Wednesday, 10 February 2010

What have the Austrians ever done to us?

Author:  Heather D

Well, OK, if you're being picky, there were on the "other side" in the last two world wars, but, leaving those worldwide conflagrations aside for a moment to concentrate on wine....just what do we have against Austrian wines?
The thorny old issue of anti-freeze never takes long to rear its ugly head when I introduce an Austrian wine to a tasting.  Yes, it did happen.  Yes, it was downright dangerous.  Yes, it was a long time ago.  Now, can we move on?

The next problem that stops us from buying Austrian wines is that they don't have a clear identity of their own.  For most wine drinkers tend to lump them together, mentally at least, with German wines.  Anyone in the wine trade is happy to bang on at length about how undervalued sweet German Rieslings are, with their light alcohol, delicious floral-fruity characters and their ability to age.  Most UK wine drinkers, however, pay no attention and carry on drinking fruity, off-dry New World wines instead.  Being associated with a country which is commercial poison in this country is never going to work in Austria's favour.

I also think we have a problem putting Austrian wine in its context, with food.   Compare it with Italy, for example.  It's easy to imagine a simple, juicy red Italian wine going with your pizza or plate of pasta - we've all eaten it at Pizza Express often enough.  There isn't a chain of Austrian restaurants (Dumpling Express?  Schnitzels R Us?) pairing the country's food with its wines.  Culturally, Austria is an unknown quantity for us, other than oompah bands, Lederhosen and yodelling.

The mountain that Austrian wines have to climb is a steep one, but they do have some delicious wines to help them in their cause.  Here are some of the highlights of yesterday's annual Wines of Austria tasting in London.

Polz "Therese" Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - £15.75 from
No oak , so the grapes themselves are responsible for all the deeply mineral flavours found here, allied to a lively herbal and lightly floral nose.

Domaene Wachau Riesling Smaragd Singerriedel 2007 -  distributed by Alliance Wine and seemingly hard to find, but list other wines from this estate
"Smaragd", meaning emerald green, denotes a higher level of ripeness than the lighter category of "Federspiel"  (meaning falcon or bird of prey).  The Smaragd in question refers not to the gem, but to an emerald green lizard found in the area - it's amazing what you can learn at these events.  To the wine:  this single vineyard riesling has great purity of aromas and flavours and is beginning to flesh out with time in bottle.  Like most Austrian whites it is dry, with a lovely long, juicy finish.  

Machherndl Gruener Veltliner Smaragd 2008 Kollmitz - £12.50  from
Gruener Veltliner is Austria's unique grape variety and is beginning to become better known.  We're drinking more white than red wine nowadays in the UK, so maybe Gruener could do for Austria what Malbec has done for Argentina?  This wine has lovely ripeness, but remains dry, with a twist of grapefruit zest, even a hint of the bitter pith on the finish.

Feiler-Artinger Blaufraenkisch 2007 Umriss - £15.75 from
It might come as a surprise to find that Austria makes rather a lot of red wine.  While you won't find much syrah or cabernet (yet...) they have a trio of varieties which suit their climate:  Zwigelt, St Laurent and Blaufraenkisch.  Never blockbuster wines, there are nevertheless some serious examples, such as this, which has spent 13 months in (mostly old, large) oak barrels.  It combines black-fruited fleshiness with enough structure to give an elegant mouthful.

And I haven't even mentioned any of the delicious sweet wines yet!  That will have to be a whole new post methinks.


Lar Veale said...

Thanks for the update on Osterreich.

I think one or two producers are really flying the flag, Laurenz V. for example is really getting his Gruners out there.

In Ireland we're the same, the sweet wines from Germany and Alsace are very much undervalued/underappreciated.

From a marketing perspective, I'm quite surprised the emerald green Smaragd hasn't been milked to death.

I think it must have been an omission on your part, but not a mention of Arnie?

Heather Dougherty said...

Being a bit slow...Arnie?