austrian wines that were cool as mountain pools—sleek and precise, sometimes sparse. This isn't one of those. It's elegant but welcoming, calling you quite literally to table. This is a wine for a roast chicken dinner, everyone gathered together—it's worthy of careful attention, but you might find yourself slurping it up out of sheer deliciousness.
The word Smaragd means emerald—the category is named for lizards sunning themselves where grapes get ripe and flavorful. These ageworthy wines are required to be at least 12.5% alcohol—big, that is, for Austria. At best, these rieslings are focused and tart and deeply mineral—the vines have fought their way through primary rock and drunk up what's buried there.