Even before the David Irving hullabaloo, I’d been having a very Austrian week, immersing my palate in 125 very varied examples of Austria’s signature grape variety, mainly from the 2004 and 2005 vintages. I will be reporting on some of the cheaper examples in fine wine news and publishing my detailed tasting notes on all these Grüner Veltliners and Julia’s notes on about 50 Austrian Rieslings this Saturday.
When in the late 1980s I first encountered the pure but satisfying marvels that are Austria’s new generation of dry, full-bodied whites I initially assumed that my beloved Riesling had to be superior to the grape planted on more than a third of all Austrian vineyard. But over the years I have also fallen in love with Grüner Veltliner – not least its quirky but seductive smells of white pepper, dill, even dill pickle and sometimes passion fruit.
I’ll be writing on Saturday about the general characteristics of the last two vintages but one of the friendliest and best value Grüner Veltliners I came across in my extensive tastings was Knoll, Grüner Veltliner Kreutles Federspiel 2004 Wachau, Kreutles being a mid level vineyard just downstream of Unterloiben in eastern Wachau where Knoll is based. Knoll is famous for growing a particularly distinguished clone of Grüner Veltliner introduced by a Dr Dinstl (whose wife almost certainly wore a Dirndl) which has notably small berries and very concentrated flavours.
There are certainly many cheaper Grüners on the market and some of them are better than others. There are also many, many fine, late-picked Grüner Veltliners made in the regions that border the famous Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal in particular.
But this particular wine allows you access to the incomparably consistent and intense style of Emmerich Knoll’s wines without having to pay full whack for a riper Smaragd style – and with the, to me, added bonus that the wine is a very friendly 12 per cent alcohol rather than more than 13.5.
(The special Wachau ripeness designations for their dry, always unchaptalised wines – less than 9 g/l residual sugar – are:
Steinfeder – 10-10.7 per cent alcohol, for early consumption
Federspiel – 10.7-12 per cent alcohol
Smaragd – dry wine designed for extended bottle maturation made from grapes which reach at least 91 degrees Oecshle.)
In a way, a top quality Federspiel is the most useful Wachau wine of all, and they don’t come deeper-flavoured than Knoll’s – though this wine, while being extremely pungent, is already quite open and accessible. I would serve it as an interesting aperitif or with some strongly flavoured cheese any time over the next four years. Knoll wines have great ageing ability (one of their 1990s did extremely well in the Grüner Veltliner v top Chardonnay blind tasting of 2002). Austria’s dry white 2004s tend to have quite a bit of acidity and some of them not quite enough of anything else, but Knoll’s wines are, as ever, an exception. They also have some of the world’s most striking labels.
In the UK this wine will be available from Philglas & Swiggot at £11.99 any minute. Elsewhere in Europe there are a respectable number of stockists of the wine, from 8.20 euros, in Austria, Germany, Holland and Spain according to http://www.winesearcher.com/.
I note that in the US Chambers Street Wines are listed as offering the Smaragd but they may also have a few bottles of the Federspiel hidden away somewhere.