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03.27.2006

2001 Weingut Nigl "Kremsleiten" Riesling, Kremstal, Austria

nigl_riesling.jpgI'll be honest with you, I'm a relative newcomer to Austrian and German wines. I haven't been drinking them for years as I have the wines of France, Italy, and California. I'd had one here and one there over the years, but not until I sat down last year and tasted my way through a good 200 different Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners did I really start to understand them in any way.

One of the first things I learned was that I really prefer Austrian Rieslings to their German counterparts. Don't get me wrong, the Germans make some good stuff, but on the whole, I'm not generally a fan of sweet wines, so I naturally gravitated towards the dry, sometimes even brittle acidity of the Austrian variety. (Of course, the Germans do make dry Rieslings, and some are quite stunning, but these are not as common).

I also quickly learned, even at that first marathon tasting, that though I'm still not 100% sure how to pronounce their name, I am a big fan of the wines of Weingut Nigl.

Known alternatively as Wiengut Familie Nigl, or more recently as Weingut Martin Nigl, for its owner and winemaker, this 62 acre estate is one of the most respected in Austria's Kremstal region. Named for the river Krems and the medieval town of the same name, whose school for viticulture has been going strong since 1875, the Kremstal boasts some of the country's most dynamic temperature swings throughout the year. Scorching summers and bitter cold winters are said to lend a crystalline edge to the region's wines. The Kremstal is known for producing some of the country's best Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, with increasing amounts of Chardonnay.

One might say exactly the same thing about Weingut Nigl.

Martin Nigl is a man focused relentlessly on quality. From the way he kicks the rocks in his vineyards to his recent decision to cap all his wines with screwcaps, Nigl equally and effortlessly juggles traditional winemaking techniques and new technology. While he may have moved to modern closures, for instance, he still insists that every grape that goes into his wine is harvested by hand at the peak of ripeness. This can mean, at times, that his harvest takes six or seven weeks, as workers painstakingly tromp through the crushed granite soils to cull the ripe grapes from the vines.

After picking by hand, the grapes are vinified in stainless steel where they rest on their lees for a time after completing fermentation. After being racked off their sediments they are bottled with minimal fining and filtration. Nigl produces about 7500 cases of wine each year including four different single vineyard bottlings of Riesling including this Kremsleiten.

In the spirit of accuracy, the bottle image to the right is of a more recent vintage than the 2001 that I am reviewing here. The 2001 had a black label and was not screwcapped, but I forgot to snap a photo of it before I took it out for dinner and I also failed to bring the bottle back home. So you're stuck with a photo of the 2004.

Tasting Notes:
Pale gold in color, this wine has a rich creamy nose of toffee and honey that literally makes you salivate to smell it. In the mouth it is bright with acidity but with a rich weight on the palate and a delicious mix of flavors that dance between fresh honeycomb, minerals and crushed stones, gooseberries, and Asian pears. The wine carries through to a long, beautiful finish. Rich, complex, and utterly drinkable, this wine represents everything that I find appealing about Austrian Riesling, and would be the perfect bottle to introduce to anyone who does not yet appreciate these wines and their versatility at the dinner table.

Food Pairing:
I served this wine with crispy spring rolls filled with shrimp, chicken, crab meat, and wood ear mushrooms, served with lettuce leaves and nuoc mam dipping sauce. This wine is a great pairing for Vietnamese dishes of all kinds.

Overall Score: 9.5

How Much?: $30

This wine is available for purchase online.

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