If anyone wondered why I have been quiet, I’ve been enjoying a week in a very cold Vienna. I shall bring back a few tales over the next two or three weeks, but my first article is about a producer I’ve known for a while and always thought deserved a wider appreciation. I wanted to lose no time in giving them a well deserved shout.
Alexander and Maria Koppitsch have given their wines a bit of a reboot, with new labels and a clearer message about their natural wine philosophy. I was happily in Vienna for their popup party at O’Boufés, Konstantin Filippou’s natural wine bar and bistro over near Schwedenplatz, which gave me an opportunity to sample a few of the new wines, as well as to say hello to their makers, and to rather a lot of young people from a host of different countries…O’Boufés was rammed full well before 9pm.
Before I talk about the wines themselves, I think I’ll give you a fairly lengthy introduction to the Koppitsch story. The family itself has been making wine for 500 years, and during that time they can claim to have been natural winemakers at Neusiedl am See, at the northern edge of the lake. In the past, synthetic chemical treatments were either unavailable or too expensive for most ordinary farmers, but when Alexander and Maria took over for their first vintage in 2011 they made a conscious choice to follow the chemical free, natural wine path.
The Koppitsch family farms 6.2 hectares biodynamically. At Koppitsch it is ALL about the soil. This is because they realised that whichever grape varieties were planted on their different sites, there was always a distinct similarity between the wines made from them. The evidence shows that the soils assert themselves, somehow.
As a small aside about the Koppitsch philosophy, I could, I suppose, give you a long list of everything they do to make their business more sustainable. It would be a very long list, but one example will suffice because it’s something I’ve not come across before. All of the boxes they use to ship their wine in are from recycled cardboard AND have no printing on the box. This may make it slightly more difficult for recipients to identify the boxes at a distance, but it clearly shows the depth of thought they are applying to every aspect of wine production.
There are five main family vineyard sites around Neusiedl. Seefeld is sandy, Neuberg on limestone and schist. Prädium and Hutweide have very rubbly topsoil, whilst Schafbühl is on clay.
From these sites the Koppitsch range is divided into five strands. First are the Basic wines, what they used to call Authentisch. These are given Hungarian names to reflect the region’s heritage and history. These wines are the most gluggable. Perspektive is the name for what are opaque wines with all their angles visible. They are wines you can easily dissect, I think. Their origin is off limestone soils, which always give a very distinctive, and often special, result in this region. Freshness with a “mineral” mouthfeel.
Touch is the name they give to the skin-contact wines. These are very much orange wines in the true sense, receiving around a couple of weeks on skins to give wines of texture. The results see a year or a little more in used barrique on gross lees. For these wines a small dose of sulphur is added at bottling. There’s no hard and fast rule for sulphur, though. Alex tastes the wine to determine whether he thinks it requires a small dose or not before bottling.
Aeon (used here to mean eternity) is focused on old family vine holdings. As some go back to the sixteenth century, Alex feels a deep and emotional connection with these sites. Currently, one red wine is produced, using Blaufränkisch and Syrah from Neuberg, and Zweigelt from Pradium, which are aged three years in used wood.
Then there’s Pretty Nuts (sic). This is the label for the bubbles, two wines (reduced from four), labelled #1 and #2. These are bottle-fermented petnats which are just amazing fun to swig. There are four different labels, reflecting the seasons, for each wine, but it’s the same wine. The fizz is all disgorged by hand by Alex.
Pretty Nat #1 was in fact the first wine we tried at O’Boufés, a 2018 sample. This pale pink Pinot Noir/St-Laurent blend is just so fresh, perfect for a hot summer on the beach, but frankly for any time. The fruit is light and fragrant and the wine is zippy with its nice acids licking the tongue.
Maria told me I was tasting the wines in the wrong order, really, but the bar was so full it was more or less a case of going in deaf and blind. I’ll just list them as we drank them.
Touch 2017 is, you’ll recall, a skin contact wine (14 days), and is a Gemischter Satz based on Welschriesling from Neuberg, the remainder of the blend from Schafbühl. The Neuberg site, limestone and schist, gives real mineral intensity and a brightness, which works perfectly for the orange style. Not for the nervous, but this may be my current favourite still wine from the family.
As an example of the entry level at Koppitsch we tried Juh 2018. Juh is “sheep” in Hungarian, the wine coming from the Schafbühl (sheep hill) site, off alluvial clay, to the northeast of the lake, where the Wagram Plateau rolls down towards Burgenland, mixed with a little limestone from the Leithaberg range (which sits to the west of Neusiedlersee). It’s another Gemischter Satz blend, from quite old vines. It has both a little body in the mouth, with a bright touch, presumably from the limestone which will always add a mineral tweak to any wine it appears in here.
Rosza (2018) is the one wine Alex makes from a mix of sites. This is a simple wine, uncomplicated, but the essence of a fresh and fruity rosé with a lick of acidity on the finish. Four grapes from four vineyards make up this blend: Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt, St-Laurent and Syrah. Alex planted Syrah thinking initially of making a modern, international red, yet it clearly wouldn’t fit into his overall philosophy, but it adds something to the blends it appears in.
Perspektive Rot 2016 blends Blaufränkisch and St-Laurent from the Leithaberg hills. Two years in used barrique gives it a degree of complexity already. The bouquet of camphor wood and spice is exquisite, the palate is ripe cherry with a classic Blaufränkisch peppery bite on the finish, which for me makes Blau such a refreshing red at all but the most obscene levels of alcohol. The tannins are ripe and this has genuine zip to it, yet it will certainly age if you wish. There are two additional white wines in the Perspektive range.
You only drank five glasses, the observant will complain. In my defence, we had been to lunch at an amazing restaurant that day (review to follow, of course), and the whole of this trip was one big festival of food and drink. In any case, the wines I’ve listed give quite a nice overview of what Alex and Maria are making.
Now we get to the tricky bit…trying some for yourself. The Koppitsch wines are exported to many countries. Alex Boily, who imports their wines into Québec, was DJ-ing. They have a new found popularity in the past months and there’s an exciting buzz around them. This is probably why you could hardly move in O’Boufés (I think Maria was genuinely shocked and moved by the massive turnout), but they are harder to find in the UK. Their importer here is Jascots, who are, as they say on their web site, suppliers to restaurants, hotels and caterers. What’s more, they only list four Koppitsch wines.
This means you are relatively unlikely to come across them here. If they are missing from the retail environment that’s a shame. Their eye-catching new labels are colourful and attention grabbing, but in terms of wine style they should clearly be sitting on a shelf next to any of the other hip natural wine names from the region. A retail presence would go a long way to increase their profile in the UK.
Alex and Maria are far from flash and pushy, rather they are genuine, modest, people who are not going to be seeking the limelight. They remind me of Alexis and Emilie at Domaine des Bodines in Arbois…young, humble, quietly going about improving their wines every year. I just want to be able to go into a shop and buy half-a-dozen of these lovely wines from time to time, folks!
The wonderful O’Boufés Bistro and Natural Wine Bar is at Dominikanerbastei 17, 1010 Wein, just three minutes from the Schwedenplatz Metro Station. Certainly it should be in your top three or four places to hit of an evening if you are in the capital.
Weingut Alexander Koppitsch is at Eisenstädterstraße 81, 7100 Neusiedl am See. Contact via email@example.com for visits. You can get a train from Vienna to Neusiedl, and (as you will know if you read my summer articles following my August 2018 trip to Vienna) you can hire bicycles right by the station there. The Koppitsch winery is not too far from the station, but the lake itself and the surrounding bird sanctuary is great for cyclists.
Above left, Emily Campo and The Winestache; above right, Alex Boily from Montreal twisting the knobs.