Wine tasting trip to Austria

After being told that Austria had great wine quality for a low price, I thought it was time to fly to Vienna and visit some of the country's wineries. So in October 2015 a weekend was spent in Tattendorf in the Thermenregion, South of Vienna and Rust in the Burgenland area, close to the border with Hungary.

About Thermenregion

Based on Austria’s Wine Laws, the Thermenregion was created in 1985 through the merging of wine regions Gumpoldskirchen and Bad Vöslau. Thermenregion’s vineyards are situated south of Vienna, on the edge of the Wienerwald (Vienna Woods) and close to the town of Baden. The total acre planted to vines is just over 2000 hectares with hills like the Anninger close by, impacting the terroir of the region. 

Views to Anninger

The soil in the area is relatively diverse though heavy ones are most prevalent. Weathered pebbles and stones and deep reaching-layers of alluvial soil help in warming and draining the land and in the Steinfeld, stony, rubble soils offer excellent conditions for red wines. The Thermenregion aquired this name, in part, from geothermal hot springs that flow under the vineyards, contributing to favourable wine growing conditions for difficult grape varieties like Pinot Noir and St Laurent by changing the soil temperature and creating distinctive micro-climates. 

Wine producers in the Thermenregion grow white grape varieties which are rarely grown in other parts of the words including Zierfandler (known also as Spätrot) and Rotgipfler. The major white wine producing areas are  Perchtoldsdorf, Gumpoldskirchen, Pfaffstätten, Baden, Guntramsdorf and Traiskirchen.

Other grape varieties planted include  Pinot Noir, St. Laurent, Blauer Portugieser, Neuburger, Zweigelt, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Red wines are produced around Bad Vöslau, Sooß, Tattendorf and Teesdorf.

About Burgenland

Burgenland is a large wine producing region on the eastern border of Austria close to Hungary which occupies a narrow strip of land that runs from the Danube River down to Steiermark in the south of the country.  Sopron on the Hungarian side of the border is an extension of the Austrian region with a similar style of wines.

The area has a continental climate with long, sunny summers and is Austria's key red wine region, with its wines based mainly on Blaufrankisch and Zweigel. Dessert wines which are sweet and botrytized are also a speciality of the region especially around the Neusiedlersee lake in the City of Rust (western part) or Illmitz (eastern part). The lake keeps heat from the Pannonian Plain, a large, warm area which covers much of Hungary and eastern Austria, lengthening the ripening season into autumn. Humidity from the lake promotes the spread of noble rot (botrytis cinerea) in the regions of Seewinkel and Rust. The Ausbruch, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines that are made under the Neusiedlersee and Neusiedlersee-Hugelland DACs are particularly notable wines. Top red wine producers are based on the Eastern shore of Neusiedlersee using predominantly Zweigelt based varieties.

The region's continental warmth also extends into the west and south, where the foothills of the Alps have more influence on the grapes. Very good red wines are produced in the Eisenberg DAC in Südburgenland , which allows both Blaufranksich and Zweigelt, and in the Leithaberg DAC, where Blaufrankisch is dominant. Leithaberg DAC also has a white variant, which includes Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Neuberger and Gruner Veltliner, either individually or as a blend. 

If you're a fan of red wines Neusidlersee DAC, and Südburgenland (Leithaberg and Eisenberg) are good areas areas to visit with many good producers. . 

 

But, Mittelburgenland, south of Neusiedlersee lake, is another notable part of Burgenland's red wine regions. The spicy red wines made here from Blaufrankisch have garnered the region its own DAC title, and the variety accounts for more than half of all vineyard land in Mittelburgenland.

Mittelburgenland's wines have the reputation of being the  number one region from the price-quality ratio – this is where it is possible to find top red wines at affordable prices. Another name for Mittelburgenland is Blaufränkischland, which reflects the Blaufränkisch grape focus of this region. 

Overnight in Stollhof

After being met at Vienna airport by my host for the weekend, Mikhail, we did the 70km or so trip to Stollhof, a very pleasant village, to the south west of Vienna. So Stollhof was the base for the weekend of wine tasting with a stay in Frau Berger's quest house and evenings at the pub at the Greenwell centre (http://www.greenwell.at/en) - Greenwell's Centre for Business fitness is highly recommended if you're looking for a venue for a business or training event with super meetings rooms, bedrooms, restaurant and a well stocked traditional pub with the best Austrian wines and beers courtesy of Mikhail's good taste!

Berger Gueshouse Stollhof

A few treats at the Greenwell Pub Stollhof

Visit to Familie Johanneshof Reinisch, Thermenregion

The Reinisch winery is based near the town of Tattendorf around 30 minutes drive south of Vienna ( Im Weingarten 1, 2523 Tattendorf).  The winery is open 10am-6pm Monday to Saturday and the restaurant (which is excellent) is open Thursday to Sunday. The Reinisch family farms organically and is fully certified as of the 2013 vintage (though organic practices started in 2004). See more at http://www.j-r.at/en/

Tattendorf is known as an “island of red wine” in the Austrian wine region Thermenregion with 80% of the production. The reason for this is the continental climate and the type of soil in this sub-region.The soil is dominated by gravel and chalk. The stones are warmth-preserving resulting in a higher average soil temperature, which assists ripening. Day heat is absorbed to a depth with only a moderate rise in soil temperature, followed by marked and prolonged re-radiation of warmth at night. The soil is also well-drained which can lead to problems in years with little rainfall but helps ensure that both internal and surface drainage are good meaning that roots can grow deep with a steady supply of moisture and nutrients.

The business started in 1923 with just 0.5 ha on the Ried Mitterfeld. Now there are around 40 hectares of vineyards, mostly around Tattendorf, but also on Anninger in Gumpoldskirchen between 225-450 metres in elevation. In 1995, the new winery Johanneshof Reinisch was built in Weingarten. 

The Reinisch family is now producing wine in the fourth generation with three brothers: Hannes, Christian and Michael currently running the winery. The vineyards Grillenhügel, Frauenfeld, Holzspur and Satzing are planted to 65 % red and 35 % white grapes.  Best known for their excellent Pinot Noir and St. Laurent, there is a particular focus at Johanneshof Reinisch on the Burgundy varieties.

Their Pinot Noir vines grow in vineyards from both the stony, alluvial gravel soils of Tattnedorf near the winery and the elevated, nutrient rich soils of Gumpoldskirchen. Also In their Gumpoldskirchen vineyards the indigenous grape varieties Rotgipfler and Zierfandler are grown. There are roughly 100 hectares (247 acres) remaining in the world of these two indigenous white varieties 

Wine production and cellar

Red wine fermentation tanks

Johanneshof Reinisch cellar - spot the cat!

Wines produced and wine tasting

I was fortunate to be able to try quite a few of the following wines and the breadth of wines produced at Johanneshof Reinisch is incredible.

  • Alter Rebstock (a red wine cuvée), Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot Reserve, Chardonnay Reserve Lores, Dialog (a white wine cuvée), Eiswein Merlot, Gumpoldskirchner Tradition (cuvée), Merlot Dornfeld, Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir Grillenhügel, Pinot Noir Holzspur, Premiere (a red young wine cuvée), Riesling , Rotgipfler, Rotgipfler Satzing, Rotgipfler Auslese, Sauvignon Blanc, St. Laurent, St. Laurent Frauenfeld, St. Laurent Holzspur, Sparkling Pinot Noir Brut, Steingarten (a red wine cuvée), Zierfandler Spiegel, Zweigelt, Zweigelt Frauenfeld

The Johanneshof Reinisch Fraienfeld St. Laurent and varieties of Pinot Noir (Pinot Noir Grillenhügel, Pinot Noir Holzspur) were the stand out wines from the winery. Smooth, fragrant and nicely balanced.

Thank you to Michael for the winery visit and tasting. A great introduction to Austrian wines.

More about the St. Laurent Grape

Prior to my visit to Austria I had never heard of the St. Laurent grape and what a great grape it is, especially if you're a fan of the Pinot Noir style.

St. Laurent (sometimes written in French as Saint Laurent or in German as Sankt Laurent and in Austria Sanktlorenztraube ) and it is only planted globally to around 2,000 ha. It is mainly grown in Austria (approximately 800 ha) and countries around Austria like the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Germany. St. Laurent is now the most commonly planted red/black grape in the Czech Republic. 

St. Laurent originally came from Alsace in France but it it was recorded in use by the Austrians before 1900.  

The St. Laurent grape is very similar to Pinot Noir, with thin skins and early ripening suggesting a genetic link. It is named St. Laurent because it ripens and changes colour around the same time of the year as St. Lawrence Day – August 10th. 

Until quite recently it was unclear whether St. Laurent is related to Pinot Noir or not. The school of winemaking in Klosterneuburg was only recently able to confirm this relationship beyond doubt by gene research.

However Oz Carke's latest book (Grapes & Wines: A comprehensive guide to varieties and flavours by Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand) seems to contest this point on genetic similarity to Pinot Noir:

"The thing that excites everyone about Sankt Laurent is that it can produce velvety, richly fruity reds with a strong similarity to fully ripe Pinot Noir. The trouble, then, is that everyone tries to prove Sankt Laurent is some sort of earlier-flowering, earlier-ripening Pinot Noir. Leading Austrian producer Axel Stiegelmar even said it was a seedling of Pinot Noir –in other words both its parents were Pinot Noir, but, as happens with vine seedlings, it did not reproduce true to type.

Well, genetically it seems to be a long way off Pinot Noir, but no one has yet come up with much more detail than that it probably originates in Austria –which, since most of the best Sankt Laurent I’ve tasted has been Austrian, sort of takes us back to where we started. But it is certainly like Pinot Noir –though perhaps even more like good Gamay –in its soft-centred, juicy cherry fruit. The wine is best drunk young, and may not age well –but so what? It’s a complete delight when it’s young. It is particularly popular in Thermenregion of Austria and in southern Burgenland. With Blaufränkisch it is a parent of Zweigelt, Austria’s most popular red grape.

Germany has quite a bit and it is one of the few red varieties to find any success in the cool climate of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I suspect it would do well planted also in areas like southern England and Canada. Best producers: (Austria) Paul Achs, Gernot Heinrich, Juris (G Stiegelmar), Willi Opitz, Hans Pittnauer, Joseph Umathum." 

NOTE: I would say however that Austria's best producers are Paul Achs, Gernot Heinrich, Weingut Juris (G Stiegelmar), Willi Opitz, Hans Pittnauer, Joseph Umathum, Weingut Sattler, Johanneshof Reinisch, Weingut Gisperg.

History of Saint Lawrence

Lawrence of Rome and later St. Lawrence was born in Spain in the third Century and moved to Rome after his education and eventually became archdeacon of Rome in charge of the church treasury under Pope Sixtus II In the year 258 Emperor Valerian decreed that all Christians including Lawrence be put to death in part to get hold of the early Christian church's money. Before he was put to death he managed to distribute the wealth of the church to the poor people of Rome.

The St. Laurent vine

  • Leaf: medium-sized; five-lobed, wavy
  • Grape cluster: medium sized, compact berries, oval grapes with a blue black colour, thin skinned
  • Ripening time: mid-early season
  • Growing conditions: Generally low yielding with good sites needed with deep soil. The variety is considered difficult in the vineyard and it is prone to frost damage especially during flowering

Comparing St. Laurent with Pinot Noir

St. Laurent wines are darker in the glass than Pinot Noir with intense red and violet. There are aromas of morello cherry, blackcurrant and dark plum with earthy forest notes compared with the raspberry, strawberry notes of a Pinot. So more dark fruit rather than red fruit. The wines are generally highly aromatic with an elegant style when the wines are at their highest quality.

If it’s harvested early St. Laurent the wine will generally have light tannins. A later harvest later or during a warmer summer will increase tannin levels.

Tasting it as a new wine, it can be acid and very dry. Having had time to age, it is velvety and full-bodied with soft tannins. This wine is especially suitable for oak-barrel-ageing.

The best St. Laurent wines are generally medium bodied with powerful aromas, smooth, velvety textures with a nice balance of black fruit, acidity, tannin with a long finish. When barrel aged the characteristics should be in harmony with the grape. A great wine to try in you're visiting Austria and like Burgundy style reds!

Visit to the Schneider winery

So into central Tattendorf and a visit to the Schneider winery (Badnerstrasse 3, A-2523 Tattendorf) run by Georg Schneider, open 9am - 6pm Monday to Saturday. The wines are fully certified organic. There is also a superb traditional Austrian restaurant, Restaurant Rebhof Schneider, run by the family next door which in October was serving lovely game dishes which were in season at the time (venison, boar, pheasant etc.). The restaurant has been running for almost 200 years – in the beginning known as “Gasthaus Zur Krone”, continuing as “Gasthaus Schneider”, until today’s “Restaurant Rebhof”.See more at http://www.weingut-schneider.co.at/english/index.htm

Schneider produces Klassik and Reserve (aged) wines from grapes grown in the Thermenregion and Niederösterreich with Chardonnay, Pinot blanc (Weißburgunder), Müller-Thurgau, Gruner Veltliner, Rotgipfler, St. Laurent, Pinot noir (Blauburgunder), Blauer Zweigelt, Blauer Portugieser and Cabernet Sauvignon. However, Schneider Winery has put its focus on the red grape varieties of the burgundy family Pinot Noir and Saint Laurent. 

After graduating from the Höhere Bundeslehranstalt für Wein- und Obstbau in Klosterneuburg and after training on wine estates in Germany and Australia, Georg Schneider has taken over responsibility for winemaking. The Schneider's own around 14ha of vineyards and Georg says that "Holding together among the family is the base condition for success in our winery. Running our winery doesn’t mean working from nine to five to us. It means our life.".

Georg Schneider in the vineyard

Georg is producing some excellent Burgundy style Pinot Noir and St. Laurent and a visit to the winery and restaurant should be on your schedule if you're passing near Tattendorf.  Expectations for the  2015 vintage are high after excellent growing and harvesting conditions as well as good yields so expect a finessed range of wines with plenty of complex fruit notes when the wines begin to be released from March 2016.

Off to Rust, Burgenland

After Tattendorf we headed off to Rust in Burgenland, near the Neusiedler See (Lake Neusiedl ), a lake which enables the area to produce some excellent sweet wines with Botryris, the noble rot, RusterAusbruch. 

With only about 1,900 inhabitants Rust is Austria's smallest statutory city, as it was endowed with the rights of a royal free city by the Hungarian crown in 1681. As well as RusterAusbruch, the city is known for Beerenauslese (late harvest) and ice wines. 

First a visit to the Weingut Feiler-Artinger at Hauptstraße 3, 7071 Rust. See more at http://www.feiler-artinger.at/

weingut feiler-artinger rust burgenland

The winery is now run by Hans and his wife Inge Feiler, and their son Kurt Feiler and his wife Katrin with around 30 hectares of vineyards in Rust.

But it has a long history starting in the 1930's and as early as 1947 the family began to fill a part of the harvest in bottles and to market the wine themselves. In 1953 Gustav Feiler sought to produce a  "Ruster Ausbruch" and in 1963 accepts his son Hans took over winemaking from his father Gustav. In 1994 Han's son Kurt took over the day to day running of Feiler-Artinger.

About 65% of vineyards are planted with red grape varieties. The most important variety is the Gamay, followed by Zweigelt, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir and Shiraz. The 35% of the area that are planted with white grapes is spread over a total of 8 varieties. The three main ones are Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Riesling but also Traminer, Neuburger, Muscat, Muscat Ottonel and Pinot Gris are grown.

The family say that "Our wines are works of art; they are a symbiosis of climate, soil and the personality of the people who stand behind it!"

Wine tasting

The winery's two signature wines are Solitaire, a red blend and the Ruster Ausbruch Essenz Chardonnay, a late harvest.It was a pleasure to drink these and many of their excellent dessert wines.

Solitaire is a blend predominantly of Blaufränkisch with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, made only from the best locations and the best grapes. For example the 2012 is Blaufränkisch (87%), Cabernet Sauvignon (10%), Merlot (3%).  The wine is fermented in both stainless steel and wooden tanks. The malolactic fermentation takes place in large oak barrels and then the wines are moved into barriques to mature for about 15 months. 

Ruster Ausbruch Essenz is obtained from particularly shrunken grapes and berries and picked late harvest. The juice of this berry is so sweet that the yeasts can ferment only slowly and with difficulty. The alcohol which is formed during the fermentation remains below 10% volume and the residual sugar is well above 250 grams. 

Visit to the Giefing winery

A-7071 Rust am Neusiedler See, Hauptstrasse 13. See more at http://www.wein-rust.at/en

Erich Giefing used to be an award-winning gourmet chef running the"Backstube" restaurant in Rust but during the mid-nineties he and his wife Claudia decided to give up cooking, lease the restaurant and devote themselves to viticulture. He made his new home in a 500-year-old farmhouse in the center of Rust, laying the cornerstone for the Giefing Winery.

The farmhouse dates back to the 15th century and is the only building of its kind still used by vintners today and the winery has 14 hectares of vineyards. Chardonnay, Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner, Neuburger, Furmint,Blaufränkisch, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zweigelt, St. Laurent, Syrah, Merlot and Pinot Noir are grown.The wines are vinified in stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels.

I found that the Giefing wines were not for me with heavy tannins despite age and a generally unapproachable style. Despite having the chance to try many wines, there were few I enjoyed. The tasting room was surprisingly busy despite my disappointment with the wines. I can imagine that 20 years in the cellar might temper this tannin heavy wines.

After a very enjoyable day of tasting in Tattendorf and Rust with some lovely sunshine accompanied by the autumn vineyard colours, it was the end of day one of Austrian Wine tasting.

On to day two. First a walk near Tattendorf on the St. Laurent Weinwanderweg which gives you an opportunity to wander the vineyards and there's even an observation tower. Shame about the fog and cold in the morning, but it was good to clear the head.

Visit to the Familie Auer winery

A chance to return to Tattendorf with a visit to the Weingut Familie Auer (Pottendorfer Str. 14, 2523 Tattendorf) which as well as a winery also has a very good wine tavern. See more at http://www.weingutauer.at/e/weingut.php

The winery and cellar

 

The Auer winery is owned by Leopold Auer and are members of the vintner association "Die Burgundermacher". Leopold is particularly passionate about Pinot Noir and St. Laurent. 

The stand out wines in terms of tasting were the Reserve's of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Pinot Noir and St. Laurent but the Klassik wines were exceptional value given the quality and low price. The Reserve's are barrique aged for up to 2 years. A Klassik Pinot Noir went down particularly well with the lunch and is sold at less than 10 euros a bottle, imagine the quality you would get in Burgundy for that!?

After a hearty lunch at the tavern it was time to head back to Vienna Airport and reminisce about the lovely wines and celebrate that I'd discovered St. Laurent wines given my love of the Burgundy style wines. Thanks to Misha for organising the trip and for being such a great host!