For the introduction to this tasting, please see Part 1.
Austria shares borders with Northern Italy and Slovenia – both parts of the world with a long tradition of using extended skin maceration in white wine. So it’s no surprise that Austrian winemakers have taken to this style enthusiastically, with some now well into a decade or more of “orange” vintages.
Rennersistas – Welschriesling 2015
Susanne and Steffi Renner are the younger generation at this organically certified family winery in Gols. This is their first vintage, and what an achievement. It’s defiantly cloudy, bursting with life and carried by nervy acidity, ginger and citrus aromas. There’s an intensity and concentration that I associate with skin contact (this saw 7 days, with half the grapes destemmed). It has to said, Welschriesling can be pretty boring when it’s vinified conventionally as a fresh, young white wine.
A very accessible “orange”, and extremely clean for a no added SO2 wine. The “Sistas” travelled the world and studied with Tom Shobrook, Matassa and Craig Hawkins, before settling down to make their own wine. It seems to have worked out, plus they have created one of the most lovable brands I think I’ve yet seen to grace a label. ****
Strohmeier – Sonne No. 4 (2013)
Heading back to Steiermark, Franz Strohmeier is one of the five “Schmecke das Leben” winemakers who have built a name for “natural” and “orange” wines from this corner of the world. Sonne is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, macerated for 28 days on its skins. There’s an electricity to this wine – it is so alive. The aromas are spicy with a hint of jasmine and citrus leading to ripe, pure Sauvignon fruit. As you might expect, it’s pretty structured, but the tannins are extremely fine and elegant. Overall, a complex, thrilling and nicely mature bottle that just keeps on delivering more.
This was one of the wines of the night for several participants, including me. *****
Burgenland – Red wines
Pittnauer – Sankt Laurent Rosenberg 2012
Gerhard Pittnauer is for me one of the greatest winemakers when it comes to Austria’s indigenous,, velvety Sankt Laurent. His “Alte Reben” in particular can be divine. It’s tragic that this vineyard doesn’t exist anymore. Here is one of his single vineyard SLs, and I have to say it was ever so slightly disappointing, given my expectations.
Yes, the texture is typically velvety, and the fruit is pure and herbaceous – but there’s a roasted, smoky edge that seems rather rough and lacking in finesse. 2012 was a hot vintage, and somehow the wine feels heavy. That said, it still rates ***(*)
Renner – Sankt Laurent Alter Weingarten 2009
This wine is made by the parents of the Rennersistas (see above), on the same organically certified estate. Their Alter Weingarten (old vines) 2009 gives a clear demonstration of how “In vogue” new oak was, only 5-10 years ago. This wine again has Sankt Laurent’s luxuriant soft texture, but it’s completly overawed by the oak, with notes of coconut and vanilla clouding the fruit. It has matured well and kept its freshness, nonetheless. ***
The final five red wines of the evening were all made from Blaufränkisch. For me, this is a formidable grape in the right hands, and should be considered as one of the world’s top red varietals. The fruit has an unmistakable dark cherry character, and the structure can be quite serious. Much like good left-bank Cabernet Sauvignon, Blaufränkisch can achieve the magical combination of elegance, freshness and gravitas, all in one bottle. These wines age beautifully when well made, with the two older vintages of this evening (4 and 6 years old) showing amazingly well.
Wagentristl – Blaufränkisch Reisbühl 2011 (Not in Brook)
From a 12 hectare estate with 5 generations of winemaking experience. Another seriously over-oaked wine though, without a great deal to recommend it. There are attractive black cherry aromas on the nose, but on the palate the fruit is totally in the shade. A shame. **
Kollwentz – Blaufränkisch Leithagebirge 2010
Andy Kollwentz, based near Eisenstadt in Großhöflein, is one of the acknowledged masters of Blaufränkisch. His Leithaberg (he doesn’t use the DAC label for some reason) from a cold, rainy year is absolutely divine at 6 years old. The fruit is taut, with tingling acidity and absolutely typical of both varietal and the chalky, schisty Leithaberg hills. Kollwentz has used a fair bit of oak, but it’s beautifully integrated. This is sleek, elegant and dangerously drinkable. ****(*)
Uwe Schiefer – Blaufränkisch Eisenberg 2012
Heading to Burgenland’s most Southerly DAC, we meet another master of this grape variety. Schiefer comes from a sommelier background, and decided to start making wine in 1990. His mineral, fruit-driven style, focusing on the grape and not on oak or any other manipulation inspired a whole generation. Eisenberg has higher elevations than anywhere else in Burgenland, and iron and slate rich soils. Here we get incredible concentration, with racy acidity and lifted black cherry fruit, plus a wonderfully salty, wet-stone kick that keeps the concentration perfectly in balance. There’s no detectable oak influence, but plenty of grip and backbone. *****
Moritz – “Urknall” Blaufränkisch Hockäcker 2014 (Not in Brook)
Alfred Moritz (not to be confused with the more famous Moric) has a mere 3 hectares of vineyards in Mittelburgenland, farmed organically. Mittelburgenland is known for heavier, more extracted red wines, often with a lot of oak. They are rarely my favourites, even though the region claimed one of the first DACs for Blaufränkisch. However, Moritz focuses again on fruit, not on oak. His wines showed sensationally this evening.
This is his classic Blaufränkisch, from one of the area’s best vineyards. It has a pure, peppery nose, leading to a fruit-driven palate that reminds me of sucking a cherry stone. This is pure elegance, intense and forward but utterly typical, fruit driven and thrilling. *****
Moritz – Blaufränkisch Nix 2015 (Not in Brook)
Alfred was keen that we taste one of his 2015s. Although very young, he feels that they are showing exceptionally well. We did not disagree. This is a one-off (perhaps!), a tiny cuvee of 300 bottles made with no added sulphur, indeed no additions of any kind. The purity of fruit and concentration were similar to Urknall, but there is far more serious structure in this wine – it has the grip to age for decades I think. There’s a marvellous sappy, nutty note to the tannins on the finish. One would never guess this was a “no sulphur” wine. There’s nothing funky here, no odd aromas, no dirty finish. Sensational. *****
Burgenland – Neusiedlersee – Sweet wines
Climatic conditions around the banks of the large Neusiedlersee lake are such that botrytis wines can be reliably produced almost every year – in stark contrast to some other famous sweet wine regions such as Sauternes or the Mosel.
Tremmel – Furmint Auslese 2009 (Not in Brook)
Ageing effortlessly, this wine from Rust-based estate Tremmel makes the point that Neusiedlersee is just a few Kms away from Hungary. Furmint used to be quite common in the area, although it is declining. That’s shame, as tasting this wine, the characteristic fresh twang of the variety is rather fun. As one would expect, there’s no botrytis in this wine. ****
Feiler Artinger – Gelber Muskateller Ruster Ausbruch 2013
From one of the great producers of sweet wines in this region, and also in the “Ausbruch” style that is peculiar to Austria. Theoretically this ought to be midway in between Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese, but the style seems to have shifted a bit over the years. Once made more like a Tokaj Aszu, with a bit of oxidative ageing, it is now usually much closer to a TBA than anything else.
There’s a subtle but charming hit of Muscat aromatics on the nose here, then the palate is dense, concentrated and luscious. The acidity appears to be perilously low, and many felt it could do with a bit more. Not Feiler-Artinger‘s best effort, but pretty damn tasty nonetheless. ****
Wines for this tasting were sourced:
a) from our personal collection, mostly private purchases but in some cases gifted (11 wines)
b) from producers who kindly sent media samples specially for the tasting (8 wines)
c) specially purchased online where we could not easily source otherwise (2 wines)
Many thanks to The Wine Spot for hosting the tasting!