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A German wine label is one of the things life's too short for, a daunting testimony to that peculiar nation's love of detail and organization. - Sir Kingsley Amis, British writer (1922-1995)

The March tasting theme of Arnaud's wine club was the wines of Austria and Germany. Austria and Germany are both European, German-speaking neighboring countries but they produce very different wine styles, as it is shown in this tasting.


Wine production in Austria has drastically improved since the mid-1980s. A new generation of winemakers are now dedicated to producing high quality, racy, dry wines that have more in common with Alsace than Germany. Austria's wine country has a continental climate characterized by cold winters, but thanks to some Atlantic influence from the west and some Mediterranean influence from the south, the summers are dry and warm, allowing a long growing season. The Austrian wines can be powerful and higher in alcohol than their German counterparts. White grapes make 80% of the production with the star varietal being the Grüner Veltliner that can be powerful, spicy with floral and mineral aromas. Riesling is also very successful in Austria as well as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. The most planted red varietal is Zweigelt, a grape with a characteristic nose of black cherries and chocolate. Blaufränkisch comes in second place and generally produces a wine that is fruity with some good acidity.

The wines

We started our tasting with a red wine from Mittleburgenland. Bordering Hungary, this is one of the warmest wine growing regions of the country and is responsible for most of the Blaufränkisch production. The 2002 Iby Blaufränkisch Hochäcker was a fruity, easy to drink wine with a sweet pruny nose, followed by some peppery aromas on the palate and a light, fresh finish.

The second wine was from Neusiedlersee, a region influenced by the humidity of lake Neusiedlersee and well known for its botrytized wines. The 2002 Peter Schandl Pinot Blanc had a great aromatic nose with notes of white flower. On the palate, it was crisp, sligthly bubbly with a caramel aftertaste.

The last Austrian wine was from Wachau, a region with steep, terraced vineyards overlooking the Danube river. The soil made of granite, gneiss and schist and the dry climate are perfect conditions for making bone-dry, minerally dense Rieslings and Grüner Veltliner. The 2000 Prager Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Weissenkirchen Achleiten comes from the distinctive southfacing Achleiten vineyard, east of the town of Weissenkirchen, on the north bank of the Danube. The wine exhibited smoky aromas on the nose. On the palate, it was clean, medium to full-bodied with a mineral richness followed by more mineral flavors on the finish. This well-balnced wine was my favorite from the Austria selection. It was perfect paired with the smoky flavors of taramosalata, a greek fish roe spread. Smaragd ("emerald") is Wachau's highest category in term of sugar content in the must. It is named for the emerald green lizards that live in the stone walls of the vineyard terraces, and is the equivalent of the German Spätlese (late-picked) level with wines of at least 12.5% and up to 15% alcohol.


Germany's best wines grow at the northernmost limit for viticulture, and are the result of a successful struggle for ripeness. To compensate natural high acidity levels that could make wines taste too sharp, some residual sugar is left in most of the German white wines. They are also usually low in alcohol. Cold tolerant Riesling is Germany's noblest grape and in the best areas it can produce a wine of great delicacy and finesse that can age magnificently thanks to its high acidity level. All our German wines tasted that day were from the Riesling grape.

Germany's wine labels usually indicate the level of sugar concentration before fermentation. Depending on how much of the sugar has been converted to alcohol, the resulting wines may have different levels of sweetness.

  • Kabinett: the lowest level of sugar concentration.
  • Spätlese: means late harvest to ensure a higher level of sugar concentration.
  • Auslese: means selective harvest. These wines are made from selected bunches taken late in the harvest which have higher sugar concentrations than Spätlese.
  • Beerenauslese: means selected grapes. These wines are made from grapes individually selected and are generally affected by botrytis.
  • Trockenbeerenauslese: means dry berry selection. These wines are made from selected grapes shrunken to a dry state by botrytis.
  • Eiswein: means ice wine. These wines are made from frozen grapes which have been left on the vine well into winter.

The wines

Our first German wine was from Pfalz. This southern region, just North of Alsace, enjoys a warmer and drier climate than the rest of the country. It is the second largest Riesling area after Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. The mild climate ensures optimum ripening conditions and more and more wines from this area are vinified dry (trocken). The 2003 Ökonomierat Rebholz Rotliegend Kabinett Trocken had a fruity nose with floral notes. The palate was dry, light-bodied with a distinctive dried apricot flavor, followed by a lively finish.

The next wine was from Nahe, a region east of Mosel-Saar-Ruwer where the wines can range from the flowery elegance of the Mosel to the fruity character of the Rheinhessen. The 2003 Schlossgut Diel Dorsheimer Pittermännchen Kabinett comes from the renowned Pittermännchen vineyard near the town of Dorsheim. Pittermännchen is the name of a 16th-century silver coin and implies that the wines made at this site were of significant value. It is a steep, south-facing vineyard with a soil composed of slate, fine gravel and red sandstone. With only 8.5% alcohol, the wine was grapey, light-bodied, sweet with some lively acidity.

With the last two wines, we moved to the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region where the Riesling is king. The combination of slate and steep vineyards produce vibrant and elegant wines with a fine acidity. The 2003 Joh. Jos. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese comes from the medieval village of Graach. The Graach vineyards have a south-west exposure overlooking the Mosel and soils made of clay and slate. The name Himmelreich means Kingdom of Heaven and implies that the vineyard will fulfill all winegrowers hopes and wishes! The wine displayed stone fruit and floral aromas on the nose. Rather dry, full-bodied with additional peach flavors on the palate, it offered an elegant and well-balanced finish. This was my favorite wine from the German selection. it should go well with a fruit-based dessert, a peach tart maybe...

I found the last wine to be a richer version of the Schlossgut Diel but with very similar flavors. The 2003 Schloss Saarstein Serriger Schloss Saarsteiner Auslese is from the town of Serrig on the Saar river. It displayed floral aromas on the nose. The palate was rich and sweet but never heavy thanks to its acidity level.

Catherine Granger & Arnaud Cabanel
See our other tasting reports.