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I’m not going to lie. I need to get my ass to the gym immediately.
I have let 2018 stick my face in the mud. Between taking care of two very young kids and running a restaurant, I’ve slacked off on all the usual dietary and cardiovascular priorities.
Ladies and gentlemen, I ate far more pizza than I should have this year. I won’t apologize for some bonkers legendary meals that I was lucky enough to annihilate, but it begs the question I now ask myself: Dude, are you going to be able to fit in your pants anymore? So then I have to take a look at that those cliché New Year’s resolutions. Maybe this is my chance! A brand new slate. 2019 is the year of dropping Ell Beez.
But wine is a pillar of enjoyment, and I’m not cutting that deliciousness out. I know we all go through this dilemma at some point. Too many pints at the pub? A bit heavy on the pinot noir pours? The first step toward redemption is to ask where the wine calories come from.
Two easy answers: Alcohol and sugar, in that order. So, it follows that you can perhaps avoid decadence by drinking drier wines with lower alcohol levels.
So many kinds of wine come to mind, but one particular country seems to hit the low-cal threshold quite well: Austria and, specifically, Austrian white wine.
While the last ten years have seen a resurgence of Austrian red wines, the country’s reputation rests mostly on the performance of white grape varieties. For example, there is no country more synonymous with the gruner veltliner grape than Austria, and for good reason. You can’t fall into the Danube river without tripping over good gruner vines.
From the Kamptal region 40 miles northwest of Vienna, Birgit Eichinger’s 2016 gruner veltliner is my favorite good-value Austrian wine this year, at about $18. I’ve drank it a half dozen times this year, and it carries weight, flavor, and complexity like a wine twice its price. It smells like fresh everything. Which is perfect for anyone looking to pair salads to get their new year’s diet to come correct. What I mean though is every smell smells alive, and born of quality from the earth. It’s like biting into a Granny Smith apple while walking through the produce section when those silly water sprays go off on all the fresh greens.
It smells like the delicious winter beans you’re about to pan fry with kale.
It’s a precise style of winemaking that won’t win points with the moscato crowd, because it’s dry. But hot damn, I would think more health-conscious folks out there would think of this style and caliber of wine to drink alongside the kinds of foods they enjoy.
Yes, Austrian table wines are usually very dry. That includes riesling. Domane Wachau (just a 15-minute drive from Birgit Eichinger) makes a beautiful dry riesling from the Wachau region. The 2016 is about the same price as the aforementioned gruner, but stylistically sideways from it.
The wine carries many of the up-front riesling touchstones: peach flavors, pretty jasmine-like aromas, etc. But this wine has no room for compromise for the sweet wine drinkers. It’s one of the driest rieslings on the Michigan market. But wow, this could be my go-to wine with shrimp or oysters.
A big surprise for me this past year was the flavor coming from Weingut Tement’s 2016 sauvignon blanc (around $22). The wine comes from Sudsteiermark, in the south central part of the country, abutted against Slovenia’s northern border. It didn’t taste like New Zealand sauvignon blanc: asparagus, grapefruit notes be damned. Nor did it taste like the sauvignon blanc from Loire Valley, France, full of lime notes and rocky, chalky textures.
It tasted refreshing, unoffensive, and exactly like the kind of wine I want when I’m watching the snow melt — a hint at what bursting spring day could feel like.
Dry, fruity, but so much zippiness, it cleanses the palate and makes you crave more. Truth be told, this is probably better than 90 percent of the New Zealand sauvignon blancs I’ve had.
Added bonus: All three of these wines are less than 13 percent alcohol, which shouldn’t too badly accelerate your calorie count.
I might be in love with Austrian wine. I’ll be dreaming about them while I’m on the treadmill.
Justin King is an Advanced Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, and was named Wine & Spirits Magazine 2017 Best New Sommelier. He is owner of Bridge Street Social, a wine and cocktails-focused restaurant in DeWitt, and Bar Mitena, a Spanish wine bar opening this spring in Lansing.