Back in May (I know, I know…), I was a media guest for the 2019 Austrian Wine Summit, during which I was lucky enough to participate in a tour “along the Danube,” visiting and tasting through Austria’s classic wine producing regions.
It was pretty much as awesome as that sentence makes it sound.
Even so, I’ve (obviously over-)hesitated to jump into the coverage of that jaunt, mostly because such media group travels rarely lend themselves to overt story-lines. You visit; you taste; you all scramble to take pictures and find coffee; you eat; you drink; you move on to the next visit.
You also learn; in some cases, quite a lot, even if the stories being told lack the obvious dramatic flair of conflict. And so I think for our humble little coverage of Austria here, the stories will be the regions and wines themselves; many of which you almost certainly won’t have tried, because many lack appropriate representation in the USA (sorry!).
Our first stop: tasting at one of Austria’s oldest wine estates, Freigut Thallern, in Thermenregion. Bordering Vienna and the Wienerwald woodlands, where a mere two thousand or so hectares of vineyards are divided into a whopping forty-two different community villages, Thermenregion’s average plots are understandably small – and the average yields even smaller (in fact, the lowest in all of Austria). You’ll find a thermal fault and plenty of thermal springs here, but interestingly no volcanic soils. Another interesting tidbit: Thermenregion’s white wines (which dominate in the region’s north), tend to see a bit of skin contact during vinification, an historical remnant used to help preserve the wines for travel. Speaking of the wines…
Good ol’ Rotgipfler gets its moniker from the reddish bronze color of the vines shoot tips. This incarnation comes from silt and loam clay soils right on the border of the woodlands, and sees aging in 80% large oak casks and 20% amphorae (hipsters, rejoice!). It’s lovely all the way – apricots, mineral, tons of vibrancy, freshness, spice, and peaches to compliment an elegant, restrained presentation.
Rotgipfler can also show off a richer, silkier side, as it does here; though the freshness is still making an appearance. This one is grown on steeper slopes and limestone soils, and presents more melon fruits. The quality is high, and so is the abv (at 14%); you will feel the burn, but you won’t mind the burn.
If your palate requires a wake-up call, here’s a grape (and a wine) that will provide a long, crisp, clear, and loud one. Lemon peel, grapefruit, white flowers, and a mix of concentration, vibrancy, brightness, and structure. Rise and shine, beeeaaatches! Also, please don’t be put off by the grapes other not-so-lovely-sounding name, Spätrot; it means “late red” and refers to the reddish hue on the sun-exposed portion of the grapes when they reach ripeness.
This one doesn’t quite provide the lengthy finish, but it does provide food-friendliness, and it is almost impossible not to like. Citrus peel kicks things off, followed by minerals and then pineapples, and plenty of them. It’s the kind of all-day sipper that we need more of in our lives.
Oranges, pineapples, flowers, wet slate… sounds like a damned good start for a European white, doesn’t it? There is great interplay here between structure, acidity, and fruitiness that goes beyond just a balancing act, and moves this wine into a more characterful territory. Absolutely lovely.
Harmonious and lithe, with soft edges to soothe your worried mouth, here’s a great example of Zierfandler from clay soils. Pineapple, pear, and pungency dominate, with spice, graphite, blossom, honey, and dried fruit notes adding complexity to the proceedings, all of which hit their stride on a lengthy finish.
Moving to the region’s south, we find earthy, herbal, earnest, and delicate Pinot. generally, as is the case here, these are vibrant, textural, cerebral reds. Despite a lighter body, this one doesn’t lack for either tannins or length (or brightness, thanks to some whole cluster action).
Often, the term “fine-boned” is used to describe a wine when the word “thin” would be more accurate. With this Reserve Pinot, “fine boned” is actually appropriate; there is a transparent purity here that eschews fleshiness for acidic structure and lithe energy. Black cherries, black tea, and dark herbs are the focus, and likely thanks to the spontaneous fermentation used in its development, it finishes with buoyant character.
That “Best of” name is just screaming for a take-down, but instead lives up to the title as one of the better examples of this wily red grape that I tasted in Thermenregion. Earthy, peppery, and spicy, with sour black cherry flavors and fine tannins, this wine is a minor wonder and a delightful, well, delight.