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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Guild of Sommeliers Master Class on Austria

“Vienna waits for you” - I certainly hope so.

If you’ve been reading my food blog, Here, Taste This! - and if you’ve caught some of my Austrian related wine blog posts, you’ll remember that I have a love for good Austrian wine that’s been increasing over the past year or two.  And I really love the reds (did you know that Austria has been increasing their red plantings and production and scaling back a bit on whites?  I didn’t know it either, until I learned it in the class I’ll tell you about.  And they say it’s due to warming temperatures in the Austrian wine producing regions - so it’s more conducive to growing good reds - go figure.)

Anyway, after sitting for a three hour Guild of Sommeliers master class on Austrian wine led by MS Andy McNamara (for me, this was like the Long Expected Party - I’ve been waiting FOREVER for a class on Austria and there it was at last!), all I could think of was, “Vienna waits for you” - and I really hope it does.  I’d love to visit a great many wine regions, especially in France and Italy and some in Germany and Spain and especially Croatia, but the more I experience Austrian wines, the more I crave the bright, clean, expressive, delicious, and impeccably executed wines coming from their regions.  And remember, it’s not just Gruner Veltliner.  Yes, there’s a lot of Gruner, but there are plenty of other whites, some that we never really see outside of Austria, and some amazing reds (again, see the food blog posts lately featuring pairings with traditional Austrian reds), sparkling wines, and something I love very much - botrytized dessert wines.  Suffice it to say I tasted a dessert wine at the master class that I’m absolutely certain was sent down from heaven.

Some interesting things I learned - well, white production in Austria is dropping, while red production is increasing.  I never would have guessed that.  While I’ve been noticing availability of the likes of Blaufrankisch and Zweigelt on the rise, I still hadn’t thought about a major increase in red production in a place like Austria that to me is fairly synonymous with Gruner Veltliner.  But they say that the climate in Austrian grape growing regions is becoming warmer and so it’s more conducive for growing red grapes there.  Also, never having visited Austria, I didn’t know much about their cuisine - apparently they like cheese and cold meats and other dishes are influenced by Italian cooking, including gnocchi and risotto - and their wines are suited to such dishes.  And as basic as it may sound, I also learned what it is that we should be looking for in a proper Gruner Veltliner - the celery and other crisp green vegetable characteristics, white pepper, and often notes of fine soil.  So that brings me to what I learned about soil and climate in Austrian wine regions - Wagram apparently has a very fine, loose, porous soil.  And Wachau is somewhat similar to Mosel in terms of terroir.  Burgenland, Mittelburgenland, and Neusiedlersee are warmer, making them ideal for red grapes.  And what I found perhaps most interesting - that Gruner Veltliner is the child of Savagnin and St. Georgener-Rebe (an ancient and almost extinct grape type in Burgenland), and that Zweigelt is the child of Blaufrankisch and St. Laurent.

We began with a Sekt - the Steininger Burgunder Sekt from Kamptal (if I remember corrently, it’s a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc) - I liked it, it’s clean and fun with a bit of residual sugar (and I was surprised to hear it’s about 13.5% alcohol).  As I anticipated, it showed floral notes as well as both citrus and orchard, and we were told that a sparkling sekt like this is generally served at breakfast in Austria.  Sparkling wine at breakfast?  Sign me up.

Then we began a flight of Gruner Veltliner, and I was shocked at how different each of the five wines was from the others.  We started with the 2012 Brundlmayer Terassen from Kamptal - very much a Gruner, with the vegetable and celery notes and white pepper, white stony mineral, and bright acidity.  That was a perfect start to a flight of Gruner.  Next was one of my favorite wines of the class - the 2012 Wimmer Czerny Fumberg from Wagram.  (And at $19, I think it was the least expensive of all the Gruners.)  It was slightly heavier than the first and a bit more reflective golden in color, and more aromatic, with deeper, more mature characteristics - orchard fruit, pepper, and floral notes, and drier earthiness.  That was a lovely wine.  I didn’t connect with the third Gruner, the 2011 Somm-Kracher from Weinvieterl - it seemed a bit oxidized.  While it showed characteristics of some apple, vegetables, and pepper, as well as some honeysuckle and diesel, it seemed slightly botrytized and just kind of funky - too funky for me (and that’s saying something).  The fourth, the 2012 Rudi Pichler Federspiel from Wachau, was delicious and another excellent example of a Gruner.  The characteristics of pepper, green vegetables, citrus fruit, herbs, and some charred notes as well as a dry clean earthiness and nice acidity were subtle and balanced.  And finally, the 2011 Emmerich Knoll Schutt from Wachau was a nice way to wrap up the flight - a bit golden and a hint of fizz, the wine showed the anticipated white pepper, greenness, and subtle fruit with a great deal of complexity, it’s both satisfying and cerebral, with great flavors and bright acidity.
Next up were the “other whites” - first was the 2012 Christ Alte Reben Gemischter Satz from Wein.  Apparently this is a “mix of grapes” and is a trendy thing among young hipsters of Vienna - at least that’s what we were told.  The grapes are old school traditional grapes but we don’t know exactly what they are, which I thought was interesting.  It’s another funky wine, very direct, clean, and bright, but very intense and a bit too bold for me but cool anyway.  But the other four wines in the flight were amazing.  The 2011 Johanneshof Reinisch Zierfandler from Thermenregion (I believe this is where they said the spas are location) - the aromas were gorgeous, with notes of orchard fruit, orange, and tropical fruit, herb and perhaps tea leaf, a savory note, and flowers but not the blossom kind - more like standard flowers and not from fruit trees, and a clean feel.  Next was the 2012 Heidi Schroek Gelber Musskateller from Rust, Neusiedlersee-Hugelland - this wine is incredible.  It reminded me of Alsatian wines regarding aroma, including floral notes, savory herbs, citrus but mostly orchard fruits, and bright acidity, and very dry which surprised me considering the big aromas that I thought would indicate more concentration.  It was so perfectly balanced and I loved it.  The next wine was so unique - the 2012 Neumeister “Classic” Sauvignon Blanc from Styria, which we were told is a region that makes a pure Sauvignon Blanc very expressive of the grape’s true identity.  It’s what I like to call a “stinker” - funky on the nose with some petrol notes, bitter fruit (I was thinking of kumquat), grass, herb, peach, and mineral - and tremendous acidity.  That wine might have been the most fascinating of the class.  The final white was the 2012 Weingut Prager Riesling Smaragd “Achleiten” from Wachau.  (I didn’t know it but we were told that Achleiten is quite possibly the best and most famous vineyard in Austria.)  This was another wonderful wine, but I’d love to taste it again a long time from now - it just seemed to need some time, there’s so much going on - a touch of fizz with a perfectly clean and elegant feel, citrus and orchard fruit and mineral with a touch of floral notes.  But it needs some time before it becomes something truly extraordinary.
The red flight blew my mind.  (Days later, I’m still thinking about it - and I’ve had the very Blaufrankisch we tasted before, in fact I had it again just four days before the class - see my food blog post on goulash and Blaufrankisch.)  First up was the 2008 Kollwentz Zweigelt “Follikberg” from Mittelburgenland - it showed a clear, deep red color (and I must admit it was quite different from any Zweigelt I’ve ever had - much more substantial than the others that were fruity and earthy but in no way complex) - anyway this was a “beefy” example, as they called it, with notes of earthiness, spice, cooked meat, and bold fruit, with bright acidity and a gaminess to it that would pair ideally with wild meats with texture and lots of flavor.  The Blaufrankisch was the 2011 Moric from Burgenland, which I love (I really love it with my homemade goulash, but that’s another blog post, as I’ve mentioned) - it’s another very spicy, peppery red with red but also dark fruit, coffee notes, charred meat, and a red/pink color, with great acidity and wonderful elegance and structure.  And the biggest surprise for me (since I’ve never had one before) - the 2011 Juris Sankt Laurent “Selection” from Neusiedlersee (I’ve had Zweigelt from Juris and if you go back a few food blog posts, you’ll see it there and how much I like it) - anyway my tasting notes begin with “wow” so there you have it - it’s a brighter red color than the other two, very earthy, fruity, and a bit funky, with elegant spice alongside a rustic leathery note (I love how elegance and rusticity can come together so perfectly), and a softness and deliciousness that I never expected - it’s a truly unique wine.
We finished with two sweet wines.  The first one, I must admit, I did not spit.  I couldn’t possibly, in all good conscience.  I drank it.  It’s the 2010 Kracher Trockenbeerenauslese No. 7 Welschriesling from Burgenland.  And it’s amazing.  It’s a light golden color with stunning aromas of rich blossom characteristics, candied orange, cooked peaches and apricot, and while it’s sweet and enticing and textured, it’s clean and lovely.  I was blown away by that one!  The other sweet wine was great too - the 1998 (wow) Feiler-Artinger Ruster Ausbruch from Burgenland.  It’s aged quite a bit so it’s got the dark orange/gold color with some funkiness and toasted notes, candied, honeyed, and reminiscent of brulee, rich yet slightly dried fruit, and it’s just delicious.

So there it was, the Austrian master class - a tremendous learning experience that I couldn’t possibly put down on paper - you’ve got to hunt these wines down and taste them!

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