I might have mentioned previously that when we visited Moravia we flew into Vienna. The route worked best to minimise overall travel, and to avoid Stansted. It also afforded an opportunity to spend a couple of nights in Rust. This town, on the western shore of the Neusiedlersee in Burgenland, is a great base for a holiday, whether wine-obsessed or not, and I’d not been there since 2015 and was well overdue a return visit.
Rust has many attractions, and many good wine makers, but I was also long overdue a visit to one of my favourite producers who happen to be just a few minutes down the road in the village of Oggau. Stephanie and Eduard Tscheppe-Eselböck purchased vines and winery in 2007, an estate which had been abandoned for a year. This was a good start for a couple who wanted to pursue a zero-tolerance of synthetic inputs in their viticulture and winemaking. This is a producer whose number one aim, I would guess, is to ensure healthy soils and biodiversity on the land they farm.
Many people come into wine with ideas about what they want, and they change whole landscapes and ecosystems in order to achieve that, whether their intentions are good or not. Stephanie and Eduard had a different aim. They had inherited a vineyard and they wanted to discover its personality and soul for themselves, not to mould it into something it wasn’t. That is both the heart and the beauty of the Gut Oggau project. Today they are by no means standing alone in such aims, but back in 2007 such a way of thinking was, if not less widespread, certainly less publicised.
One needs to remember when drinking these wines, that although Stephanie and Eduard seem the happiest couple, always smiling, always having fun, they are deadly serious in wanting to have a positive impact, and a lasting one, on their land…and not just the soil. The regime is biodynamic and regenerative, from biodynamic tisanes to horses for ploughing etc. A holistic approach is both rigorously and intuitively followed.
We were invited to dine at Gut Oggau’s Inn and then to spend some time with Eduard touring the winery and visiting the horses. We had a spectacular meal of small plates, created from ingredients grown and tended by the team. Everyone pitches in for service, and on what seemed like an incredibly busy Sunday evening everyone was very attentive. With the dishes we got through ten wines (and could still stand afterwards) which I shall briefly describe. I shall presume that readers are aware of the “family” created for their wines, made up of three generations. The Maskerade wines below are bottled in litres, and wear a mask. They are vineyards under biodynamic conversion, which have not yet revealed their full personalities.
I should just apologise for how long this article has taken to appear, caused as I’ve mentioned before by moving house/country and then catching Covid, a lengthy bout as it has turned out. The UK importer for Gut Oggau is Dynamic Vines. They are also usually available (including takeaway) at Antidote Wine Bar off Carnaby Street.
Maskerade Weiss 2021 – This is by no means a simple wine. Although it isn’t the desire of Gut Oggau to detail the grape varieties in what are often field blend cuvées, sometimes there are clues. This wine strikes me (I could be wrong and it’s not important to become a detective to check this) that there’s a good dollop of Grüner Veltliner here. It is certainly macerated on skins to give the wine a good amber hue. It starts out full of lifted aromatics, initially floral but complexity builds to something savoury and mineral.
Maskerade Rosé 2020 – This is a year older and we are straight into a wine given a textured mineral core from gravelly soils. Yet riding to the top we have red berry fruits with a soft but fresh mouthfeel, strawberry and raspberry, beguiling us. I always believe Gut Oggau makes some of the very best pinkish wines in Burgenland, and I am sure it’s the fruit purity that hooks me every time.
Maskerade Rot 2020 – This wine is fascinating. The grapes come from a little higher up in the hills which encircle the lake on the western and northern sides. The soils here are quite complex, a mix of limestone and slate with scattered quartz stones. The wine has a stunning freshness and vivacity for a red wine. I’m pretty sure I have a bottle of this, and if that’s the case, I’m seriously happy.
Winifred 2021 – Winifred is sourced off sand and clay soils from vines aged around 35 years old. Maceration in 2021 was only for a few hours in old wood. As with the whole range, there is no fining nor filtration. The grapes are usually a blend of Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt, making a luminous pink Rosé wine. In a large Burgundy bowl of a glass this unfurls under your nose. It’s always a wine that fascinates me because it’s subtle, full of intrigue and it changes so much in the glass. Always one of my favourites from the range.
Atanasius 2021 – Atanasius is brother to Theodora and made from the same grape varieties as Winifred, from vines of the same age. Its origin is on flat terroir to the north of Oggau, off mostly limestone. 2021 was an exciting vintage because at the end of a warm summer it saw temperatures drop to around 12-13 degrees at the end of the growing cycle. This preserved quite amazing aromatics in this red wine, but also some structure as well. The combination of violets and dark cherry is quite lovely, creating a sense of aromatic complexity. A smooth-fruited wine with big legs, later on you get a touch of plum in the fruit. The finish, however, reminded me of an amazing cherry clafoutis, although the wine is dry. Quite stunning!
Cecilia 2021 – Cecilia is a new addition to the family, and this was my first taste of her. This is a true gemischter satz, a wine made from co-planted grapes, both red and white varieties, picked together and fermented together. The site from where she comes is about one-and-a-half hectares brought back to life by Eduard and Stephanie. Two-thirds of the fruit is direct press and one third is crushed. Fermentation is in wooden vats and maturation is in large 1,500-litre barrels. The vineyard is now fully biodynamic, hence release “fully realised”.
The colour is a kind of salmon and peach blush. There was a touch of reduction which blew off to leave fruit scents such as clementine and grapefruit. The palate has a vibrant freshness which I completely adored, a unique wine which frankly I just want to get hold of (though it seems sold out as far as I can see).
Edmund 2019 – These wines all like some bottle age, especially as one moves up the generations. Edmund is one of the most unconventional of the stable, as you might guess from the label, as ever designed by the artist Jung von Matt. Edmund comes from a half-hectare site, and it is envisaged that there won’t be enough fruit in every vintage to make Edmund. You can imagine that he goes wandering off occasionally, like a nomad, perhaps.
The vineyard was planted in the 1970s and had been untilled, perfect for Gut Oggau’s gentle exploitation. They used a lot of biodynamic preps to help the soil, and the vines in hot, dry, weather. The blend is a mix of white varieties, again co-planted, fermented in an open vat and matured in a single 225-litre Stockinger barrel (or two if there’s enough). The fruit has a sweetness to it (although the wine is dry) in this first vintage. It is mercurial, with grapey aromatics but also umami and white melon. A gorgeous wine and a major addition to the portfolio, even though it may be pretty hard to get hold of. I’m guessing the label alone will increase its popularity.
Josephine 2018 – I love this wine. It’s a fairly regular purchase for me, although the rise in prices in recent years means it’s a single bottle per vintage if I can get it. I’m never fully sure what grapes this wine comprises of, but many will tell you it’s a varietal Rösler (also spelt Roesler). Rösler was developed in the early 1970s in Austria by crossing Zweigelt x (Seyve-Villard 18-402 x Blaufränkisch). Its main quoted attributes are withstanding low temperatures and resistance to mildew. However, if Josephine is anything to go by, it has great potential for flavour too.
From a sunny south-facing slope, the aromas are as deep as the dark, inky purple, colour. What you don’t expect, aside from the tannic structure advocating more bottle age, is the crispness and overall lightness. From a hot vintage, the grapes were picked early and it has retained freshness. It is just 12% abv. A wine of elegance and finesse, which is principally why I love it.
Mechtild 2018 – This is the white wine from the “grandparents” generation. Mechtild is the Gut Oggau family matriarch. The grapes come from the oldest Grüner Veltliner they farm, and this is a world class wine by anyone’s reckoning. It commands a price which is now beyond the means of your average wine writer, but hey, I was privileged to taste half a glass. The wine challenges preconceptions but in a good way. Sixty-year-old vines on limestone give up grapes then fermented on stems and skins. The colour is sandy, the aromatics herbal with a faint floral top note. The palate is frankly complex and complicated. The wine is serious…and seriously good.
Bertholdi 2020 – the vintage saw a cool spring followed by a hot summer, temperatures dropping for harvest. This old vine Blaufränkisch complements Mechtild perfectly. Remember, this is a very young wine requiring cellaring for it to reach full potential. That said, the bouquet has gorgeous cherry fruit, oddly reminding me of fine Chianti Classico at first. It’s tannic, but the fruit is so good it didn’t seem like a crime to drink a glass. It’s purple colour is deceptive as once more, we are only pushing 12.5% abv. Barrel-aged, after being pressed in the beautiful 200-year-old vertical press, it is then aged two years in used 500-litre wood. Like Mechtild, no sulphur is added. The tannins are slightly soft even now, and the palate is very savoury. The terroir is stamped all over Bertholdi and the 2020 has a very bright future.
That was the tasting, or should I rather say drinking because these were all good half glasses of wine and we’d luckily booked a taxi (not an easy task when the opera festival is on at Morbisch, just down the lake). I won’t lie…on an emotional level this is one of the best wine evenings I’ve experienced. Don’t therefore expect my notes to be constrained by objectivity, but I think in any case the reputation of these wines and their creators does not require my mere words to enhance them. I can afford to drink them so rarely that this dinner was a treat. In any case, the photos are more evocative of the place than my words.