As with the Australia Day Tasting the other week, I’d not been to the annual Advantage Austria London tasting for a couple of years, but the 2018 event seemed to suggest a few of the newer, exciting, producers were attending alongside the established classics, making for a potentially more varied and interesting day. And that proved to be the case.
Still, events like these are not without their problems when it comes to writing about them. I counted 95 producers in the catalogue. I marked 38 of them as those I’d have liked to taste, and of course I tasted fewer than that in the four or five hours I had at the Institute of Directors. I’ve distilled it down to a dozen estates here, and at most of these I tasted all the wines on show. There were a number of star wines, but I think my absolute favourites, which you may look out for, were Ebner-Ebenauer Sekt and their “Black Edition” Grüner, Kracher Zweigelt Beerenauslese, Arnold Holzer’s “Orange” and Leth’s Roter Veltliner Fussberg.
Günter & Regina Triebaumer, Rust
There are two Triebaumers in Rust, and I shall cover the other one later on. Günter and Regina, along with the Waldschütz estate below, are represented by Alpine Wines. Although not certified organic, the Triebaumers say they engage in “low-tech” winemaking over more than 20 different cuvées, from over 25 hectares of vines. All of the styles from Rust, Burgenland and the Leithaberg DAC are represented across 45 different parcels, but Blaufränkisch dominates, with 8 hectares.
Although not the most expressive of their wines in terms of bouquet, their 2017 Furmint (a fairly common variety here, just over the border from Hungary’s Sopron region) has a lovely firm hit of herbs and fruit on the palate. But after that white opener we moved on to the Blaufränkisch with the Rosé von der Blaufränkisch Reserve 2016. It’s made from free run juice from the red reserve and it’s fresh and zingy (and hides its 9g/l of residual sugar).
Of the four Blaufränkisch wines I have to admit that I like the entry level Burgenland Klassik 2016 the best because there is no oak to obscure the fruit. It’s still quite big (and 14% abv), but the fruit wins through. There’s a Burgenland Reserve 2015 which blends in some Cabernet Sauvignon. It is softer, more blackcurrant, still attractive, but 14.5% in 2015. There is also a straight 100% Blaufränkisch Reserve which has some elegance and although oaked, it doesn’t dominate. The single vineyard Burgenland Reserve Blaufränkisch Ried Plachen 2013 is, despite its age, big and tannic, though the fruit is mega-concentrated (it has very big legs). It is actually unoaked, but shows all the chalky minerality of its low hillside location. One to age.
Waldschütz Weinhof, Sachsendorf
This winery is based in the Strass Valley in Kamptal, with wines from here, Wagram and Niederösterreich. Again, no certification here but Reinhard Waldschütz (who makes the wine with son Markus) says his goal is to be “ecologically friendly”.
There is an entry level Kamptal Klassik Grüner Veltliner, but the Wagram Reserve “Fels am Wagram” 2016 from the same variety had more depth and elegance. The wine I found most interesting here was the Niederösterreich Klassik Frühroter Veltliner 2016. The nose was spicy and fresh and it tastes mineral and dry with a tiny bit of texture. It both ripens and “redens” (a white fleshed, lightly pink skinned, variety at full ripeness) sooner than your standard Roter Veltliner.
There was also a Kamptal Riesling, a pink Zweigelt and a nice icewine. Wagram Eiswein Grüner Veltliner Ried Hammergraben 2016 (half-bottle) has a very fresh nose, quite exotic. The freshness and acidity balances 223 grams of sugar. At around £20 retail for the half, it represents really good value for the style.
Knoll and Nikolaihof, Wachau
Both of these estates are grandees of the Danube. Knoll, based at Unterloiben (near Dürnstein) is something of a cult producer, at least with regard to some of their smaller production wines. These include some from the terraced hills around Loiben where the rich and ageworthy Smaragd bottlings come from. Emmerich Knoll distills the house style as “detail”, meaning that rather than the ripe and fleshy wines some produce in the region, he aims to express the detail of each specific terroir. The wines are consequently well differentiated and very ageworthy at the top level. Knoll is my own subjective favourite estate in Wachau.
Concentrating on the Rieslings here, and at Nikolaihof, Loibner Federspiel 2016, effectively a village wine for short-term ageing, has massive fruit initially, in a good “federspiel” style. It is light in comparison to the “cru” wines, but exudes class nevertheless.
By way of contrast, Riesling Loibner Ried Loibenberg Smaragd 2016 is quite rich on the nose, but there is depth too (some straw, herb and smokiness). The fruit on the palate is already rounded and very classy, but this is a wine to age.
It is worth noting here that 2016 was, as throughout much of Europe, extremely frost affected. Yields may have been down, quite considerably in some cases, but quality is high and wines like the best of the Wachau should age well. Despite the frosts, 2016 was Austria’s second warmest vintage year on record by harvest time, yet there is no lack of elegance in the best cuvées. Some wines are potentially outstanding from the best producers.
Nikolaihof claims to be Austria’s oldest recorded winery, with 2,000 years of winemaking, according to a document from AD 470. Today the estate is run by Nikolaus Saahs along biodynamic (Demeter Certified) lines. I’ve never visited the estate because of its slightly awkward location on the “wrong” side of the Danube, at Mautern just outside of Krems. One day I shall right that wrong. I have, however, drunk some of the Rieslings from the early and mid-1990s which the estate holds back and releases late, so I know what these wines are capable of. The philosophy here is exemplary and the wines can be truly beautiful.
Nikolaihof produces some delicious Grüners, but for me it is the Rieslings that are the domaine’s standard bearers. Two 2014s were open to try. Riesling Ried Steiner Hund is showing complexity already, maybe more forward than expected, though it is gently made, like all of the Nikolaihof bottlings, which gives it great appeal. Riesling Vom Stein Smaragd is very pure, with rounded fruit surrounding a good, firm, spine. Lime acidity dominates, but there is flesh beneath, and complexity will build as it ages.
That said, the 2014s from Wachau may not be candidates for extended ageing as both 2015 and 2016 might. Vom Stein may go to around 2030 as this is a fine wine from a very fine site, but it will also be drinkable sooner than that.
I became a fan of Vienna’s wines many years ago, and I recall a very fine article in World of Fine Wine by Jon Bonné on Wiener Gemischter Satz which turned me on to the region’s amazing traditional field blends. It was actually the wines of Fritz Wieninger which were my first taste of the style, and despite subsequent visits to Austria’s capital and her vines, I have yet to visit Wieninger. I do hope to put that right on my very next visit though.
The basis of the traditional Wiener Gemischter Satz (now DAC, and which Fritz was instrumental in rejuvinating) is the field blend. There can be many varieties co-planted together, up to fifteen in some cases, always a good insurance policy against variable weather in times past. They are all harvested together (at different levels of ripeness), and are processed together in the winery (co-fermented etc). The wines are usually fresh, exotic, sometimes a little spritzy, always unique and highly expressive of Viennese culture – these, at their simplest, are the wines served in the city’s Heurigen bars serving simple food, which are so much a part of the lighter months here.
Vienna has many vineyards around the city but the two hills of Nussberg (limestone with clay) and Bisamberg (sandy loess) are the icons. Nussberg sits on the Danube’s west bank, above the suburban village of Grinzing. Bisamberg, where the Wieninger winery is situated, lies on the east bank.
I tasted three Gemischter Satz wines, though Wieninger makes a much wider range than these. Nussberg Ried Ulm 2017 is quite creamy, with moderate acidity. Alcohol levels here are higher than you might imagine, 14% in this cuvée. Bisamberg 2017 has more of a linear feel and greater freshness. Both wines show what we have come to call mineral characteristics in terms of mouthfeel. Nussberg Rosengartl 2016 is from a particularly fine, old vine, parcel within the Nussberg site. Like the other two wines, it has a very attractive green tinge and citrus notes, but here the nose has an added floral dimension and greater concentration.
These wines are the “crus” of Vienna. There are many lighter examples of Gemischter Satz, which are none the worse for their attractive, spritzy, gluggable nature. These are often described as “Classic”. The three wines above are examples of the more full-bodied, site-specific, wines which will gain in complexity with a few years in bottle. More contemplative. Both styles are delicious, especially in-situ.
Nussberg Ried Ulm, Bissamberg and Rosengartl from a parcel within Nussberg
We now come to two of my favourite producers, both from Wagram, and then to a couple of new discoveries.
Martin Diwald, Grossriedenthal, Wagram
Martin’s wine has been a regular purchase for me for a few years, and regular readers will have seen pictures of his bottles before. I even came across several in Tokyo last year, so his fame is spreading. Two of the best value wines available are his Grossriedenthaler Löss Grüner Veltliner and Zweigelt. The Grüner is dry, light, fruity and savoury. Simple but really good. His Zweigelt is aged in neutral acacia and is all cherry and red fruits. Lip-smacking summer drinking.
Wagram Reserve Grüner Veltliner “Altweingarten” 2015 has a year on lees, half in old oak and half in burnt clay vessels which came from a gin distillery. The result is a little texture/mouthfeel and more complexity.
Martin is also a fan of Riesling and makes a Wagram “Fuchsentanz” from the variety. The 2016 was fermented in stainless steel. At the moment there is citrus and honey, but it ages well, usually taking on a little hint of petrol, but it is subtle and elegant.
Grüner Veltliner “Zundstoff” 2015 had ten days skin contact and just a tiny bit of sulphur. It is bottled unfined and unfiltered. The colour and texture point to the skin contact, but the fruit is there in abundance too. A sort of nice half way house if you are unsure about “orange” wines.
Last but not least is Diwald’s Österreich Sekt 2015. Pure Grüner Veltliner, which some naughty people say doesn’t make good Sekt. Martin gives it 18 months on lees. It is bottled with just under 4 g/l of residual sugar and comes in at just 12% alcohol. A light wine, great fun, but also with a savoury side to balance the fruit, making it very good with the kind of light dishes you might pop a petnat for. I think I drank four or five last summer, which is quite a few bottles of just one wine for me.
Lisanna of Red Squirrel with Arnold Holzer
Eschenhof Holzer, Grossriedenthal, Wagram
I won’t deceive you, Arnold Holzer is one of my favourite Austrian producers. This may seem odd when he’s not all that well known. But he’s a really nice guy, an intuitive winemaker, who makes wines which all seem to attain a harmony and balance which belies his relative youth and inexperience.
Like his old school friend and neighbour, Martin Diwald, Arnold makes two cracking entry level wines, very cheap for what they are. They are wines I regularly take to non-wine-geeky friends to show what you can get for just over a tenner outside of the supermarket, as well as showing what Austria can do.
I tasted the 2016 Wagram Klassik Grüner Veltliner, although I understand that the 2017 is already on sale. 12% alcohol, fruity Grüner with fresh but smooth fruit. Wagram is known as loess central. Centuries of sandy silt blown from the Alps coat the region’s gentle hills and the terroir produces wines which always have a certain softness.
There was a single vineyard Grüner to try, Ried Altweingarten 2016. This is more peppery with a more finely delineated backbone, but then the fruit really smacks you after the attack and on the finish.
Arnold specialises in Roter Veltliner. As you will know, this variety is not related to the Grüner, and it is a white variety, not red (the bunches do turn pink at harvest time, though). Roter Veltliner Ried Eisenhut 2016 has a richer, spicier, feel than the previous wine. A tiny bit of r/s (3.2 g/l) adds some of that richness, but the frosts in 2016 concentrated the fruit sugars and Arnold says the 2017 is drier. But it’s a delicious wine.
Roter Veltliner seems to lend itself to skin contact, and “The Orange” is one of my all time favourite orange wines. This is a 2015. It is a wine which is liable to sell out pretty swiftly, but it isn’t for the faint hearted. The nose is enormous. Citrus peel and spices like clove and cardamom dominate, and perhaps a smoky essence, or perhaps sandalwood. Three weeks on skins then 18 months in small French oak. Despite all that texture it is also fine and elegant. Perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m sure some of you will think it’s just as brilliant as I do.
A mention for the Zweigelt Ried Eisenhut 2015 before I leave Holzer. Vibrant bright red from a cool 14 day ferment on skins. Few tannins make this a great summer wine to drink cool. Simple…in the best possible sense. A great advertisement for his region and indeed country.
Weingut Leth, Fels am Wagram
So, I mentioned loess soils in Wagram. Leth is to be found right in the heart of the loess terraces and their wines, new to me, display all of the classic character attributed to this special terroir. Even in the generic Wagram Grüner Klassik 2017 you get more peppery spice than in some regions. It is in the single vineyard wines, Ried Schafflerberg 2017 and Ried Brunnthal 2016 where this concentration is dialed up a notch. The former is almost like a federspiel style, for drinking within five years. There is freshness in the fruit but a little depth as well. The Brunnthal cru, designated 1ÖTW (erste lage), is made from vines over fifty years of age which undergo a further strict selection. Aged in large old oak for a year, it shows fine definition between fruit and terroir.
Two Roter Veltliners were both good. The “Klassik” from 2017 was a tasty introduction, but Roter Veltliner Ried Fussberg 2016 is a real step up. Ironically the organisers had made an error in the catalogue. Leth has produced a famous Roter Veltliner from the Scheiben vineyard for many years, and that was what they “corrected” it to, but the “Fussberg” is a new cuvée from a hill where the vines reach 350 metres (quite high for Wagram). It gets 12 hours on skins which gives some structure and texture but not colour. Small bunches result in real concentration of fruit (vines are 50 years old or more), and acidity is overlain with a velvety, plush, mouth feel. Altogether impressive, with real potential to age. I loved it.
I did also like (quite a lot) Wagram Reserve Riesling Ried Brunnthal 1ÖTW 2016 but it was rather overshadowed by the Roter from Fussberg.
Franz Leth manning the table
Ebner-Ebenauer, Poysdorf, Weinviertel
Sometimes you kind of know an estate’s wines but not all of them, and it’s the new ones that astonish. I’ve had wines from Marion Ebner and Manfred Ebenauer before, and I mentioned very briefly the Grüner Veltliner I had from this estate at Noble Rot only a couple of weeks ago. So it was really good to meet Marion and let her take me through the range.
Weinwiertel is not one of Austria’s most famous regions. It lies up near the Czech border, on the route between Vienna and Prague, and interestingly not far from Czech Moravia, whose wines I tasted at Plateau last week. The estate was formed in 2007 when well known negociant Marion Ebner (who began working with Fritz Wieninger at the unbelievable age of sixteen) married Manfred Ebenauer, whose family own 15 hectares around Poysdorf.
The wines show startling quality, and the rise of this estate has been swift. But it seems I’m just a little slow to realise quite how good they are. Other more famous critics have beaten me to it. A friend in Austria suggested we drive up there next time I visit. Whilst all the wines tasted on Monday were white, the suggestion by an older writer on Austrian wines that the reds are “elegant [but] they lack some stuffing” actually made me want to visit even more. My kind of reds, you see, less of the old school heft.
We start with the entry level Grüner Veltliner Klassik 2016 which is Weinviertel DAC. This is a delicious opener which hints at the house style…which is indeed elegance. Then comes Niederösterreich Klassik Grüner Veltliner Ried Hermanschachern 2016, from a single vineyard, showing greater concentration, and a long salty core.
There then come four Reserve Grüners. Ried Bürsting 2016 is made from vines over 50 years old now. With 24 hours on skins it has lovely precise fruit, acidity and structure. Ried Sauberg 2016 comes from a vineyard not owned by the domaine but by the Catholic Church. Vines are also over 50 years of age, on a clay and loess mix. The nose seems deeper and the palate strikes with bigger but softer fruit. Alte Reben 2016 has a very mellow bouquet. The vines here are even older, 60 years plus (they survived the devastating frosts of 1985). The soils are different, with more gravel and stones so the roots burrow deeper. The wine has great old vine depth and nascent complexity, but like the Sauberg, softness too.
Last of the Grüners is “Black Edition” 2015. This has very different winemaking, an experiment Marion said. After two days on skins it was pressed and the cloudy juice fermented in 500 litre oak casks. After seven months it underwent a further ten months of lees stirring. No sulphur was added. There’s a green tinge to the wine’s yellow hue, and a lovely nose of deep citrus, ginger and herbs. There’s also the same sandalwood note as we saw on Arnold Holzer’s “Orange”, although this isn’t an orange wine. The palate already has some exotic notes (mango and orchard fruits). Quite stunning, but in a subtle way. The experiment certainly worked.
“Black Edition” Grüner
Finally out from under the table came the masterpiece which had so wowed one or two people on the Sekt table in another room. Blanc de Blancs Zero Dosage 2010 is a bottle-fermented Chardonnay Sekt which sees seven years on lees and yet tastes so majestically fresh and alive. I’m told that the UK allocation is about two cases, and that the retail price (it goes into restaurants) would be around £75. My wine of the day, it was just so good.
Marion Ebner and her rather wonderful Sekt
To sum up Ebner-Ebenauer, elegant wines, really stark vineyard delineation and definition, and an obvious total aversion to anything second best. There is drive and dedication, yet the wines are given as long as they need, without rush.
Bernhard Ott, Feuersbrunn, Wagram
I am not all that familiar with Ott, despite his fame, the fact that friends rate him, and his very attractive labels (always looking like a woodblock print, since 2016 they have really been reproduced from wood blocks) which are hard not to notice. He’s a Grüner specialist of some repute, making quite singular organic wines. One reason he’s able to do this is the siting of his vines on particularly deep loess soils. “Grüner heart loess” is probably graffitied all over the Wagram region. But he’s also sussed how to make a range where every wine works, whichever end of the price range it represents. All the wines below are from this variety.
Niederösterreich “Am Berg” 2016 is a blend from various sites, fresh and pure. Wagram Klassik “Fass 4” 2016 is often cited as the mainstay of the range and is said to perfectly combine easy drinkability with elegance, which it does. This is a good wine to try to get to know Bernhard Ott. “Der Ott” 2016 (also Wagram) comes from young vines from the three single vineyard sites. It concentrates on the spicy aspect of the variety and has more body than Fass 4.
All three single vineyards are classified 1ÖTW and are all from the 2016 vintage. Ried Feuersbrunner Spiegel has a high tone comprising freshness, clean acids and a mineral-like finish. Ried Engabrunner Stein at 13% has an extra 0.5% alcohol. This site is in Kamptal. It has a more herbal bouquet, and on the palate is rounder and slightly bigger (I noticed the slight step up in alcohol). It has a touch less residual sugar and a touch less acidity than the previous wine, but does seem a touch dryer on the finish. Ried Feuersbrunner Rosenberg takes us back to Wagram. There’s real depth here, a bigger wine, mouthfilling, more spice, and with definite dry texture on the finish. The apple-fresh acidity combines with peach flavours and a salinity which I’m sure would become even more impressive over a bottle, especially one with some age to it.
Kracher, Illmitz, Neusiedlersee/Burgenland
Vineyards on the eastern side of the lake are on flat land, close to the reed beds, and the shallow water creates a perfect microclimate for these concentrated botrytis wines from the master of Austrian stickies. Gerhard is now in charge at Weinlaubenhof Kracher. There are still dozens of cuvées with different levels of sweetness, most within the two categorisations “Zwischen den Seen” and “Nouvelle Vague”. The former wines are traditional, made in a more reductive style and aged in neutral acacia, whilst the latter follow a more “international” path, aged in new oak.
The key with these wines isn’t to obsess too much over what you are drinking and to enjoy the wines for their diversity in style as well as quality…for the quality will always be high. Especially if you can blag a magnum or two.
There are dry wines here too. I’ve drunk a lot of Kracher, and own a number of bottles, but I’d never tried the dry wines. Gerhard’s Welschriesling was listed but not on the table, but I did taste a very nice Burgenland Grauburgunder 2016 before hitting the sweet stuff.
This journey begins with Auslese 2016 and Beerenauslese 2015. The former blends Welschriesling and Chardonnay to give a wine with 84g/l r/s and 11% abv, whilst the latter has 133.5g/l of sugars. Next, a Trockenbeerenauslese 2015 is labelled “Nouvelle Vague” and given the indicator “6” and the epithet “Grande Cuvée”. Every vintage the “most harmonious wine” is thus named. The number represents fruit concentration, so this is very concentrated. You can get the same bottling with different numbers sometimes, very confusing, so that’s why we just go with the flow. This wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Welschriesling and Traminer.
For example, you may see in the photo below that Muskat Ottonel TBA 2001 is made in the “Zwischen den Seen” style, and is a number 2, ie lighter with less fruit concentration (and just 9.5% abv). Still, it has 211 grams per litre of sugar left in it.
The last wine of the Tasting here was one I’d not tried before, hence it being one of my wines of the day, and my first sweet red from this producer. Zweigelt Beerenauslese 2016 is just gorgeous, all concentrated but light at the same time. There is little I can say other than that I love these wines. Whenever I taste them I’m transported to a place I know (a little) and love, and you can’t get better than that.
Gerhard and his Zweigelt BA
Ernst Triebaumer, Rust, Burgenland
In a sense we finish where we began, both in Rust and with a Triebaumer. Whereas Günter and Regina are represented in the UK by Alpine Wines, Ernst currently has no UK distribution, though I think that may be about to change. I’ve passed the premises of Ernst Triebaumer in Rust, but didn’t visit, so I was happy to be pointed in his direction. I should rather say in Herbert Triebaumer’s direction, because he and Gerhard have taken over from their father, Ernst, now.
The motto here is “work hard in the vines to do less in the cellar”. Their brochure is titled “Holistic Growing”. Green is firmly the colour here. They remind me of André Durrmann who I visited in Alsace last October. They use sheep in the vineyard and trees play a role too, in the concept of “terra preta”, a circular economy where wood is turned into charcoal which is put back into the soil as a form of “climate farming” – a complex process which I sadly don’t have time to bore you with here, but the philosophies chez Triebaumer are well worth exploring further. Oh, and like the Durrmanns, they also have an electric car…and an electric forklift truck. They walk the talk.
Winemaking is as simple as possible. The family have 20 hectares, mostly on the southeast facing slopes behind Rust, with some vines down near the lake. Local varieties and some of the international ones form the core of their viticulture. I tasted nice whites from Grüner and Traminer, the latter Traminer “Urwerk” Reserve 2014 fermented on skins for 14 days giving a wine of darkish colour yet very fresh (no sulphur added).
Herbert was showing three Blaufränkisch. The village wine, named Rusterberg (2016) is full of dark cherry with black pepper, fruit forward and with bite. Ried Gmärk 2016 Reserve comes from a vineyard quite close to the lake with a predominance of limestone. The fruit is rounded and concentrated. Ried Oberer Wald 2015 is off limestone at around 200 metres altitude, with a high gravel content on top, but also high active lime, great for Blaufränkisch which likes limestone as much as Grüner likes loess. This was the finest, certainly the most serious, of the Blaufränkisch tasted here, but all are good in their own way.
There were two sweet wines on show. First is a generic Burgenland Beerenauslese Cuvée 2013 composed from Welschriesling, Chardonnay and Grüner Veltliner. It’s delicious and fairly concentrated, but not over complex. Then, finally, the speciality of Rust, Ruster Ausbruch. The Ausbruch style is supposed to lie between a BA and a TBA in terms of sugar levels. Traditionally, botrytised grapes are fermented with some fresher grapes that have less rot. The style originated perhaps in the Sixteenth Century and has a similar fame to Hungary’s Tokay within the region, if not in the wider world.
This 1999 version blends Welschriesling with Chardonnay and Weissburgunder (I’ve seen it written that sometimes this last variety is replaced with Sauvignon Blanc). The colour is quite dark but the nose is complex: toffee, smoke, as well as rich stone fruit (I’ve read “apricot jam” in one of the wine guides, which fits well) and oranges. It all finishes with a lick of sweet lemon on the palate, like a lemon sweet, along with more toffee as it tails off like the last note on Sergeant Pepper’s. Acidity is still pretty concentrated, as is everything about it, including its length. These wines may be niche, but I love them. Their price is the only reason I own just a couple of Ausbruchs.
And that is it. Hopefully not the end of Austria for me in 2018. There’s another big Austrian Tasting I hope to make it to in March, very different to this one. I’m also angling hard for a trip out there within the next twelve months. Wish me luck.