Posts Tagged Zantho

Austria’s Other Whites

7 July 2012

This ongoing heat wave calls for refreshing white wines, and you can hardly go wrong by turning to Austria. Even just picturing this little Alpine country makes me feel cooler; centuries-old castles and tidy thick-walled villages watching over steep vineyards, above which the dulcet tones of Julie Andrews float.

In recent years, Austria has become justly famous (at least in some circles) for its high-quality and food-friendly Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners, both of which regularly make appearances on restaurant wine lists. I love these, and I tasted some fantastic examples at a recent tasting of Austrian wines.

But of course, I can’t resist going even deeper into obscurity. If you see a well-priced Austrian Riesling or Grüner, buy it; it will likely be an excellent value. But if you happen to find an Austrian white made with some other variety, grab that sucker and hold on with two fists. Some examples:

Johanneshof Reinisch Rotgipfler, 2011: The late-ripening Rotgipfler variety — the result of a cross between Roter Veltliner and Traminer — flourishes in the Thermenregion’s warm vineyards south of Vienna. This pale straw-colored example had a sweet pineapply aroma and a bit of prickle on the tongue. It turned surprisingly (but not unpleasantly) sour at the end, making it easy to pair with a range of foods.

Sattlerhof Steirische Klassik Gelber Muskateller, 2011: The Sattlerhof estate enjoys a particularly picturesque setting in the hills of the small Südsteiermark region bordering Slovenia. According to The Oxford Companion to Wine, many of the area’s best producers belong to the Steirische Klassik association, which works to ensure that wines represent the local terroir to its full potential. “Gelber Muskateller” is simply Muscat Blanc, one of the oldest known (and to my mind, one of the most delicious) wine grape varieties. It looked almost clear in the glass, with just a hint of yellow, and I loved its exquisitely floral aroma of overripe pineapple and lily-of-the-valley. Its juicy and almost tart flavor profile was not over sweet, and again, it would be sure to work well with all sorts of light summer recipes.

Sattlerhof Trockenbeerenauslese, 2010: Don’t be intimidated by the name (pronounced “Traw-ken-bear-en-owss-lay-seh). This typically German compound word indicates that the fruit used to make this wine is as ripe as ripe can be, with flavors and sugars concentrated by Noble Rot. If you like Sauternes or Tokaji Aszu, this wine is right up your alley. If you don’t like sweet wines, this one might just change your mind. Crafted with Sauvignon Blanc, this deeply golden wine had rich fruit and a lush, luxurious sweetness balanced — perfectly, beautifully, improbably — by a veritable kick line of acids. Sheer, unadulterated delight.

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The Summery Reds Of Austria

26 May 2012

When you hear the words “Austrian wine,” your first connotations are unlikely to be either “summery” or “red.” Although Austrian wines appear with increasing frequency on wine lists and in wine shops, almost all of it will be Grüner Veltliner (along with an occasional Riesling). I love a good Grüner Veltliner — it can pair particularly well with spring vegetables such as asparagus — but this oddly named variety can only barely be considered odd at this point. Instead, let’s talk Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt.

As I noted in this post about Austrian St. Laurent, it can be difficult to find red Austrian wines, so I was particularly excited to be able to try several in succession at the “Austria Uncorked” tasting. I already knew I liked St. Laurent going into the tasting, but I felt skeptical about Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt wines. I visited Vienna in my early and mid-20s, and I remembered these wines as a little boring and bland.

As I tasted wine after tasty wine at “Austria Uncorked,” it became increasingly clear I had been drinking at the wrong bars! These wines had excellent fruit, some balancing earth and even a touch of spice. They were great fun, and with a slight chill, they would complement any picnic or barbeque.

Blaufränkisch has been a popular variety for quite some time; it dates back at least 1000 years to pre-medieval times, when “it was common to divide grape varieties into the (superior) ‘fränkisch’, whose origins lay with the Franks, and the rest,” according to The Oxford Companion to Wine. The Companion as well as The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia note that it grows in abundance near the warm, shallow Neusiedlersee (Neusiedler Lake) in Austria’s Burgenland region.

Zweigelt, on the other hand, is a much newer variety. Also known as “Blauer Zweigelt,” this grape dates back only to 1922, when Dr. Zweigelt crossed Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent. According to the Companion, Zweigelt “at its best combines some of the bite of the first with the elegance of the second,” although sometimes it produces “too much dilute wine.” Sotheby’s agrees, praising the best examples but cautioning that “the norm is rather light and lackluster.”

Fortunately, that certainly wasn’t the norm at the “Austria Uncorked” tasting. Here’s a roundup of some of the Austrian reds I particularly enjoyed, most of which are (or will be) available in the United States:

2010 Claus Preisinger Zweigelt: This winery sandwiched between the Neusiedlersee and the Hungarian border grows its grapes biodynamically, following the principles of Rudolf Steiner. It seems to be working — I certainly enjoyed this Zweigelt. The wine had an aroma dominated by iron, and lots of red fruit on the palate. The finish was surprisingly dry and tannic.

2009 Claus Preisinger “Pannobile”: This garnet-colored blend of 60% Zweigelt and 40% Blaufränkisch smelled of dark fruit and iron. The flavors took me on a memorable journey, moving from rich fruit to metal to earth to spice. Delicious.

2010 Lenz Moser Zweigelt: Since Burgenland-based Lenz Moser is one of Austria’s largest wine exporters, you might be able to find this brand at your local wine shop. This brick-red Zweigelt had the telltale aromas of fruit and iron and a rather simple, fruity flavor profile, finishing with a bit of spice. Easy to drink, and probably best with a touch of chill.

2011 Pfaffl Austrian Rosé: Pfaffl’s vineyards grow in the aptly named (and very large) Weinviertel region north of Vienna, and Sotheby’s cites this winery as one of the few in the area worth knowing about. This charming Zweigelt rosé had the color of a watermelon Jolly Rancher, ample fruit and a pleasantly chalky finish. An ideal picnic choice.

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Austria’s Sexiest Red

9 May 2012

Austria has an quite an uphill climb ahead of it. When most people think of Austrian wines, should they even think of them at all, I suspect they think of them as basically like German wines, but cuter. Some people perhaps think of Grüner Veltliner, which has become a sort of national grape, or perhaps even fine Riesling from the Wachau.

Almost none of us, myself included, think of red wine. I imagine Austrian reds consigned to the “Other” or “Eastern European” section of the wine shop, next to bottles of cloyingly sweet stuff with mysterious semi-Cyrillic labels.

Fortunately, many Austrian winemakers ignore our ignorance and produce delicious dry reds anyway. I had the fortune to sample a remarkable array of these red wines at the recent “Austria Uncorked” tasting in Chicago, and though I’ve been to Austria a number of times, this tasting was revelatory. A variety called St. Laurent was particularly divine.

I first sampled St. Laurent not in Austria but in the Czech Republic, where the variety is known as Svatovavřinecké. (Don’t worry about remembering that name or trying to pronounce it — you’ll have a hard time finding any Czech wine here in the states.) This direct descendant of Pinot Noir impressed me then, but I can’t even remember trying a St. Laurent (“Sankt Laurent” in German) in the years since. It was a real joy to taste several expressions of this exciting variety all together:

2009 Pfaffl “Altenberg” St. Laurent: Pfaffl’s Altenberg vineyard lies in the large Weinviertel district north of Vienna. Its proximity to a forest keeps the grapes cool in the evening, according to Pfaffl’s website, allowing the ordinarily quick-ripening St. Laurent more time to develop on the vine. A deep garnet color, this wine smelled of ripe red fruit and iron. On the palate, the flavors moved from fruit to green pepper to black pepper on the finish. Very fun.

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