THE WEIN LOVER’S GUIDE TO AUS­TRIA

The beauty of Vi­enna through wein

Epicure - - CONTENTS -

Vi­enna is Wien, and wine is wein, in Ger­man. And there re­ally isn’t any bet­ter way to get to know this city than through a glass of its own high qual­ity grapes. My first glimpse of Vi­enna’s In­nere Stadt (old city) con­firms all its tropes – grand Baroque and Ju­gend­stils (Art Noveau) man­sions, Hab­s­burg Em­pire palaces and Neo­clas­si­cal el­e­gance. It lives up to its glit­ter­ing rep­u­ta­tion, from City of Mu­sic to City of Wine, hav­ing the most num­ber of winer­ies still in pro­duc­tion within its city lim­its.

Be­fit­tingly, one of the world’s finest cel­lar col­lec­tions is lo­cated in the only ex­ist­ing por­tion of 15th cen­tury me­dieval town for­ti­fi­ca­tions. Palais Coburg (palais-coburg.com), now a lux­ury ho­tel res­i­dence, was built be­fore the town walls were de­mol­ished in the 1800s as the city ex­panded, hence pre­serv­ing the at­mo­spheric ram­parts which are now re­pur­posed as wine cel­lars. The Palais Coburg Wine Archive is the sec­ond most valu­able in the world, num­ber­ing 60,000 bot­tles worth US$26 mil­lion. Tours are con­ducted for ho­tel guests, while non-ho­tel guests can join monthly sched­uled tours.

Each cel­lar holds the finest wines of its cat­e­gory. In the ship­like New World Cel­lar, Cal­i­for­nia’s Scream­ing Ea­gle and Opus One, along­side Pen­folds Grange, dom­i­nate. There’s a Cham­pagne cel­lar, one just for Yquem, and the Old World cel­lar which holds fine archives of the great­est Aus­trian wines. It is the French cel­lar that seals the deal. Bordeaux and Bur­gundy’s great­est mar­ques are here, not just by chateaux but also by the leg­endary vin­tages de­clared. Try not to gasp when you spot the Do­maine de la Ro­manée-conti, La Ro­manée-conti 1929 and 1945, Che­val Blanc 1947, or Petrus 1962 priced at $100,000. It’s no won­der that Coburg con­sis­tently scores World’s Best Wine List in com­pe­ti­tions, in­clud­ing from World of Fine Wine 2017.

If all that tour­ing gets you thirsty, the ho­tel’s bar or res­i­dent two-miche­lin starred restau­rant, Sil­vio Nickol, would be a good place to pe­ruse all 6,000 wine la­bels.

Go­ing in­ter­na­tional

For years, you’ve prob­a­bly heard that most Aus­trian wine is con­sumed in Aus­tria it­self, leav­ing very lit­tle for the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket. To bet­ter un­der­stand how some brands are po­si­tion­ing them­selves for the over­seas mar­ket, I travel south to Süd­steier­mark, to meet ‘Mr Sau­vi­gnon’. The moniker was be­stowed on Walter Skoff, whose fifth-gen­er­a­tion fam­ily es­tate – re­named Skoff Orig­i­nal (skof­fo­rig­i­nal.com) since 2011 – spe­cialises in Sau­vi­gnon Blanc.

They’ve notched up some 800 awards, in­clud­ing 300 gold medals, but in 2017, they made it to the very top, in the Con­cours Mon­dial du Sau­vi­gnon where the Skoff Orig­i­nal Kranach­berg Sau­vi­gnon Blanc 2015 won the ti­tle of Best Sau­vi­gnon Blanc in the World. To do that, it had to beat 860 en­tries from coun­tries like Italy, France, New Zealand and South Africa, through an in­ter­na­tional panel of over 50 judges from 20 coun­tries tast­ing the wines blind.

I’m in pic­turesque Gam­litz, pop­u­la­tion 2,500, the hilly area that’s dot­ted with out­stand­ing sin­gle vine­yards such as Kranach­berg, Obegg and Grass­nitzberg, coin­ci­den­tally also where Walter has plots. He farms 13 sites that are all less than 15km away from the win­ery, grow­ing not just Sau­vi­gnon Blanc but au­tochthonous grapes like Welschries­ling, Weiss­bur­gun­der (Pinot Blanc), Gel­ber Muskateller, Graubur­gun­der (Pinot Gris) and Mo­ril­lon (the lo­cal Chardon­nay), along­side some Zweit­gelt.

The air here is re­mark­ably clear, and the en­vi­ron­ment is pris­tine. It’s clear why this area is con­sid­ered a well-kept va­ca­tion se­cret. Head of mar­ket­ing Har­ald Wick­off, drives me around town and to the vine­yards, and also swings by Vi­no­fak­tur (vi­no­fak­tur.at), a slick one-stop gourmet and wine store with Styr­ian spe­cial­i­ties ga­lore. My wal­let takes a huge dent as I revel in the se­lec­tion of over 70 winer­ies, 100 food pro­duc­ers and even lo­cal gins. There are guided tast­ings and well-crafted ex­hi­bi­tions (in Ger­man only) on lo­cal del­i­ca­cies, such as the pump­kin seed oil, a must-buy in this area. Later that night, at the win­ery’s restau­rant Gastlichkeit, I en­joy the re­gional de­light of back­handl (coun­try style fried chicken) served with a potato and pump­kin seed oil dish called erdäpfel­salad, which went per­fectly with – what else – Sau­vi­gnon Blanc.

Be­fore I leave the next day, I make a bee­line to the Skoff Orig­i­nal tast­ing room for the lat­est in their pre­mium range – the STOAN 2015, an in­cred­i­ble skin con­tact Sau­vi­gnon Blanc made in a stone vat, ex­ud­ing the most in­tox­i­cat­ing min­er­al­ity and in­tense ripe mango and stone­fruit notes. With the suc­cess of the in­au­gu­ral vin­tage, Walter is look­ing to ex­pand the quan­tity by adding one more stone vat. It’s a taste of things to come, with sus­tain­abil­ity and nat­u­ral wine­mak­ing very much on the minds of Aus­tria’s top mak­ers. I’ll be knock­ing on the doors of his Sin­ga­pore dis­trib­u­tor, Sch­midt Vinothek, for some of that sup­ply!

Palais Coburg cel­lars Walter Skoff, on right, is known as ‘Mr Sau­vi­gnon’ View of vine­yards from Skoff Orig­i­nal

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