Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

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Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby David M. Bueker » Fri Apr 28, 2006 1:20 pm

A good friend once said to me: “Grüner Veltliner? What the heck is Grüner Veltliner?” This was a man who drank 1.5 liter bottles of industrial Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. So one day I introduced him to an inexpensive liter bottle of Grüner Veltliner. From that moment an obsession was born. Grüner Veltliner became his house wine, and in the 2004 vintage he purchased (and consumed!) five cases of a wonderful bargain Grüner Veltliner from Hofer. (For what it's worth, he just bought his sixth this week.)

I have another friend who loves the Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners of a winery known as Hirtzberger. Now these are anything but value wines. From the most famous Austrian region, the Wachau, Hirtzberger makes stunning but also expensive wines that are delicious young but repay cellaring. There are few wines that this friend will pay over $10 for, but Hirtzberger makes the list every single year.

Finally, my wife does not like red wine. In fact she actively dislikes it. But just a few months ago we were at a tasting, and had the chance to taste two reds from Paul Achs, a Blaufränkisch and a Pinot Noir. Well she not only drank them, she truly enjoyed them!

And that’s how it is with Austria. It’s a country with a great diversity of styles, and something for everyone to like no matter their taste or budget. There are wines that can fill your need for a Tuesday night table wine, and also for that Saturday night 40th birthday celebration. The white wines of Austria have received the most press, but the reds are up and coming as well. What follows is a short introduction on the basics of Austria.

The White Wines
This is the bread and butter of Austria. Grüner Veltliner and Riesling make up the lion’s share of what you are likely to find, but be on the lookout for Weissburgunder (also known as Pinot Blanc) and Sauvignon Blanc.

Grüner Veltliner is indigenous to Austria, and grown only in limited quantities anywhere else in the world. The beauty of Grüner Veltliner is that it is so adaptable to a variety of styles, from light and fruity to rich and mouth filling. A number of producers (e.g. Hofer, Berger) sell inexpensive liter bottles of Grüner Veltliner that will beat the pants off that supermarket Chardonnay, while more prestigious bottlings from producers such as Jamek, Brundlmayer and F.X. Pichler can stand toe to toe with White Burgundy. Grüner Veltliner is also very food friendly, and it makes itself at home with many foods considered unfriendly to wine. Having trouble matching a wine to your asparagus salad; try a Grüner Veltliner. You just find your match.

Austrian Riesling is an interesting case. Because of the language on the label, many people assume it is like German Riesling, light and frequently sweet. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact Austria’s closest Riesling cousin is Alsace, with its richer and fuller Rieslings. The major difference between Austria and Alsace is that in Austria you can almost always count on Riesling to be dry, versus the sweetness crap shoot that has become Alsace. There are sweet Rieslings (and Grüner Veltliners) in Austria, but they are virtually always dessert wines. Austrian Riesling still has plenty of fruit aromas and flavors, but also lots of mineral aromas and flavors, so those looking for a taste of the soil, come to Austria.

The Red Wines
First of all, finding Austrian red wines outside of Austria is not easy. The domestic market drinks up everything they can find, so not a lot of Austrian red wine makes it out of the country. But what does make it out again runs the gamut from inexpensive to luxury priced wines.

Pinot Noir is making a splash in Austria, as it is nearly everywhere else in the world. The styles of Pinot available in Austria run the gamut from simple, easygoing quaffing wine to ripe, rich fruit bombs with lots of oak. Given the usual concentration of fruit in Austrian Pinot Noir I am wary of wines with too much oak, but a few vintners have pulled off the ripe, oaky style successfully. You do pay for the privilege however.

Getting back to more typically Austrian wines, there are a number of grapes that are usually unfamiliar to most wine drinkers. Blaufränkisch is known as Lemberger in some parts of the world, while St. Laurent and Zweigelt are, like Grüner Veltliner, pretty much confined to Austria. All three red grapes make some deliciously fruity wines, but again the modern fascination with oak sometimes intrudes to their detriment.

If you notice a distinct lack of specifics in this section, you are correct. The problem is that not much Austrian red wine is out there, and in most cases, what you can find will cost you a substantial amount. There are a few good value producers to watch out for (Lehrner and Glatzer come to mind), so careful shopping can lead to exploration opportunities.

Austrian Wine Regions
If the heavy duty marketing had its way, we would believe that the only good Austrian wines came from the Wachau, a region West of Vienna. Most of the highest priced estates are in the Wachau, and some of the greatest wines, but not nearly all of them. Knoll, Hirtzberger, Pichler (F.X. and Rudi) and Jamek are some of the leading names in the Wachau.

The Wachau is a place to find wonderful Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, as well as some stunning Weissburgunder. The same can be said of both the Kremstal and the Kamptal, and in both of their cases you will have a better chance of finding good values. The Kremstal actually shares a border with the Wachau, and some producers have vineyards in both regions. Nikolaihof, a fine, biodynamic producer in the Wachau, has its most famous vineyard, the Steiner Hund, in the Kremstal. The leader in the Kremstal is Nigl (pronounced Nee-gul) who makes extraordinary Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, as well as a very well regarded Sauvignon Blanc. Salomon, Mantlerhof and Berger also make very good wines in the Kremstal, with Salomon sometimes approaching the quality of Nigl, and Berger being a value leader. I personally enjoy the wines of Mantlerhof, with their Grüner Veltliner Eiswein being a personal favorite.

The Kamptal is just bursting with great wines. Again the strengths are Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, but there’s also very good Weissburgunder and Muscat (known as Muskateller at some addresses) available. Bründlmayer is the leader in the Kamptal, but there are so many wineries close on Willi Bründlmayer’s heels that it’s hard to count. A particular favorite is Hirsch, who leads the movement away from corks and over to screwcaps for fine Austrian wine. A few years ago Johannes Hirsch decided to bottle everything in screwcap, even his most prestigious wines from the Heiligenstein and Gaisberg vineyards. You, the consumer, get the benefit of taint free wines every time.

One of the most interesting things about the Kamptal is that so many producers make wine from the same three vineyards. Heiligenstein, Gaisberg and Lamm are all first class sites, with Lamm the heavyweight for Grüner Veltliner, and Gaisberg and Heiligenstein shining stars of Riesling. The opportunity to compare the wines of Hiedler, Hirsch, Bründlmayer and Schloss Gobelsburg from these great sites is not something to miss.

There are a number of other important wine regions in Austria. Burgenland, near Vienna, is home to Alois Kracher, producer of Austria’s greatest sweet wines. Heidi Schrock makes fine dry and sweet wines in Neusiedlersee-Hugelland. Carnuntum and Weinviertel are fertile ground for values, with the previously mentioned Glatzer and Hofer being good reference points.

If the length of this introduction has not already scared you away (I never said Austria was easy.) then I encourage you to joint me on a month long journey through the fertile wine country that surrounds Vienna. Get your culinary skills fired up as well, because Austrian wine is some of the most food friendly in the world. Viel Spaß und genießen der Wein!
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby Florida Jim » Fri Apr 28, 2006 1:28 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:I have another friend who loves the Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners of a winery known as Hirtzberger. Now these are anything but value wines. From the most famous Austrian region, the Wachau, Hirtzberger makes stunning but also expensive wines that are delicious young but repay cellaring. There are few wines that this friend will pay over $10 for, but Hirtzberger makes the list every single year.


Obviously, a wise man.

Nicely done, David.
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby David M. Bueker » Fri Apr 28, 2006 1:32 pm

Florida Jim wrote:
David M. Bueker wrote:I have another friend who loves the Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners of a winery known as Hirtzberger. Now these are anything but value wines. From the most famous Austrian region, the Wachau, Hirtzberger makes stunning but also expensive wines that are delicious young but repay cellaring. There are few wines that this friend will pay over $10 for, but Hirtzberger makes the list every single year.


Obviously, a wise man.

Nicely done, David.
Best, Jim


The amazing thing is that it's not you, paragon of bargain hunters. :D
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby Paul B. » Fri Apr 28, 2006 1:37 pm

Austria could never scare me away. I've been dreaming of visiting it for at least a decade. And yes, Grüner is one of my all-time favourite whites. I love the idea of the Heuriger tradition and about the only thing that's hindering my visit is my lack of German. I know, people constantly say that everyone speaks English - but it isn't good enough for me to demand of Austrians that they use English. If I'm visiting their country, I want to get the full experience and be able to converse competently in Austrian German. God willing, I will visit Austria's wine lands one day. And it will be a pilgrimage like no other.
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby Florida Jim » Fri Apr 28, 2006 2:03 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:The amazing thing is that it's not you, paragon of bargain hunters. :D

Well, of course; you didn't use the words dashing and handsome in describing him. :oops:
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Sat Apr 29, 2006 7:37 am

Jamie Goode on his website has some interesting reflections on a visit to Austria in `04. I think many of his comments will make for some interesting reading as some of us sample some of the wines we will come across this month. There`s also some excellent links to other articles.

http://www.wineanorak.com/grunerveltliner.htm
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby Jenise » Sat Apr 29, 2006 2:22 pm

What a great and useful primer, David. I own some wines by some of the names you mention, and it's illuminating to see where they fit into the hierarchy of quality and tradition.

Some questions:

1) Will I be killing a baby if I open my sparkling Brundlmayer?

2) What about Alzinger? I would have expected to see them mentioned in just about the same breath as Nigl based on what I thought I knew and what I've tasted in the 99's I owned, but they're not mentioned here at all.
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby Florida Jim » Sat Apr 29, 2006 3:19 pm

Jenise wrote:1) Will I be killing a baby if I open my sparkling Brundlmayer?

2) What about Alzinger? I would have expected to see them mentioned in just about the same breath as Nigl based on what I thought I knew and what I've tasted in the 99's I owned, but they're not mentioned here at all.


Not David but . . .
1) No; should be good now.
2) Leo Alzinger makes very firm rieslings; they require substantial cellaring. I have his 99 Loibenberg Smaragd in the cellar and will not touch one for at least a decade.
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby Jenise » Sat Apr 29, 2006 4:51 pm

Would you consider Alzinger's gruners as firm as the reislings? I took a 99 to lunch with the Vancouver Boys, and it was open enough to blow them away with it's intensity and style. None had ever had a serious gruner before. Though time will be of additional benefit, that wine rocks right now.
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby David M. Bueker » Sat Apr 29, 2006 6:35 pm

Jenise,

Jim is right on about the Sekt. Where did you get it? I have a hard time finding that wine in the USA.

I agree with Jim as well on Alzinger. I think most '99 Grüners can use more time, but some are starting to open up a bit. I am drinking '95s right now, and they are just gorgeous. '99 is a superior vintage, so I think the Alzinger can benefit from another 3-5 years in the cellar. Grüner Veltliner takes a long time to change.
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby Jenise » Sat Apr 29, 2006 6:57 pm

David,

I guess 'sekt' is sparkling? Bought it at a little cheese store out in the countryside in a one-horse town that consists of the cheese store, a Harley bar, and a bakery. No joke. The guy who runs it loves Loire wines, offbeat stuff and just about anything that Joe Dressner imports. I'd never seen it before and I bought the only bottle he had.

Thanks for the confirmation re the Alzingers. I guess I have one bottle left--I really wasted those, eh?
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Sun Apr 30, 2006 9:23 am

I think I will be looking forward to opening a riesling to see how it compares to other riesling favs of mine. I do not have a lot of time this month as I am off in 2 weeks to do some birding surveys in the badlands of Alberta! Take some bottles with me I guess!!
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby David M. Bueker » Sun Apr 30, 2006 9:28 am

Jenise wrote:David,


Thanks for the confirmation re the Alzingers. I guess I have one bottle left--I really wasted those, eh?


Nah. Austrian wines are so delicious young. Some of them close down pretty hard (Knoll, Nikolaihof spring to mind), but if it was open then you did fine. Grüner Veltliner takes a long time to show any mature flavors.
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby Eric Ifune » Sun Apr 30, 2006 1:28 pm

Jim is right on about the Sekt. Where did you get it? I have a hard time finding that wine in the USA.

They only started importing this a few years ago. I found some last year at the Wine House in San Francisco. I believe it was the 1999.
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby Jenise » Mon May 01, 2006 5:37 pm

Hey David, guess what I found yesterday? An Austrian weissburgunder! Talk about killing two birds with one Stone! I'd tell you which producer, but I'm unable to untangle the mystery of what the hubby did with the bottle on arrival home. It's not in the cellar, it's not in the wine cooler, and it's not in the trunk of the car....
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby David M. Bueker » Mon May 01, 2006 6:00 pm

Jenise wrote:Hey David, guess what I found yesterday? An Austrian weissburgunder! Talk about killing two birds with one Stone! I'd tell you which producer, but I'm unable to untangle the mystery of what the hubby did with the bottle on arrival home. It's not in the cellar, it's not in the wine cooler, and it's not in the trunk of the car....


That leaves only one place...check the recycling bin for an empty bottle!
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby Jenise » Mon May 01, 2006 6:10 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:That leaves only one place...check the recycling bin for an empty bottle!


Today was recycle day, so if it met an untimely demise the evidence has already been destroyed. VEDDDY interesting!
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby Jenise » Mon May 01, 2006 7:30 pm

David, Bob's off the hook--I found the wine. It's an 02 from Winegut Harkamp. I believe the district is Styria--I remember buying some Styrian pumpkinseed oil. Any comments on this producer before I pull cork?
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby Hoke » Mon May 01, 2006 7:54 pm

Jenise, I'm sure David will be along shortly to reply, but thought I'd chime in here.

You got a pretty good wine in the Weissburgunder from Weingut Hannes Harkamp. (Thought you were leery of Pinot Blanc and such though??)

They tend to rate pretty well. If you can find any from your source, grab some of the Harkamp Sauvignon Blancs (Kogelberg is generally considered the best, but the more commonly available Oberburgstall is right up there as well.)

And what you've got should be drinking pretty well now.

As for your earlier question about drinking or holding, the one GV or Riesling producer I would feel most comfortable in holding rather than drinking was one David mentioned earlier: the Schloss Gobelsburg. During various and sundry tastings and samplings in the past, that producer tends more than most to make the wines that need a little time to come around, and reward the wait spectacularly. They are very dense, full bodied, and robust; very 'old fashioned' wines.

And yes, Styria (or the Steiermark, subdivided into the Sudosteiermark, Sudsteiermark, and Weststeiermark by those wackily precise Austrians) is perfectly capable of making some very good wines. It's down around the cities of Graz and Liebnitz.

PS: Forgot to say originally that Harkamp is known for a fairly classic, restrained style, with good, clear, crisp varietal aromas and flavors. In other words, he relies on his site and doesn't muck around with the wines too much. :)
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby Jenise » Mon May 01, 2006 9:07 pm

Hoke, thanks for the information, I always feel I taste wine better when I'm more informed about what I'm drinking.

You're right about me and pinot blanc which is precisely why I bought this wine--in that thread, weissburgunder was one David mentioned might bring me to my senses, but he also lamented that I was unlikely to find any (he might have been speaking specifically of Germany and not Austria, though nothing-Austrian is an easy find comparatively speaking). Always happy to have more information with which to etiehr change my mind or cleave even closer to my insane beliefs, I couldn't resist this rarity when I saw it--I just crossed my fingers that it would be a reasonable representative. Bought this at the same little country cheese shop where I bought the Brundlmayer mentioned earlier. I tell you, that's a special little store.

The Sauv Blanc...this store didn't have any other Austrians, believe me I looked, but thanks for that recco. The one Austrian Sauv Blanc I've had (which could have been a Harkamp for all I know, I didn't take note of the name at the time) certainly says it is worth doing again. But that's Also true of every single Austrian white wine I've had regardless of variety.
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby David M. Bueker » Tue May 02, 2006 9:53 am

Jenise,

Not much of anything to add to Hoke's good advice. I'm less of a Styrian Sauvignon Blanc fan than he is, but then I just don't like the grape, except for Sauternes. (It's my wine blind spot.)

It's hard to give enough credit to Michael Moosbruger (spelling may be wrong) at Schloss Gobelsburg. In the last 10 years he has brought that estate farther up than any other in Austria. I buy his Grüner Veltliner Steinsetz as a good value wine nearly every vintage.
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby robs_r » Wed May 03, 2006 9:33 am

Hi all!

The following link provides tasting notes on a lot of Austrian wines published by the Austrian A la Carte magazine. They are German but you can look up reccomended producers from specific regions and I always find the list very useful.

http://www.alacarte.at/cgi-bin/wein06.pl?act=search

Most of the tasting notes are from M. Pronáy.

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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby MichaelJ » Sat May 06, 2006 1:15 pm

Hello All,

I posted a while back on the old forums and I just wanted to say, what an opportune time to crawl back out of the woodwork. I leave in 2 weeks for Austria, and I'm looking forward to providing "on the scene" tasting notes.

Cheers,
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Re: Austria - May on Netscape WT101 (article - long)

Postby Jenise » Sat May 06, 2006 3:24 pm

Have a good trip! The wines will taste even better en place.
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