Smaragd wines from Austria's Wachau region are...
"the richest and most precious category of Wachau wines. These wines... grow only in the sunniest vineyards, where lizards feel especially comfortable. On bright and sunny days you’ll find them next to the vines indulging in a sun-bath. They thus became the symbol for Wachau wines with a fully accomplished physiological maturity. These especially precious wines, with an alcohol content starting at 12.5% by volume, ferment in stainless steel tanks to their natural end and are always dry wines. The bottles have to be closed with at least 49mm- long natural corks, marked by the brand of the year of harvest. Even after 25 and more years of correct storage, these wines will still be a pleasure to drink. Wines of the Smaragd category cannot be sold before May 1 following the harvest. Smaragd wines represent the region’s speciality and are thus subject to severe control measures"
this Smaragd lizard is wishing the %$^^#$ing sun would shine already!
I've only spent a couple days in the Wachau. However, two things have already become clear:
1) Most native Austrian wine enthusiasts prefer the fresher style categories of Riesling & Grüner Veltiner (Steinfeder [less than 11% alcohol] or Federspiel [between 11.5-12.5% alcohol]), that are generally fresh, crisp and fruity.
2) The Smaragd category, which describes wines that are fuller-bodied, smoothly-textured and luxuriously flavored (greater than 12.5% alcohol) , is a perfect fit for the hedonistic palate of many American wine lovers.
I attempted to refrain from falling for the opulent, slightly sticky Smaragd Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners. Yet, as I type this, I am head over heels in love with the Högl "Ried Schon" Smaragd Gruner Veltiner I'm sipping. Alas, my palate has a hedonistic side.
A sampling, in no particular order, of 4 Smaragd wines I've learned to appreciate during my brief time in the Wachau:
1. 2005 Gritsch-Mauritiushof '1000-Eimerberg' Smaragd Riesling - 1K-Eimerberg's mouthfeel may lead you to believe that a fork & knife may have been used to cut off a chunk of this ambrosial concoction. The name of this wine comes from the 1000-Eimerberg vineyard, which, back in the day, was said to have produced enough vino to fill 1,000 traditional Wachau barrels, called "Eimers." Winemaker Franz-Josef Gritsch, working in a 13th century monastery, has somehow managed to dial up both the acidity and residual sugar, to produce a wine that fires on all cylinders. It must be the Evil Knievel in him. However, I ask all the Riesling fanatics out there to practice a little patience and lay this baby down for 3-5 years before indulging. See more photos of Gritsch-Mauritiushof here. This wine is available in the U.S. by Winemonger.
2. 2005 Högl 'Ried Schön' Smaragd Grüner Veltliner - Hooo-ahh. This wine pushes the limits of what it means to be a Smaragd from the Wachau. It's extraordinarily rich, with unctuous notes, courtesy a small percentage of nobly rotten grapes. Ried Schön isn't all about the heft. It also exhibits the savory & sweet (pepper & nutmeg) spicy notes that make the G-Veltliner grape a favorite. Once you get over the amazing mouthfeel & spiciness, this wine reveals distinct mineral notes indicative of the Ried Schön terroir. Winemaker Josef Högl may be fairly quiet and modest, yet his wines are all extraordinarily expressive. The 2004 version of this Smaragd can be had for a song at the WM.
3. 2005 Lagler 'Steinborz' Smaragd Riesling - The Lagler philosophy is a bit different. Botrytis grapes are avoided in this winery's Smaragd offerings. The result is wine with a straightforward profile. This Riesling is full of peach fruit and lemon peel accents. Because the botrytis-influenced mouthfeel is absent, Steinborz Riesling displays an incredibly crisp mouthfeel to compliment its full-body. Lagler wines are imported into the U.S. by Domaine Select.
4. 2005 J. Donabaum 'Spitzer Biern' Smaragd Neuburger - Neuburger is a grape, which until recently, received little respect. It's a hybrid derived from the mysterious Roter Veltliner and Grüner Sylvaner. Left to its own devices, Neuburger produces chubby grapes with low acidity. However, in the hands of winemaker Johann Donabaum, this grape yields a lovely, rich, nutty wine with intense apricot scents. Spitzer Biern Neuburger begins with a concentrated fruity sensory attack, and then pulls back a bit on the finish to reveal the nut-nougat character of Neuburger. Unique, yummy stuff. Donabaum wines are available through Winemonger. More photos here.