When most of us in the rest of the world hear Austria mentioned, we think of pleasant associations: Strauss waltzes, "The Sound of Music," snow-capped Alps and the Blue Danube, luscious pastries and dollops of rich whipped cream ... and, for many Americans, German-speaking immigrant ancestors. What's not to like?
But even committed wine enthusiasts tend to think of Austria for other glories than its wine.
A bit of history here: Although its wine history goes back to the ancient Celts more than 2,500 years ago, Austria's modern wine story is sadly shaped by a wine-adulteration scandal that hit world headlines in the 1980s, when it was revealed that some of the country's bulk wine producers, making cheap sweet wine for sale on the German market, were using diethylene glycol - better known for its use as antifreeze - as an artificial sweetener. No injuries were reported (this particular antifreeze, though illegal, was non-poisonous), but in spite of quick criminal prosecutions, the international sales of Austrian wines plummeted, and many producers went bankrupt.
Under both legal and economic pressure, the Austrian industry quickly reinvented itself, adopting strict new regulations and a fierce commitment to quality. But the memory of the marketplace is enduring, and to this day Austrian wine remains a relatively minor niche in the world market.
It deserves better. Modern Austrian wines are consistently impressive, in a style very different from the familiar products of their cousins across the border in Germany. Although you'll find a few luscious dessert wines, most Austrian wines are bone-dry and crisp, with a consistent "minerality" that adds complexity and flavor interest to both the reds and the whites.
I got a good and impressive exposure to Austrian wine during a visit to Vienna and several of the country's wine regions in 1998, and I'm looking forward to a return visit as I guide a group tour there this coming September. More about that below. But first, let's have a quick refresher on a few of the basic points of Austrian wine regions and grapes.
The regions best-known internationally are those along the Danube - Kamptal, Kremstal and, in particular, the Wachau - but there's much more variety and diversity in wine regions such as Steiermark in the southeastern Alps and Neusiedlersee in the country's scenic eastern lake region. To view a map and charts about Austria and its wine regions, you can download the Adobe Acrobat (PDF) file at
In contrast with Germany's most sought-after wine regions, the Rhine and Mosel valleys, Austria's vineyards enjoy a relatively benign climate that fosters full ripeness and powerful, intense wines. Those who insist on finding comparisons among disparate regions might better liken it to Alsace than Germany. But why compare? It's Austrian, and that's good. Following disastrous floods in 2002, Austria basked with the rest of Europe in the torrid summer of 2003, and early reports suggest that the wines of the vintage will be exceptional.
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Sepp Moser is a respected producer with a long history in Austria; his father, Lenz Moser, has been making wine since the 1950s, and the family winery history goes back to 1848. Today's featured wines from Sepp Moser - a beautifully structured, minerally Grüner Veltliner from Kremstal and a fruity, snappy Blauer Zweigelt from Neusiedlersee - represent the family's two primary properties.Sepp Moser 2001 Neusiedlersee Blauer Zweigelt Reserve
Clear garnet in the glass, this unfamiliar variety introduces itself with a forward, fresh and fruity aroma that blends red fruit with a pleasant scent of very ripe Winesap apples. Mouth-watering acidity, a hallmark of good Austrian wines, frames ripe but bone-dry red-cherry fruit on the palate, with a spicy hint of fragrant white pepper to add pleasing complexity. Snappy acidity makes it an exceptionally fine food wine, while its ripe fruit flavor and interesting complexity give it the tools to stand alone as an aperitif. U.S. importer: California Wine Club International Selections, imported by Victoire Imports Co., San Leandro, Calif. (April 11, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Acidity and fruit make it a versatile food wine, and it's not so robust as to overpower lighter fare. It made a very fine match with an Austrian classic, Wiener Schnitzel with fresh lemon.
VALUE: Competitive in the ultra-premium category.
WHEN TO DRINK: The conventional wisdom suggests drinking up Blauer Zweigelt while it's young and fresh, but this one certainly isn't going to fade over the next few years.
WEB LINK: The winery Website is available in German and English. The English-language pages start here:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Today's featured wines are available as a package from The California Wine Club, by phone at 1-800-777-4443 or on the Web at
Sepp Moser 2002 Wolfsgraben Kremstal Grüner Veltliner
This clear, light straw-color wine shows a greenish hue in the glass. Pleasantly musky honeydew-melon aromas add overtones of citrus fruit; these appetizing aromas carry over on the palate, adding a distinct "stony," "chalky" minerality that is the trademark of quality Grüner Veltliner ("GV" for short). Crisp pineappley white fruit and a soprano high note of acidity hang on in a very long, clean finish. U.S. importer: California Wine Club International Selections, imported by Victoire Imports Co., San Leandro, Calif. (April 10, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: GV is a remarkable food wine, right up there with Riesling in its versatility. It makes an amiable companion with poultry, pork, seafood and even spicy Asian fare. I matched it against the simple, warming background of a rich potato, celeriac and leek soup.
VALUE: Increasing popularity is starting to boost the price of quality GV, but this one would be an excellent buy in the $15 range and still fair in the $20s.
WHEN TO DRINK: Although this one is ready to drink, top GVs will keep well under good cellar conditions; I've found 30-year-old Grüner Veltliners holding up remarkably well in Austrian cellars.
WEB LINK AND WHERE TO BUY IT: See links above.
California Wine Club: Collector or Connoisseur?
If you're a collector or a connoisseur, then The California Wine Club's Signature Series is for you! With the Signature Series, the search is unique. Club owners, Bruce & Pam Boring seek only the rarest, most decorated, most coveted wines from California's best boutique wineries. Some are library wines, held in reserve deep in the cellar ... others are covered in gold and silver medals, with only a few cases remaining.
The Signature Series is not for everyone and due to the limited availability of wine, club membership is limited to just 800 members. Each shipment includes two bottles of rare, hand-selected wine as well as detailed tasting notes and winemaker comments. Monthly shipments vary in price, averaging $125. For more information or to join the Signature Series call 1-800-777-4443 or visit
Brentwood Wine Co.
It's spring cleaning season. Don't forget your wine cellar!
Savvy wine enthusiasts know that the time of year when we clean up, fix up and paint up is also a great time to review our wine collection and consider moving things around, clearing out old bottles that no longer intrigue us and making room for something new. Perhaps you over-bought what seemed like a good deal at the time ... or your tastes have changed ... or maybe you just see an opportunity to realize an investment gain on something you bought a decade ago. Whatever your reasons for taking wine to auction, Brentwood is the place for you. Here's why:
Of course selling is only half the game. If you're buying collectibles, Brentwood is your year-round source for centerpiece wines for entertaining. Enjoy the fun and excitement of buying wine at auction ... at Brentwood Wine Co.,
PS: Thinking about restocking your home glassware? Make Brentwood your source for Riedel crystal: They have the entire line ready for immediate shipment!
Words about Port
Kobrand Corp., a major importer, recently sponsored a series of Port tastings around the U.S., and Port expert Roy "Portolover" Hersh couldn't resist the opportunity to fly down when the tour came to Los Angeles.
We're all the beneficiaries, as Hersh files this comprehensive report on a fine assortment of Ports from The Fladgate Partnership, (Taylor, Fonseca, Croft and Delaforce), along with comments on the 2001 Port growing conditions and tasting notes on a remarkable series of Ports old and new. You'll find his full report online at
Hersh is launching an E-letter about Port. If you would like to be included on his E-mail list, you're invited to send him E-mail at PortoLover@aol.com, including your first and last name and the city, state and country in which you reside. Knowing him to be both passionate and deeply knowledgeable about Port, I'm confident that this will be a don't-miss publication for anyone who enjoys this great wine. Highly recommended.
This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy:
Randy's World of Wine: The compelling call of Walla Walla
Dave McIntyre's WineLine: Fighting the Palate Doldrums
Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: "Painful measures" in Bordeaux?
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Little Penguins, Yellow Tails and youth (April 9, 2004)
More Southern Italians (April 7, 2004)
Do wine lovers improve with age? (April 5, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Salade Rouge et Verte (April 8, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, April 12, 2004