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MAY 2, 2011: Austria Uncorked Comes to Los Angeles

austrialogo-en.gifWhile I think it's necessary to have a focus when it comes to wine, one of the things I miss about being part of an official educational program is the chance to learn about regions and varietals outside of my comfort zone. Most of us, myself included, are just not going to take chances on wines we haven't heard of when there's so much out there you can pretty much guarantee you're going to like. This year, however, I'm making a concerted effort to get out there and explore wine regions I know little or, frankly anything, about. I miss the joy of discovering a new varietal that really makes you stop and take notice. Plus, wines outside of CA generally deliver much more quality and complexity for the dollar.

austria1.jpgOne of my favorite events of the year so far, was Austria Uncorked. One of the reasons it's taken me so long to write about it is because I'm still trying to get a handle on the various wines and regions of this Old World country that's turning out some very modern and intriguing wines. It's not that I was trying to avoid Austrian wines, it's just that the names and regions, being Germanic, are hard to pronounce and there isn't a lot of it imported into the United States. When bottles do make it over here they generally contain grape varieties many of us are unfamiliar with. I had had a glass or two of Grüner Veltliner – an indigenous grape that is the most widely grown – and Riesling, but can't say I'd ever tasted Zweigelt, St. Laurent or Blaufrankisch (their homegrown reds). After visiting their website which really does a great job in explaining their grapes and regions, I can say my interest was even more peaked.

austrialandscape.jpgThe grape has been grown in Austria off and on for over 2000 years, with a revitilization of cultivation and production occuring in the 18th Century and the first oenoloigcal school opening in 1860. They are not newbies to winemaking with many of the producers I tasted having been making wine over many generations. There are four major wine-growing regions – Niederösterreich, Burgenland, Steiermark and Wein – all located along the Eastern border of the country with 16 smaller delineated quality areas within the larger regions of which Wachau, Kremstal, Kamptal and Traisental are most famous for high-quality Grüner and Riesling and the regions of Neusiedlersee and Mittelburgenland producing the top-of-the-line red varieties.

Since they are mostly known for their high-quality whites – with the spicy and refreshing Gruner Veltliner leading the way – I decided to focus my tasting on the grape that's got them back on the wine map. GV is supposedly the perfect food wine since it has medium-high acidity and more savory notes (herbs, pepper, grass) than fruity. Since I like my white wines to taste of fruit, I was a bit skittish, but I have to say that after the first 3 or 4 I began to understand what the fuss was all about.

austria2.jpgThese wines ran the gamut from bright and refreshing summer sippers to lush, aromatic, intense wines that make you pause to consider while yearning for another taste. While I enjoyed many of the entry-level regional bottles – which can be found in the $10-$15 range and come in around 11% abv – it was the single vineyard reserve or DAC wines from Kamptal and Kremstal that really got my attention. A bit more complex and fruity (12.5% – 13%), while still retaining the acidity and spice the grape is known for. They delivered everything I love in a white wine at very good price points. It only took one afternoon and I was hooked. Granted I got to try wines from every price level, much of it that will be hard to come by here, but it was the overall quality that was most impressive.

My favorite winemakers/producers were Geyerhof, Weinrieder, Huber, Veyder-Mayberg, Bründlmayer, Nikolaihof, Türk, Salomon Undhof, Schloss Gobelsburg and Gernot Heinrich. Unfortunately, I only got to about half the room and know I missed some heavy hitters like Prager, Leth, Glatzer, Fred Loimer and Lenz Moser, but there was only so much time. The following wines are the ones that really stood out for me and ones that I will be seeking out to enjoy more than just a taste. If you're stuck in a rut give Grüner Veltliner or, if you're only a red drinker, Zweigelt a try. You might find your new favorite grape...and when it comes to wine there's almost nothing more exciting than that.

2010 Geyerhof Grüner Veltliner Hoher Rain, Kremstal – $23 – ***

2010 Geyerhof Grüner Veltliner Gaisberg Reserve, Kremstal – $20 – **

2008 Geyerhof Zweigelt Ried Richtern, Niederösterreich – $20 **

2009 Juris Zweigelt Selection, Burgenland – $18 **

2008 Weinrieder Riesling Kugler, Niederösterreich – $25 ***

2008 Weinrieder Grüner Veltliner Alte Reben, Niederösterreich – $25 ***

2010 Huber Grüner Veltliner DAC, Traisental – $15 **

2009 Veyder-Malberg Grüner Veltliner Kreutles, Wachau – $30 ***

2010 Bründlmayer Zweigelt Rosé, Niederösterreich – $16 **

2009 Bründlmayer Grüner Veltliner Käferberg Reserve, Kamptal – $60 ****

2010 Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner Gobelsburger, Kamptal – $15 **

2009 Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner Hefeabzug, Wachau – $30 ***

2009 Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner Im Weingebirge Smaragd, Wachau – $35 ***

2009 Turk Grüner Veltliner Kremser Sandgrube, Kremstal – $23 **

2009 Turk Grüner Veltliner Frechau, Kremstal – $30 ***

2009 Turk Zweigelt Im grossen Berg, Niederösterreich – $14 **

2008 Heinrich Maestro Cuvée, Burgenland – $15 **

2008 Heinrich Zweigelt, Burgenland – $20 **

2010 Salomon Undhof Grüner Veltliner Hochterrassen, Niederösterreich – $15 **

2009 Hirsch Grüner Veltliner Trinkvergnügen #8, Niederösterreich – $17 **

To learn more check out www.austrianwine.com

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