Rudi Pichler Smaragd Achleiten Riesling 2020
Wachau Riesling is dry and often defined by high levels of dry extract (due to a lengthy ripening period) and a pleasing freshness (due to dramatic temperature swings between day and night). Rudi Pichler’s Riesling Achleithen comes from steep, southwest-facing terraces of meager primary rock soils resulting in a dry white wine of great structure and strong mineral character.
Riesling’s high acidity makes it one of the most versatile wines at the table. Riesling can be used to cut the fattiness of foods such as pork or sausages and can tame a certain amount of saltiness. Conversely, it can highlight foods such as fish or vegetables in the same way a squeeze of lemon or a vinaigrette can.
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Rudi Pichler is among the elite growers of the Wachau producing wines of precision, power, and longevity. The cellar is based in the village of Wösendorf where generations of Pichlers have tended vines since 1731. Rudolph Pichler, III took over the winery in 1997 and has since expanded the vineyards and constructed a modern cellar in 2004. Grüner Veltliner and Riesling make up 95% of the production with the remaining 5% shared between Weißburgunder and Roter Veltliner. Rudi Pichler belongs to the prestigious Vinea Wachau and vinifies under the strict parameters of their codex. He was awarded Falstaff’s Vintner of the Year in 2010. Weingut Rudi Pichler consists of 37 acres spread between Wösendorf, Joching, Weißenkirchen, and Mautern. Wösendorf and Joching lie in the heart of the Wachau Valley where south-facing terraces look down at the Danube River. Here, rieden such as Kirchweg, Hochrain, and Kollmütz are marked by occasional deposits of loess over base rock. Rudi produces crystal-clear expressions of Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, and Weißburgunder from these sites. Directly east of Joching is Weißenkirchen, home to the famous rieden of Steinriegl and Achleithen, two distinctive Riesling sites with calcareous and weathered gneiss, respectively. Rudi also maintains a small vineyard of Roter Veltliner across the river in Mautern. “I’m a wine caretaker not a winemaker,” is Rudi’s credo, placing the intensity of work in the vineyards at the foundation of his philosophy. Rudi wants vineyard and varietal expression to be as clear as possible so yields are kept low between 30 and 35 hectoliters per hectare with harvest and botrytis carefully removed by hand. Grapes are crushed by foot and receive between three and 36 hours of maceration on the skins depending on the vintage and style. “The skin has information about the specific place where it is from,” says Rudi. Vinification is entirely in stainless-steel tanks and malolactic fermentation is avoided. The resulting wines are pure, dense, and taut with energy.
As Austria’s most prestigious wine growing region, the landscape of the Wachau is—not surprisingly—one of its most dramatic. Millions of years ago, the Danube River chiseled its way through the earth, creating steep terraces of decomposed volcanic and metamorphic rock. Harsh Ice Age winds brought deposits of ancient glacial dust and loess to the terrace’s eastern faces. Today these steep surfaces of nutrient-poor and fast draining soil are home to some of Austria’s very best sites for both Grüner Veltliner and Riesling.
Wachau is small, comprising a mere three percent of Austria’s vine surface and, considering relatively low yields, represents a miniscule proportion of total wine production. Diurnal temperature shifts in Wachau facilitate great balance of sugar and phenolic ripeness in its grapes. At night cold air from the Alps and forests in the northwest displace warm afternoon air, which gets sucked upstream along the Danube.
Its sites are actually so varied and distinct that more emphasis is going into vineyard-designated offerings even despite grape variety. Grüner Veltliner and Riesling are most prominent, but the region produces Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder), Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Zweigelt among other local variants.
Riesling possesses a remarkable ability to reflect the character of wherever it is grown while still maintaining its identity. A regal variety of incredible purity and precision, this versatile grape can be just as enjoyable dry or sweet, young or old, still or sparkling and can age longer than nearly any other white variety. Somm Secret—Given how difficult it is to discern the level of sweetness in a Riesling from the label, here are some clues to find the dry ones. First, look for the world “trocken.” (“Halbtrocken” or “feinherb” mean off-dry.) Also a higher abv usually indicates a drier Riesling.