I had the pleasure of traveling around Austria with Terry Thiese and a team of retailers, sommeliers and distributors last week. Thiese is an eminent importer of Austrian and German wines, along with some incredible Champagnes. Our traveling band of wine nerds tasted and analyzed hundreds of wines and I found some great new gems, many of which are already gracing the shelves of Amanti Vino. While I didn’t learn any more German than how to convey utter necessities (“more Gruner Veltliner please”), I learned a ton about Austria’s famous vineyards in the Wachau, Kremstal, Kamptal and the Weinvertel. The regions are more diverse than I had imagined, with soils, slope and even grape varietals displaying dramatic variations. We tasted dry whites, off-dry whites, sweet whites and reds from Blaufrankish, Zweigelt and Pinot Noir. There were even some “Super Austrians,” blends of native and international varietals, in the tasting rooms.
Austria is ripe with some amazing values with the Setzer Gruner Veltliner (June’s Wine of the Month) and the Hofer Zweigelt (coming soon) being among my favorites. There were also some pricier wines that are worth every penny and are sure to age like great white Burgundies. The biggest surprise was a 1959 Muller Thurgau from Salomon!! It still had tons of life left to it.
The wineries tend to be family affairs with 30 to 40-somethings running most of the operations. Meeting the winemakers and moving from region to region is as easy as in any wine producing country in the world as there are very few vineyards more than 90 minutes from the heart of Vienna. The Kremstal proved to be a great source for value wines made from Gruner Veltliner, Riesling, Zweigelt and St. Laurent. In the Weinviertel I was introduced to Gamel, Moskateller, Roter Veltliner and some amazingly ageworthy Rieslings and Gruners. The Kamptal was a step upmarket with producers like Hirsch, Brundlmayer and Schloss Gobelsburg all wowing me with a diversity of styles. The Hirsch wines tended to be more off-dry while those of the later were bone dry with piercing acidity (just the way I like them!!). Last but most certainly not least was the Wachau, home to the steepest and most dramatic sites in Austria. Wachau produces some spectacular Rieslings and Gruner Veltliners that can be cellared for decades.
I left Austria with a new appreciation for the value and diversity that the country offers. While these wines are slowly starting to make a comeback on the domestic market, Gruner Veltliner and St. Laurent are not exactly household names yet. This is a shame because Austria makes wines for all seasons and all cuisines, from asparagus and sauerkraut to schnitzel and beef. They are also perfect for summer barbecues with a wide variety of grilled meats and Asian dishes that are always a challenge to pair. While all of these wines can be enjoyed fresh and young, many can also camp out it your cellar for decades, developing honeysuckle, petrol and nutty flavors. Next time you are in the shop or perusing a wine list don’t overlook Austria.
By Sharon Sevrens