Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Austrian tasting, London, February 6th, 2017

Plenty of exhibitors at the Institute of Directors, 116 Pall Mall and Austrian wine always seems to be popular. There is never an unpalatable wine at these events, unlike some wines from more obvious countries we could mention.

Austian wine can sometimes appear to consist of seas of Gruener Veltliner and Zweigelt (the most planted white and red varieties respectively) but there is so much more. We decided to concentrate on Rotgipfler, Roter Veltliner and Zierfandler but we could have done the same with Gelber Muskateller, Gemischter Satz or even Scheurebe. Did you know that Scheurebe is also called Sämling (seedling) 88? We didn't.


According to the above list there was also a white grape called Jubilaeumsrebe. This was obtained by Fritz Zweigelt back in 1922 but only named in 1960 as part of the 100th anniversary of the institute at Klosterneuberg. Zweigelt thought he was crossing Blauer Portugieser and Blaufraenkisch but it turned out that unbeknown to him it was something much more complicated - Fruehroter Veltliner and Grauer Portugieser.

There was more Zierfandler in blends than in purezza. Pungent is the word that comes to mind when Zierfandler is mentioned. We used to dislike it but have now come round to it and rather like it. An accustomed taste. We recently tried a Hungarian version - Lisicza's Cirfandli on some unsuspecting guests. Opinion was sharply divided. Stadlmann is a 'Wine Grapes' recommended producer and rightly so.

Mark Flounders, an Australian in Austria

Next, our hitherto favourite producer of Roter Veltliner, Leth. Here we were entertained and informed by an Australian representative of the agents Vagabond called Mark Flounders.

The next Roter Veltliner came from Eschenhof Holtzer. They make a regular version called 'Haide'

and an Orange wine known as 'The Orange'. Particularly lovely, this one.

On to Rotgipfler. With Zierfandler, this is a speciality of Gumpoldskirchen. They are ofter blended together. Rotgipfler is a bit less pungent although still aromatic.

This 14.5% version from Alphart was attractive despite the high ABV.

Alphart also make versions at 12.5% and 13.5% so there is plenty of choice.

Also represented was Wieninger, one of the iconic names in Gemischter Satz. We used to think that Gemischter Satz was just any old field blend from vineyards around Gumpoldskirchen but there are surprisingly strict rules:

The regulation for the Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC requires that at least three white quality wine varieties must be planted together in one vineyard that is listed in the Viennese vineyard register as Wiener Gemischter Satz. The highest portion of one grape variety must be no more than 50%; the third highest portion must be at least 10%.

There may be anything between 13 and 20 varieties in any one vineyard according to some reports. They are harvested and vinified together which is what distinguished Gemischter Satz from Cuvees or blends which are picked and vinified separately. The Gemischer Satz varieties are usually based on Gruener Veltliner, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Welschriesling and Chardonnay. This Wieneinger example contained

50% Grüner Veltliner
25% Pinot Blanc
20% Neuburger
3% Riesling
2% Traminer

Roland Velich himself

Finally a personal introduction to a very special winemaker who concentrates on Blaufraenkisch: Roland Velich. Blaufraenkisch is not an unusual variety in Austria or Germany where it is also known as Limberger or Lemberger and Italy (where it is known as Franconia). It is also quite easily found in Hungary (Kekfrankos) and the rest of Eastern Europe. There are plantings in other countries including Spain, USA, Canada, Australia and even Japan. It is Austria's second most planted red variety.

Nevertheless, we are always interested in something unusual within a 'usual' category be it through method or quality. Roland Velich's wines are unusually high in refinement and elegance. We also found them exraordinally soft on the palate. Indeed, his wines have been called 'the best Blaufraenkisch on the planet.'

From a winemaking family (his brother Heinz's Chardonnay 'Tiglat' has been called Austia's greatest white wine) Roland decided to do something original. He became fascinated with the region of Burgenland on the Western side of the Neusiedlersee on the Pannonian plain less than an hour from Vienna. Part of Hungary until 1921. This region had the challenging conditions he was looking for. Vines had to dig deeper to obtain their nourishment and the climate was cooler. Wine from this reagion had historically fetched higher prices than Chateau Margaux (1 gold Mark), Saar Riesling Auslese (2 gold Marks) and a Ruster 'Ausbruch' from the other side of the Neusiedlersee, 4 gold Marks.

Roland's ambition was to make a wine to rival the refinement of Burgundy and Barolo, not the fruit driven opulent wines in fashion in the early 90s when he began his work in the Neckenmarkt and Lutzmannsburg vineyards near Grosshöflein where he now lives. Soils there include Gneis, Lime, Chalk and Slate. The old vines are planted close together. Discovering these vineyards was the catalyst. He had found the Terroir which he had wanted his wine to express. The wine is called 'Moric' and has now earned him 96 Parker points but not in the way you might think.

At the time Roland invited everyone from the Austrian Wine establishment to come and taste his wines. Nobody showed up. But David Schildknecht (Parker's man for Germany, Austria, Eastern Europe among many other regions) came and spent many hours tasting and re-tasting Moric.

According to Roland, this is how it should be done. He says blind tasting favours the most concentrated and alcoholic wines whereas he is aiming for elegance and refinement - characteristics that will never prevail in such circumstances. He farms organically without herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, or chemical fertilizers, but he adamantly refuses to both apply for certification or to put anything about it on his labels. He never uses commercial yeasts, sulphur is kept to a minimum and they are never fined.

That's what distiguishes Moric from so many other Austrian wines. You can get Roland's wines from Bottle Apostle and Harvey Nicolls among other places in the UK. Price 5 gold Marks

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