Friday, February 5, 2010

Austria

So I wanted to write about Austria for this post. We've always carried some Austrian wines in the store and I was happily able to take a trip there at the end of January so I'd like to talk about 4 wineries whose wines we already carry and some of my impressions from the trip.

First off, Austria's wine regions are in the eastern part of the country, if you want to see a map look here:

Wine map of Austria

The size of the country is pretty small by our standards here in the US and I was surprised by the amount of diversity and quality of the wines I tasted. In Burgenland in the town of Jois (pronounced "yoice") is the Leo Hillinger winery. Some of you may know the name because we have carried the welschriesling for a while and it has lots of fans. Hillinger (they say it like "hilling-er") has a very modern winery that was built in 2004 and like a lot of what I witnessed in Austria there is a great respect for the long winemaking tradition they have blended with modern ideas and architecture. One old school thing Hillinger does at their modern winery is they hand harvest, like all the winemakers in this post. This gives them great quality control in the selection of their grapes and the ability to take care of that quality in the winery. The wine I'd like to feature here is the Small Hill Red.

This part of Austria has a great climate for reds, which was a bit of a surprise to me, and the Small Hill Red is a blend of Merlot, Pinot Noir, and St. Laurent (an indigenous Austrian variety). The wine sees no barrels, all stainless steel tanks, and is full with blue fruit, dark berries, smooth with a little bit of nice dusty tannin. The price to quality ratio is very good at $16.99.

We also sell a sparkling wine from Hillinger called "Secco", which is a rose pinot noir made with the prosecco method. It's bubbly pink fun also at $16.99.


Our next wines are from the Michlits Family, further east in Burgenland right on the border with Hungary. Werner Michlits works a biodynamic farm with his family where they grow grain, fruit, raise animals, and make wine. Here is a pic of the "Graupert" vineyard.



Graupert means "uncombed" and it's a vineyard of old vines that they don't prune. To the consternation of their neighbors the vines have absolute freedom. This is very uncommon in the wine industry, Werner feels that the vineyard regulates itself with canopy management and doesn't produce too much fruit. We sell the pinot gris from this vineyard and it's got great depth and minerality. We also sell his pinot noir which is made from the oldest planted vines of pinot noir in Austria. Both wines sell for $19.99.


One of the great surprises from the trip was very high quality Sekt, which is sparkling wine. In the Kamptal, Karl Steininger (again careful with the "g", he says "stein-ing-er") makes a Sekt from 10 different varieties. Each wine sees it's secondary fermentation in the bottle (like Champagne) and all bottles are hand-riddled (unlike most Champagne). We have already been selling the Steininger "Young" and some of his gruner veltliner so we decided to also carry the Gruner Veltliner Sekt at $27.99

Gruner Veltliner in the Kamptal can be very full-bodied, broad, and earthy and that's what you have here. The Sekt is also a tremendous food partner, I've had it with sushi where it was great, and also with a cheese course in Vienna where it was eye opening and revelatory with some washed rind and blue cheeses. It seems to really bring out the earthier, umami flavors in food.




The quality at this last winery to mention was not a surprise to me at all. Tegernseerhof is in the Wachau where it was once an abbey and documented wine production in the vineyards there goes back to 1427. The vineyards are right along the side of the Danube and are terraced hillsides of primary rock and sand with some pockets of loess. Here's a pic:



In the wine biz we've known for a long time how fine the rieslings and gruner veltliners from the region can be. Martin Mittlebach's family has been running Tegernseerhof since the 1970's and the wines tend to be very mineral and elegant, very long and the complexity will reveal itself if you pay attention. He's not going to bash your palate with gushy fruit. We currently have the "T-26 Gruner Veltliner" which is from a single vineyard in the flat sandy land behind the town of Loiben. The wine was in tank number 26 and they named it so because it's easier to remember than Frauenweingarten Gruner Veltliner Federspiel! I love the wine, it's fresh and penetrating with a long subtle waxiness. Fantastic complexity for $16.99


That's it for now, time to try some new wines and enjoy some culture from Austria. Also, I'm happy to share some pictures of my trip and if you'd like to see them you can click here:

Austria Pics


Michael

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