The German-speaking area of Europe – from east to west Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Alsace – are revered for their noble Riesling; less well-known is their fine Schnaps, the majority of which is consumed domestically, hence little is available abroad. The word Schnaps (alternatively spelt “Schnapps” in English) literally means “to swallow”, an umbrella term referring to various types of hard liquor such as fruit brandy, infused liqueur and herbal liqueur etc.
Known as eau-de-vie in French or Obstbrand, Obstler and Obstwasser in German, fruit brandy is usually transparent clear in appearance and does not undergo barrel maturation. In fact, prior to becoming Armagnac, Brandy de Jerez, Calvados or Cognac, the initial distillate is per se a fruit brandy, whether made of grapes or other fruits.
Although a wide range of fruits can be used to produce fruit brandy, apple, apricot, cherry, damson and pear are traditionally the most popular. Containing enough juice and sugar, these fruits can hold their own and be made into fruit brandy without any other ingredient. Although flavourful, smaller fruits such as blackberry, blackcurrant, blueberry, physalis, raspberry, redcurrant and strawberry lack mass, and so they are usually infused in neutral spirits to make infused liqueur.
Kräuterlikör (literally: herbal liqueur) is particularly common in mountainous regions such as the Alps. Originally prepared as materia medica, Kräuterlikör is now served as digestif or used in cocktail. It is made by infusing a recipe of herbs in neutral spirits.
The linguistic difference between Austrian German (officially: Österreichisches Hochdeutsch; literally: Austrian High German) and German German (officially Bundesdeutsches Hochdeutsch; literally: Federal High German) is at its most obvious when it comes to culinary terms. Apricot is called “Aprikose” in Germany but “Marille” in Austria, and the Schnaps made therefrom is accordingly called “Aprikosenschnaps” in Germany but “Marillenbrand” in Austria.
One of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites that is simultaneously a wine-producing region, the Wachau Valley is well-known for producing some of Austria’s finest Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. It is also home to some of the finest apricot orchards in Europe, earning the Protected Designation of Origin status under EU law.
Wieser Marillenbrand Selection 2008
A vintage Schnaps made with 100% Wachauer Marille (speciality apricots from the Wachau Valley). Transparent clear with cream hues, the nose is pristine and scented, effusing peach, clover honey, cocoa butter and iris. With a viscous mouthfeel, the palate is exuberant and refined, emanating nectarine, thyme, almond and white rose. Medium-bodied at 40%, the fresh entry continues through a neat mid-palate, leading to a lingering finish.
Domäne Wachau Veltlinerbrand Reserve 10 Jahre
Made with 100% Grüner Veltliner grown in the Wachau region, double-distilled in copper pot stills, matured in small oak barrels and bottled without any additive. Bright amber with tangelo-tawny reflex, the nose is layered and perfumed, presenting mandarin peel, dried apricot, shredded coconut, white chocolate and violet. With a suave mouthfeel, the palate is chiselled and intense, supplying lime peel, dried pear, bouquet garni, beechwood honey and gingerbread. Medium-bodied at 38.5%, the floral entry persists through an elegant mid-palate, leading to an exquisite finish.
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain,
France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages