...and I would certainly say that this collaborative effort between the AWMB and Wein Burgenland did a better than merely good job of putting a great number of noteworthy examples together, articulating what has truly been a significant achievement that’s taken place over the past couple decades.
—— Versatile, Ageable and Collectible...
One of wine’s greatest 20th-century minds (and palates) wrote:
I know a country where the beneficial effect of wine is well understood.
It is drunk as a tonic, a stimulant, or simply because one is happy.
No, it’s not France; it is Austria...
This observation from Émile Peynaud’s coffee-table tome Le Gout du Vin—written by a Frenchman in 1980, well before “modern” Austrian wine came onto the stage; before there was a Vinea Wachau or a “Red Wine Wonder...”
Austria is a wine-culture. Not for naught does the name of her capital city Wien come close to that of the native beverage Wein. Rather, Austria has several wine-cultures folded in upon one another, its individual components as distinctive as Steiermark and Burgenland, Schilcher and Chardonnay (plus the 1500 acres of vines growing within Vienna’s city limits).
With this: every Austrian wine is a food wine. The flavors of Austrian Red grew up in Burgenland (until 93 years ago German West Hungary), alongside the Mangalitza pig, spicy paprika and Blaukraut. Austria’s contemporary wine culture and her thriving culinary scene have crosspollinated one another as if the very best and busiest of bees were at work in the garden. One significant aspect of the nation’s great wealth lies in her three native red grape varieties: Blaufränkisch, Sankt Laurent and the excellent crossing of those two, Zweigelt. All three are distinctive, and each one is uniquely Austrian.
These wines are to the table born. In the context of complex and complicated flavors, matters of umami or savory, Blaufränkisch will go fearlessly where other red wines fear to tread. The utterly sublime way in which Blaufränkisch insinuates itself among intricate food-flavors offers a challenge to the very finest wines of France, Italy and Spain. Of course there’s also the traditional “red wine with red meat and game,” where the Blaufränkisch also proves sauce for the wild goose as well as for the Gosht Biryani.
Sankt Laurent will behave in many ways like its illustrious relative Pinot Noir, except that the variety is also capable of soaking up a heroic amount of hotpeppery spice—to an extreme where even Zinfandel or Teroldego Rotaliano would beg for mercy—and offers a magnificent outside perspective to the subtle flavors of the sushi bar.
Zweigelt has a wonderful way around the Tandoori spice-box, and is extremely good with high-class Mexican preparations—Molé or Adobo, for example. And then there’s the grill and the barbecue; this variety plays very well alongside heat and zesty seasonings.
Austrian red wines are ready to take their place alongside those of Burgundy, Piedmont & Bordeaux as items to tuck away in the treasured depths of the cellar, awaiting the time when elements of thirst, cuisine and conviviality align themselves to produce that certain moment.
Currently: after having gone through an inevitable period of stylistic internationalism as young winegrowers returned with new techniques from their travels in America and Australia, New Zealand and France, Austria’s estates are now producing red wines that can only be made in Austria, and only from Austria’s native vines. This is a remarkable achievement in a relatively short period of time; what discriminating collector would not wish to have these sophisticated and distinctive bottlings in his/her cellar?
Tasting several dozen 2010 Zweigelts in Vienna two years ago, I realized that I would’ve happily drunk most of them. (In this difficult vintage many growers had expended extra effort getting the most out of their Blaufränkers and cuvées, letting the Zweigelt take care of itself—with delicious results.) Would I cellar them? Good question. I have typically thought Zweigelt more suited to the pantry, although certainly good for a few years. Of course there have always been exceptions like Schwarz Rot or Josef Umathum’s Ried Hallebühl, both from Burgenland’s Neusiedlersee district, which certainly repay patience.
Sankt Laurent lives by a learning curve similar to Pinot Noir. A 2003er from Hannes Schuster drunk two years ago in a swish downtown Vienna restaurant not only handled the great ripeness of that hot vintage very well, but was also developing its secondaries with charm and style. No longer dwindling in acreage, more growers—especially in Northern Burgenland and the Thermenregion—have become convinced that this variety is indeed worth the trouble (considerable) involved in its cultivation and vinification.
Of course the star of the show as far as ageability goes is Blaufränkisch and the cuvées based on it. Wines from the 1999 vintage are becoming harder to find, but one taste of a 99er Kollwentz Steinzeiler or Paul Achs Ungerberg will convince even the most recalcitrant skeptic. Weingut Prieler’s Goldberg 2002 is just heavenly these days. 2002 Moric Alte Reben Lutzmannburg (a significantly less aggressive style) has developed equally well, with no sign of tiring. Perhaps in ageing these wines one might think of them in the way we do Loire Valley reds—great fun to drink while they are still young, but when we come across an old Chinon “Les Picasses” from Olga Raffault, oh what a treat that is!
From the Spitzerberg in Carnuntum down the length of Burgenland southward, from Gols to Leithaberg, Mittelburgenland and Eisenberg, excellent acidity and refined tannins recur as common themes in the current batch of Blaufränkisch. These factors are sure to promote ageability and prolonged development; the current trend away from new oak is a positive influence. The deep and compelling flavors of this noble grape become more readily apparent, now that the fruit is no longer so frequently lost in the lumber. Growers who produce monovarietal Blaufränkisch often have their eye on the Côte d’Or and Piemonte—and while the variety’s intrinsic characteristics differ from those of Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo, Blaufränkisch shows a similar propensity for transmitting the message of the soils in which it was grown to the taster as do its venerable cousins from France and Italy. As those wines grow more (and more) expensive for the collector, Austrian Blaufränkisch will seem a very wise choice.