Red and White Stripes

Where do you think the wine in the picture comes from?  Unless you recognise the bottle or the producer’s name, there’s no clue on the label; the answer is on the screw cap I’ve included in the bottom corner.  The red and white stripes echo the flag of Austria and many wines from that country have those colours, whether on a screw cap or on the capsule covering the cork.  A neat piece of marketing in my view (once you know to look for it!)  On the other hand, the label, while stylish and eye-catching, is sadly lacking in detail (and the back label isn’t much better).   However, Pittnauer’s Pitti comes from the Wine Society (£10.50) and fortunately their website was, as ever, much more informative.

A blend of Zweigelt, Austria’s most widely planted red variety with Blaufränkisch (also known as Kekfrankos and commonly found across central and eastern Europe), this is a bright, very drinkable fruity red, enjoyable on its own or with red meats, especially lamb, duck breast or leg or hard cheeses.  Expect aromas and flavours of cherries and raspberries with a subtle, attractive hint of pepper and sweet spice.

Pittnauer’s vineyards are ideally situated close to the Neusiedlersee, a huge shallow lake on the border with Hungary, that creates the perfect conditions for some of Austria’s best wines.  The water tempers the heat of the summer and mitigates some of the cold of a Central European winter.  The family-owned and run estate is farmed biodynamically (a kind of super-organic regime) and with a minimal intervention policy in the winery.  The result is a wine of real quality and at a very reasonable price.

Austrian wine had its challenges in the 1980s – mostly self-inflicted – but, following a long period of rebuilding, they are now turning out both reds and whites that are well worth searching out.


Honey from Austria

I’ve mentioned Austria’s ‘own’ grape variety, Grűner Veltliner, before in Bristol Wine Blog but I recently opened a bottle that was so good, it persuaded me to write about it again.

Just one sniff of Rabl’s example from around the town of Langenlois in Austria’s Kamptal region (Novel Wines, £16.99) and my wife and I said in unison ‘honey’!  But don’t assume from that description that this is a sweet wine – far from it; it is quite dry on the palate, if fairly rich (despite only 12.5% alcohol) and succulent.  The honied aromas and flavours come from the beautifully sweet, ripe fruit grown in vineyards planted on sunny, south-facing terraces overlooking a tributary of the River Danube.  These grapes are blended with fruit from cooler, windier sites chosen to ensure the ripeness of flavour is balanced with attractive, refreshing acidity.

In the winery, only indigenous yeasts are used in the fermentation followed by extended lees contact (where the wine rests on the dead yeast cells after fermentation is completed) producing greater complexity and savoury flavours.

And the wine itself?  Apart from the honey, there are lovely floral hints on the nose with peach, apple and melon on the palate, set off by a certain slight pepperiness that seems to be a trademark of the Grűner Veltliner variety.

All this results in a really impressive mouthful which works well as an aperitif but, for me, is even better with food.  We paired it with a stir-fried turkey stroganoff and it proved a good match for the slightly spicy flavours and the sour cream we used to finish the dish.

Grűner Veltliner is becoming quite fashionable – and with good reason, given its quality – so look out for it, mainly from Austria at present.  It’s a good and interesting alternative to fuller flavoured whites; lovers of wines from southern Burgundy (Maçon Villages, Pouilly Fuissé, etc) should certainly give it a try.

Don’t Ignore Austria

I wasn’t going to blog about wines to drink over the holiday season this year.  Looking around, I thought that there’s enough advice elsewhere and you’ve probably got your own ideas anyway.  But then I opened a bottle over the weekend that would be just perfect as the accompaniment to a turkey dinner – or many other poultry, white meat or robust fish dishes for that matter – and so, not for the first time, I changed my mind.

Loimer’s Manhart (Majestic, £14.99) is a blend of 3 grape varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc – that are almost always seen on their own but that, on this evidence, work really well together.  The first sensation on the nose is one of toasty oak confirming that both fermentation and brief ageing was in oak barrels.  But, once you taste, there is no real sensation of oak at all, just a lovely, rich, creamy, almost oily white, full of crisp apple, peach, apricot and tropical fruit flavours with a hint of warm spice (I thought nutmeg, my wife thought cumin) and an exceptionally long, dry tangy finish.  We paired it with some monkfish wrapped in Parma ham and quickly roasted in the oven.  Absolutely delicious and just the kind of full-flavoured dish that is a lovely match for the wine.

It would have been easy to ignore the bottle on Majestic’s shelves – its very plain, sparse label certainly doesn’t shout ‘buy me’ – but, happily, I had enjoyed Loimer’s wines previously (their Riesling and Gruner Veltliner are both worth buying if you can find them) and thought it worth chancing this one from vineyards in the Niederösterreich region of Austria, overlooking a tributary of the River Danube.  I’m very pleased I did.

Austria’s wines experienced some difficult times in the 1980s but, as a result, have been completely transformed and are now on a high.  If you’ve not explored them recently, wines such as this would be a great place to start.