By Celia Strong
Sounds good, doesn’t it? And it is. Promise. Just hold on while we take care of our business and you’ll see what I mean. And, you’ll be drinking some too. Or let’s hope you are. Just so you know, lots of surprises this week. A new grape variety, and coming from an unexpected wine area. In the end, though, after all our “work,” we’ll all be happy. As usual.
I guess, if we start with our new grape, it will be easier. It is Müller-Thurgau. (mule-er tur-gow) And, yes, it does sound like a German grape. In fact, it was created in 1882, by Hermann Müller who lived in the canton (German county, sort of) of Thurgau. Müller made this new variety by crossing Riesling and Madeleine Royale, another white grape that ripens as early as July 22 so it was named for Sainte Madeleine whose feast day is July 22. Müller, who worked at the Geisenheim Grape Breeding Institute, was trying to produce a new variety that would have the complexities of Riesling and still be able to ripen early. In Germany, cool and cold weather often starts before the grapes are all ripe. This can cause loss of crops to some extent, shortages in wine production and low income from a vintage. Trying to get around that, with an earlier ripening variety, made sense. Over all the years since it was created, the popularity of Müller-Thurgau has risen and fallen and risen a bit, again. Today, there are almost thirty-five thousand acres of planted Müller-Thurgau vines. That’s about fourteen percent of their total, making it the number two most planted variety. In 2007, the Geisenheim Institute celebrated the grape’s 125th year. Müller-Thurgau can be grown in a wide range of soils and climates. This made it possible to plant grapes where it had only been profitable to plant sugar beets before. In addition to maturing early, these vines produce large yields. Their wines tend to be lower in acidity, but still fruity. And, mostly, meant to be drunk young. Wines made from Müller-Thurgau are sometimes also labeled Rivaner and Riesling-Sylvaner. (Before DNA testing, it was thought Sylvaner was the second parent of Müller-Thurgau, not Madeleine Royale.)
Here’s one more interesting tidbit about Müller-Thurgau. In the winter of 1979, temperatures in Germany dropped to twenty degrees Fahrenheit on January 1st. Granted there were no grapes on the vines, but huge numbers of vines died from being frozen. Most of their Riesling survived, because it had thicker and hardier stems. This led to fewer plantings of Müller-Thurgau, as the growers planted more and different varieties to avoid future losses. Besides Germany, there are plantings of Müller-Thurgau in Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, and the United States and, for us this week, Italy.
Having told you all about Müller-Thurgau and Germany, here’s a kicker. Our wine this week comes from Italy. Yikes! But, northeastern Italy has a particular history. There are distinct German and Austrian influences in this area. Located in the Southern Alps and Dolomites, the South Tyrol (as the area is known) includes Trentino and Alto Adige. For a long time, this whole area was under the rule of Austria-Hungary and the Holy Roman Empires. This area was not annexed into Italy until the end of the First World War
Winemaking in the South Tyrol existed before the Romans. Archeological findings, from as early as 400BC, show that winemaking was already three thousand years old. Today, much of the winemaking in the area is done at co-ops, about seventy percent. Only about five percent of their total production now is estate wines – made from grapes grown and wines made on the property. Most of their wines are labeled for the grape variety used to make them – like with German wines. Many of the bottles they use are the tall, thin German-style bottles. And, surprise, many of the producer and winery names on the bottles are German. Or German sounding. The soils and climates here are varied, but, overall, the area gets three hundred days of sunshine each year. Way more than Germany. And warmer days, too. The average temperature during the growing season is about sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit. Nice. The lowest vineyards are at about seven hundred fifty above sea level and the highest are thirty-two hundred and fifty feet. Some of the world’s best Pinot Grigios come from this area. Also Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero. Then, there are Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs. And, from their connection with Germany, Rieslings, Sylvaners, Veltliners, Gewurztraminers and Müller-Thurgau. Which gets us closer to you know what.
Our wine is the Schreckbichl Colterenzio Müller-Thurgau. A tough name, for sure. Partly Germanic, partly Italian. Schreckbichl is a hamlet, located south of the city of Bolzano, in the Alto Adige, where there is a rich and long history of grape growing. In 1960, a group of twenty-eight growers and estates decided to pool their resources and form a co-op. By sharing grapes from almost eight hundred acres of choice vineyards, they are able to share production and marketing costs and control qauality to make better wines. They are considered to be one of the two or three best producers in the whole South Tyrol area. For our Müller-Thurgau, the grapes come from cool, higher elevation vineyards, in clayey soils with eroded limestone and dolomite. After harvest, the grapes are gently pressed and left to decant naturally. Fermentation is done in stainless steel tanks and the wines are left in the tanks, to sit on their lies, for several months before bottling. This wine has delicate aromas (look for elderflower, muscat and peaches) and citrus flavors along with them. There are greenish nuances in the wine, fresh acidity and floral notes. It definitely shows its connection with Rieslings. For food, our Müller-Thurgau goes well with salads, mildly spicy Thai and other Asian dishes, and deep fried seafood of all kinds. Pretty much what we live on all summer here?
But, wait a minute. What does “Best of Show” mean? Well, I was introduced to this wine at the Habersham “Bottles and Barrels” event this year. Where it was judged to be the “Best of Show” white wine! And that means it is my job is to get it to you! And, also, to give you a name for it that we can all pronounce. So, just ask for the “Best of Show” wine. That’s as easy as we can make it. For $12.99. That’s as good as Müller-Thurgau gets. Enjoy.