Smaragd. As words go, it doesn’t exactly entrance. It just sits there, senselessly, looking like a spelling mistake. Even as words in foreign languages go it is unusually unappealing. The most popular wines are pretty much united by their possession of names that sound pretty good even when coming out of an English mouth: Chablis; Pomerol; Vega Sicilia; Chianti Classico. Here is one that sounds like the Swedish Chef sneezing, and it is one that the nation of Austria has chosen for some of their finest wines.
This Smaragd is sitting upon a bottle of Domäne Wachau Gruner Veltliner, the basic version of which is one of Waitrose’s summer bankers, a fresh, crisp, saline face-slap of a wine. This one, though, is more than twice the price, a fact I must admit I had pretty much forgotten when I decided to open it. I was expecting something along the lines of the basic model, but discovered a very different beast, a honeyed golden colour and with a host of new flavours: lime, dill, lychee, green apples, and a kind of deep, slightly glutinous, lingering savouriness that I’m afraid reminds me a bit of bogey. In a good way.
So what is Smaragd? It’s the ultra-strict top classification for white wines in the Wachau. Domäne Wachau use it for a handful of single-vineyard sites (of which Achleiten is one), where they pick their grapes only in late October or early November for “ultimate ripeness and flavour concentration”. The wines are built to last for a decade. It’s also a small green lizard, one of which is pictured above. This is impressive stuff, complex and contemplative and an incredible contrast with their basic wine, worth a splurge simply as a learning experience. Rubbish, rubbish word though.