Sunday, May 20, 2012

Austrian olfactory overload - and a damn good $15 red

Wine dinners challenge the guest in two ways. The need to remain reasonably sober is obvious; hence the small pours and the spit buckets meant to facilitate the evaluation of a dozen or more wines. But even for those disciplined enough to avoid overindulgence, sensory overload is almost inevitable, not just for the palate, but for the nose. Several hours of swirling and sniffing in search of subtle aromas is in its way as mentally taxing as taking a law school exam.

That's especially true when the smells are unfamiliar, as they were last week at a dinner where the wines of Austria were poured. (See for a description.) Austria is most famous in this country for its whites, particularly Gruner Veltliner, the grape most widely grown in the country, and Riesling. The shorthand description of an everyday Gruner is tropical fruit with some white pepper, but that seemed a woefully inadequate description of a higher order of the species from Rudi Pichler in a magnum that the Austrian Wine Marketing Board sent over for the event along with several others. It had pineapple and white pepper, but there was an almost floral smell I couldn't place, which would be a theme of the evening for me - sort of like the many law school exam questions I couldn't figure out how to unlock. I could only describe many of the wines as herbal in the way a liquor might refract and concentrate the smell of a particular herb, but i couldn't place the herb. My vocabulary of smells was impoverished.

The aphasia reached its apex with a 2007 Blaufrankisch from Paul Achs. The nose was entrancing, and the wine tasted like a very good burgundy, but after three hours of sniffing, that was the best I could manage. A few days later, I wandered into Astor Wines and asked their Austrian expert about Achs. The wine I had isn't imported into the U.S., but I picked up a 2009 Achs zweigelt as well as one from Rosi Schuster, a producer in Burgenland, the easternmost part of Austria. For $15, it was a really good wine, well-balanced, nice, controlled fruit, and just enough tannin to keep you honest. It had the liveliness and lightness of a good Beaujolais but enough complexity to hold my attention. It's a wine that will bring me back to the Austrian red section.     

No comments:

Post a Comment