Wojciech Bońkowski
Wine & tea writing

Livio Felluga Sossò 2000

Orange wine works great with goose; world-class Merlot from Italy.

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.

Stadlmann Mandel-Höh 2005

Obscure or not, Zierfandler is one of Austria’s most historical and distinctive grapes. The very best is made by the Stadlmann family.

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.

Knoll Loibenberg Grüner Veltliner 2002

Knoll Ried Loibenberg Grüner Veltliner Smaragd 2002: the heights of traditional winemaking in Wachau. Drinking superbly now – still lots of power left. And far better balance than many more recent superalcoholic Loibenberg Veltliners.

In the Wachau: why genes matter

Spent a day in the Wachau region in Austria with its spectacular scenery of terraced vineyards in the narrow valley of the Danube, and its beautiful Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners. We visited some of the region’s giants: Franz Hirtzberger with his powerful, late-picked, botrytis-affected wines from Spitz; Rudi Pichler with his meticulous, modern, puristic approach and transparent wines (the 2009 Kirchweg Riesling has fantastic punch and dimension, and is one of my wines of the vintage); Knoll with his very classic, long-maturing, alluringly spicy wines from the warmer Loiben vineyards. 

 Franz Hirtzberger Jr. in the spectacular Singerriedel vineyard.
But it was a 2-hour tasting with Toni Bodenstein at the Prager winery that proved the most memorable. Though defining himself as Homo rusticus, Bodenstein has a fantastically thorough approach and one of the deepest knowledge of the vine and terroir that I’ve come across. If you think the geological difference between gneiss, paragneiss and amphibolite have nothing to do with the wine in your glass, taste Prager’s two Rieslings from the Achleiten and Klaus vineyards: basically coming from adjacent parcels on the same hill but on different rock formations, the wines are like night and day, the Klaus an acidic, skinny, inquisitive, stern creature and the Achleiten its solar, open-minded, high-spirited opposite. 

Toni Bodenstein: Wachaus deepest mind?

The 2009 Rieslings here are impressive but the Grüner Veltliners are simply awesome (especially in the context of other 2009s, often excessively soft and rich). Bodenstein made the wise decision of acquiring many old vineyards when he took up the property: now these 1940s and 1950s plantings are delivering wines of great depth and complexity. It has also encouraged Bodenstein to reappreciate and saveguard the old clones of Grüner Veltliner that can be found in those old vineyards. The Wachstum Bodenstein, from a small parcel in the Achleiten that was replanted in 2003 with selected old cuttings from a variety of sourced in the Wachau and other regions in Austria, is a glowing testimony to the complexity and dimension that is lost when just a few ‘approved’ clones are reproduced by vine nurseries and replanted on a large scale by wineries. And yet this wine is towered by the 2009 Stockkultur Grüner Veltliner: painstakingly farmed at a record 16,000 vines/hectare on high narrow terraces are forgotten old clones going back to 1937, giving amazing complexity with a vibrant vegetal sappiness and spicy reminiscences of the Orient. 

Rudi Pichler (not) posing for a photo.

No relation to the wine in your glass? On the very contrary; the genetic diversity of our grape varieties is a crucial issue for the future of viticulture and winemaking. 

Accomodation during my stay in the Wachau is paid for by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board. All wines were provided by the producers.

Austrian marvels

I’m in Austria for the VieVinum event, the major tasting opportunity for Austrian wines. VieVinum has a more relaxed feel than similar trade fairs and combined with the near-perfect organisation (if only air conditioning was improved…) this makes for a memorable vinous experience.
The VieVinum takes place in the spectacular interiors of the imperial Hofburg palace.

My tastings this year focus on the 2009 vintage which is looking very promising for the white wines from Riesling and Austria’s signature grape, Grüner Veltliner. A warm, dry vintage, it has actually favoured Riesling a bit more, with some Veltliners crossing the thin line between rich and excessively soft. On the positive side, many of the lighter less expensive Veltliners will provide spectacularly good early drinking.

But in general I have a preference for the Rieslings which are both more aromatic and fresher in taste, with a good balance even at high ripeness. There are some lovely wines from the usual suspects such as Willi Bründlmayer in the Kamptal region (his Heiligenstein Lyra is a masterpiece of harmony and completeness), or Prager and Franz Hirtzberger in Wachau. But I’ve also tracked down some lesser-known estates with great bargains. Franz-Joseph Gritsch from the town of Spitz in the Wachau has a lovely range of Veltliners and Rieslings, and overdelivers also in the Federspiel categories (which will cost you less than 10€). Andreas Lehensteiner from Weissenkirchen has an attractively clean, firm style, and at 14€ his Hinterkirchen Riesling Smaragd is one of the region’s bargains. High up in a remote side valley in Viessling, Josef Gritsch of the Graben Gritsch estate is making some impressively puristic mineral wines including a range of lovely Gelber Muskatellers (it’s rare to see so much minerality in a Muscat), and at 14€ his Setzberg Riesling Smaragd 2009 might well be the best bargain of the fair. 

Josef Gritsch proudly presenting his Riesling.

There were some very good Veltliners, too, especially at the Erste Lage presentation: 2009 is the first vintage for this new category, roughly equivalent to the French grand cru and German
Grosses Gewächs (see here for my post on this). Introduced in the regions of Kamptal, Kremstal, Traisental and Wagram by the private vintners’ association Traditionsweingüter Österreich, Erste Lage is a winning idea: the concept is clear (the best vineyard sites are classified and distinguished) and the quality level of the wines is high.  

I’ve tasted through 49 samples and my favourite Veltliners included Salomon’s Lindberg, Petra Unger’s Oberfeld Alte Reben, and Ludwig Ehn’s controversial and bold Titan. But one wine that outshone all others was the Renner Veltliner from Schoss Gobelsburg: after many rich, soft, slightly obese 2009s this is a marvel of crystalline minerality and freshness.
Ever wondered what becomes of opened bottles at wine fairs? …Vinegar!

I taste at the VieVinum fair on the invitation of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, which pays for my flights, accommodation and wine tasting programme.

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.

Happy New Year

Dear Readers, best wishes for the New Year!
I’m not very fond of self-referential blogging but want to say on this festive occasion how rewarding it has been to run this blog and receive comments and encouragement. As I’ve topped 10,000 visits to this modest diary in exactly one year of sharing my wine and tea drinking with you, it’s proved a great experience overall. 
No big New Year’s Eve celebrations chez Bońkowski this year: we’ve been babysitting and so Champagne has been limited to a few glasses of the Pierre Moncuit Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Cuvée Pierre Moncuit-Delos – a crisp, driven, even slightly greenish Chardonnay that proved just a bit too young (though with over two years of disgorging), and a babysitter’s best friend – Moscato d’Asti. Paolo Saracco’s 2009 is a gorgeous glassful of fresh grapes, citrus and spring flowers, with balanced sweetness and great acidity, too. With 5% alcohol it was harmless to down the bottle between two, and that’s a great asset on New Year’s Eve if you ask me.
It’s my personal habit to open the best sweet wine I have (or one of the best) on New Year. Dessert wines lend themselves well to the relaxed late-morning pace I adopt on this day. This year, it was the Alois Kracher TBA No. 3 Scheurebe 1996. The late Alois Kracher was one of the greatest champions of botrytis wine in the world. Whatever the vintage, grape variety, and sweetness level he always managed to make a wine taste balanced and complete. This bottle is no different. It pours a deep amber and opens with an exhilarating liquid peach gelée nose, followed by lovely notes of toast, poppy seed and minerality. It’s really positively Tokaj-like both in the bouquet and the very good acidity that enlivens this 150+-grams-sugar wine. The palate is expansive and mildly mature, with that unmistakeable autumnal, fallen-leafy, honeyed character of great botrytis wine, and a finish that is growingly dry. It’s an auspicious wine for 2010. Happy New Year!
Source of wines: Moncuit Champagne – sample from the producer, Saracco Moscato, Kracher TBA – own purchases.