Most people make their wine choices based on familiarity. Cabernet from California, Riesling from Ontario or Chardonnay from France. It’s not so common to hear anyone order a glass of Blaufränkisch from Austria. But, why not?
There are a ridiculous amount of grape varietals being grown across the globe in places that even I am still learning to grasp and understand. Austria isn’t new to wine production, but the availability of the wine in our market here in Ontario has been extremely limited in the past.
The good news? Not only are we beginning to see more Austrian wine in our market, but the region has also begun to explore red wine production on top of their traditional expressions of Grüner Veltliner, Müller Thurgau and Riesling, adding to the complexity of selections for your next wine endeavor.
While some of the varietals are indigenous such as the above mentioned Blaufränkisch or Zweigelt, Austria is also producing representations of better-known varietals such as Pinot Noir if you’d prefer to start somewhere familiar.
During the “Austria’s New Red Wine Culture” tutored tasting, we were given the opportunity to taste and explore red expressions. Across the board, most wines seemed to have a distinct note of terroir that I marked by a dusted red fruit character. This “dusty” and earthy note seemed to follow through to every wine, suggesting a sense of place.
The first wine, 2012 Angerer Kurt Zweigelt, was floral, deep purple in colour and firm on the palate. 2012 was a superb red wine vintage in Austria as it was quite warm. Surprisingly, some of the fruit on the palate of this wine seemed under ripe, but the finish lingered on quite nicely. Zweigelt, a grape of Austrian origin, ripens about mid-season and is beginning to gain a better reputation when produced with a terroir focus.
The second and third wines were both produced from the St. Laurent grape varietal. Also an indigenous grape, St.Laurent is known for its relatively low yields and unpredictability. This being said, from the right producer, this grape can make extremely interesting red wines.
The 2012 Johanneshof Reinisch St. Laurent delivered a medium bodied wine full of earth, baking spice and refined tannins.
The 2012 Stift Klosterneuburg Reserve St. Laurent was one of my favourites of the day. This wine showcased incredible balance with a nose exuding smoke, tobacco, leather and black cherry. On the palate, cassis, leather, redcurrant and vanilla. The wood was evident, but well-integrated with the elegant tannins and bright fruit.
The Pinot Noir flight was fascinating to explore.
The first wine, 2013 Zantho Reserve Pinot Noir, exuded the dusty note of Austrian terroir along with a barnyard funk and dried cherry note. Tobacco on the palate with a lingering finish.
The second wine, 2013 Wieninger Grand Reserve Pinot Noir was my personal favourite of the flight. A reserved nose of sour cherry, earth and tobacco. Dusted fruit on the palate with a more pronounced note of red cherry in balance with the firm tannins that lingered on.
The last wine of the Pinot flight was the 2011 Bründlmayer Reserve Pinot Noir. While this wine was super delicious, it did not have the typicity of Pinot Noir that you might have expected. This wine was extremely expressive on the nose with fresh cherry, a medicinal note and a touch of minerality (stony/steely note) that followed through to the palate. The deep colour of this wine suggested extreme extraction from this thin-skinned grape, but the palate was surprisingly elegant and delicate. The tannin was chewy and I might even considering decanting this Pinot.
This flight of Blaufränkisch was extremely enlightening. This is an indigenous black grape with a planting of 3225 ha in Austria. Late ripening and slowly becoming more and more recognized as a grape producing great quality red wines in Austria.
Each wine in this flight was deep ruby with incredible complexity and interesting notes of both fruit, earth and mouth-feel.
The 2012 Heinrich Gernot und Heike Alter Berg Blaufränkisch had a nose of cassis, green leaf, black cherry and violet flowers. A note of vanilla and sweet spice on the palate was incredibly intriguing with the full body, firm tannins and elegant acidity providing balance to this wine. On the finish, a sweet note of bramble.
Although we may never see these wines in our market, we tasted two blends that really showcased the level of quality now coming out of Austria. These wines were built with intention. Balance, intrigue and evident ageability in these stand-up wines.
During the walk-around tasting, I was excited to explore more traditional white wine expressions as well. The production of Grüner Veltliner across the several producers, was certainly not uniform, offering an array of quality levels and styles. Some were fresh, simply and easy, while others showcased a sense of place with broader mouth-feel and palate complexity.
As a general rule, the wines of Austria tended to have pretty good value. Perhaps this is because of the lower recognition in this market, but this is certainly something to embrace while we can. Quality wines at an affordable price point, for me, can trump paying a higher fee just for a recognized name. You’ll never know unless you try something new, right?
The next time you’re selecting a wine for the evening, whether at a restaurant or your local liquor store, consider thinking outside the box. Consider exploring Austria… you might just discover a new wine you really enjoy.