Sunday, January 16, 2011

GERMANY to AUSTRIA: Quality, Value & Standardization

Paired with a wonderful meal of squash with prawns soup, and sauteed skate wing with oyster mushrooms, soy and ginger, our bottles of a recent vintage Mosel Riesling added harmony and contrasts to the feast. The dry Kabinett was tart and austere, adding just the right sharp counterpoint to our creamy textured soup. And the off-dry Spatlese had richly textured stone fruit layers lifted by its bracing acidity as a rich foil for the exotic, earthy flavors of the fish dish.  Best of all, both wines were approved by their governments testing panels, had specific details about their content on the tall green bottles, and were less than $17 each from a local wine shop.  As I continue to prepare for an upcoming Wine Educators exam, this seemed like the perfect time to explore what is unique about the terrific, quality wine values from Germany and Austria.

Both countries have strict controls on place of origin, regulating every tier of production.  The majority of these wines fall into the QbA or Qualitatswein designation or the even higher Qmp(Pradikat) demarcation.  These wines are labeled by the weight or content of sugar at harvest, so expect to find wines labeled Kabinett to be dry.  Late harvested grapes or Spatlese, and even those late, hand selected grapes in an Auslese, usually will be off-dry to slightly sweet, but balanced with good acidity to make them clean, textured, and food friendly.

Germany's wine lands make up its southwestern borders along the Rhine, where the wine growing regions of Austria run like a backward 'C', following the Danube across its southeastern territories surrounding Vienna. Riesling is royal in both countries, with the indigenous Gruner Veltliner only becoming regal in Austria. With their wine regions flanking the Alps, sitting below 50 and 47 degrees North latitude, and both nations produce 'stickies' from late harvest and botrytized grapes in their highest noted quality levels, the Pradikatswein. The important moderating effect of waters from these great, winding rivers contribute to successful grape growing in these cool regions.

Wine labels from both white wine giants will contain the name of the producer or bottler, usually in the largest type. In smaller type, the wines vintage date(year of harvest) and its single grape variety will also be noted. Proprietary names, like "Liebfraumilch", are typically blends of one grape from different vineyards.  But higher quality wines will note the village name(usually ending in 'er') as well as a vineyard name in conspicuous type.  In addition to listing its wine growing region, these wines prominently display their quality classification levels and their level of ripeness at harvest.  Wines labeled 'trocken' or 'halbdrocken' will be dry or half-dry, respectively.

 With their regulated QbA and higher QmP small production wines tested for authenticity and quality, it seems remarkable that they can be found a value.  Yet, these terrific wines have in recent years become quite standardized in spite of the cool regions where they are produced, and remain one of the wine worlds wonders. We consumers can find their consistent qualities at a reasonable price at our local wine merchants, if only we speak a little German!


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