By Ray Spaziani
Austrian wines, like most German Wines, are arranged in a hierarchy of how ripe the grapes are at harvest. Lighter wines are made from lesser ripe grapes and the more ripe the grapes the fuller the wines. Austrians measure the ripeness from a KMW scale. This stands for Klosterneubuger Mostwage Scale. This is a measurement of the weight of the must which is the thick pulp just after the grapes have been crushed. They call it the quality categories. The first two categories are Tafelwein and Landwein. These are fairly neutral table wines. They are inexpensive and Landwein is considered the better wine style. The wine must be produced from a recognizable grape variatal. These wines are generally drunk domesticity.
The next category is referred to as Qualitatswein or quality wine. This is good everyday drinking wine made from the least ripe grapes. (or the lightest group from the KMW measure). The wines are simple and light but must come from a single wine region and be made from a recognizable grape varietal. If the KMW measure is too low they may add sugar or Chaptalize the wine to increase the alcohol level. A type of Qualitswein referred to as Kabinett must be made from slightly riper grapes and sugar may not be added.
The next group is a wine that has some special characteristic. This group is called Pradikatswein. The grapes must come from one region only and they may not be chaptalized. Any residual sugar in the wine must be present naturally. This means the wine must stop fermenting on its own. Thus, without sulfur or potassium metabasulfate and sweet concentrated grape juice may not be added at the end to increase the amount of sweetness to the wine. The wine must be examined and tested for typicity and carry a test number and a vintage date. There are six subgroups of Pradikatswein as follows. Spatlese or late harvest wines: These have greater strength and intensity than the kabinett wines. Auslese or selected harvest: This wine is one step higher in intensity. Eiswein or ice wine is made from very ripe frozen grapes. The grapes are picked at night with gloves on so the grapes do not warm up. These wines are high in sweetness and acid. Beerenauslese is the next step and the grapes are chosen by individual berry. Next is Ausbruch. This wine is produced from over ripe botrytised and naturally shriveled grapes. This is only produced in Austria. Finally, Trockenbeerenauslese is the richest, sweetest and most costly of them all! It can only be made in special years and it is wonderful and not inexpensive!
Austrian foods are special treats as well. They are famous for their soups. Every top restaurant and good home cook has their own fantastic recipe for pumpkin soup! Some fold in cream and/or drizzle roasted pumpkin seed oil on top. There are as many variations as cooks. Various potato soups also abound. In Wine country wine soup is a specialty made with Riesling, beef stock, paprika and cream. Wow! That tops Napa. The most favored national dish is Wiener schnitizel. This is veal cutlets dipped in egg batter and fried quickly in lard. They come out a little crunchy and wonderful!
When I was about a year and a half old my two oldest brothers were members of the reserves. The reserves were called up for the Korean crisis. At first it seemed they were headed directly to Korea. But then, through a lucky circumstance a division was found that was stationed in Germany with officers and enlisted men that had battle experience from World War II. They went to Korea and my brothers were sent to Germany. (I am convinced luck had nothing to do with it but it was a mother’s prayers to keep her boys out of harm’s way.) When they came home safe and sound, Mom doted upon them like you can’t believe. What do you want to eat boys? Wiener Schnitizel was the resounding response. She called one of her girl friends from Rose Street in New Haven where she grew up and soon she had her grandmother’s recipe for Wiener Schnitizel. She had my dad take her to New Haven to get some spices she had never used. She fired up the old gas oven that dominated her kitchen. Wheedling her favorite cast iron fry pan and with a bit of Crisco she soon produced the best Wiener Schnitizel this side of central Europe. She matched it with some creamy polenta and some fettuccine Alfredo. I was not yet 4 but it is still my favorite dish. Today I match that with some Gruner Veltlner which is a bold super crisp peppery white wine that works great with cross-cultural marriages of food.
This January try some great Austrian wines. If don’t have Wiener Schnitizel try them with fried chicken and maybe a little creamy polenta on the side. You will be glad you did!
Ray Spaziani is the Chapter Director of the New Haven Chapter of the American Wine Society. He teaches wine appreciation classes at Gateway Community College the Milford Board of Ed and Maltose Wine and Beer, and is a member of the International Tasting Panel of Amenti Del Vino and Wine Maker Magazine. He is an award winning home wine maker. Email Ray with your wine questions and wine events at Ray.Spaziani@gmail.com.