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The 2004 Vintage in Germany and Austria: An Idiots Point of View

Before you read any further, you should know that I'm the idiot. I know next to nothing about German and Austrian wines. Before last week I had tasted probably thirty of them in my life. Maybe fifty. They'd just never been a real source of interest. Sure I'd had a lovely Gewurztraminer here and there, a gorgeous dry Riesling over Thai food, but honestly I never really made a serious study.

This, of course, is problematic when you hang out with people who are convinced that German and Austrian wines are the best wines on the planet. And I do hang out with those sorts of people occasionally. It was only a matter of time before I found myself in the midst of an intervention.

And what does an intervention look like in the world of wine geeks? Sadly, NOT like a first class ticket to Vienna. But the next best thing was being dragged to the preview tasting of Austrian and German fall 2005 releases from Terry Theise Estate Selections, where I was forced to try nearly 200 German and Austrian wines in the space of an hour or two.

Now THAT is an education. I still can't pronounce most of them, but I can say a thing or two about Riesling and Gruner Veltliner now. For those of you who may not know, Terry Theise is sort of the Kermit Lynch of the Austrian and German wine world. He's a (THE ?) major importer of wines from that region of the world, and a really interesting guy. His annual catalogs are half and inch thick and in addition to being full of names and prices and ratings for wine, they're chock full of his essays, drawings, photographs, musings, and little educational tidbits. They're at once hilarious, educational, deep, and always warm.

Take this little tidbit about being invited to a fifty vintage vertical tasting of a Bordeaux Grand Cru Estate:

"I really don't enjoy sitting in some chillingly well lighted room in a row with many other people as if we were taking the written segment of a driver's test, with ten glasses in geometric patters on the table in front of me, little bitty bits of wine in each glass, sippin' and spittin' and combing my mind for adjectives. I don't enjoy it because I think it's a waste of wine, and even worse it's a sin against the spirit of wine and I would just as soon not participate.

Give me any one or two of those mature vintages, along with a mellow evening, a rack of lamb, and the company of people I'm fond of, and I am a very happy man. A great old wine is such a gift of providence that it begs to be savored, to soak into your heart. Sitting in some creepy banquet room and "tasting: fifty old wines not only dilutes the aesthetic experience, it's a macho snub of the nose to the angels."

Amen brother.

The back of this catalog has a photo of a green-blue lizard on the back of it. Go figure.

But let's get to the wines. What did I learn? You mean besides that 34 Gruner Veltliners followed by 54 dry Rieslings will strip the enamel off your teeth faster than a steel brush? Well, I learned that I'm really not a fan of Austrian red wines. Blankenfrisch and Zweigelt are funky grapes and while I tasted a few renditions of them that were passable, none were very good. I learned that I enjoy the dry style of Austrian Rieslings and Gruner Veltliners, but it's hard for me to find ones that are really unique and complex. Most are merely zippy and crisp, nice for quaffing, but not distinct enough to merit attention. I learned that I seem to find German Rieslings more complex, though much sweeter as a rule, and therefore less appealing to me to drink regularly. As dessert wines, though, some of them are knockouts.

I won't subject you to scores for all 170 or so wines that I tasted. I think I'd scrape the enamel off MY OWN teeth before trying to type in all those umlauts and seven syllable names. But I will list the outstanding wines from the tasting. Please forgive the omission of umlauts where appropriate. Filling them in would kill me. Really.

2004 Heidi Schrock Muscat. Score: 9/9.5.
2004 Nigl Gruner Veltliner Kremser Freiheit. Score: 9.
2004 Hofer Gruner Veltliner "Weinviertel DAC". Score: 9.
2004 Jamek Gruner Veltliner Stein Am Rain Federspiel. Score: 9.
2004 Schloss Gobelburg Gruner Veltliner Steinsetz. Score: 9.
2004 Schloss Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner Lamm. Score: 9.
2004 Hofer Riesling Vom Satz. Score: 9.
2004 Brundlmayer Riesling "Kamptaler Terassen." Score: 9.
2004 Brundlmayer Riesling Steinmassel. Score: 9.

2003 Darting Durkheimer Nonnengarten Rieslaner Auslese. Score: 9.5/10.

2003 Strub Niersteiner Paterberg Reisling Spatlese "***". Score: 9.5.
2004 Muller-Catoir Haardter Mendeiring Scheurebe Spatlese. Score: 9.5.
2003 Messmer Rieslaner Spatlese. Score: 9.5.
2004 Darting Ungsteiner Honigsackel Scheurebe Auslese. Score: 9.5.
2002 Leitz Rudesheimer Kirchenpfad Riesling BA. Score: 9.5.

2003 Leitz Rudesheimer Magdalenenkreuz Riesling Spatlese. Score: 9/9.5.
2003 Strub Niersteiner Paterberg Reisling Spatlese. Score: 9/9.5.
2003 Christoffel Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett. Score: 9/9.5.
2003 Adam Dhronhofberger Tholey Riesling Spatlese. Score: 9/9.5.
2004 Christoffel Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spatlese. Score: 9/9.5.
2003 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Spatlese. Score: 9/9.5.
2004 Dr. Deinhard Ruppertsberger Reiterpfad Gewurztraminer Spatlese. Score: 9/9.5.
2003 Messmer Burrweiler Altenforst Gewurztraminer Spatlese. Score: 9/9.5.
2004 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Schlossburg Riesleing Auslese "Schmitt." Score: 9/9.5.
2004 Loewen Leiwener Laurentiuslay Riesling Auslese. Score: 9/9.5.
2003 Cluesserath Trittenheimer Apotheke Riesling Auslese. Score: 9/9.5.
2003 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Auslese "Schmitt." Score: 9/9.5.
2003 Gysler Weinheimer Holle Riesling Auslese. Score: 9/9.5.
2003 Lingenfelder Grosskarlbacher Burgweg Riesling Auslese. Score: 9/9.5.
2004 Weingart Schloss Furstenberg Riesling Eiswein. Score: 9/9.5.

2004 Karlsmuhle Kaseler Nies'chen Riesling Kabinett. Score: 9.
2004 Loewen Leiwener Klostergarten Riesling Kabinett. Score: 9.
2004 Schmitt-Wagner Longilcher Maximiner Herrenberg Riesling Kabinett. Score: 9.
2004 Eugen Muller Forster Mariengarten Riesling Kabinett. Score: 9.
2003 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett. Score: 9.
2004 Messmer Burrweiler Schawer Riesling Spatlese. Score: 9.
2003 Kruger-Rumpf Munsterer Dautenpflanzer Riesling Spatlese. Score: 9.
2004 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesleing Auslese "Rotlay." Score: 9.
2003 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese. Score: 9.
2003 Mathern Niederhauser Rosenbern Riesling Auslese. Score: 9.
2004 Christoffel Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Eiswein.Score: 9.
2003 Weegmuller Haardter Maneiring Scheurebe Auslese. Score: 9.

So there's my education in German and Austrian wines. I can't emphasize enough how valuable these massive tastings are for really getting a sense of a certain type of wine. Oh, and by the way, half of learning about German and Austrian wines is figuring out what the heck most of those words mean on the label. Here's a quick lesson if you need some pointers (I know I did.)
One of the cool things is that most of these wines are under $30 bucks, and many of them are under $20. Now how's that for value?

All of these wines are available from the gracious hosts of this tasting, the Vienna Wine Company in Berkeley. Call them up at 510.848.6879 if you want some.

Comments (18)

Alison wrote:
07.23.05 at 1:53 AM

Sounds like a great way to get an education. Well done with those names!

07.23.05 at 9:25 AM

Hey, good to see these notes.

Rudi Wiest is probably the main importer of Germans by volume, but Terry focuses on smaller producers. Your comparison to Kermit Lynch is apt.

And the lizard on your Austrian catalog is (I'm guessing) the smaragd, a beast that hangs out in sunny vineyards. The term is also a term for the ripeness of grapes in the Wachau. IIRC, it's roughly equivalent to spatlese in the rest of Austria and Germany.

Alder wrote:
07.23.05 at 9:47 AM

Ah, so the lizard DOES have significance. That's cool.

Jack wrote:
07.23.05 at 10:05 AM

Well done, Alder!

Note: Unless you're in California, consumers should contact Skurnik Wines to locate Terry's selections.

email: [email protected]

john wrote:
07.24.05 at 4:06 AM

I think the one interesting thing about Austrian wines is sturm, which is basically fresh press, partially fermented juice they sell during the vintage. If you see an evergreen wreath and a green light (if memory serves) outside a restaurant or tavern, they have fresh sturm. A very unique experience, you'll have to decide if it's a treat or not.

brian casey wrote:
07.24.05 at 6:48 AM

A very one dimensonal selection of German wines. Very typical of old school thought regarding German wines: Sweet is good, Mosel-Saar-Ruhrwehr is good, dry is unsophisticated. I was dissapointed that GREAT wines from the Rheingau,Pfalz, BAden and Rheinhessen were noticably absent. The new Riesling classic and Erstes gewaeches are up and coming and fantastic. These wines are mostly consumed locally and have been ignored by importers.

Taj wrote:
07.24.05 at 8:20 AM

Wow! I attended this Terry Theise tasting when it was in my neck o' the woods, at Seven restaurant in Austin. I had a long, lovely conversation with Johannes Leitz, who set me straight "once and for all" about German quality designations, and was an all-around charming fellow. The Leitz and the Selbach-Osters were my favorites, although I didn't have a chance to try many of the other ones because Seven shut us down at the precise stroke of five o'clock (the manager claimed she had reservations booked at five-thirty...now why would you do that?) This, btw, reminds me of your article about the proper way to host tastings. Is three hours really sufficient to work your way through an entire Terry Theise portfolio? They should have given us more time. Anyhoo, the wines I did taste were of the sort that afford a brief euphoria, and I have been a devotee of fine reisling (both dry and sweet) since.

Ben wrote:
07.24.05 at 11:17 AM

Hey Brian,

I appreciate that you have a strong opnion about German wines, but I think you need to elaborate. I'm not really sure what your main ideas are, and some examples would be great. There's plenty of us that may not have enough German wine background to decipher your shorthand.


Jassmond wrote:
07.24.05 at 3:19 PM

Ben & Brian,

I agree Ben that we need some more than "one dimensional selection of German wines." My guess would be a troll, as anyone with experience with the Thiesse wines may not "like" them, but would have to give credit to the man for the way he has broadened the market for German wines and introduced Americans to the beauty of grower champagnes and Austrian wines. Please tell more Brian.


Alder wrote:
07.25.05 at 1:48 PM


Luckily they gave us about 4 hours, I think, to go through this tasting. I managed to get through it in a couple of hours, but it's hard work. It's a good portfolio. I find the Selbach-Osters pretty impressive.

Alder wrote:
07.25.05 at 1:51 PM


Thanks for the comments. Never heard of Sturm before ! Sounds like that's where Krispy Kreme got the idea for their hot light!

Fatemeh wrote:
07.26.05 at 11:21 PM

>>"Filling them in would kill me. Really.">>

Nearly fell out of my chair. Much needed this evening. Danke!

alex wrote:
11.14.05 at 4:39 AM

The Selections of Mr. Theise are excellent if you are looking for the sweeter wines of Germany. The little problem about the dry ones is: they are quite difficult to find in the US. One can find great dry wines from almost all producers listed there, the market in the US for those wines is still quite limited: otherwise I'm sure they would be easier to find, most high-quality wineries in Germany are mainly producing dry wines nowadays, while the sweet variations of the Riesling are often representing less then 20% of the total production in a "standard high-quality" winery (noble-sweets - auslese and higher -are often even less then 5%). But: those wines need some bottle maturation. If you try a young (2004) Erstes Gewachs (first growth) from a Rheingau winery now, it will be much more acidic than any of those selections rated at your list. If you have the possibility: try the 2000's (even being a difficult vintage there are nice wines to be found - the Geheimrat J by Wegeler being one of them), the 98's (Breuer's Schlossberg is fantastic!), 97's (try some of the Künstler Auslese trocken from the Hochheimer Hölle from big glasses, opening the bottle 45 min. before pouring and you will see how far dry Riesling can get you...) or even some riper ones like 93' Barth, 92' Künstler or J.B. Becker, all the 1990's...
the list would be quite endless, just in the Rheingau. After trying those, one perhaps will start scratching at the surface of the unique wines of that incomparable grape-variety! And then start with the Spätlesen and Auslesen of the 80's and 70's and...
But caution: there is a great potential to get addicted to those wines.
Another warning: this grape is quite possessive: once she's got her grip around your palate, there rarely will be another grape tasting as fascinating!

utenzi wrote:
01.11.07 at 11:28 AM

I like sweet Reislings but I don't have a very sophisticated palate. Inexpensive wines like the Schmitt Sohne's QbA Rieslings work fine for me.

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