The Austrian Wine Marketing Board (AWMB) and the Austrian Trade Commission joined hands to host the first official Austrian wine tasting in the country on January 22nd 2010, here in Delhi. Held in the lawns of the trade commissioner’s residence, the wines were uncorked and the evening was soon thronging with a mix of people: officials, professionals, and wine aficionados of the city. With a collection of 15 wines showcasing the diversity and passion of the country’s top producers, it was hard to give it a miss. Opened by the Trade Commissioner Mr. Hans Joerg Hoertnagl, and the Deputy Trade Commissioner Mr. Markus Haas, the evening started with a small presentation on Austria and its wines, given by Mr. Christian Dworan, marketing manager in charge of India from the Austrian Wine Marketing Board. He briefly skimmed and shared information about the country’s history, architecture, culture, food, and wines. Then he handed over stage to Sommelier Magandeep SINGH who then led us all through a comfortably fast-paced guided tasting of the wines in his own inimitable style.
Austria is a lesser known wine country for Indians. We know little about its wines, an equal majority may even struggle to find it on the map. Good then that Christian told us that it was far from that other similar-sounding country with Kangaroos!
It was only about three decades ago that the country underwent a vinous revolution and made its presence felt on the global wine map. Controversies and accusations later, ‘Weinland Osterreich’ recreated itself rapidly and very soon had amassed an international following and appeal. Blessed by an array of scenic sights, and small villages to backpack your way through, the country is as vinous as its neighbours: France, Germany and Italy – but with laws a lot stricter.
The vineyards today are small and numerous: people prefer to bottle their own produce and cooperatives are not really in fashion here. Although this micro-level supply-chain management ensures the best quality possible for the wines, it also means that critical production costs tend to be higher per unit, thereby resulting in a slightly higher entry-price point. In plain English, almost every house has its own winery and a bottling plant, which means that the machines are now working to bottle a mere 20,000 bottles (50,000 for ‘big’ houses) as opposed to millions of bottles elsewhere. The wines are great and absolute value-for-money but for those who have never tried them, seem a tad over-priced.
Moving onto grapes, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Blaufrankisch, Zweigelt, and Sankt Laurent, Welschriesling, among several others, make up the local autochthon gamut although the regular international grape varieties are also to be found. The most interesting one of the lot is the Grüner Veltliner. GV for short, or Gru-Vee (or groovy!!) for cool, or however else you may choose to call it, is a white grape variety that travelled around a bit before it called Austria its home. It accounts for one-third of the total plantings of the country. This late-ripener is responsible for wines that are very elegant, structured, mineral-laden, perfumed, and showcase substance. Generally they are applauded in their medium-bodied ‘trocken’ style where they are peppery, spicy, and aromatic. With some bottle aging, they throw crunchy characteristics that make them favourable for food pairing. Often it also provides base wine for Austrian Sekt (sparkling wine) and some sweet nectar. Even as the demands for reds are increasing in the country, the GV remains king of this jungle.
So what is so alluring about Austrian (Not Australian) wines? Definitely, the wines share some style-and-substance ideology points with their German, and even French counterparts. The wine terminology and hierarchy is similar to the Germans. Ranging from Kabinett to Trocken, moving to Beerenauslese (BA), Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA), and onto the richer Eiswein. The wines are controlled not just in making but also in marketing. Bottle labels clearly indicate what is contained within. Finally, the banderol (a red circle with a white stripe, much like a tilted ‘No Stopping’ sign) on the top of the cap (Austrian wines do a lot of screw-caps or glass closures) or the capsule, is the ultimate assurance of quality. It means that you will not have a bad wine. Uncannily, we have found this to be true every time so far!
And last but not the least, are their super-fine, super-luscious, sweet wines. Ranging from Spätlese to Eiswein, the ‘Austrian liquid gold’ sees a variety of sweet wines made using different processes. All are different in approach: from Late Harvest to Botrytised (that grey fungus which extracts water from the grapes thus making the resulting wine even more sugar-rich) to Eiswein, (Canadian Icewine, where grapes are picked frozen). And then there are also the Italian Amarone/Recioto-style wines called Strohwein, or Schilfwein, All in all, enough variety to suit every palate.
Here is a list of some of the wines we tasted:
2008 WALTER SKOFF SAUVIGNON BLANC CLASSIQUE – WHITE WINE: This wine is made from fruits coming from 11 different estates, vinified individually and then blended. A clean water pale wine with a fruity nose indicating some young green notes. On the palate, it is a young wine, made intentionally so, laden with vegetative notes of capsicum and asparagus to dominate, with fruity sweetness and high acidity on the finish. Nice summer drink or a perfect aperitif.
2008 HIEDLER GRUNER VELTLINER – WHITE WINE: One of the most embraced houses producing GV out of Kamptal. Light wine with hint lime colour. Hint sweet, well structured, green wine with dominating notes of bell pepper, nice blend of fruitiness and vegetative characteristics, minerally and citrus, entailing good body. Classy wine.
2008 BRUNDLMAYER GRUNER VELTLINER – WHITE WINE: Light young wine with a darker lime shade. Nose showcases fresh pear finishing with green tinge. A crusty wine with layers of aromas and flavours. Rock melon with hint orange blossom and grassy. Some residual sugar is well balanced with high acidity. Soft aftertaste and finish. A wonderful produce that will put forward some serious pairing challenges.
2008 STADT KREMS RESERVE GRILLENPARZ RIESLING – WHITE WINE: One of the two Rieslings on tasting for the evening. Light bodied, sweet nosed, fruity wine. Very perfumed and dry. Can be drunk on its own or well appreciated with food. A fun beach wine.
2007 JULIANA WIEDER BLAUFRANKISCH – RED WINE: A native Austrian red grape variety. A dark ruby coloured, medium bodied wine. Fruity nose with some spices and soft coconut-husk oak. Light bodied wine. Very controlled and disciplined wine with nothing going over the top, yet elegant.
2008 RAIMER WESS BEERENAUSLESE RIESLING – SWEET WINE: Gold coloured wine with floral notes. Fruity wine with rich mouthfeel with some dried sweet fruits, figs, prunes, oily, rubbery notes. Grassy and spicy finish with moderate acidity. Great wine to end the meal with. Simply, love this wine or love this wine!!
Other wines tasted were:
2008 MALAT GRUNER VELTLINER – WHITE WINE
2008 LOIMER GRUNER VELTLINER – WHITE WINE
2008 R & A PFAFFL GRUNER VELTLINER – WHITE WINE
2008 GOBELSBURG GRUNER VELTLINER – WHITE WINE
2008 LETH GRUNER VELTLINER – WHITE WINE
2008 STIFT GOTTWEIG RIESLING – WHITE WINE
2008 LENZ MOSER SERVUS ROT CUVEE – BLAUFRANKISCH + ZWEIGELT – RED WINE
2007 BAUER-POLTL RESERVE BLAUFRANKISCH – RED WINE