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Austria Uber Alles: A Wine Summit

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By Zoltan Szabo

"Austrian Wine is for Intelligent People... and vice versa!" screams the imprint on my gift, a poison green T-shirt. Is it really?!  I must be a sophisticated intellectual, no doubt!

There are 50,000 hectares of vineyard in Austria, which equals exactly 1% of the world's wine production. Organic and bio viticulture is very much "in vogue" here. Very few biodynamic vineyards are "Demeter certified", but interest is growing and many of the winemakers I met say they will follow suit.

While 2005 was a difficult vintage in general, 2006 produced some monumental and age worthy (white!) wines. As for reds... well, they are madly in love with oak and toasted, vanilla, chocolate aromas and flavours, bitter wood tannins. (Why?) And some of the reds are sweet with residual sugar or maybe chaptalised.

Of course, Gruner Veltliner is the main deal, as Austria's flagship grape. It is said that the varietal has many forefathers, and has been through several crossings and mutations. Somewhere in it lineage there is Gewurz, but I'm no DNA expert. What I do know for sure is that it's one fine God damn grape that produces wine with intriguing, aromatics, fruity, spicy, peperry, minerally nuances, light to full bodied ones and with great backbone of acidity.

The Austrian winemakers talk about two major clones, genetically identified in 1860, 1940 respectively: Klosterneuburg and Krems. The first is capable of producing spicy, mineral, herbal wines, the second more fruity, floral ones. Some can age for ages.  There's some stunning Rieslings as well, also with great ageing potential.

Our host was the one of a kind new Director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, Willi Klinger, a "part time" actor and singer. You go, Willi, you are kick ass, meine bruder! What a well organized affair! At Schloss Belvedere, I even danced at farewell party with a molto-chic-Kazakhstany journalist babe that had really good sense of rythm. (Too bad there's no flourishing wine industry in Kazakhstan I could visit.) Anyway, here are some of my impressions of vineyards and top scoring wines:

Nussberg - the vineyards of Vienna's 19th District - producing Gemischter Satz "field blend" that can be sold at local heuriges (restos) allowing producers to skip paying tax. Encompassing 650 ha., 150 growers, including pros and hobby. See some favourite wines below, also liked one of the reds of Mayer, Rotes Haus...light, fruity and fresh, very lightly oaked...had lovely lunch there sitting in middle of vineyard... This also where the historic "Nussberg Peace Pact between North American & British Wine Journalists" was signed.

Weinviertel - "Austria's most peppery wine" - the first DAC in 2003 -1 hr. away from Vienna, producing peppery, bone dry Gruner.

Traisental - another DAC area, producing wines with much minerality

Mittelburgenland - DAC - reds produced from Blaufrankisch (Kekfrankos in Hungarian)...and why do these folks around here love sooooo much oak??

Niederosterreich or Lower Austria - more reds made here from Blauer Zweigelt, Pinot Noir, St. Laurent, even tasted a Syrah - some badly over oaked. Also, there's some funky, kinky wines made from Neuburger, Rotter and Gelber Traminer, Fruhroter Veltliner, Rotgipfler, Zierfandler, some even good...

Donauland - terroir driven wines from Gruner and Riesling grown in very fertile loess over primary rock soils, sand apparenly originating from the Sahara Desert throughout the movement of the glaciers. Wines can age for long time. Boat trip on the Danube from Krems to Spitz - priceless!  Clear view of the southern facing, terraced vineyards of the Wachau and the old church with frescos of 7 rabbits (that look like dogs) trying to get atop of church to escape the raising waters of the Danube centuries ago... I can sense micro soil differentiation in wines.


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