Grapevine Archive for Austria
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.
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.