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Riesling Grapes from Gaisberg in the Kamptal

Austrian Riesling Triumphs at 
International Tasting

Riesling Tasting, Groucho Club, London; 11th October 2004

Austrian wines can be fantastic, but traditionally there's been a general lack of appreciation for them outside their domestic market. This is changing. People are increasingly realizing that the best Austrian wines are brilliant. But world class? Is Austrian Riesling potentially as serious as top examples from from the Mosel or Rheingau? Or top examples from Alsace?

One way to find out is to pitch a range of Austrian wines blind against their competition. With Grüner Veltliner, this was tried successfully in 2002, when great examples were put in a blind tasting of some of the world's leading Chardonnays (there are no non-Austrian Grüners, of course). They did brilliantly. The idea behind this tasting was to try the same with Riesling, and last month a selection of wines were put together by wine writer Jancis Robinson and wine dealer and collector Jan Erik Paulson. The tasting panel consisted of sommeliers, journalists and wine dealers and the format was six flights ordered by vintage, ranging from 1990 to 2002.

To many people not familiar with Austrian wines, the result was surprising. Eight of the top fourteen wines chosen by the panel were Austrian. The table below lists the results, with average score out of 20 (I don't think these scores were normalized to take into account the scoring ranges of the panel; the organizers didn't realize that you can't just average the group scores and come up with a meaningful statistic). 

I have to say, I am hugely sceptical of these exercises, and of panel tastings in general. I've done them before. I trust my own palate a good deal, but when I've compared the pooled group results with my own I've often been bewildered. I've also tasted wines behind dozens of other journalists who've missed low level taint in a wine. And because of individual differences in perception, let alone in learning and tasting ability, pooling results from several tasters usually adds noise, not clarity. So in this context, I don't think there's a huge amount of significance about the difference between a score of 17.86 and one of 17.36, even though this separates six places in this table. In fact, it's hard to argue that there is any real distinction between any of the placements in this table without proper statistical analysis. These criticisms aside, what this tasting does illustrate is that the best Austrian Rieslings are competing right at the top, and deserve to be taken seriously.

Data are reproduced courtesy of Wines of Austria.

rank  name of wine score
1 Weissenkirchner Achleiten 1990, Smaragd; Prager/Bodenstein, Wachau, Austria 18.71
2 Clos Ste Hune 1990; Trimbach, Alsace, France 17.86
3 Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg 1997; Georg Breuer, Rheingau, Germany 17.82
4 Riesling Kellerberg 1995, Smargad, F.X. Pichler, Wachau, Austria 17.64
4 Gimmeldinger Mandelgarten Spätlese trocken 2002; Christmann, Pfalz, Germany 17.64
6 Loibner Vision 2002, Smaragd, Högl, Wachau, Austria 17.39
6 Riesling Vinothekfüllung 2002 Smaragd; Knoll, Wachau, Austria 17.39
8 Riesling, Loibenberg 1990, Smaragd, Knoll, Wachau, Austria 17.36
9 Riesling Zöbinger Heiligenstein 2002; Hiedler, Kamptal, Austria 17.29
10 Riesling Weissenkirchner Achleiten 2001; Smaragd; Prager, Wachau, Austria 17.25
10 Riesling Zöbinger Heiligenstein, Alte Reben 1997; Bründlmayer, Kamptal, Austria 17.25
10 Auslese trocken 1990; Gunderloch, Rhein-Hessen, Germany 17.25
13 Monzinger Halenberg Auslese trocken 2001; Emrich-Schönleber, Nahe, Germany 17.18
14 Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg  2002, Johannes Leitz, Rheingau, Germany 17.14
15 Riesling Loibenberg 1997, Smaragd; Alzinger, Wachau, Austria 17.11
16 Riesling Weissenkirchner Achleiten 2001; Smaragd, Rudi Pichler, Wachau, Austria 17.07
17 Riesling Nussberg 2002; Wieninger, Wien, Austria 17.04
18 Riesling, Zöbinger Heiligenstein, Lyra 2002; Bründlmayer, Kamptal, Austria 17.00
18 Schlossberg Grand Cru Cuvée Ste. Catherine 1997; Weinbach-Faller, Alsace, France 17.00
20 Isolation Ridge 2003; Frankland Estate, Western Australia, Australia 16.96
20 Brand 2001; Zind-Humbrecht, Alsace, France 16.96
22 Niederhäuser Herrmannshöhle Spätlese 2002; H. Dönnhoff, Nahe, Germany 16.93
23 Riesling Privat 2002; Nigl, Kremstal, Austria 16.89
24 Riesling Vinothek 1990, Smaragd; Nikolaihof, Wachau, Austria 16.79
25 Riesling Unendlich 2002; F.X. Pichler, Wachau, Austria 16.75
26 Kallstadter Saumagen Spätlese trocken "R" 1990; Koehler-Rupprecht, Pfalz, Germany 16.68
27 Reserve 2003; Crawford River, Victoria, Australia 16.61
27 Polish Hill 1997; Grosset, Clare Valley, Southern Australia 16.61
27 Cuvée Frederic Emile 1997; Trimbach, Alsace, France 16.61
30 Jesuitengarten Spätlese trocken 2002; Wolf, Pfalz, Germany 16.54
31 Riesling Spitzer Singerriedel 1997, Smaragd; Hirtzberger, Wachau, Austria 16.46
31 Rangen de Than 1997; Zind Humbrecht, Alsace, France 16.46
33 Hochheimer Hölle Auslese trocken 2002; Franz Künstler, Rheingau, Germany 16.43
34 Riesling Gaisberg, Alte Reben 1997; Schloss Gobelsburg, Kamptal, Austria 16.21
35 Riesling "Hugel" 1997; Hommage à Jean Hugel, Hugel, Alsace, France 16.11
36 Riesling, von den Terassen 1997, Mittelbach, Dürnstein, Wachau, Austria 15.79

The tasting panel:

Neil Beckett, J
Matthew Wilkin, S
Matt Skinner, S
Troy Sutton, S
Hamish Anderson, S
Ronan Sayburn, S
Jan-Erik Paulson, M + J
Jancis Robinson, J
Bill Baker, M
Joelle Marti-Baron, S
Nigel Sutcliffe, S + J
Freddy Price, J
Anthony Rose, J
Stephen Browett, M
J…  Journalist
M… Merchant
S… Sommelier

see also: tasting notes of Austrian wines; Austrian red wines; Gruner Veltliner

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