What no Grüner?

July’s BBC 2 blind tasting was on the theme of Austria, with recourse to Germany as necessary. As Austrian wines are not widely available in the UK and few wine lovers have Austrian bottles in their collections, we agreed to allow German bottles as a second option. And, let’s be honest, we were all concerned that if we insisted on just Austrian wines we would all turn up with bottles, probably the same bottles, of Austria’s most famous grape.  In the last 25 years, Grüner Veltliner has come from nowhere in terms of recognition to be a savvy choice of grape variety in the wine merchants or the restaurant.  It is an irony that the much-publicised wine adulteration scandal of 1985 has led to a refocusing of the Austrian industry on quality, with splendid examples of Grüner leading the way.  But, as BBC2 is the sum of its individual members’ choices, there is no telling in advance what wines people are going to bring …

Two identical bottles And yes we did start with two identical bottles bought independently by two members: excellent quality, ripe apple fruit, mineral notes, some sweetness, long with good balance – this has got to be Riesling?  In fact, it was the least obvious Muscat blanc á petit grains you could imagine, perhaps due to 10 years in the bottle.  Gelber Muskateller, Weingut Bründlmayer, Langenlois Österreich, 2002.  Labelled Trocken (dry), but with some residual sugar. 

A triumph of longevity and luck.  This bottle was in superb condition, apparently the first of this auction-bought case to be so.  Caramel in colour and pleasantly oxidised, orange blossom and marmalade notes, refreshing acidity, lean but full of flavour. This had to be Riesling and was:  Wachenheim Weinstrasse, Forster Kirchestück, Riesling Auslese, Bürklin-Wolf, 1971 … a grand 41-year old. 

Still no Grüner with one white to go: subtle fresh floral notes on the nose, beautiful apple-led fruit, some residual sugar (unlikely to be Austria’s most elusive grape variety), good acidity, a real wow factor. The consensus was this was a high-quality Kabinett-style wine around five years old. In fact it was nearly 30 years old: Wallufer Walkenberg, Riesling Spätlese, J. B. Becker, 1983

The next two wines were definitely not Grüner as they were red and a rather neat demonstration of Austria’s two best local grape varieties.  On the left, Laetitia, Johann Zechmeister, Neusiedlersee-Hügelland, 2008, made from Zweigelt – cultured red and black cherry fruit, fine-boned, very good.  On the right, with the legible label, Blaufränkish (the grape variety), Moric, Burgenland, 2009, denser, younger, rich cherry and plum fruit, fine lively tannins.  Austria has plenty of quality red wine – which they drink themselves and rarely exported.  

EisweinAnd finally two fine sweet wines in two differing styles for which Austria also has a real gift.  Hiedler’s Eiswein, made from Weissburgunder (ie Pinot Blanc), Kamptal, 2007 was honeyed, easy to drink, with attractive fruit (apricot, citrus), attractive sweetness balanced by good acidity.  By contrast, Ernst Triebaumer, Ruster Ausbruch, 2006, is luscious and mouth-filling, with great depth of flavour with honey and marmalade notes.  Superb botrytised wine. 

From this small line up, it is clear that while Germany still produces world-class Riesling from famous sites, Austria’s quality wine industry repays much more attention than it gets in the saturated wine market of the UK. I feel a need to organise a Grüner Veltliner tasting to redress the obvious absence in an otherwise splendid evening …  

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