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.