I’ve recently published columns on my summer time in Italy, and will soon do so for my week in Washington State. Also yet to come are two visits to California in late August and mid-September, as well as an invitation to Umbria for a Sagrantino festival and then my Wine On The Road consumer tour of Piedmont at the beginning of November. But in this and a prior column I’m describing a press trip I undertook in Austria in June, just a few days after my time in Tuscany.
By the way, if you want to stay in touch during my travels, while I’m on the road I mostly employ Twitter (@WineOnTheRoad) and a WOTR Facebook fan page (WineOnTheRoad) for day-to-day observations. If you have any questions, comments, or if you just want to chat, please don’t hesitate to contact me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), Twitter, Facebook, or my cell (+1 303 522-6738).
This Austrian tour came courtesy of Wein Burgenland (www.weinburgenland.at) and allowed me to tour various subregions of the Burgenland, an Austrian state that is only 45 minutes by car from Vienna. 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. An interesting side note was provided during the tour by Christian Zechmeister, the director of Wein Burgenland. According to Christian, there are 300,000 full-time Burgenland inhabitants, and 2013 is the year that will see the entire region powered by 100 percent renewable energy (mostly wind and solar).
The morning of June 9th saw the group on a wildlife tour at the Neusiedler See-Seewinkel National Park, founded in 1993, whose protected areas now cover about 300 km2 in and around the Neusiedler See. This lake is shared by Austria and Hungary and is known for its reeds and shallowness, as well as its mild climate throughout the year. It is Austria’s largest lake, and is a great tourist attraction, bringing in ornithologists, sailors, and wind and kite surfers.
After this behind-the-scenes wildlife tour we had a sumptuous barbeque lunch at Hannes Reeh Unplugged Winery, where I really enjoyed the lemon-toned Weisburgunder 2012, full of green grape, star fruit, nectarine, and ash. The red Blaufrankisch 2011 was also lovely, bringing a nose of violet and red cherry that led into flavors of red raspberry and kirsch.
The afternoon led off with a tasting of Pannobile wines at Claus Preisinger. The Pannobile producer group was founded in 1994 and consists of nine wineries that share the aim of producing wines reflecting the characteristics of the region. The name is a reference to the constant wind that emanates in the Hungarian steppes and blows across most of Eastern Europe.
A Pannobile wine should show a mirror to local varieties, soils, and the special microclimates of the best sites between Neusiedl am See and Halbthurn. Zweigelt, blaufränkisch, and st. laurent are permitted for reds, while white burgundy, chardonnay, pinot gris, and neuburger are allowed for whites. The resulting wines are suitable for bottle ageing for many years, which allows Pannobile to stand for the top-cuvée of a member winery made of local varieties originating from top-sites. A vintage is developed during regular blind tastings and represents an optimal composition by an individual winegrower.
At this tasting, Claus Preisinger’s golden hued Weisburgunder Edelgraben Breitenbrunn 2011 brought ripe apricot to the nose while candied fig and mushroom dominated a bright finish. The Anita an Hans Nittnaus Commondor 2007, a ruby red concoction, showed peppermint, ash, and wild strawberry on a finish that was only moderately long.
And now for a quick note on st. laurent, perhaps my favorite red wine grape that is grown in Austria. 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. At this same Pannobile tasting, the reddish-brown Pittnauer St. Laurent Alte Reben 2009 stood out for its nose of black pepper, smoke, and blackberry. The taste ran toward black raspberry, cinnamon, and nutmeg, all on a very long finish. Beck’s St. Laurent Schafleiten 2010 was also extraordinary, red-blue in tone, with smells of blueberry and granite and a palate of nutmeg, cola, and red cherry.
From the Pannobile tasting we headed over to the town of Rust to sample sweet wines at Heidi Schrock’s place, featuring her juice and that of Feiler-Artinger. Heidi is a legend in Rust, a long-time vintner who has risen to the top of the heap by crafting special stickies. Prior to Luis Kracher’s untimely death, he and Heidi jointly made a Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA), a formidable wine that showed both Kracher’s power and Schrock’s grace. One bright note was that she mentioned perhaps restarting that project with Luis’s son Gerhardt, himself one of my special friends in the Austrian wine business.
Heidi is most famous for Ruster Ausbruch (literally “break-out from Rust”), an Austrian term for a wine with a quality level in the Prädikatswein category. Ausbruch is situated between Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese in requirements, a sweet dessert wine typically made from grapes affected by noble rot. The Ausbruch Prädikat exists only in Austria and Hungary, not in Germany, and was introduced into Austria in 1970 via legislation that legalized a production method already being used around the town of Rust. Ruster is still the most common Ausbruch; in many other Austrian regions, producers classify their wines as Beerenauslese if they fall short of the Trockenbeerenauslese requirements.
At this tasting, the Feiler-Artinger Ruster Ausbruch 2010 was colored like a golden pear, with aromas of white peach and flowers and a taste of basil, chervil, and lemonade. Heidi Schrock’s own Ruster Ausbruch “On The Wings Of Dawn” 2010 is more purely gold in hue. It smells of orange cream and honey with a palate of cantaloupe, bitter almond, and green herbs. Both are delectable and finish high and long.
Dinner that night was at Gut Purbach, a top-notch restaurant in the town of Purbach am Neusiedlersee, where the food was served alongside the wines of Moric. This winery’s red-black Blaufrankish Reserve 2011 was probably my favorite, full of black pepper, red raspberry, mocha, and mace. That night we lodged at the Seehotel in Rust, a tourist mecca and a place I highly recommend for those traveling in the region.
Vines have been cultivated in the Thermenregion, a climatically favorable area just south of Vienna and our first destination the next day, for more than 2,000 years. It takes its name from the thermal, sulphuric water springs that dot the countryside, and Stadlemann’s light yellow Zierfandler Mandel-Hoh 2011 was equally explosive. Cascades of carrot, green melon, orange marmalade, and almond dot the palate and it finishes very strong, with tons of length. The same winery’s TBA Xierfandler 2009, hued a delicate amber, brought date, fig, and yellow peach on the nose. The taste was all about cantaloupe, pain grille, and apricot.
Our final visit of this trip was to the Mittelburgenland, the center of red wine culture in Austria. This lies just beyond the small town of Sieggraben, south of Lake Neusiedl and close to the Hungarian border. Blaufrankisch, the most popular variety, started Austria’s red wine boom despite an unknown place of origin. The resulting wines have received critical acclaim in Austria and abroad.
Our Mittelburgenland adventure began at lunch with the crew from J. Heinrich in the Goldberg vineyard, a heritage site near the town of Deutschkreutz. J. Heinrich’s Blaufrankisch Goldberg 2011, red-blue in color, emanated smells of black cherry and dark chocolate while tasting of cedar and red raspberry liqueur. We then headed over to Hans Igler, in Deutschkreutz proper, where the black-purple Vulcano 2011 exuded aromas of violet, lavender, and cedar while promoting strong tastes of black cherry and bittersweet chocolate.
A quick ride to Domaine Pottelsdorf brought another excellent Blaufrankisch, the Exzellenz 2009. Violet-red in color, this pomegranate- and red cherry-tinged beauty also showed shades of milk chocolate, granite, and blueberry on a very bright finish.
That night we returned to Vienna for dinner with Willy Klinger, one of the heads of Austrian Wine, at Holy Moly, a restaurant/boat complete with swimming pool that was anchored in the city on the Danube River. Three wines caught my attention. The Ploder-Rosenberg Sauvignon Blanc 2011 was full of lemon, elderflower, lime, star fruit, and red currant. Johanneshof’s Reinisch St. Laurent 2009 showed blood-red in the glass. It smelled of rose, cantaloupe, and red flowers while tasting of orange water and bergamot. Finally, the Weinrieder Riesling Eiswein Schneiderberg 2008, light yellow in hue, nosed hay and apricot with a palate of flint, honey, and yellow apple.
That night was spent at the Hotel Rathaus Wein & Design in Vienna. The next morning I headed off to Dublin to meet up with my wife and three weeks of travel in the U.K., but more on that later.
WINE ON THE ROAD’S LUXURIOUS, BEHIND-THE-SCENES WINE TOURS
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 (we’ve even occupied an ancient castle in Piedmont, Italy, that has 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 November 2 – 9, 2013 (currently available at www.wineontheroad.com/piedmontunfiltered.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 these trips, book private groups in wine country world-wide and request more information on any of these tours by emailing me at email@example.com.
Hannes Reeh Unplugged Weisburgunder 2012 (Burgenland, Austria) $20
Claus Preisinger Weisburgunder Edelgraben Breitenbrunn 2011 (Burgenland, Austria) $N/A
Stadlemann Zierfandler Mandel-Hoh 2011 (Burgenland, Austria) $N/A
Ploder-Rosenberg Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Burgenland, Austria) $N/A
Hannes Reeh Unplugged Blaufrankisch 2011 (Burgenland, Austria) $N/A
Anita an Hans Nittnaus Commondor 2007 (Burgenland, Austria) $59
Pittnauer St. Laurent Alte Reben 2009 (Burgenland, Austria) $45
Beck St. Laurent Schafleiten 2010 (Burgenland, Austria) $30
Moric Blaufrankish Reserve 2011 (Burgenland, Austria) $54
J. Heinrich Blaufrankisch Goldberg 2011 (Burgenland, Austria) $25
Hans Igler Vulcano 2011 (Burgenland, Austria) $N/A
Pottelsdorf Blaufrankisch Exzellenz 2009 (Burgenland, Austria) $N/A
Johanneshof Reinisch St. Laurent 2009 (Burgenland, Austria) $20
Feiler-Artinger Ruster Ausbruch 2010 (Burgenland, Austria) $61
Heidi Schrock Ruster Ausbruch “On The Wings Of Dawn” 2010 (Burgenland, Austria) $75
Stadlemann TBA Zierfandler 2009 (Burgenland, Austria) $N/A
Weinrieder Riesling Eiswein Schneiderberg 2008 (Burgenland, Austria) $45