There are some things in life that cause me to come over all opinionated. Battery chicken farming and Montsanto spring to mind. Add to that climate change deniers … and Welschriesling.
Maybe I just need to get out more. Be that as it may, I don’t claim that Welschriesling is evil, just terrifically dull – Especially compared to its near namesake, “proper” Riesling.
I drank gallons of the stuff last year – in Burgenland, it’s the default choice for a simple aperitif, especially as a “spritzer” (50/50 wine and sparkling water). Mostly it’s simple and refreshing, with decent acidity and no discernible flavour or character to trouble the idle quaffeur.
Somehow, I struggle with the fact that one of the world’s noblest white grape varieties might be confused for this humble workhorse. And no, they are not related.
I should have known that Hungarian winemaker Peter Wetzer would be the one to convince me of Welschriesling’s full potential. His elegant Kékfrankos (AKA Blaufränkisch) and Pinot Noir are truly outstanding – but I wasn’t sure what to expect when I uncorked Wetzer’s 2012 Olaszrizling (one of many aliases that can confuse the hapless Riesling lover). At first, it was big and blowsy – creamy textured, fruity and suggesting oak (the wine is fermented in old casks).
After 24 hours, the recorked and refrigerated bottle revealed something altogether different – stoney, mineral notes with a smoky finish. Still generous and mouth-filling, but superbly complex and refined with it. Somehow, a glass or so remained in the bottle for a further 7 days, after which it was still perfectly fresh, but back to the fatter, creamy profile, with more pronounced apricot flavours. Impressive.
A beguiling and delicious wine, with many characters – alive and clearly able to develop long after the cork was popped. Perhaps the volcanic soils in Peter’s vineyards are the key factor? Low yields and sensitive winemaking are also important. Wetzer does not add cultured yeasts, and the wine is unfiltered – both techniques which can aid a greater range of expression and character. The end product is a sophisticated wine with purity, depth and ageing potential – words I would not have dreamed of associating with the lowly Olaszrizling.
A year ago, Peter’s wines seemed like a closely guarded secret, as the man himself poured me the occasional glass at Eisenstadt’s wonderful “Selektion”. However, after a successful showing at Rawfair 2013, Wetzer now has a UK importer – and a growing body of fans, the great and the Goode amongst them.
This is well deserved – the single vineyard “Spernsteiner” Kékfrankos tasted just gorgeous at Rawfair in May, as did a new collaboration with Gerald Rouschal: A brilliantly typical and properly more austere Leithaberg DAC Blaufränkisch 2012.
Blaufränkisch needs a skilled winemaker to really make it sing, and clearly so does Welschriesling. I tip my hat to Mr. Wetzer, whose wine challenged my preconceptions and smashed them to smithereens.
Peter Wetzer’s wines are imported into the UK by The Winemakers Club – Check out their shop at 41a Farringdon Street
London EC4A 4AN, or keep your eyes peeled in restaurants and other good retail outlets.