The Hills Are Alive…
At my last tasting on Friday, February 10th the hills were not alive with the sound of music but it was definitely alive with the taste of wine. I did not want to subject everyone to me torturing them with my vocal talents. I tried to convince my wife to let me use our drapes to make some play clothes, so I could at least dress the part, but she didn’t like that idea either. Why would I be singing the song from The Sound of Music? Because this tasting was all about Austrian wine! The hills of Austria are definitely alive with amazing grapes and a wonderful industry for making fantastic wines! Unfortunately it is an area where we still do not find many wines from them, here. There are also a lot of wines made from grapes that people have never even heard of. It was my job to familiarize everyone with a lot of these and share some of the wonderful wines that we have in store to help expand people’s horizons with these new and wonderful treats!
As a region Austria has been making wine for thousands of years! They have traced grape production back to 700 BC, though the ancient Romans were the ones that really started making large wine quantities there around 1BC. In the 10th-12th centuries Cistercian monks started using a lot of skills from France to make better wine and increase wine growing culture in the country. During the 15th to 16th century Austria reached its Zenith for wine production, having more than 3 times the amount of country under vine than they do today. Over the next few centuries’ production decreased due to wars, taxes, climate change and an increase in beer production. In 1860 the first viticulture and oenological school is created. It has now been around for more than 150 years making the oldest viticulture school in the world. The most influential recent event happened in 1985, when it was discovered that some people were adding diethylene glycol (antifreeze) to some wines as a sweetener. This scandal practically destroyed the entire wine industry in Austria overnight. The following year a wine marketing board was established and subsequently quite a few more rules and standards were enacted regarding wine production quality. This was a major turning point in wine production for Austria and it has actually helped them to get to the point where we are today and they are making some amazing wines that wonderfully reflect Austria. In 2002, in London, there was a blind tasting of Austrian wines against some of the best white wines from around the world. Austria won the top 4 places and also placed 3 more times within the top 10. A lot of the wines you come across from Austria now are so different than anything else you will find anywhere else, lots of producers are trying to use sustainable, organic methods, and they are also able to implement modern and traditional methods to make amazing distinctive wines!
In Austria they are currently growing approximately 35 grape varieties for wine making, 22 white and 13 red. The majority of wine production is white with only 1/3 of production being red wine. The main grape that is grown is called Gruner Veltliner which is indigenous to Austria and makes up 1/3 of the entire wine production. This leaves only 1/3 production to any other type of white grape. The majority of wines produced there are from indigenous grapes that aren’t typically grown in vast quantities outside of the country, making their wines even more interesting. They do grow some cool climate grapes that are originally from France such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. If you want to try something different and delicious, Austria is definitely the place where you should look for your next bottle of wine!
For our tasting we went over 7 wines: 4 white and 3 red. All of the wines were from grapes indigenous to Austria except for wine number two, which was a Sauvignon Blanc. One of the hardest things to do for this class was select the wines because at the store we have a very cool selection of wines from different grapes and I wasn’t able to choose them all with the amount of time for the tasting. Here is what we did taste our way through:
1. Johanneshof Reinisch Rotgipfler, 2015 $28.99
This is a white wine produced by the Johanneshof Reinisch family and made from the indigenous grape Rotgipfler. Less than 1% of all the vineyards in Austria are planted to Rotgipfler which earns its name due to the red stalks that they can have. It is found almost solely in the Thermenregion, located in the Northeast area of Austria – one of the driest and sunniest regions of Austria. The Johanneshof Reinisch family have been making wine here for four generations. They originally had barely 1/2 a hectare when they started in 1923 and now produce wines from over 40 hectares. They have a very modern winery with new technology to help create some great wines.
This is a light, pale straw, coloured wine. The nose has some spice, citrus, zest, slate, mineral and lovely aromatics. On the palate it is creamy, spicy, with some lemon zing, red apple crispness and just overall a delicious wine to sip on. If you are looking for something a bit light and refreshing this is a great wine to try!
2. Sattlerhof Sudsteiermark Sauvignon Blanc, 2015 $30.99
This was the only non-indigenous grape that we tried. It is a Sauvignon Blanc from the Southern border region of Steiermark or Styria. The region is known for producing excellent Sauvingnon Blanc. This is from the Sattlerhof family, who have been making wine since 1887. Everyone in the family takes part: their daughter even designed the label. The majority of what they produce is Sauvignon Blanc with quite a few different single vineyard wines made from Sauvignon from their 40 hectares. It is a beautiful place with a winery, restaurant and hotel so if you need somewhere to go and relax and have some amazing wine at the same time, this would be an awesome option!
This is a great example of Sauvignon Blanc, light and crisp and delicious. Light pale yellow in colour and on the nose, citrus, elderflower, fresh grass and chalk. The palate shows wonderfully crisp acidity, pear, lemon-lime flavours, and a delightful minerality. It is a delight and I can only imagine sipping this looking over the steep green hills of their property!
3. Julius Klein Gruner Veltliner, 2015 $22.99
This wine was our introduction to the main grape varietal of Austria. This lovely Gruner Veltliner is a Kensington Wine Market exclusive and a great entry point if you are looking to try something new.
The Julius Klein family have been making wine since 1788 in the Weinvertel region close to the northern border with Czech Republic. They produce wines from 14 hectares and are able to store them in some of their vaulted cellars that are over 300 years old. Some of the areas in Austria have more miles of wine cellars underground than there are roads above ground, many of these cellars being hundreds of years old. The soils are one of the key parts to producing such amazing wines in Austria. The Tethys Sea once covered Austria, millions of years ago and this is definitely an influence on what makes the wines so spectacular here.
This is another lighter, lovely, pale yellow wine with a touch of green. On the nose it brings to my mind bright sunshine on an open field of flowers. It shows exhilerating freshness and a touch of herbaceousness, slight brine and hints of peach. The palate is chalky mineral with green grapes, pear and some green pepper. A partner for salads or just hanging out on a patio. It would also pair well with a picnic – perhaps in that field…
4. Schloss Gobelsburg Renner Gruner Veltliner, 2014 $54.99
With this bottle we get into one of the more historic places for wine. It is from the oldest Monastery in the Kamptal region. They have been producing wine since 1171 and have 49 hectares with the majority of it being Gruner Veltliner. The Kamptal region is one of the biggest wine producing areas, close to Langenlois where they even have a centre to see how wine is being produced in Austria. You could also take tours through some of the historic cellars in the area.
Eva and Michael Moosbrugger have been in charge of making wine here since 1996. They are focused on very traditional styles of producing wine. Where some winemakers are looking at getting new machines, they are trying to figure out what machines they can get rid of. They even have a system that they call a “barrel on wheels” where they actually put wine into a barrel and wheel it to where it needs to go rather than pumping. All of the oak that they use is also from a forest that is close to the winery so as they are able to get flavours that are distinct to Austria. They are doing amazing things and this wine is absolutely stellar, top tier wine. If you were to receive something similar from another country you could easily be paying 2 – 3 times as much.
This wine is a pale, golden yellow. It exhibits layer after layer of aromas, with peach, grass, pineapple, tropical fruits, violet and slightly steely. It is amazing to smell with each and every breath. This is a full-bodied dry white with well-balanced acidity that lingers well after you have swallowed. It is creamy with a touch of lush fruity sweetness coming across and quite a bit of mineral. If you want a truly astonishing white wine that embodies what Austria is capable of then this is what you seek!
5. Rudolf Rabl St. Laurent, 2012 $25.99
This is another winery from the Kamptal region, they are a family winery that have been producing wine since 1750. Rudolf Rabl took over the winery in 1975 from his in-laws and now runs it with his son. When they first started they had only 20 hectares and now manage over 80 hectares. They won winery of the year in 2009 and make their wines by following 3 guiding principles:
1. Only perfect grapes yield to a top wine.
2. Must from perfect grapes allows minimal intervention.
3. No fear of powerful wine.
Basically they want the grapes to speak through the wine and for the flavours of the grape to be shown and not masked by undue influence.
The grape that they use for this wine is St. Laurent, which was named after St. Lawrence day on August 10th. It is usually around this time when the grape to ripens. This indigenous grape is only planted to less than 2% of total vineyards in Austria.
This red wine is pale ruby colour. On the nose it has blueberry, blackberry, pepper, spice, violet, clove, raspberries and a touch of leather. The palate is vibrant and refreshing with a medium body and lots of liquorice, cherry and red fruit flavours. It is a delicious wine for a great price. It would go well with food but is also lip-smacking on its own!
6. Gruber Roschitz, Lauschen, Blauer Zweigelt, 2015 $28.99
This red wine made from Blauer Sweigelt, which is a new breed of grape that was created in 1922 in Austria from the St. Laurent and Blaufrankisch grapes. It was named after Dr. Fritz Sweigelt who created it. It is the most widespread red variety produced in Austria and covers over 14% of total vineyards and has been increasing in amount planted over the past couple of decades.
This wine is from the Gruber family winery. It has been a family farm since 1814 but it wasn’t until 1972 when Ewald Gruber decided he wanted to turn it into a model winery at the age of 16. They started with 7 hectares of land and now run over 65. They use organic, biodynamic methods for producing the wine and faithfully believe in wine “spirits”, everything that influences the wine, from the yeasts, bacteria’s and to the way that it tastes on your tongue. They have drawn them delightfully on their labels in order to share their interpretations with the world.
This shows a lighter style of red wine with a pale vibrant purple colour. The nose is full of forest fruit, jam, spice, zest, lilac and a slight earthiness that makes it irresistible. The palate is delectably expressive with chocolate covered cherries, medium body, soft, light well-integrated tannins and tart strawberries. It is a dream upon the toungue! One of my go to wines right now.
7. Moric, Blaufrankish 2013 $62.99
This indigenous grape Blaufrankish was originally documented in the 18th century in Austrial. At the it was known as Lemberger or Limberger; named after the town Limberg. It currently covers over 7% of total vineyards in Austria especially in the regions of Burgenland.
This is from winemaker Roland Velich. Part of a longtime winemaking family – he uses biodynamic, primitive winemaking methods and obsessive sorting. All of this is done to make legendary wines that hold up to the same standards as other areas around the world. This wine comes from Mittelburgenland, which is close to the eastern border of Austria. In this region they grow wider range of grapes than any other area in Austria.
When I first tried this wine, it blew me away! It has so much going on yet it remains so elegant and structured. I loved every sip and even now think about it often. It is a gorgeous wine with medium purple in colour. On the nose there is currant, anis, herbs, spice and black pepper. The palate is amazing with blueberry, plum, rich dark fruit, racy cranberry acidity, nice minerality and overall, an amazing wine! If you like Pinot Noirs or lighter, elegant and wonderfully structured wines this wine can deliver more than all of that.
This was one of the more interesting classes that I have done and it was so cool to be able to try so many different wines and see what Austria really has to offer! I definitely consider myself a convert to Austrian wine and hope that you will come in and see what they have to offer as well. You won’t be disappointed!