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.

Expanding Horizons

In this blog, I’m going to continue with my theme from last time: how do you choose which wine to buy?  One method I’ve found works well is to buy a different wine from a producer whose wines you’ve enjoyed in the past.  Winemakers often have their own preferences which are reflected in the wines they make so, if you’ve enjoyed, for example, a Cabernet Sauvignon from a certain producer, try their Merlot if you see it on the shelf.  That way, you can expand your horizons without taking too many risks.

It’s a plan that I used when I was in Majestic Wine recently.  We’ve long been fans of Domaine Begude’s ‘Etoile’ Chardonnay (£13.99), a subtle, gently oaked, creamy white from Limoux, just south of Carcassonne at the western edge of France’s Languedoc region.  It’s a great value alternative if you like Pouilly-Fuissé!  So, when I saw the same estate’s ‘Le Paradis’ Viognier (£15.99), it was an obvious choice.

The Viognier, as you might expect, is a little more aromatic than the Chardonnay with delightful aromas and flavours of peach, ripe pear and melon and a restrained savoury finish.  The label tells me that the wine spent time in oak barrels but they seem only to have been used to round out the palate, there is no overt oakiness to taste.  We enjoyed it with some red mullet cooked in a rich tomato sauce and the two blended perfectly.

Limoux is not a particularly well-known or fashionable area but Domaine Begude is beautifully situated some 300m (1000ft) above sea level giving that ideal balance of hot sunny days for ripening the grapes and cooler nights to retain vital acidity.  It’s owned by an English couple, who bought it back in 2003 and now run it on entirely organic lines using no pesticides and only natural manures and fertilisers.

The results are clear to see (and to taste) whether you choose the Chardonnay, the Viognier or one of their other varietal wines that – subtle hint – hopefully, Majestic will stock at some future date.