Wine and Food Diary of Giles MacDonogh Wine Reviews


Every two years the Austrian growers display their wares in the Hofburg – the Habsburg winter palace in Vienna. It is a mammoth undertaking arranged over three days with lots of parties in the evening for those who have spent their days slurping and spitting wine. Here are my findings – space only permits me to include those which struck me as very good or excellent.

The fair is for professionals only before midday and it is worthwhile getting to the Wachau room at ten each day before the area is swamped. As a friend from Langenlois said ‘Three types of people come here Giles: serious winelovers; people who want to get the full value of their €40 ticket back; and genuine alcoholics.’ By four o’clock all the stands are blocked by crowds of drinkers who look with horror at anyone who spits out their wine and it is quite impossible to taste any more. I have never actually seen a fight break out, but it would not surprise me in the least.

For the past 30 years, all coverage of Austrian wine has begun with the Wachau, a region that has grown in importance since the Second World War and which was already committed to dry wines before the 1985 scandal. It is also necessary to hit the stars first. These winemakers are as well known to Austrians as soccer slebs are here and growers often attribute only a few bottles to the fair which are quickly drunk up. I headed straight for the genial Franz Hirtzberger. The best were the 2013 Honivogl Grüner Veltliner Smaragd and the Hochrain and the Setzberg Riesling Smaragds. Lukas Pichler seems fully in control now at FX Pichler and the wines are more confident: the Loibner Steiner Smaragd was possibly the best Wachau Grüner Veltliner of the vintage and there were gorgeous Riesling Smaragds from the Loibenberg and the Kellerberg. Rudi Pichler makes his wines as tight as a spring. His best Grüner Veltliner – the Wösendorfer Hochrain – was up with the frontrunners. Of the Rieslings it was also the Hochrain that excelled. Toni Bodenstein at Weingut Prager continued his series of wonderful wines: Grüner Veltliner Achleiten Smaragd and its even greater ‘Stockkultur’ version (ie old vines planted in 1937 – he calls the vineyard ‘a hospital’), the Riesling Federspiel from Steinriegl and the Wachstum Bodenstein particularly struck me. The latter was one of the best Austrian wines of the year.

There was return to the top table for the wines of Emmerich Knoll sensational Riesling Smaragds from Loibenberg and Schütt; a glorious Vinothekfüllung and a sweet Auslese. The Nikolaihof was bathing in glory after the Wine Spectator gave one of their wines a perfection-rating. The 2006 Im Weingebirge ‘Baumpresse’ (tree press) was lovely with its rose-petal scent, but the 1997 Vinothek wine was even better.

It has been a while since I tasted the wines of the Tegernseerhof, but I have always admired them. They had a splendid Riesling Kellerberg Smaragd and an impressive Gemischte Satz Smaragd made from 80-year old vines in a promiscuous vineyard. Alzinger too had a promising Riesling Smaragd from the Loibenberg and a bottle of his 2009 Steinertal reminded how good that had been. My old friend Högl disappointed me this year: only his ‘Vision’ Riesling Smaragd stood out, and fortunately not just for its silly name: gimmicky names are a poor alternative to vineyard sites. Johann Donabaum made one of the few tip-top Grüner Veltliners this year with his Spitzer Point Smaragd. His Riesling Setzberg was also first rate. The Setzberg also nurtured the second best Riesling Smaragd from the Mauritiushof (Gritsch). Their best was from the Tausendeimerberg.

The Weingut Schmelz occasionally grabs at my heartstrings. This year I admired the off-dry ‘Beste von Riesling’ which had a little taste of fresh apricots like so many 2013 Rieslings. Schmelz also made one of the best Grüner Veltliners on Pichl Point with a beautiful, poised, lyrical finish. The big Domäne Wachau co-operative also made a top Grüner Veltliner Smaragd on Achleiten.

The Weingut Pichler-Krutzler is owned by Erich and Elisabeth Krutzler and has vines in the Wachau and the Kremstal. The core of their Wachau vines lies close to those of Elisabeth’s father and brother at FX Pichler in Loiben. For me the best Wachau wine was the Loibenberg Riesling, but there is also a wonderful Pfaffenberg from the Kremstal with that haunting fresh apricot smell.

As you have probably seen, the 2013 vintage appears to have favoured the Rieslings more than the Grüner Veltliners, but it may also have been a stylistic choice as there were some exciting Grüner Veltliners from the Kamptal (see below). Now that the world has discovered ‘Grooner’ (rhymes with ‘crooner’) Austrian winemakers seem to want to strip it down and concentrate on elegance, rather than any inherent character the grape might possess. The lentilly taste Grüner Veltliner gives off on loess or primary rock soils was more apparent on the 2012s, like the Bründlmayer Lamm. Bründlmayer’s best wine for me was the Zöbinger Heiligenstein Riesling 2012 with its classic ripe white peach taste. Some of Bründlmayer’s neighbours in Langenlois are Ludwig and Maria Hiedler whose organic wines which get better and better every year and as always, they have a lovely Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc) with an ethereal finish. The Rieslings from Steinhaus and the blended Maximum also bowled me over. Another Langenloiser is Fred Loimer. The news is that he had taken over the old Schellmann estate in the Thermenregion which used to make great things in a ramshackle if palatial renaissance house in Gumpoldskirchen. I tasted a good, international style Chardonnay: one to watch. Rudolf Rabl is also in Langenlois. He has a vast estate by Austrian standards but he is able to make a large number of very good wines, like his sappy Grüner Veltliner from the Käferberg.

The Weingut Mantlerhof with its loess soils in Gedersdorf is another favourite of mine. They are well-known in Austria as one of the specialists for Roter Veltliner, which is a green grape. Black grapes are called ‘blau’ or blue in German. So far no one has heard of it so there has been no move to call it ‘Roater’ or worse: ‘Rotter’ in the wine trade. Sepp Mantler’s best Roter Veltliners come from the Reisenthal vineyard where he has been experimenting with open fermentation (‘botega’). He is not a one-horse winemaker and makes other lovely wines. Possibly his best are the Grüner Veltliner Reserve from Spiegel and his Riesling from Zehetnerin.

One of my favourite Kremstal estates is the Geyerhof, the home of the redoubtable Ilse Maier. She always picks late if she can and a bit of botrytis adds a taste of pineapples to the Veltliner. The very best is the Gutsreserve, which spends up to four years in cask. Nearby, the Weingut Malat has some of its best land on the slopes below the great monastery at Göttweig. The Grüner Veltliner from the Höhlgraben site has classic typicity with a smidgen of botrytis.

It is impossible to attend Vievinum without paying a call on Ludwig Neumayer from the Traisental whose wines have that zinging purity of fruit that first wooed me when I began to write about Austria a quarter of a century ago. There was a lovely Grüner Veltiner vom Stein, but once again in 2013 the Rieslings shone: the Grillenstein and Wein vom Stein above all.

Similarly, a visit to the man mountain Berhard Ott is a sine qua non. He has become the voice and benchmark of Wagram Grüner Veltliner. The wines have something of the corpulence of their maker, particularly ‘der Ott’ and the Feuersbrunner Rosenberg 2012 with its authentic lentil character of loess-grown Veltliner. The nec plus ultra, however is the 2013 Ampora wine which has not only the lentil taste, there is a little hint of bay leaves as well.

Other parts of Lower Austria yielded fewer two to three star wines. In the Thermenregion, I was very impressed by the Riesling from the Freigut Thallern. New to me was the Weingut Heggenberger with its very good 2010 Pinot Noir. I visited my old friend Walter Glatzer from Göttlesbrunn in Carnuntum and noted his lovely St Laurent from the Altenberg (see below) and Georg Prieler from Schützen in the Leitha Hills to taste his wonderful Weißburgunder from the Seeberg. Then two of Erwin Tinnhof’s wines caught my attention: the 2011 Blaufränkisch Feldmühle and the Gloriette from the same vintage. The vines for Gloriette are 55-years old and the Blaufränkisch is grown on limestone, giving it a Burgundian silkiness.

There were more sensations from Styria in the south of the country. In South Styria Willi Sattler presided over an impressive collection of 2013s, but two older wines caught my attention: a 2011 Morillon (Chardonnay) from the Pfarrweingarten and a 2007 Weißburgunder from the same site that was truly enchanting. How well these wines age! Polz’s wines disappointed me a little this year, but I did like the Sauvignon Blanc Therese, grown at 450 metres; while the two Gross wines that appealed most were the simple Steirische Klassik Sauvignon and the cru-wine from the Nußberg. Weingut Wohlmuth in Kitzeck’s best wine was a Sauvignon Hochsteinriegl grown at an altitude of 500 metres. Winkler-Hermaden in South-East Styria has absorbed the old Stürgkh estate in Klöch and had a good range of excellent if slightly understated Sauvignons.

Besides the stands where the vignerons offered their wares there were a number of side events. The most important of these for me was the red wine tasting in the Redoutensaal (either those pictures go or I do). I had recently made a selection of the best Blaufränkisch wines for Decanter and as I had a lunch that day I concentrated on St Laurent and Pinot Noir. Of the former the best seemed to me to be (in descending order) Glatzer (see above), Allacher, Dopler, Keringer, Trapl, Auer, Gisperg and Kurt Angerer; of the Pinots, Claus Preisinger, Aumann (Reserve), Heinrich Hartl, Schloß Halbturn,  Gisberg, Malat (Reserve), Cobenzl and Zahel’s Dolomit (both very good wines from within Vienna’s city limits) and Feiler-Artinger in Rust.

There was also an intriguing tasting that focussed on the geology of the Wachau and its effect on the taste of the wines which brought certain Wachaus into new focus, such as the Mauritiushof’s 2007 Riesling Tausendeimerberg, which derives some of its excellence from silicate marble; or Johann Donabaum’s Spitzer Point Grüner Veltliner of the same year which much like Bayer’s Ralais 2007 and Hitzberger’s Singerriedl of the same year is powered by paragneis. Perhaps the loveliest of these rocksucking exercises was the Riesling Schütt 2006 from Knoll the vineyard name of which commemorates the eroded shale (‘Schütt’) from the Gföhler Gneis terraces. FX Pichler’s 2007 Kellerberg Riesling owed some of its superiority to Gföhler gneis and loess.

Another exciting side event was an intimate dinner at Silvio Nickol, the new ‘gastronomic’ restaurant in the Palais Coburg. It was a celebration of Pinot Blanc/Weißburgunder organised by Georg Prieler, David Schildknecht of the Wine Spectator and the Austrian Master of Wine Andreas Wickhoff. Schildknecht in particular wanted to prove how subtle, complex and long-living were Austrian Weißburgunder (particularly those grown on limestone) and I think he succeeded admirably. The food was marvellous and some of the wines out of this world, and – as I was already aware – inextinguishable, like the Schenkenbichl from Hiedler, or Prieler’s Seeberg.

Originally posted by Giles MacDonough on
1st July 2014

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Giles MacDonogh

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