Friday, June 27, 2014

falling asleep…

and now the day has had its way with me
so all desire and yearning redeploy
and friendly I receive the starry night
like welcome to a weary boy

hands, no more these occupations;
brow, leave off your wrinkled thinking—
all my senses inward folded
safely into slumber sinking

allow my soul without constraint
to hover freely in its flight
to deeply live—and in one thousand ways—
within the magic circle of the night

Hermann Hesse

from Richard Strauss,
Four Last Songs
            trans. © James Oliver Wright
            QM2 06.14

Monday, June 23, 2014

Purely Purbach, Beautifully Burgenland...

photo by Lauren Mowery ©

‘twas one of those magickal evenings that sometimes fall in the traveller’s lap—thousands of miles away from home one ends up in the perfect place with exactly the right people…
to this we add a magnificent dinner—this evening unfolded at one of the region’s top culinary addresses, Gut Purbach – and some of the region’s (the entire nation’s) finest and most expressive wines, brought personally by four of Burgenland’s best growers:
Kurt Feiler, from Weingut Feiler-Artinger in Rust
Hannes Schuster, Weingut Rosi Schuster in St Margarethen
Josef Umathum from Frauenkirchen
Roland Velich from the Moric Estate in Großhöflein…
the New York contingent was a veritable rogues’ gallery: meself, journalist Gregory Dal Piaz, wine-director Matt Stinton from Hearth & Terroir, PR-flack Constance Chamberlain, sommelière Sabra Lewis, EaterNY wine-laddie Levi Dalton and reporter Lauren Mowery from the Village Voice, plus Wolfgang Ban and Stephanie Artner (these latter two actually Burgenländer(in), perhaps the two most important people for Austrian wine on the East Coast—Stephanie for her tireless and imaginative work at the Austrian Trade Commission, and Wolfgang with his splendid Michelin-starred restaurant Seasonal on W 58th St [not to mention his involvement with gastro-pub Edi & the Wolf in Alphabet City and the Paulaner beer-hall in the Bowery]) —plus Winemonger Imports proprietors Emily and Stephan Schindler with their guests from California, at least one Canadian and one Quebecoise, and the rather animated Jeanie Lea from South Korea. Surely I’ve left somebody out…sorry!
we were hosted by the head of the regional organisation Wein Burgenland, Christian Zechmeister, and Marie-Sophie Lodron from the Austrian Wine Marketing Board along with chef Max Stiegl, who opened the restaurant on what’s normally his day off. Special thanks to them!
the first cork was popped (or rather the neck of the first Stelvin was wrung) by the Agricultural Minister for Burgenland, Andreas Liegenfeld, the Grüner Veltliner Bergweingarten from his estate in nearby Donnerskirchen.
and here I should make one important observation: Burgenland is a different culture from the rest of Austria – a different food-culture, a different wine-culture, and a different culture-culture for that matter. The region was part of Hungary – German West Hungary ­– until 1921 when it became the last state added to Austria.
the cuisine of Max Stiegl at Gut Purbach retains more than a hint of this Hungarian heritage, and highlights a factor that I find eminently praiseworthy about modern Austrian cuisine in general: it has two faces like the god Janus, looking both ways, steadily true to its traditions while at the same time consistently inventive and lively…
and now to table!
the Schmalz that came with freshly baked bread at the beginning had a spicy overtone to it that I don’t normally associate with Lower Austrian Schmalz. And the bread came accompanied by Ajvar as well, a Serbian relish concoction made from red bell peppers that I’d just had on my Pljeskavica for lunch at favourite Balkan resto Café Nepomuk in the 7th District of Vienna. So we’ve already come a ways from Schnitzeldorf…

Smoked eel, goat-cheese and kohlrabi—a piquant interplay of flavours and textures…
Weingut Liegenfeld Grüner Veltliner Himmelreich 2013
Feiler-Artinger Neuburger Gustav 2013
the first of these markedly different from GVs out of the Traisental, Kremstal, Wachau, Weinviertel, Wagram or Kamptal. More along the profile of the Pinot types, not so citric as a young Poysdorfer, for example; nicely textured, firm and lively.
Neuburger is a story of its own. One of the three bastard children of old goat Roter Veltliner, in this case sired upon Señora Silvaner, Neuburger’s got a way of meeting even the most severe culinary challenges, like artichoke or asparagus. It’s stylistically adaptable, holds his liquor well as a Wachau Smaragd, can be agile and deft out of the Thermenregion, and quite delicious here in Burgenland. One highlight of the past was a 1983 Neuburger from Hans and Anita Nittnaus in Gols that John opened for me and Schildknecht some ten years ago… The Feiler was a picturebook Burgenländer, lightly-spiced nut aromas, plenty of texture and pearsy fruit on the palate; nicely strung together along an animated acid interplay.

Pannonische Kaltschale, Gazpacho Burgenland, nice and spicy!
Moric Grüner Veltliner 2009, from a magnum…
Umathum Rosa 2013
the nicely matured Moric is showing a kinship with the other Burgenland GV. And here confirming that we’re not in Lower Austria any more; that the variety in this part of the world has aromatics and textures that are not that far off from being reminiscent of the Pinot family – and here it blends beautifully with chardonnay, btw ­– So it was a good chance to ask grower Roland Velich about the characteristic ‘Pfefferl’ snap that we have come to expect from many of the Danubian Grüners. Roland explained that this was simply an expression of unripe fruit, which had become ingrained in the expectations of many drinkers, and really shouldn’t be considered a positive element. Interestingly enough, I asked old pal Ludwig Neumayer, from the Traisental in Lower Austria, about this a couple days later, found him totally in agreement with his Burgenländer colleague.
Umathum Rosa is a cuvée, comprised of equal parts Blaufränkisch, St Laurent and Zweigelt – saignée, a wine that always shows the variability of the vintage; in this case almost a red wine in flavour, though tending towards white in body. Beautiful deep pink colour, cherry and redcurrant flavours, bright acidity and firm tannins.

Halászlé von Huchen with Saffron, Ginger and Lentils (Hungarian fish soup made from Danube salmon and hot paprika)
Rosi Schuster Sankt Laurent 2012
Rosi Schuster Sankt Laurent Zagersdorf 2007
as much as I adore the two Moric old vines Blaufs that would shortly appear on the groaning board, this grape and this grower are near and dear to my palate and heart. Hannes Schuster has a way with SL that has few peers; Rheinisch in the Thermenregion, Schloss Gobelsburg from Kamptal, Umathum from across the lake...
Pinot Noir’s kinky cousin, here – a grape that’s equally frustrating to grow, demands the same soils and the same attentive noninterventionist cellar techniques, will show a lot of pinot character while being able to cope with an incendiary level of spice that would kill even a Zinfandel or a Teroldego Rotaliano. ...the characteristic aromatix of Weichsel, a sharp and sour autochthonous cherry similar to the Burgundian griotte, along with scents of spice, dried fruit and smoked meats… here no new wood and no small wood. The 12er from young vines, around Z’dorf and St Margarethen, finely textured, and not as lactic as many… while the magisterial 07er Zagersdorf adds the weight of years plus a plummy sense of depth, along with a profound minerality from the older vines digging deeper into the limestony soils. (and it’s difficult at this point to line up the wines and the dishes exactly…)

Frogs legs……were not on the menu, but they hopped onto the table anyway, accompanied by a gentle purée
Umathum Blaufränkisch ‘Edition 1214’ 2012
Moric Blaufränkisch Lutzmannsburg Alte Reben 2007
Umathum’s ‘1214,’ from a pure limestone soil – a rather densely woven web of blackberry and blackcurrant and and more blackberry, aromatix of dark cherries, ultimately rather elegant and spicy, but retaining a nice bit of freshness. Roland Velich’s Lutz AR showed lovely depth and fine texture, rather expansive with dark cherries and blackberries, dried plums and blackcurrants; elegant and very long.

and then came This Little Piggy:
Whole Rack of Turopolje Pork in Juniper Jus
not the densely-marbled Mangalitza, at home here in the neighbourhood, but rather a leaner sort of fellow with splendid cracklings. Turopolje is a Croatian breed of swine named for his hometown, a very ancient bloodline and grown rather rare these days. He graced the table accompanied by little satellite dishes of glazed onions, potatoes au gratin and chanterelles.
Umathum Blaufränkisch Kirschgarten 2004 Magnum
Moric Blaufränkisch Neckenmarkt Alte Reben 2004 Magnum

one element that characterises all the growers who are currently putting Burgenland in the Big Picture is their methodical dedication and consistent effort. The 2004 Blaufränkisch Kirschgarten from Josef Umathum comes from a vineyard that Pepi replanted in Jois after painstakingly rebuilding the only terrace in Burgenland. This took six months, and some fifteen thousand man-hours of labour. These grapes came from the second harvest after replanting, and though it is a wine I have never truly loved, I must admire the way it’s developed over the course of ten years. Plenty of spice, and prominent minerality.
of course a stark contrast to this was provided by the 2004 Blaufränkisch Neckenmarkt Alte Reben from Moric. Ancient vines some eighty years old, meagre soils and very little ‘winemaking.’ Not everybody’s cup of tea, some prefer Roland’s meatier Lutzmannburg; rather lean with significant elements of minerality right on the face of it, Darjeeling and cedar, black cherries ultimately revealing a sweet core of deep fruit and a firm acidic structure and finely interwoven tannins before singing a lovely long and lingering sayonara…

and the dining wound down with one of those transparent desserts that take up the whole plate but somehow go weightless down the gullet.
Somlauer Nockerl
Feiler-Artinger Ruster Ausbruch 2006 Magnum
the wine that came with this was a meal in itself,  the 2006 Ausbruch Pinot cuvée from Feiler-Artinger. Ausbruch is the German word for a jailbreak, but in this case refers to the outbreak of botrytis, which the proximity of Lake Neusiedl guarantees in most vintages. Marzipan, apricot, honey, brown sugar, poached pears and peaches and walnuts and cream—a magnificent ending to the selection of wines.

so what do we come away with?
regarding Blaufränkisch it’s become abundantly clear that the world of wine has another great red variety on its hands. Sankt Laurent? We’ll see – most likely he’ll remain a specialty, offering the occasional treasure.
and everybody who’s anybody seems to have recently given a red card to the cooper—none of the wines are so heavily burdened with oak as they were ten or even five years previously. Growers have become far more self-confident, and have more confidence in the validity and expressiveness of the native material, which they no longer feel obliged to put an international polish upon before taking it to market.

— hats off, gentlemen and ladies; there’s a great deal for these winegrowers to be proud of here.