After a week of eating and drinking in Vienna, we made a journey I had been waiting to make since a planned visit to the Neusiedler See in 2013 had to be cancelled. And before talking about the wine I must talk about the region itself, because we went for wine and came back having had a great three days doing other things as well.
Rust sits about a kilometre back from the lake itself, and is connected to it by what they call the Seestrasse, a long straight road fringed with the lake’s characteristic reed beds. The town has a population of around 2,000 and at first it seems a sleepy place, albeit very attractive. Most people would agree that with it’s old buildings there’s nowhere to rival it in the region. It becomes even more beautiful from around March to late summer when the rooftops host the town’s stork population (seventeen breeding pairs this year, but many more to be seen in the surrounding wetlands).
The town really comes alive around the Rathaus Platz, where most of the restaurants, bars, Heurigen and Buschenschanks are to be found. There’s a limit to how much you can eat and drink though, even if that limit is somewhat stretched by the food on offer, for any carnivore at least (veg may be a little thin on the ground). This is where a bit of cycling helps remove a few calories, so we hired bikes and set off to Morbisch, the next village. From there you can get a half hour boat over the lake to Illmitz (bikes carried), somewhere which needs no introduction to any wine lover. But there’s also National Park over here. Cycling on metalled paths through flat terrain, it’s so quiet and there are thousands of birds, water fowl and other wildlife. There are hides dotted around for a better view but the birds don’t seem to notice the cyclists and the only traffic off the road is the occasional vineyard van (the terrain is dotted with small parcels of vines).
Back in Morbisch we just had to cycle a few kilometres up the road and we were in Hungary. There’s an Iron Curtain trail and the place where the border sits is quiet and green. Hard to think that on my first trips to Austria (albeit not to this part of the country) there was a closed border with armed guards here. It was one of the first locations where the East broke out, and I remember at a London Wine Fair in the early 1990s being given a piece of barbed wire by Willi Opitz (he was handing them out) from the iron curtain. Now there are winemakers of both nationalities who make wines on both sides of the border in Burgenland and Sopron.
If cycling from Morbisch to Rust try to look out for the Mangalitsa pigs. One of Europe’s oldest breeds, they were down to just a few pairs in the early 1990s but a breeding programme seems to have saved them. Their main characteristic is a woolly coat. They look remarkably like a cross between a pig and a sheep.
The other thing to do in Rust is to hire a motorboat from down at the Seebad. You can potter along the reedy shore admiring the small summer huts which ring the lake, and you have total freedom to head out into the lake itself. We originally thought an hour would be enough but it was such fun we extended!
The main reason for going to Rust was an appointment with Heidi Schroeck. It proved to be one of the best tasting visits of the year. Heidi is a super nice person and she was generous with both her wines and her time.
(the old bottle is a Sauvignon Blanc which has a long history here)
We tasted with Heidi:
Gelber-Muskateller 2013 – many UK lovers of Austrian wine never drink this variety. They are missing out. Heidi’s has a sweet smell of summer, but the palate is dry and it makes a prefect refreshing hot weather aperitif.
Weissburgunder 2013 – is also very refreshing, but with a nice creamy edge which makes it a versatile food match.
Grauburgunder 2012 – is slightly more weighty, and had 22 months in 300 litre barrels. Again, you get a characteristic (with this domaine) freshness and none of the lack of acidity which can spoil Pinot Gris in some regions. Nor has Heidi drowned it in new oak, as some producers do by way of compensation, the older oak here being more or less unintrusive.
Sauvignon Blanc 2010 – This just proves how well this grape can age (which Sancerre lovers already know). Here, the acidity is diminished but what we get instead is a really gentle complexity.
Spätlese 2013 – moving onto the sweeter wines, Welschriesling, Weissburgunder and a tiny bit of Furmint, an excellent match for seafood or for spicy food, along with the style’s natural cheese matches. Heidi says it partners fennel magically well too.
Beerenauslese 2014 – this was a sample, the wine is due to be bottled in June. Weissburgunder and Welschriesling, a little more complex aromatically but fresh as anything. You’d be happy to drink this now. Heidi’s new labels show a graphic image of each wine’s food partners, and one perhaps less expected match is grilled fowl, something I quite fancy trying.
Ruster Ausbruch 2002 – This was only bottled in March this year after 50 months in barrel. Welschriesling/Weissburgunder at 11.5% alc. It really will age wonderfully, even though it’s already 13 years old nearly, and at just under €50 it’s worth doing that, but boy did I want to sip back the whole bottle. Wonderful freshness again, but more than a hint of the complexity to come. There’s already nuts and orange-citrus, a great velvety mouthfeel and length to rival any fine dessert wine. Again, apart from the usual matches, Heidi recommends trying it with “spicy roasted goose”.
Other producers of note worth visiting are (the famous) Ernst Triebaumer and Feiler-Artinger, and (less famous) Peter Schandl and Regina/Günter Triebaumer. Just 4km away you will find Gut Oggau, for those with a particular interest in very “natural” wines (31 Hauptstrasse, Oggau).
Peter Schandl also runs a nice Buschenschank serving small plates, whilst some of the best food in Rust is served at Gasthaus Stickler at the top of the Rathausplatz. This is owned by Tina and Michael Mooslechner, who run the Bürgerhaus boutique hotel (where we stayed). Its suites are set in a haven of calm and quiet and the breakfasts are among the best we’ve had.
Heidi Schroeck’s wines are imported by Alpine Wines in the UK, also by Savage Selections and, for the USA, by Terry Theise. Her domaine is at Rathausplatz 8, and all the other producers mentioned are close by.