Monday, May 08, 2006

Caveman Austrian Wine Adventure (CAWA*)

I might come as a surprise to many of you, but there is more to Austria than DJ Hamster and leiderhosen. On a wine level, I have always been impressed with the few examples that I have been able to get my hands on. So as the Austrian Wine Marketing Board roared into the luxurious ‘Lion D’Or’ with over 30 wineries represented and hundreds of wines to taste, I was the Spongebill, mouth open and ready to learn.

As a white wine lover, I am naturally drawn to a country where two thirds of planted acreage is dedicated to white varietals. And representing 36% of all vines planted, the ‘König vom Hügel’ is by far Grüner Veltliner. Grüner is a remarkable grape that can be many things depending on where it is grown and its concentration. Inexpensive Grüner reminds me of muscadet; brisk, fresh, but with spice and herbal notes replacing more typical Muscadet minerality. At its more monumental, it is rich and powerful, with a spice and herb component that harkens memories of great Rhône Roussane.

I was most impressed with the Riesling. For those put off by the ‘petrol’ quality of Alsace Riesling, or the sweetness of German offerings, Austrian Riesling has an ‘aerian’ (not Aryan) quality that endows it with an irreproachable finesse and elegance, no matter what the eventual concentration. The wines are dry, very ripe and tended towards the stone fruits though some of the best examples showed ginger and other spice highlights.

By far the most impressive bottles came from Weingut Bründlmayer, whose wines combined finesse and complexity like few Rieslings I have ever tasted. Though a touch pricey, the Zöbinger Heiligenstein Riesling Alte Reben Kamptal 2002 ($64…saq 10369266) is an outstanding mix of minerality and exotic fruit and one of the best Reislings at the tasting.

Rounding out the whites were interesting interpretations of Pinot Blanc and Traminer, with the majority of the bottlings leaning towards freshness as opposed to richness. Unfortunately, the sweet wines were not adequately represented, though Weingut Nittnaus’ super exotic Welschriesling TBA was extraordinary, and one of the best sweets that I have tasted in a long time (loaded with confit of ginger, nutmeg and apricots).

While the whites impressed, the reds in general left me a bit cold. Varietals like Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and the Pinot Noiresque St. Laurent, while interesting, do not make very elegant wines. In general, I found them slightly chewy, too thick on the palette, which is often a sign of lacking acidity. There were a couple of bright spots however, in particular the Pannobile 2003 from Gernot & Heike Heinrich (80% Zweigelt mixed with 20% Blaufrankisch).

For the moment, the choice is pretty slim at the SAQ. However, if I had a wish list, it would include the following wineries (weinguts)…
Bründlmayer, Huber, Schloss Gobelsburg, , Heinrich, Loimer, Pichler, Kracher and Nittnaus.

* For the real thing, keep an eye on Basic Juice to keep abreast of Beau's promenade through Austrian wine country. Is he the missing 4th hamster? Will he wear leiderhosen? Does he like schnitzel? Stay tuned.


beau said...

I am the hamster!
When Klaus and the gang kicked me out of the band, they changed the titles to all the tunes I wrote. For example, "I love to go a-wandering, man" was changed to "I love to go a-wandering." Bastards.

Oh and by the way leiderhosen = "painful pants", or "unfortunate pants"

Was that a Freudian slip, Bill? Come now. Confession is good for the soul.

As for the wine, I found your description of the Rieslings to be spot on. As for the reds, I'm excited to explore some of the Pannobile blends - they appear to be catching a lot of attention.

caveman said...

I feel your pain. I knew you were the hamster, you have such excellent ..well...hamsterness.

And thanks for the leiderhosen translation.. Unfortubate pants? Classic (but he hamsters look so damn happy).

Rieslings are great aren't they..lucky Beau!.

Matt said...

Love your Blog Caveman. Here in Cana-duh we see very little Austtrian wines. I did however have a chance to try Gobelsberg's low end riesling, about $25cnd, and love it. I do find it serves as a wonderfull reprieve from the Alsations and Germans (with their oil, sweetness and silly accents), especially with its pretty citrus, weight and stoney fruit. Its my go too food wine at the shop I work at and am slowly converting many a naive constumer.
Felsen An!

Andrew said...

dont know what's worse - the thought of seeing his knees or more of his shirts... only joshing Beau, I am sure you have more than one shirt ;-)

caveman said...

If you have a decent selection of Austrian Riesling, count yourself lucky..we quebecers still don't have access to much selection.. how is BC reilsing coming along...?

Andrew..Even with his shirt and funny knees, he was the best looking hamster, which is probably why he was thrown out of the group.

Matt said...

I think BC rieslings are still a step behind our Pinot Gris but they are on their way. They are often too one dimentional or too fat but there are some serious efforts. I am compiling a post concerning some of BCs best right now. Look for it soon at the Winedetective.
I am so jealous of your garden - I don't even have a deck, but I guess I do have the beach.

caveman said...


Riesling is tough so I am not surprised by the Gris being more advanced... I am a white fanatic so am really interested in what is possible in BC.. I look forward to the post...
and yes the beach..your mountains aren't too bad either.. call that my East Coast Jones..