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"Weingipfel" - Wine Summit 2007

Over the past years Austria has gained the image of one of the wine world's best secret treasures.  So as to further knowledge the Austrian Wine Marketing Board - Wines of Austria has organised between 30th May and 3rd June its second annual bash for wine professionals, the "Weingipfel" (Wine Summit), taking 120 wine writers and importers from around the globe in three coaches to either the northern regions, bordering the Czech Republic (Weinviertel, Wagram, Wachau, Krempstal, Kamptal), or the south (Burgenland and Styria).

All regions lie in the east of the country, far from the mountains and skiers.  The tours began with an informal get-together in a heurige, one of the wine taverns located in the Vienna suburbs.  Traditionally young wines, usually from Grüner Veltliner grapes, are served in these establishments.  With 700 hectares of vineyards, Vienna is very proud of its heritage as well as keeping part of trhe urban sprawl forever green.  And it must be the only capital city hosting any notable wine production.  Paris and Prague could once boast the same, but nearly all theirs is in the past.  In our case the visit was to Heurigen Weininger in Stammersdorf, one of the city's very finest, although a selection from a host of producers was on the table.  We were very impressed by Weininger's own Nussberger Gemischter Satz Alte Reben, from vineyards in which nine varieties are cultivated (Silvaner, Zierfandler, Rotgipfler, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Welschriesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Gris), all of which are vinified together.  And, from other producers, Edlmoser's Grüner Veltliner from the Herrenholz vineyard, Riesling Maurerberg and Ried Nussberg from Beethovenhaus Mayer am Pfarrplatz, wines which married perfectly with Viennese schnitzels and green salad.  As icing on the cake Fritz Weininger offered us his own Pinot Noir Tribute, from the Vienna (Wien) appellation.

So, what is it that make wines from Austria so special?  Austria is about the same size as the Czech Republic and with double the grape-growing area one might expect a certain similarity.  But generally the wines, though sharing much in terms of history, climate, as well as grape varieties, are in most cases leaps and bounds ahead in terms of quality and style, not to say better priced.  Perhaps we were about to find out...

Early on Thursday, under the tutelage of freelance wine journalist Luzia Schrampf, we headed off from the graceful Parkhotel Schönbrunn in Vienna towards Neusiedlersee-Hügelland, on the near side of the shallow rain-filled lake beside the Hungarian border and home to some amazing wines.  Here the unique climate and soil combination added to the water surface play an important role in moderating the extremities of temperature.  We had our first tasting under the title "White Terroir Wines of Burgenland" in a vineyard in Donnerskirchen.  Wines to impress includued Erwin Tinhof's Leithaberg Weiss, a refreshing 65%-35% mix between Neuburger and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Judith Beck’s Weissburgunder, both from the 2005 vintage.

We then transferred to the other side of the lake to the sleepy village of  Illmitz in the Neusiedlersee region close to the Hungarian border.  Here in the Presshaus restaurant we gathered for a comparison of Zweigeltrebe influenced by the Pannonian climate, beginning with a nice cool Brut made from the Grüner Veltliner cultivar and Extry Dry from Zweigeltrebe, both from the Szigeti stable.  Zweigelt Pannobile 2004 from Claus Preisinger was outstanding, as was one of the samples on show from Carnuntum, up by the Slovak border, Lukas Markowitsch's Haidacker 2004 which had lovely mulberry hints.  The wines also accompanied a fine lunch.

After this we transferred to the nearby Nationalparkzentrum, where a tasting entitled "Sweet Wines from the Opposite Shore of the Lake: a Comparison" awaited our attention.  This is an unusual wine region, famed for its lush sweet wines, where vineyards lie among the flatlands not far from the reed-covered lakeshore.  Standing out in an excellent selection was Wenzel's, Ruster Ausbruch Saz 2005 from Furmint and Gelber Muskateller and a grapefruity  Sämling 88 (alias Scheurebe) Beerenauslese from Angerhof Tschida.

A ferry awaited to take us back across the Neusiedlersee to the picturesque town of Rust, in the Neusiedlersee-Hügelland wine region, home to a good many storks as well as the Austrian Wine Academy which is under the directorship of  Dr. Josef Schuller, MW.   Pepi Schuller is  Austria's first and so far the only Master of Wine and the Wine Academy of Rust has been designated to run the Weinakademiker courses that may often lead the graduates to study for the most difficult exam in the world - the MW studies.  Then we were treated to a seminar and lively discussion on the production and dissemination of organic wines from Austria and the event was also attended by two organic producers.  The proof of the pudding is as usual in the eating or, in this case, the drinking.  Two fine upright Grüner Veltliners 2005 from single vineyard sites Ried Maulbeerpark and  Steinleithen, the former from Wimmer Czerny and the latter from Gut Oberstockstall, as well as a first rate Blaufränkisch 2004 from Günther Schönberger, stood out among the seven samples.

The day ended with a selection of Mittelburgundland DAC Blaufränkisch 2005s in the garden of Hoffgassl restaurant in the centre of Rust, among which those of Kirnbauer K+K, Wellanschitz and Hundsdorfer excelled.  This was followed by a very relaxed meal inside the restaurant accompanied by a vertical tasting of Terroir Wines of Burgenland, included among which were a nice evenly balanced Blaufränkisch Selection from Josef Tesch and an exceedingly good Ina'mera 1999 from Juris of Gols.  After this a short walk to the Sporthotel Rust.

Early departure in the morning, heading south.  There, in the impressive setting of Schloss Stainz, we were given a commented tasting entitled "Schilcher - a Zesty Austrian Speciality".  A speciality indeed, as the Blauer Wildbacher grape is known nowhere other than in the Weststeiermark (Western Styria) area of Austria, if one allows for a tiny proportion grown in the Italian Veneto region (Collalto, Colli Trevigiani).  Eight wines, fruity, fresh and nicely acidic with savours ranging from wild strawberries and other forest fruit to guava, went down well, even with those totally unfamiliar with this grape, especially the almost shocking pink Schilcher Haderberg of Gottfried Hainzl and Schilcher Hochgrail Vulgo Lex of Stefan Langmann, both 2006 vintage, whilst Eduard Weber's Auslese 2006 and Erich Kuntner's Barrique 2003 (the only red whose production consists of a mere 2000 bottles) with its almost Italianate character on the nose and jammy palate were arguably the stars of the show.  Arne Ronold, MW, publisher of a Norwegian wine magazine "Vinforum" and former mathematician and nuclear scientist, who has popularised Schilcher in his home country, stated that the Norwegian State Monopoly cannot keep up with the demand for this rosé wine to be imported.  No wonder he received the Bacchus Award in Austria last year.

Up to the Rauch Hof restaurant, also in Stainz, for a so-called "Schilcher Parcours" in the garden and a lunch designed to match the individual wines on show.  The storm that threatened to spoil this garden party luckily made a quick detour and so we could savour to the full the elegant Schilcher Elegance of Josef Lazarus, closely followed by two youthful Schilcher Klassiks from Harald Florian and Stefan Pauritsch that stood out in another finely chosen bunch.  Unbelievably refreshing and well balanced was A'Siassa Schilcher Auslese of the 2002 vintage from Franz Strohmeier that spent three years in wooden barrels and boasted incredibly high acidity of 11.5 balancing the relative sweetness!

Styria’s flagship grape, however, is Sauvignon Blanc.  In search of this well-loved variety that gives its most typical characteristics in Sancerre, New Zealand and, of course, in Styria, we were bussed to the Hotel Steierland situated in a spectacular hilly setting above Kitzeck, Southern Styria, close to the Slovene borders.  Darrel Joseph and Helmut Knall talked us through a selection of samples in a tasting "Sauvignon Blanc - Styria's Flagship Grape" .  This time Weingut Tement, along with Lackner-Tinnacher and Walter und Erich Polz stood to the fore in this company, that, truth be told, disappointed some.

While we were travelling to our hotel, Weinlandhof Familie Wratschko in Gamlitz, lots were drawn as to who would be dining with which local winemaker.  Along with Arne Ronold MW, we were lucky to pick a world-famous name, Sattlerhof, located in Sernau, a short drive from the town.  Sattlerhof is not only a winery, but also a luxury hotel and fine restaurant, often featuring on the pages of Gault Millau, A la Carte, Falstaff, Wo isst Österreich, Feinschmecker etc., all run by brothers Hannes and Willi Sattler.  In the absence of Willi Sattler, on a trip to Holland, his wife Maria showed us the vineyards, of which there are 32 hectares, and the winery which handles 250,000 bottles a year, 30% sold ex-cellars, 30% to export.  She offered an interesting comparison of her wines in the tasting rooms, running us through an intriguing Cuvée Vom Sand 2006 made from 40% Sauvignon Blanc, 60%, Welschriesling and 11% of other varieties which vary according to the particular vintage.  Muskateller Klassik, Weissburgunder Klassik and Morillon Klassik all 2006 were all impressive.  We were treated to a wonderful meal on the verandah of the restaurant to the accompaniment of wines from the Sernauberg, Kranachberg and Pfarrweingarten single vineyards which was a real gourmet treat!   

The long haul north to Baden in the Thermenregion awaited us next morning.  No doubt some could catch up with their sleep.  Outside the casino complex in this spa town several samples of Rotgipfler and Zierfandler, the two regional specialities, were in the chillers hiding from the searing heat.  A cuvée of the two varieties, Grosse Reserve 2005 from Spätrot- Gebeshuber, caught the attention of many a palate.

After lunch on the terrace it was then back to the bus and back to the Parkhotel Schönnbrunn  in Vienna.  That evening the traditional Austrian Wine Party took place in the splendid Schloss Belvedere.  A host of wines were on offer, half of which we had not happened upon during our travels.  A resplendent meal was served to the tunes of  a jazz band and during the evening one had the possibility of pitting one's wits against the grape varieties in the competition for "The Best Nose 2007".  A total of eight  wines had to be matched to the eight listed varieties.  Not as easy as it sounds.  I managed six, which was just below the top-three prize level, John five.

One of the highlights of the evening was the appearance on the podium of Willi Klinger, director of Austrian Wine Marketing Board - Wines From Austria, not to give a tiresome valedictory speech, but to offer a raucous rendition of several rock classics of the 1950s!

Before individual departure we were invited to the House of Music for a matinee concert by the Viennese String Quartet, followed by a short visit to the museum, including the chance to conduct the Vienna Philharmonikers as a virtual conductor!

All in all a superbly organised and executed four days of education and fun among lovely wines and wonderful people - as always!

Photo copyright: ÖWM/Stöcher, M. Kapczynski and authors

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