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From Europe with love

Wine tour brings German and Austrian specialties to Oklahoma

Berger Grüner Vetliner, Jakob Schneider Riesling Kabinett and Dönnhoff Riesling Estate are available at Ranch Acres Wine & Spirits.

Michelle Pollard

Terry Theise is one of the premiere wine selectors in the world, and his annual crop of wines from Germany and Austria typically ends up in heavy rotation at the world’s best restaurants and wine bars. Theise’s portfolio is a who’s who of Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Grüner Veltliner producers, including some of the oldest houses in central Europe.

When Thirst Wine Merchants announced Oklahoma was one of five states chosen for a U.S. tour of some of Theise’s best growers, the industry was understandably excited—and a little perplexed. Why Oklahoma?

“We have a great relationship with the brand manager for Theise wines in the U.S.,” said Alex Kroblin, co-owner and founder of Thirst. “We can’t really take any credit for getting these wines here since he did most of the work, but we are excited that they chose Oklahoma.”

Christoper Loewen from the Carl Loewen estate was part of the tour, and he talked about moving through the U.S. and marveling at the country’s relative youth. “We were in New York City for the tour, and I saw a big banner on a store, and it said, ‘Since 1972!’” he said with a short laugh. “I’m a 14th generation winemaker, so 1972 is not so old.”

Indeed, the kind of quality that 14 generations of practice can produce is astounding, and that’s why Kroblin hopes that Oklahomans will embrace the new selections. Many are already in the state—including several selections at Ranch Acres Wine & Spirits—and even more will arrive in the next few months at Bull in the Alley, The Tavern, Vintage Wine Bar, Summit Club, Lowood and PRHYME: Downtown Steakhouse.

“The tour was built around wines that aren’t typically stocked in the U.S.,” Kroblin said. “Beginning in the 1980s, Theise started reintroducing German and Austrian wines to U.S. tables; they’d been absent from the market in any meaningful way for nearly 20 years at that point. Since then, he’s helped foster the reputation for these wines—and Grower Champagnes—around the world. This group of wines features some of the rarest and best, and I don’t mean rare and expensive. Some are very affordable.”

The first of the wines to occupy shelf space in Oklahoma was the Berger Grüner Veltliner, but in the mid-2000s, the wine tended to end up on shelves next to bulk wines. The liter size and bright green bottle were oddities in American wine shops, and so merchants didn’t always know what to do with Berger. Still, the brand stuck around because it was super affordable, with zippy acid, good fruit and solid accessibility. The descriptors are pretty typical for German and Austrian wines.

“When people try these wines, I think they’re going to discover that German wines aren’t what they think they are,” Kroblin said. “It’s not just inexpensive, sweet Riesling. These wines are also dry, crisp and complex, and they’re made to age for a long time.”

As for Austrian wines, Kroblin said most people don’t have a fully formed idea of what an Austrian wine is, to say nothing of what they’re like.

Ludwig Hiedler is an eighth-generation winemaker from the eponymous Weingut Hiedler in Austria. His family has been the driving force behind the classification of Austrian vineyards, as well as sustainable practices throughout the region. The Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners they produce were described by Theise as “jammed with soul and personality,” and they do seem to sing with vibrancy and intensity. If they are the apex of Austrian winemaking, then Oklahomans are in for a very pleasant surprise.

“We like stability and continuity in our wines,” Hiedler said. “We don’t make ‘natural wine’ because we are winemakers. If you’re making natural wine, what is your actual job? We farm sustainably, and we practice minimal intervention, but our task is to intervene when necessary.”

The Hiedler wines are bright, crisp, complex, layered and still somehow approachable. The same could be said for Jakob Schneider and Ott, and for those who have never tried an Austrian red, the Glatzer Zweigelt is the perfect chillable, light red, with tart fruit and solid acid.

Kroblin believes Oklahomans are ready to embrace these rare treats from Theise’s portfolio, and it’s clear that some of Tulsa’s best restaurants and bars are on board. 

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