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.