Conrad Braganza invites us to do lunch with his favourite warm-weather white wines from our Cellar Showroom.
There is something decadent and delightful about drinking wine with lunch on a summer’s day. But to negate the necessity for an afternoon nap when chores still demand my attention, I tend to choose a lighter style of white wine with a modest alcohol level.
Here are some of my favourite lunchtime liveners from around the world. Do feel free to suggest your own in the comments!
• Austrian grüner veltliner can offer fruit and spice in a food-friendly package.
The Society’s Grüner Veltliner (£7.50) has been welcomed with open arms by our members and sailed through the 2016 Wine Champions tastings. Pepp Wienviertel Grüner Veltliner 2015 (£7.25) hits the spot well too.
• Australian semillon can work wonders on its own or with food.
The exclusive 88 Growers (£7.25) clocks in at just 11% alcohol and brings a zesty note to the grape’s classic greengage flavours.
• England offers a wealth of lower-alcohol choices thanks to our cooler climate.
For a floral, lychee-infused tipple that’d be perfect with chilli chicken skewers, try Three Choirs Stone Brook 2014 (£7.95). For something a little drier, Chapel Down Bacchus 2014 (11.50) is well worth the extra outlay, offering a flinty, mineral and crisp style with some sauvignon-esque flavours that would stand up very well to a goat’s cheese tart.
• Germany’s lower alcohol levels are well known, and the wines are as versatile as they are delicious.
The off-dry Ruppertsberger Hoheburg Riesling Kabinett 2015 (£6.50) is a great sipper but is also suitable for spicier food. Alternatively there is von Kesselstatt’s charming and appealing Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Spätlese 2013 (£16), which comes from a great producer and a world-class vineyard.
• Greece is a source of delicate, clean and crisp wines that go brilliantly with (dare I say it) Greek salad.
A great-value current favourite is the dry and gentle Ionos (£6.50).
• Vinho Verde is a wine made for lunch!
Fashionable again, and for good reason, these wines are fresh and dry but also aromatic and spot-hitting (and perfect with a bowl of prawns, as I found out on a recent trip to Portugal!). In the 2015 vintage, The Society’s Vinho Verde (£5.95) has never looked better, whilst Muros Antigos (£7.95) from Anselmo Mendes proves why he’s one of the region’s top growers at a friendly price.
The Cellar Showroom
Every two years, the winemakers of Austria descend on Vienna’s spectacular Hofburg Imperial Palace to host the country’s largest wine fair, VieVinum.
Superbly managed by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, this biannual event sees a convergence of the world’s wine trade, packing out the hotels, the wine fair and the local watering holes!
This year’s highlights included a tasting that showcased the ageing potential of Austrian wines. This line-up proved in some style that fine grüner veltliner, while precise and fresh when young, can age and develop complex layers (such as honeyed almond, peach and flint). Less surprisingly, but nonetheless also often overlooked, were wonderful older examples of Austrian riesling and blaufränkisch on show. A seminar devoted to Austria’s ‘elements of uniqueness’ reminded us of the wide range of native grape varieties, the diversity of appropriate landscapes and the food-friendly nature of the wines.
Proving too that the Austrians know how to party, a get-together for all the international visitors was held on the Saturday in another distinctive Viennese venue, this time in the Museum Quarter, showcasing local food and wine pairings and introducing us all to the new sustainability programme that the Austrian wine sector are now committed to.
VieVinum is without doubt one of the best-run and most focused international tastings, educating, entertaining and enabling buyers from across the world in equal measure.
I was spoilt for choice with the universally high quality and wide diversity of the wines on show.
I hope you enjoy a few of my favourites in the upcoming Austrian Shortlist and in future Fine Wine selections.
Sarah Knowles MW
Visit Travels In Wine for more news from Austria
Author and journalist Stephen Brook recently visited us in Stevenage and happened to mention that he was putting the finishing touches to a new book on Austrian wine. No better person then, we thought, to provide a little background to this nation’s wines, which we feature for the second year running on our website.
But in the 1990s a series of blind tastings made the wine world sit up. First, top grüner veltliners were tasted against some of the great names from Burgundy – and the Austrians took the top three places. Then an outstanding Trockenbeerenauslese producer, Alois Kracher, showed his wines, again blind, alongside Yquem and other great Sauternes. This wasn’t a contest, but a demonstration that his wines were of equal quality to the great sweet wines of France.
Wine lovers and importers no longer need convincing that Austria’s sweet and dry white wines are first-rate. Grüner veltliner is the local variety, which can be made in a range of styles, from fresh and lively to powerful and structured. From a good producer and a good site, a full-bodied veltliner can age twenty years or more. Dry rieslings too can be magnificent, especially from the Wachau region, and there are other specialities such as traminers and sauvignon blanc from Styria.
Red wines, from local varieties such as zweigelt and especially blaufränkisch, may not be quite at the level of the whites, but they are moving fast in that direction. Winemakers have recovered from their addiction to new oak, and are now making delicious, balanced wines of nuance and complexity.
Overall, it’s hard to think of another wine-producing country where the average level of quality is so high.
It’s been over ten years since the last book on Austrian wine, a gap about to be filled on 5th October: The Wines of Austria by Stephen Brook, from Infinite Ideas. Members can pre-order a copy of the book from Infinite Ideas for a special introductory price of £22.50 (RRP £30) including p&p within the UK. Pre-order by e-mailing Infinite Ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phoning 01865 514 888.
Janet Wynne Evans reports from the gastronomic coalface in Austria…
There is a very good and simple reason why Austrian wine exports are at an all-time high. Quality is quite simply, terrific and it can only be a matter of time before demand exceeds the relatively small production of a country that drinks its own wines with enormous relish.
You can try for yourself in our current offer devoted to Austrian wine.
What is perhaps more interesting are the emerging markets for which these racy whites and warm, berried reds are bound. China, south-east Asia and India are, obviously always keen to import and deploy the best of Europe, but Austria’s signature white grape – grüner veltliner – is something of a secret weapon. One of the best matches known to man with the lively flavours of Asian cuisine, its white-pepperiness, tingling acidity, mouthwatering dryness and, and in the case of wines grown on loess soils, some attractive curves too, have made of this variety a foodie’s new best friend.A wine that invites us to bring on the spice-rack seems a little paradoxical on its home turf, which traditionally majors on simple, classic dishes based on top-notch ingredients, fiddled with as little as possible. A really convincing schnitzel takes just a few ingredients: escalopes of good, free-range rose veal, salt, flour decent eggs and breadcrumbs at the right stage between fresh and dry. You do need a good hammer and a personal grudge to bash the meat to the required thinness, and the real skill is in getting the perfectly ordinary cooking oil to exactly the right temperature, but that’s another story.
Another Austrian classic, the unctuous Tafelspitz, relies merely on a chunk of really good meat and root vegetables into which its silvery sinews can melt. Seasonal ingredients like Burgernland asparagus – fat, green and as tasty as our own (I thought) peerless home produce – and the nutty little potatoes called erdäpfel or ‘earth-apples’ are merely introduced to boiling water. In a nutshell, this is all top stuff, in season and presented without artifice.
That a good grüner can cope with all these delights (though blaufränkisch would be even better with the beef, of course) goes without saying, its versatility warrants wider exposure and different strokes.
While tasting my way recently through a hundred expressions of the grape, from young and fresh to slightly edgier, to rather more mature ones (yes, they can age, too!) I found myself hankering after a groaning platter of fragrant steamed dumplings, or the much-loved recipe below, for whose bow I now have an extra string.
A new generation of Austrian chefs has noticed the myriad exciting possibilities in the glass, and is palpably pushing the envelope. Meanwhile, here at home, we host the world on a plate. Try a grüner next time you have a Thai green curry, for instance or with one of the gentler Goan fish or vegetable varieties. Wheel it on with your smoked salmon for a change and see how the white-pepper character interacts with the salty fish while the acidity cuts through any oil. Pour it liberally with wild salmon and sea-trout, au naturel or with artery-closing beurre blanc and don’t forget traditional fish and chips, with vinegar if you like. There’s a lot of vinegar in Austrian cuisine too – notably in the classic potato salad often served with your schnitzel – and it doesn’t really faze the wine provided you don’t douse your earth-apples in the pickling variety.
Thanks to my colleague Sarah Knowles, who has embraced Austria with the enthusiasm of a Viennese laying into Sachertorte. Which, frankly, is just about the only thing I can think of that might defeat a grüner veltliner!
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor
Halibut curry with summer herbs and broccoli
I’ve been making this fragrant, gentle Thai-style curry for many years. I’ve tried it with swordfish and monkfish, which also work, but halibut is king. I’ve experimented with a number of lush summer herbs like tarragon and chervil, and I’ve also made it entirely with mint, until a garden crop one year turned out to be overly pungent. This version, tempered with coriander, is my favourite. I like to use white, rather than black pepper here, which complements the green stuff and answers the wine back. Serve with warmed flatbread or a combination of basmati and wild rice. Whatever your accompaniments, have them ready to roll, because once the fish goes in, finishing the curry is the work of moments.
- a medium-sized hand of broccoli, cut into florets
- a splash of groundnut oil
- 2 shallots, finely sliced
- 1-2 mildish green chillis, deseeded or not, as you wish, and finely sliced
- a fat clove of garlic, crushed
- 2 limes, one zested and juiced, the other quartered to garnish
- a 400ml can coconut milk
- 100g unsweetened creamed coconut, grated from a block, or use two 50g sachets
- a small bunch each of fresh mint and coriander, washed
- 750g (skinned and boned weight) halibut, cut into large chunks
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
Begin with the broccoli. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add the florets and blanch for 3 minutes. Empty into a colander under a cold tap, or plunge into a bowl of iced water. They should be tender-crisp. Leave to drain thoroughly.
Reserve some mint and coriander leaves for garnish. Chop enough of the rest to pack a medium-sized ramekin, in roughly equal proportions.
Heat the oil in a shallow pan that comes with a lid (a glass one is especially useful here) and fry the onions and chilli until softened. Sprinkle in the garlic and fry for a minute. Don’t let the garlic brown.
Soften the creamed coconut in a little hot water, or as the packet directs. Whisk it into the coconut milk, along with the lime zest and add to the pan. Add the chopped herbs. Bring to the boil and simmer until slightly thickened, and concentrated to your satisfaction. Taste as you go.
Now add the fish, put the lid on the pan and simmer for 4-5 minutes until it becomes opaque. Tip in the drained broccoli and give it 2 minutes or so to warm through.
Taste, season well and finish with the lime juice. Garnish with the reserved mint and coriander leaves and quarters of lime.
Serve with a glass of curvaceous grüner veltliner. Any of the wines in our current offer will work: Josef Ehrmoser’s Von den Terrassen from loess-rich Wagram and Schloss Gobelsberg Lössterrassen – the clue’s in the name! – are especially good.
We have been delighted with members’ response to our first-ever offer of Austrian wines.Explore Austria is available until Sunday 31st while stocks last (and some are already running out!) features a wealth of new discoveries selected by our new buyer Sarah Knowles, aiming to shine a light on this exciting and oft-underrated wine-producing country.
If you’re not sure where to start, Sarah has written a new guide, How To Buy Austria, while the below reviews from The Wine Gang (a collective of top wine writers Tom Cannavan, Joanna Simon, Anthony Rose, Jane Parkinson and David Williams) may also be of help.
They note that ‘Prices per bottle are all modest by Austrian standards (where £9 or so is entry level) but this is a really solid set of 87- to 90-point wines that would make a fine introduction to the country’s main red and white wine grapes and styles.’
Here are some of their reviews:
Rainer Wess Wachauer Riesling 2013 (£11.50)
There’s a tinge of gold to the colour here that immediately suggests ripeness and concentration. On the nose it has depth, with touches of straw and grapefruit, and lots of character. On the palate it is off-dry – just – with so much ripeness and hint of sugar playing against a blast of orange and grapefruit bittersweet fruit and rushing acidity. Gorgeous stuff, with length and delicate spices around that shimmering finish. What a class act for cooling down on balmy August days. 91/100
Bernhard Ott Am Berg Grüner Veltliner 2013 (£10.95)
Founded in 1889, Bernhard Ott is a family-owned company and the current Bernhard is the fourth generation of the family to run the business. This is an extremely pale, delicate, sherbet and floral scented take on GruV, with a palate that is racy and Riesling-like, with cool minerals, tart apple and cleansing lemony acidity. A hint of spice adds more interest to a very appealing, long and balanced wine. 90/100
Schloss Gobelsburg is the estate of the Cistercian monastery at Zwettl which has produced wine for more than 800 years. Singingly crisp, citrus nose with real brightness, a touch of star fruit and crunchy Asian pear. On the palate this is light, clear and refreshing, with a hint of mid-palate sweetness before a rush of cleansing, summery acidity. Lovely aperitif or white fish style. 89/100
Hannes Sabathi Scheurebe 2013 (£8.95)
Styria is a relatively new quality wine region in the south of the country, where Sauvignon Blanc has been a big success. But Hannes Sabathi are masters of aromatic varieties, and this Scheurebe is peachy and floral, flecked with green herbs, and succulent. It is really quite dry on the palate despite the floral enticement of the nose, quite full bodied, but long, lemony and tangy. Refreshing and different. 87/100
Hans Igler Zweigelt Classic 2011 (£9.50)
Zweigelt is Austria’s other important indigenous red grape, actually a cross between Blaufränkisch and Sankt Laurent. Brimming with clove and cheery, and the loveliest floral nuances of freesia and violet, the aromatic fireworks give way to a juicy palate, all tart cherry and cherry skins, spices and an earthy, dusty gravel dryness with grippy tannins and relatively high acidity to add freshness. Serve lightly chilled with tomato-based dishes. 89/100
Tinhof Noir Burgenland Zweigelt & Co 2011 (£9.50)
A blend of Austria’s three principle indigenous red varieties, Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and St Laurent, this is both spicy and boldly fruity, with a nice overlay of cedar on ripe berry fruit. On the palate there is sweetness and ripeness, a softer structure than some of the straight varietals in this Wine Society offer, but a nicely spice-touched, firm note in the finish. 87/100
‘My advice: just ask for Gruner (‘Groo-ner’) and don’t panic!’
The Society launches its first-ever Austrian offer at a time when the gruner veltliner grape has become the darling of the sommelier world. Easily quaffable as a pre-dinner drink and pairing wonderfully with many styles of food, from delicate seafood dishes to spicy curries, it’s easy to see why.
Recently I visited Vie Vinum – Austria’s annual wine trade show held in the opulent Palace Hoffburg – and I have to say that having tried around 400 wines over the two days all but a handful were taut, fresh, fruit-driven and thought-provoking wines. Selecting just 18 or so for our inaugural Austrian offer was difficult as I could have listed many more.
However, I was able to meet a number of our producers at the show; so without further ado, let me introduce you to the winemakers whose wines are now available.
Society Buyer for Austria
The Society’s first-ever Austrian offer is now available.
Marcel Orford-Williams reveals the thinking behind The Society’s current offer, From Golden Rhine to Blue Danube, and why now is the time to be exploring these remarkable wines.
Maps have always been a passion for me. When friends would queue up for the latest album, I would be in Long Acre, immersed in charts.One of my interests was studying different map projections or simply looking at maps from different angles. After all why persist in seeing a map with north on top? Why not south, or east? Why see the world with our small islands conveniently placed in the middle and, in Mercator’s projection, unduly large?
And so I looked at the layout of Europe’s vineyards which, typically, are centred on the three most important regions: Iberia, Italy and, in between, France. Without the Roman Empire, viticulture might have remained close to the Mediterranean shore. Instead, Hellenistic culture in its vinous form was carried on the backs of Roman legionaries wherever they went, often following great river valleys such as the Ebro, Rhône or Garonne and as far east as the Rhine and Danube which remained a border of sorts until the Barbarian surge.Borders are contradictory, being both barrier and passage. They have changed and evolved over the centuries after wars and dynastic ties. Transylvania, Romanian today, used to be Hungarian. Hungary used to be Turkish. The Ottomans lay siege to Vienna twice, which was once the centre of Germany, while Alsace, French today, was once part of the Holy Roman Empire.
This is where Europe comes together, and in so many ways. Not least in music, whereby a river cruise might start with Hildegard of Bingen and end on the Danube with Enescu, by way of Beethoven and Bartók. And, of course there’s the wines – a veritable cross-pollination of tastes and styles.
I think it was the late and much missed Barry Sutton, one time general manager of The Wine Society, who amused himself with the idea of a buying trip along the Rhine with grateful growers coming to our barge with samples to taste and maybe the odd refreshing beer. Now, thanks to a recently built canal, our trip can extend all the way from the North Sea to the Black Sea.
The Rhine-Danube basin has become home to a vast number of grape varieties. In modern times, they have been bought in from France or Italy, everything from cabernet sauvignon to sangiovese. Before, though, varieties were often created from happy marriages with wild vines.
Riesling, for instance, almost certainly arose out of crossings between the obscure gouais blanc from France, traminer from Italy and wild vines that would have grown along the banks of the Rhine. Another offspring of the gouais blanc is likely to be Hungary’s furmint.
In the west, maritime influences moderate the climate so that Bordeaux or the Minho are relatively cool and damp. In Central Europe, the climate is distinctly continental with cold winters and hot summers. The Romans loved to plant on hillsides and it’s no coincidence that so many of the best vineyards in Germany, Alsace and Austria are planted on steep valley sides. Long growing seasons and hot summers create certain styles and there is a common feature that links Alsace to Austria and Romania. So many of the wines are fragrant, sometimes heady with exotic scents and many are full-flavoured and generous.One of the loveliest vineyards is the Bacharacher Hahn, steep and south facing and overlooking the ancient town and the Rhine. Close by is the narrowest point of the river north of the Swiss border. At one point a 120m cliff plunges into the water. There are rocks to snare ships and also, so it was believed, the deadly water sprite Lorelei, to lure watermen to a certain death. Mendelssohn was here and began writing an opera for Jenny Lind, and, just down the river, Hildegard of Bingen lived and meditated. Maybe she had a say in the creation of the riesling grape? Her many interests included botany, after all.
She spent some time in the village of Ruppertsberg where she founded the monastery. Tucked into the Haardt are fabulous vineyards, in Ruppertsberg itself and next door in Forst and Wachenheim, that today are the source of some of the world’s finest dry white wines, made of course from the riesling grape. Riesling may have come from here or it may have come from Alsace or even the Wachau in Austria on the Danube.
All three make stunning dry riesling, each in a slightly different style. So good they were that at one time that these dry rieslings commanded higher prices than any chardonnay from Burgundy. The Rheingau then suddenly stunned the world with sweet wine made from grapes affected by noble rot. But these rare delicacies were known about for much longer. Well before the Bishop of Fulda enjoyed the first Spätlese, or late-harvest wine, Hapsburg princes were savouring the immortal delights of Tokaji.
Opposite Bingen, but slightly downstream, as the Rhein faces north again towards the narrows and the mischievous Lorelei, pinot noir, known in Germany as spätburgunder, occupies some of the best slopes. Burgundy’s finest grape (which actually predates riesling) is a red variety of choice and lovers of pinot can expect to pay high prices and the wines are sometimes good enough to stand comparison with Burgundy. Further upstream , the Rhine marks a border between Germany and France. Curiously, pinot noir used to be a major variety in Alsace and its popularity is on the rise, as it is on the German side in Baden. Pinot Noir has good Central European credentials and lovely examples can even be found right at the end of our barge journey in Romania.Austria has become one of the smartest wine countries of Europe, frequently picking up international prizes. It wasn’t always so but in some ways the scandal that nearly destroyed its reputation became its saviour as serious growers were left with no choice but to work for quality. Steep Danubian vineyards produce great dry whites from riesling and the local grüner veltliner while the warm, misty shores of the Neuseidlersee produce great reds and, of course, fabulous sweet wines. Noble rot here is almost guaranteed. And so to the east and real promised land that is slowly rediscovering itself after years under state controls. Hungary stands out as it has a sophisticated wine culture and strongly identified grape varieties and styles, dominated of course by Tokaji. This is so obviously a great wine that as soon as state controls were relaxed, foreign investment came pouring in. Rehabilitation of Romania as a wine-producing country has been slower but is nonetheless exciting with new estates, more western in outlook and far more quality minded.
The future for this part of Europe is surely bright. For so long this has been a battlefield confronting the great European Empires. Irredentist squabbles apart, the vast Rhine and Danube basin is surely destined for peace and its wondrous patchwork of vineyards will be allowed to prosper.
Acting upon information received from various sources, some of them fairly sensible, I celebrated the arrival of the English asparagus season with a taste test involving friends, a platter of the only green shoots you can rely on these days, a jug of melted salty butter and a couple of examples of grüner veltliner.
First up was Lössterrasen 2009 from Stadt Krems (just sold out, sorry); fresh, perfumed and quite delicious until it made contact with the asparagus. Our palates quickly became a battleground for an ill-tempered clash between acid and chlorophyll neither of which was willing to surrender. An alliance was out the question.
Next, we tried the more restrained, mineral Society Exhibition bottling, also from the 2009 vintage. Its fresh, spritzy charm was much liked by all present, except its blind date, the asparagus. On the palate, they circled around each other with suspicion. There was neither instant attraction nor commitment to explore each other’s hidden depths. They escaped from each other as soon as they could, and did not exchange contact details.
Conclusion: This delicious Austrian white is good news, indeed, versatile and decidedly “grü-v”, but not with asparagus. For the rest of the season, I’ll stick to a nice dry muscat, thanks, or a very old, buttery and forgiving chardonnay.
What are your food matching dreams and nightmares?
Janet Wynne Evans
Specialist Wine Manager