I’ve been traveling quite extensively, notably to Italy (see previous columns on a press trip to Chianti Classico), the U.K., and Washington State (look for upcoming pieces on my time in Ireland, Scotland and England, as well as my coverage of Seattle’s Riesling Rendezvous and additional days in Eastern Washington). Yet to come are two visits to California in late August and mid-September, as well as my Wine On The Road tour of Piedmont at the beginning of November. But in this and the next column I want to talk about a press trip I undertook in Austria in June, just a few days after my time in Tuscany.
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And now back to Austria, where this time I was invited by Wein Burgenland (www.weinburgenland.at) to tour various subregions of the Burgenland, an Austrian state that borders Styria to the southwest, Lower Austria to the northwest, and Hungary to the east. There are also short borders with Slovakia and Slovenia to the extreme north and south, respectively.
Lake Neusiedl (Fertő in Magyar), the centerpiece of the Burgenland, is the second largest Endorheic lake in Central Europe. Straddling the Austrian–Hungarian border, this lake covers 315 km², of which 240 km² is on the Austrian side and 75 km² on the Hungarian. It is 36 km long, 12 km wide, and has a mean depth of 1.00 m. Such shallowness creates a bathtub effect, in which warm, moist breezes lead to the formation of Botrytis cinerea, or Noble Rot, the primary requirement for the late-harvest dessert wines that makes this region so famous among winos.
Thursday, June 6, was my arrival date from Tuscany. The tour didn’t start until the next day, but I was fortunate enough to enjoy dinner that night with the Director of Wein Burgenland, Christian Zechmeister, at Weibel’s Restaurant in Vienna. My meal of schnitzel and potato salad (both Viennese specialties) fortified me for what I knew would be a grueling few days exploring the Burgenland’s fascinating viticulture.
But first, before we even left for Lake Neusiedel (only 45 minutes to the southeast) we visited with a few winemakers in Vienna proper. In some parts of the world vines are planted for show, but Vienna is different. The city’s 612 hectares of plantings play a significant economic role, providing sustainable greenery and forming the basis for some very high quality juice.
This includes the category of Gemischter Satz, i.e., wines from a single vineyard which contain a number of different varieties that are harvested, pressed and vinified at the same time. In earlier days, this form of viticulture was often a precaution against irregular yields and variable harvests. Now this style of wine has become extremely popular, both as an easy-drinking, medium-bodied style and as a powerful reserve-level wine with great ability to age.
In a vineyard house belonging to Winery Rote Haus, perched high above the city with extraordinary views of the Danube, I tried several Gemischter Satz wines. A favorite was the Hajszan Weisleiten 2012, gold-yellow in hue with aromas of fresh cut grass and lime. The flavors focused on apricot and cantaloupe, and the finish was intense and long. Another winner was the Fritz Wieninger Bisamberg Alte Reben 2011, toned fluorescent yellow, smelling of orange and red flower, and tasting of chalk and red cherry.
Another outstanding Austrian wine tasted at this time, although not necessarily grown in the city of Vienna, was the creamy, basil-, boysenberry-, and lime-toned Cobenzl Weisburgunder-Pinot Blanc Seidenhaus 2012. Later, during a lunch in Vienna at Restaurant Pfarrwirt, I also grooved on the gold-yellow, pumpkin, yellow peach, and ginger infused Rote Haus Gruner Veltliner Nussberg Reserve 2008.
We then headed off to the Burgenland, where my old friend Gerhard Kracher, owner and winemaker at Weingut Kracher, joined us for dinner at Johanneszeche Restaurant in Illmitz. His Somme and Kracher Gruner Veltliner Goat’s Back 2011 (tasted as a barrel sample) looked like nothing more than the rising sun, with a nose of kaffir lime leaf and rose and a taste of lime, ash, and cream.
But Kracher is most famous for sweet wines, and the Auslese Cuvée 2011, an auburn hued delight, promoted orange cream, honeysuckle, and lemonade on a medium-weight finish. Moving further up the sweetness spectrum, the Beerenauslese (BA) Cuvée 2010 showed a light gold tone, with aromas of yellow peach and ripe, poached pear. The flavors revolved around grilled pineapple and cantaloupe, while the finish was high and long.
Of course, Kracher’s reputation was built on Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA), the sweetest and most refined of the Botrytis-affected dessert bottles that emanate from this part of the wine world. Kracher’s TBAs are always a success, and we were fortunate enough to try most of the 2010 versions. All I can say is that you should buy some, perhaps as many as you can afford. They’re amazing, even by Kracher’s standard of excellence. The TBA Nouvelle Vague Welschriesling #11 (each year’s production is separated and numbered from 1 to 12 or 13, getting sweeter as they go up the scale) was colored orange-gold, with bits of black tea, coconut, ripe nectarine, and cardamom making appearances at various times. The taste was highly charged, just electric, and the finish lasted as long as I dared to count.
That night we lodged at the Nationalpark Hotel in Illmitz, the perfect jump-off spot for our next day’s adventure in Carnuntum, which stretches from Vienna in the west to the border of the Slovak Republic in the east. The vineyards are spread out over three principal hilltops (the Leitha mountain ridge, the hillside around Arbesthal and the mountains around Hainburg) and all lie south of the Danube.
Here it was Gerhard Markowitsch’s Gruner Veltliner Alte Reben 2012 that shined most brightly, bringing forth allspice, lime zest, white pepper, graphite, and seashell to complement underlying apricot tones. Another winner, this time a red wine, was the Glatzer St. Laurent Altenberg 2011, a mélange of violet, blackberry, sesame, red raspberry, mocha, and smoke. As an aside, the St. Laurent grape flowers on or around St. Laurent’s Day (approximately August 10th). It is the earliest grape to flower and is thus the “clock” for all the rest of the vines in the Burgenland.
That day’s lunch at Bittermann Vinarium in Gottlesbrunn featured Artner and Netzl wines. From Artner came a massive Weiss Chardonnay 2011, golden in color, smelling of pear, nectarine, and honey, and tasting of pie crust and yellow pear. From Netzl I enjoyed a Weisburgunder Barnreiser 2011, also gold-yellow in hue, with aromas of honey, pine, and yellow apple, and flavors of plum and red cherry.
That afternoon was spent in and around the Pockl Winery in Monchhof, where the Rosso e Nero 2011, a red-blue concoction, stole the show. Milk chocolate, red cherry, lavender, red currant, and orange pith all combined to be more than the sum of their parts.
The Leithaberg DAC, our next destination, is made up of about 3,500 hectares of vineyards in the foothills of Leithaberg Mountain. These vineyards are situated 50 km to the southeast of Vienna, between Lake Neusiedl and the 400 m tall mountain. Our evening tour was designed to take us around the entire area, stopping at Himmelreich, Donnerskirchen, and Ried Marientahl, Oggau, for tastings.
Two wines stood out. Esterhazy’s Blaufrankisch Leithaberg 2010 was dark red, with a nose of dark cherry and soda, and a taste of black pepper and currant. The Prieler Blaufrankisch Leithaberg 2010, on the other hand, showed more ruby colors, smelled of graphite and red licorice, and tasted of red cherry and rosemary. Both were delicious but so different that I had to recheck the labels to confirm they were from the same vintage.
Dinner that night was at the formidable Landgashof Nyikospark with the wines of Zantho, helmed by Thomas Gratzer. I most enjoyed his Umathum Pinot Gris 2011, toned greenish yellow, smelling of yellow plum, ash, and white flowers, and tasting of star fruit and white pepper. As with all Umathum wines I’ve tried, the finish was high and long.
Our accommodations for this and the next night were at the Seehotel in Rust, but to see what else happened on this amazing trip you’ll have to tune in to the next column. A bit of a tease, I know. But hopefully, in the interim, you’ll try a few of my recommended wines. Not all are available in the U.S., but ask your local store manager for substitutes and I’m sure all will work out well.
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With Wine On The Road (www.wineontheroad.com), my wine-focused touring company, you can enjoy the ultimate wine country excursion with special access to top winemakers and their incomparable wines. Wine On The Road offers intimate wine country tours that combine award-winning wines and exquisite dining and lodging with uniquely local flair and flavor. We lodge at excellent and luxurious wine country estates (in 2011 we occupied an ancient castle that had been completely restored and upgraded with all of the modern amenities). We eat at authentic local restaurants and visit wineries that embody the best expressions of local wine grapes.
Planned excursions include Italy’s Piedmont during the annual white truffle festival next November (currently available at www.wineontheroad.com/piedmontunfiltered.php), a luxury tour of the Napa Valley in October, 2013 (www.wineontheroad.com/napaunfiltered.php), and a visit to Mendoza and Buenos Aires, Argentina, scheduled for March 16 – 25, 2014 (www.wineontheroad.com/argentinaunfiltered.php). You can learn more about this trip, book private groups in wine country world-wide and request more information on any of these tours by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hajszan Weisleiten 2012 (Vienna, Austria) $N/A
Fritz Wieninger Bisamberg Alte Reben 2011 (Vienna, Austria) $N/A
Cobenzl Weisburgunder-Pinot Blanc Seidenhaus 2012 (Vienna, Austria) $25
Rote Haus Gruner Veltliner Nussberg Reserve 2008 (Vienna, Austria) $25
Somme and Kracher Gruner Veltliner Goat’s Back 2011 (from barrel, Burgenland, Austria) $N/A
Gerhard Markowitsch Gruner Veltliner Alte Reben 2012 (Burgenland, Austria) $25
Artner Weiss Chardonnay 2011 (Burgenland, Austria) $N/A
Netzl Weisburgunder Barnreiser 2011 (Burgenland, Austria) $N/A
Umathum Pinot Gris 2011 (Burgenland, Austria) $N/A
Glatzer St. Laurent Altenberg 2011 (Burgenland, Austria) $60
Pockl Rosso e Nero 2011 (Burgenland, Austria) $N/A
Esterhazy Blaufrankisch Leithaberg 2010 (Burgenland, Austria) $N/A
Prieler Blaufrankisch Leithaberg 2010 (Burgenland, Austria) $58
Weingut Kracher Auslese Cuvée 2011 (Burgenland, Austria) $23/375mL
Weingut Kracher BA Cuvée 2010 (Burgenland, Austria) $35/375mL
Weingut Kracher TBA Nouvelle Vague Welschriesling #11 2010 (Burgenland, Austria) $105/375mL