Wojciech Bońkowski
Wine & tea writing

Pichler-Krutzler: high fly

In four vintages Elisabeth Pichler and Erich Krutzler have risen from zero to the status of undisputed stars. Meet Austria’s hottest double name.

Blau & Blau

A reader recently commented on my blog note from two years ago. It actually had me thinking whether I’d not been too harsh towards Austrian red wines. Easy to check…

Refreshing Austria

The annual Austrian wine tasting in Warsaw brings a major surprise: the zesty, vibrant, mineral red wines of Leithaberg. Totally obscure 10 years ago, now awarded with its own DAC classification, and the hottest address in vinous Austria.

Positive energy

Wine PR queen Dorli Muhr has now also turned vintner. Her wines, from the hitherto very uninspiring region of Carnuntum east of Vienna, might well be Austria’s best reds.

Two reds from Austria

Hit and miss
Continuing my Austrian thread I am drinking two top reds tonight. They are made with the leading Austrian varieties – Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt – and represent a key area for red wine production, Middle Burgenland, and South-Eastern Styria which is more renowned for its whites but has quite some potential for reds too.

As I wrote in my earlier post on Austrian wines, reds from this country tend to be a mixed bag. While global warming has made Austria’s climate favourable for growing almost any dark-skinned variety (there are even patches of Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Tannat), the quality is still uneven. At the bottom end, where in the past many wines were unripe and diluted, the rise in quality has been obvious: a 7€ bottle of Zweigelt today usually represents good value for money and offers a healthy portion of fresh berry fruit and vinosity. The medium range is where some of Austria’s most exciting wines are to be found, with a growing understanding of the local terroirs and a moderate use of oak. Here, Blaufränkisch is the king, being a more refined and mineral variety than Zweigelt; many cru bottlings from the Burgenland can be had for 12–15€, and are really exciting in a balanced, crisp, Central European, vaguely Burgundian style. Another grape to look for at this price range is Pinot Noir.

In the past, red Austria’s biggest problem has perhaps been its top shelf. With a lot of ambitious estates coming into the game in the mid-1990s, there was a proliferation of expensive bottlings – usually blends with a strong emphasis on French varieties, often Merlot – that were marred by excessive extraction and overenthusiastic use of oak. With some vintages still on the unripe side of ripe, there was also an unpleasant green character to many wines. Harsh tannins, buttery oak and herby greenness combined to create a very Germanic cocktail that made many wines seem a bit ridiculous when compared to top-scoring red wines from Italy, France or even Spain. Of tonight’s wines, the Weninger Blaufränkisch Reserve 2001 belongs to that category. Made in Middle Burgenland on the border with Hungary (the Weninger family actually owns a separate estate on the Hungarian side, in the town of Sopron: see map on their website), this wine was released in 2004. Mild evolution to colour. Nose is not bad, but definitely has a bretty, barnyardy reductive character masking the fruit. Palate has a pleasant fruity attack (some Blaufränkisch cherry) but gradually tastes less and less exciting as the overoaking and overextraction become evident. Finishes with exaggerated, harsh tannins and no fruit. Highish acidity not adding to the experience. This shows how intellectually limited was that ‘Millennium’ style in Burgenland, and also how ill-suited to Blaufränkisch, which comes out heavy-handed, anonymous and uninteresting. While this TN sounds harsh, I want to say that recent Weninger productions are in a quite different league, with more balance and fruit. I particularly like the Blaufränkisch Hochäcker and the very mineral Blaufränkisch Dürrau (very promising in 2007), as well as the Blaufränkisch-Zweigelt-Merlot blend Veratina. At the end of the day, I’ve had more fun with Winkler-Hermaden Olivin 2002, although it doesn’t enjoy the reputation of Weninger. Made with 100% Zweigelt from brown volcanic soils in South-Eastern Styria and aged in local oak, this wine elevates the tricky Zweigelt grape to a new level. Colour of the 2002 vintage is surely not very dense today. Nose is not very rich and rather lacks definition: some pepper, some meat, some ripe red fruit. Palate is definitely better, medium-bodied, with a good amount of sweet fruit (cherries perhaps), spiced up by some Speck saltiness and the usual Zweigelt creamy, almost gluey texture. Not a lot of structure or acidity with tannins totally integrated now, but also no signs of decline and no tertiary character. A pleasant wine for sure, consistent with my early TN of the 2002 upon release. Here again, the recent vintages (especially 2005) are superior by a large margin.

Austrian trade tasting

My top picks from the annual Austrian trade tasting in Warsaw, including some delicious whites from the lesser-known Wagram region.

Beethovenian wine

What wines did Beethoven enjoy?