One bottle at Monday’s dinner was the 1999 Prager Riesling Durnstein Smaragd Hollerin from the Wachau in Austria. Digging back into my study I knew that a smaragd was a green lizard and that it had something to do with a classification system in the Wachau. But I didn’t need to wait to get home to look it up in Jancis; I had Steve Miller at my table.
Here he is.
A smaragd is a green lizard, which being cold-blooded, only lives in the warmest places, some of which are vineyards. And so, wine, only from the Wachau in Austria, that comes from these hot vineyards can be labeled after a lizard.
Here it is from Jancis:
the most valuable category of white wines made from the ripest grapes on the best sites of the Wachau in Austria. Alcohol levels must be more than 12.5 per cent. Smaragd wines can age up to 20 years. The category is named after the green lizard that basks in the sun on the Wachau’s hottest steep stone terraces above the river Danube. See also Steinfeder and Federspiel.
OK, what about Steinfeder and Federspiel?
Steinfeder light, fragrant, spritzig white wines of the Wachau region in Austria. The grapes for Steinfeder must have a must reading of 15° to 17 °KMW (73 to 83 °Oechsle) and may not be chaptalized. The maximum alcohol level allowed is 11 per cent. This category’s symbol is the stipa pennata, a featherweight grass species indigenous to the Wachau’s steep vineyard terraces.
Federspiel the classical wines of the Wachau region in Austria which have an alcohol content between 11 and 12.5 per cent. The name originates from falconry, once a popular pastime in the Wachau. The falcon symbol exemplifies the racy elegance of these dry white wines made from grapes with a minimum ripeness of 83 °Oechsle or 17 °KMW. The must may not be chaptalized.
Of course we all know that chaptalization is the process of adding sugar to unfermented grape juice to boost the alcohol content of the finished wine.
But how poetic! The three classifications are associated with living things from the natural world: grass, falcons and lizards. Who thought that up? Racy elegance and cold-blooded reptiles, with the reptile as the highest level.
I’ll now never forget how to spell smaragd. Pronounce it, now that’s a different matter.