My introduction to Austrian wine, and the reason I became such a big fan, was the wines of the Danube (Kamptal, Kremstal and above all, Wachau). Producers like Präger, Hirtzberger and Knoll formed a part of my cellar long before I first cycled the Danube path. But they, along with the sweet wines of the late Alois Kracher, also acted as an introduction to what I think is one of the most exciting and experimental wine countries in the world right now, and that’s saying something. Whilst the epithet “The New” is attached to Australia, South Africa and California with some frequency in the wine press, there’s at least as much going on in Austria, and it’s only just peeking over the radar for much of the traditional wine media.
There’s no doubt that some of London’s dynamic new wine merchants have got the Austria message, not least Dynamic themselves who import the exciting wines of Gut Oggau, who I ceaselessly bang on about. And of course there’s Austrian specialist Newcomer. I’m on an Austrian roll right now: I was at Newcomer yesterday, picking up a few favourites, whilst today I took delivery of a box of Heidi Schröck, another favourite, from Alpine Wines.
Relatively new to me is Meinklang, who are becoming another of my cherished experimental Austrians, though “Austro-Hungarians” would be more accurate. I’ll explain later. I’ve not tasted the whole range yet, not by a long way, and I look forward to tasting what they bring along to the RAW Wine Fair next month, but I’m already impressed with the wines. It’s getting through some of the mystery surrounding the domaine that I’m also looking forward to. So in anticipation of meeting them at RAW, here’s a little introduction.
The first Meinklang offering to come my way was a glass of “Konkret”, proffered at Winemakers Club (under Holborn Viaduct on Farringdon Street). They import the wines (along with Vintage Roots). I thought I knew who Meinklang were – the winery of the Michlits family. Their biodynamic, Demeter certified, domaine is at Pamhagen, on the eastern side of Neusiedler See, right on the border with Hungary. As well as wine, they grow fruit and cereals, and farm cattle – they’re quite well known for their beef in Austria, so I’m told. They make a range of wines here, and I drank their pretty Grüner Veltliner just last week at Brighton’s famous vegetarian/vegan restaurant, Terre-a-Terre.
But the Michlits family have another side, one that involves that bit of mystery – a touch of cross-border winemaking. They came by some vines in the Hungarian region of Somló, a small old wine region in Northwestern Hungary, slightly closer to Lake Balaton than to Pamhagen. Nagy-Somló, is the wider name for the dispersed vineyards here, but Somló itself is a volcanic hill which rises from the plain. Photos of it remind me a little of Baden’s similarly extinct Kaiserstuhl. This was once all part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of the First World War, and the Michlits family owned vines here before the Iron Curtain came down at the end of the Second. Today’s generation, Werner and Angela, had a very strong desire to make wine from Somló grapes again. The hill itself is planted with a range of grape varieties: Olasz Rizling, Furmint, Hárslevelú, and a grape very special to this particular region, Juhfark.
Like the Grüner I drank last week, the glorious “Konkret Weiss” I mentioned above is made from their Austrian vineyards. Or is it? Several Austrian wine shops appear to think it’s from Burgenland, but unlike some other wines in the range, its label doesn’t say so. It’s a remarkable wine, almost the colour of cherry wood, very much in the mould of a skin contact wine. The concrete egg has a certain porosity, and concrete of all types is coming back into fashion. Many producers say that their wines age a little more slowly in concrete, and the egg shape apparently allows for a freer movement of the liquids and solids during fermentation. You may have seen the photos of the concrete eggs at the Michelini Brothers’ SuperUco winery in Dave Stenton’s Argentina article, published here last week. The grape variety in Konkret Weiss is Traminer. I’ve also read about a red version, made from Sankt-Laurent. I’ve yet to try it, but it should be on taste at RAW (see below).
From the Somló vineyards I’ve so far managed to find the Hárslevelú 2014 and the Juhfark 2012, or should I say the H14 and J12. The wines are thus labelled presumably because the grapes are harvested in Hungary and then trucked back to Pamhagen to be vinified. They have no Austrian designation, such as Landwein, the back label merely stating that they are “biowein gewonnen in Österreich”. The idea is no different to London Cru shipping grapes back to their urban winery. In theory it’s also not all that different to Friedrich Becker making some of his gorgeous Pfalz reds from old monastic vineyards over the border in Alsace, although he’s allowed to label them as Pfalz, perhaps due to proximity to the border (his Saint-Paul single vineyard Spätburgunder is a Pfalz Grosse Gewächse, so arguably Alsace’s first Pinot Noir Grand Cru, of sorts). The same is possible on the Slovenian-Italian border, where Brda and Collio meet, of course.
The Juhfark is pretty unique, not only to this region, but in flavour too. Repeated acquaintance might easily enable you to spot it in a blind tasting. It has a lemon-citrus acidity, and then a roundness which I have seen described as “honeyed”, even though the wine is dry. For me, there’s a sort of smokiness, allied to that texture so often found with wines grown on volcanic soils (think red Marcillac, though it isn’t quite the level of iron filings you get with that wine – perhaps there’s a hint of Etna there but it’s hard to draw comparisons). Whoever wrote the current Hungarian section in the latest Mitchell Beazley World Atlas of Wine states that the grape “needs aeration and age to shed its harshness”. This bottle, at three-and-a-half years has a little age, but splashing it into a carafe is not a bad idea.
There’s also a very tasty pét-nat in the range, called, appropriately, Foam. Meinklang make a large range of wines from their Austrian holdings of around 50 hectares, as well as fruit juices and some interesting looking beer. At RAW they will be showing the following wines on Stand 188:
H13, Foam 2014, Graupert Pinot Gris 2014, Burgenland Red 2014, Graupert Zweigelt 2013, Blaufränkisch 2013, Konkret Röt 2012 and Pinot Noir 2013.
According to the above mentioned Wine Atlas, other producers of note in the Somló region are Kreinbacher, and Hollóvár.
So to tell the truth, I am not a lot further along the road of discovery for Meinklang than most of you out there. But I’m looking forward to the journey. I’ll be heading straight for their stand at RAW, along with those other Burgenland producers, Gut Oggau, Christian Tschida and Claus Preisinger. I’ll be sure to let you know how I get on.