A trip to Austria
For today's "wine tour in a glass," let's go to Austria for a fresh look at a couple of first-rate Grüner Veltliners, a quick cellar check on two affordable goodies that remained unsold at a local retailer, getting better and better while they gathered dust at room temperature on the shelf.
Austrian Grüner Veltliner enjoys a virtual "cult" following among a relatively small number of wine lovers, who admire "GV" for its intriguing minerally complexity, structure and surprising ageworthiness of the wine, not to mention its seriously food-friendly nature. GV remains a mystery for many wine consumers, however; but as today's tastings illustrate, it deserves better, and if you haven't yet given this Austrian beauty a try, I recommend making an effort to seek it out.
And while we're talking about Austria and its wines, let me take the liberty of inviting you to join a "real world" tour that I'll be leading in Austria in early autumn, when I'll accompany a small group of wine enthusiasts from the Danube to the Alps as we focus on Austria's wine regions, art, history and culture.
Organized by Food & Wine Trails, a respected California wine-travel firm, and sponsored by the Austrian Tourist Office and Austrian Air, this seven-day, six-night tour will take us to Vienna and through the Wachau, Kamptal and Burgenland wine-producing regions, where we'll get an up-close-and-personal look at the excitement and innovation that has accompanied Austria's recent rebirth as a serious, if still small, player on the international wine scene.
Tour dates are Sept. 25 to Oct. 1, 2004, just 2 1/2 months away, and the size of the tour group will be strictly limited in order to assure that we travel as a small group of wine-loving friends. So if you're even tentatively interested in going along, I urge you to get in touch. For more information including prices, details and a full itinerary, click to Food & Wine Trails,
To read more about my last visit to Austria, featuring numerous wine-tasting reports, see my Europe Wine Diary 1998 - Austria,
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Nikolaihof Wachau Hefeabzug Grüner Veltliner ($13.99)
That odd term on the label, which appears to be an unpronounceable "Hefeabxng," is actually German for "yeast aged" or, in the somewhat more familar French terminology, "sur lie," indicating that the wine is kept for an extended time on its "lees" or spent yeast, a flavor-boosting technique more familiar in Muscadet on the Loire than the Wachau on the Danube. The bottle also carries the red logo of Demeter International, an organization that certifies "biodynamic" producers, an extreme version of organic agriculture. In short, it's a very unusual wine ... and a very good one, from the winery said to be the Wachau's oldest. Clear, watery pale in color, it shows a greenish-brassy glint. Subtle but complex aromas blend white fruit, wildflowers and a chalky minerality that carries over on the palate with crisp fruit, snappy acidity and a distinctly mineral character that illustrates an old Austrian wine joke about "drinking rocks." Firm, steely acidity and subtle minerality carry on in a very long finish. U.S. importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.; a Terry Theise Estate Selection. (June 26, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Fresh pork-and-veal bratwurst patties scented with coriander and grilled over charcoal made a spectacular match; try it in general with pork, poultry or richer seafood.
VALUE: Very good value at this low-teens price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Last tasted in January 2002, now gaining a bit of complexity but holding up very well. Should hold and even improve for another few years.
WEB LINK: The Nikolaihof Website is comprehensive, but available only in German. You'll find it here:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Note that this wine has been on the shelf for some time, and more recent vintages may be available. Seek vendors and compare prices for Nikolaihof on Wine-Searcher.com,
Mantlerhof 2000 Kremstal Grüner Veltliner Spiegel ($13.99)
This is a clear, pale-gold wine with a slight greenish hue. Stony minerality is joined on the nose by ripe white fruit with aroma notes of honey and almonds and spicy white pepper. Full-bodied fruit flavor, peaches and pears, offer a luscious texture at first; a core of steely acidity becomes more evident on the palate, segueing to a lemony tang in a very long finish. "Spiegel" ("mirror" in German) is the vineyard name. U.S. importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.; a Terry Theise Estate Selection. (July 1, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: A simple dish of pork chops pan-braised with onions makes a natural match.
VALUE: Excellent value at this price, although I can't help noticing that the same local retailer offered it on sale for $7 two years ago.
WHEN TO DRINK: Going strong, showing significantly increased complexity while holding on to its youthful fruit. I tasted a 37-year-old Grüner Veltliner at the Mantlerhof winery that was outstanding, so with good storage conditions, there's absolutely no hurry on this one.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Note that this wine has been on the shelf for some time, and more recent vintages may be available. Look up vendors and prices for Mantlerhof wines on Wine-Searcher.com,
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Friday, July 9, 2004