August 2011

Red, White and Sticky All Over

By: Ben Weinberg

[This is an extended version of the story that appears in our August 2011 print edition. —Ed.]

The Austrians have both a zest for life and a sense of organization. There are copious amounts of beer on just about every street corner, and the trains and buses run on time. This being Central Europe, the food is terrific, and as befits one of the former capital states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, culture abounds. I mean, what's not to like?

Shallow Lake Neusiedl greatly influences the style and character of the wines in Burgenland.

As for the wine, there are more than 300 grape varieties currently planted in Austria, which is quite a small country with less than 10 million inhabitants. While Niederösterreich in the northeast contains the most famous Austrian wine regions such as Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal, the southeast Austrian districts of Carnuntum and, especially, Burgenland (home to 5,000 hectares of vines and an enormous lake called the Neusiedler See) are equally fascinating areas with many top-notch bottles readily available worldwide.

The Neusiedler See (or Lake Neusiedl) is the central feature of the Burgenland's terroir. The lake is 75 percent contained within Austria (the remainder is Hungarian) and is around 13 miles long. It covers more than 120 square miles but is nowhere more than six feet deep! Such bathtub geography promotes warm, wet winds that significantly influence the vineyards that dot the surrounding countryside.

 While wine lovers have long enjoyed the dessert wines that emanate from this small pocket of southeastern Austria, few appreciate how much terrific dry white and red is also being produced here. Varied soils and topography mean that terroir-specific sub-appellations are springing up everywhere, from the relatively new Leithaberg wines in the Donnerskirchen area that has only achieved separate recognition in the last few years, to more established Mittel (middle) and Sud (south) Burgenland. Sudburgenland also contains the new Eisenberg DAC, as well as some of the most innovative winemaking in all of Europe.  
Vines in Sudburgenland.

Burgenland whites are produced from many grape varieties including Chardonnay (part of Austria's vinous heritage for many hundreds of years), Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Grüner Veltliner. The main reds are native Blaufränkisch (by far the majority of red plantings) as well as St. Laurent (a relative of Pinot Noir) and Zweigelt, a crossing of Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent developed in 1922 by Professor Fritz Zweigelt.

Although botrytis comes to the Burgenland almost every year, 2008's cold, wet conditions created an especially tough harvest for dry wines. However, those who made difficult choices and strenuous selections produced terrific juice. Vintage 2009 was quite good, as was 2010 although quantities are much less because of excessive spring shatter.

The dessert wines from Burgenland are world-famous.

Of course, dessert still defines this part of the wine world and the Burgenland's sublime stickies come in many styles and flavors. Bottles run the gamut from only slightly sugary Spätlese-style to medium-sweet Beerenauslese (BA, a notch below Trockenbeerenauslese, or TBA, in sugar content), from punch-packing Ruster Ausbruch (produced only in and around the lakeside town of Rust) to full-bore, sultry TBA, which at its best rivals botrytized juice from anywhere in the world.  
While it's easy to enjoy much of what is available at the lower end of the sweetness spectrum, the party really begins at the BA level. Here gold-hued beauties strut their stuff in decadent combination with foie gras, caramel and even fresh fruit. In fact, the only foil that doesn't work particularly well with botrytized wine is chocolate, ironically another Austrian specialty.

Trockenbeerenauslese is the focus at perhaps the most famous winery in all of Austria, Weingut Kracher. While the tale of Alois Kracher's untimely death a few years back has been well-detailed, the continuing story is of how his widow Michaela and son Gerhard have continued to honor his name by maintaining and even growing the domain that he made so integral to Austrian wine.

Austria might not be the first country that springs to mind when considering wine choices, particularly in reference to red varietals. But there is no doubt that this area's dedicated grape growers and vintners have the requisite passion and dedication to craft amazingly elegant yet full-bodied bottles that will please just about any palate. Whether reds, whites or stickies spin your pin, there's an Austrian wine for you.

  One sure way to pick a great Burgenland bottle is to choose a Pannobile wine, produced from native grapes by a consortium of nine artisanal wineries based in the village of Gols. The name derives from the historical region of Pannonia that covers parts of east Austria, Hungary and ex-Yugoslavia. Each year the Pannobile wineries produce one white and one red in addition to their regular lineups. Only after each member approves may these special wines bear the Pannobile label.



Hans and Anita Nittnaus 2009 Leithaberg White Wine ($15)
Hans and Anita Nittnaus are not only legendary winemakers (his family has made wine since at least 1684) but are also two of the founders of the Pannobile wine consortium. Their Leithaberg white (named after the newly classified region from which it is produced) promotes white peach and grapefruit at first, followed by a mineral driven finish of tangerine and almond skin. This is high-toned and long on the palate, a serious wine indeed.

Günter Triebaumer 2010 Furmint ($15)
Günter and Regina Triebaumer constantly exude enthusiasm about their region and its wines. Triebaumer is another ancient Austrian winemaking family, and Günter's uncle Ernst is known as one of the five best winemakers in the entire country. Günter himself, of course, isn't too bad at his craft either, as is shown by his delicious dry Furmint, a mélange of pineapple, lime, banana and yellow pear.

Hans Igler
2010 Pinot Blanc ($15)
Young, talented Clemens is the latest in his family to steer the winery's ship. Many of his wines are impressive, but one of my favorites is the lime- and papaya-infused Pinot Blanc, an amalgam of the aforementioned fruits as well as pineapple, cream soda and white pepper. A high-toned finish makes this lip-smacking in nature, eminently suitable for parties and the occasional solitary summer afternoon on the porch.

Schlösinger 2009 Neuberger Leithaberg Weiss ($25)
This bottle smells of white flowers and lime and tastes of white peach and orange zest, making it an easy sipper with a charming finish.

2009 Pinot Blanc Pannobile Weiss ($50)
A mushroom, cream soda, vanilla and lemon zest revelation. More lemon and butterscotch round out this impressive package, making it one of the finest white wines I've tried in some time.


Weingut Pittnauer 2008 St. Laurent Alte Reben ($75)
Winery owner Gerhard and his charming wife Brigitte focus on red wine, and none is more delicious than the St. Laurent (a relative of Pinot Noir) Alte Reben (Old Vines). Purple-red in color, this deeply flavored juice throws off aromas of violets and nutmeg while the flavors focus on black cherry, allspice and burnt sugar.

Weingut Pittnauer
2007 Merlot Altenberg Reserve ($75)
This Pittnauer effort is brick-red and smells of dark chocolate and blueberries. The palate is all red cherry, pomegranate and cassis, classic Merlot flavors that show the excellent potential of this grape in this region.

Hans and Anita Nittnaus 2008 Leithaberg Red Wine ($25)
This 100 percent Blaufränkisch is deeply purple in color and shows dusty cinnamon, cola and black cherry up-front. Then comes a ton of red strawberry, black pepper and slate.

Günter Triebaumer 2008 Blaufränkisch Reserve ($50)
This is a knock-your-socks-off, ruby-purple Blaufränkisch that's full of dark chocolate, raspberry, red cherry and cola.

Hans Igler
2009 Zweigelt ($40)
A deeply purple Zweigelt that shows blackberry, raspberry coulis, mocha, black tea and black pepper. Spicy and complex, this wine illuminates exactly how far Burgenland has come in the past few years.

Artner 2008 Zweigelt Steinacker, Carnuntum ($50)
Artner's Zweigelt offering (from Carnuntum, north of Burgenland) is a heady mélange of coffee, black licorice, black cherry, lime and slate. This wine's finish is bright and long, leading me to think that it would benefit from at least a year or two in the cellar. Still, it is quite impressive in its length and smooth character.

2008 Zweigelt Haideboden ($50)
A blend of Blaufränkisch and Cabernet Sauvignon whose red cherry, butter cream and root beer aromas join charcoal and quinine on a finish that is high and long.

Marinits 2008 Blaufränkisch Leithaberg Rot ($25)
This presents cinnamon, red cherry and raspberry at first, and then come loads of purple fruit and root beer on a very long, clean finish.

Claus Preisinger 2008 Pinot Noir ($75)
A heady blend of candied cherry, rhubarb, tangerine, raspberry liqueur and black tea that fools me into thinking classic Gevrey-Chambertin from Burgundy, which should tell you as much as you need to know about the quality of this wine.

Gager 2009 Blaufränkisch Classic ($25)
Quite pleasant, with notes of pink peppercorn, grapefruit and pomegranate up-front followed by strawberry, black tea and charcoal on a moderately acidic finish.

Strehn 2009 Blaufränkisch Reserve Weisses Kreuz (~$50)
Purple-red in color and layered with notes of cranberry, black licorice and red raspberry liqueur. A blockbuster bottle.

Unger Gerald 2008 Blaufränkisch Reserve (~$50)
This wine stands out for its kirsch, strawberry licorice and pink bubblegum flavors and silky, malty textures. Somewhat unusual but well-crafted and very fine.

Laczko Alfons 2008 Blaufränkisch Reserve Jennifer ($25)
Another bottle brimming with black cherries and currants, pomegranate and milk chocolate on a high intensity, quite long finish.

Claus Preisinger 2008 Zweigelt Pannobile ($75)
A deep and dark pepper pot of a wine. Red cherries and bittersweet chocolate dominate this bottle, which is satisfyingly rich with only moderate acidity


Lenz Moser 2008 Beerenauslese ($25)
Golden yellow in the glass, smelling of cinnamon and Macadamia nut and tasting of blood orange, pecan and caramel. Astonishingly long in the mouth, this beauty delivers the goods at a fraction of the price of more famous versions.

Günter Triebaumer 2008 Ruster Ausbruch Welschriesling ($40)
Brilliantly made from Welschriesling, this exudes lime, smoke, caramel, yellow peach and dried apricot jam. Truthfully, most of the Triebaumer wines we tasted show classic flavors and textures, and Günter is so youthful and enthusiastic that this is clearly a winery to watch for the foreseeable future.

Ernst Triebaumer 2007 Ruster Ausbruch ($50)
This bottle brings quince, dried apricot, cinnamon and cedar on the nose, followed by smoke, lanolin, coconut and crème brûlée on the finish. A dynamite wine.

2006 Trockenbeerenauslese Grande Cuvee No. 6 ($75)
A juicy sticky that bursts with green melon, red apple, white chocolate and ripe yellow pear. So long and refined-and still just a baby.

Kracher 2008 Trockenbeerenauslese Welschriesling No. 9 ($75)
Gooey and amber-yellow in color, with white peach, green melon, quince, yellow apple and mint creating a crescendo of swirling sensory impressions. This wine is a tour de force and in two decades, when it is mature, I recommend it be enjoyed with friends on convivial occasions.

Kracher 2009 Trockenbeerenauslese Scheurebe No. ? ($75)
Gold-hued and too young to have been assigned a number yet but bursting with tangerine, yellow peach and honey on a long, lithe frame. Still a bit oaky, but with time this will turn out just fine.

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