Aus­tria’s own lake su­pe­rior

SHORE THING: drinks in the mi­cro­cli­mate around the Neusiedler See while also find­ing time to en­joy a tip­ple or two.

Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine - - Front Page -

HADN’T re­alised just how big the Neusiedler See (Lake Neusiedl) is. This shal­low lake, in the far eastern part of Aus­tria, is more than 20 miles long and six miles wide, and it runs roughly from north to south, even­tu­ally cross­ing into Hungary at its south­ern point.

De­spite its vast area it is less than 6ft deep and the edges of the lake are thick with reeds, ex­tend­ing a good kilo­me­tre into the lake. Although I have stood along the banks of the lake sev­eral times, all I have seen of it has been the tall reeds that sway and chat­ter in the breeze. It was only when I boarded a boat and trav­elled out into open wa­ter that I could re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate the size and the ef­fect of this huge land­locked lake. It took over two hours to travel from the top of the lake at Jois down to Mör­bisch and all the while I tasted the wines of the re­gion.

I was in Aus­tria to visit a newly des­ig­nated area of Bur­gen­land, known as Lei­thaberg (pro­nounced Lighter­berg) and Lake Neusiedl is one of the key fac­tors that make this re­gion unique. Other im­por­tant fac­tors are the hills, known as the Lei­tha Moun­tains that are ac­tu­ally the foothills of the Alps. These hills curve around the north and western side of the lake, pro­tect­ing the vine­yards that nes­tle on the slopes while al­low­ing cool­ing winds to sweep down from higher al­ti­tudes. The lake it­self pro­vides a par­tic­u­lar mi­cro­cli­mate, buffer­ing ex­tremes of tem­per­a­ture and ex­tend­ing the ripen­ing sea­son in au­tumn.

The re­sult is a shel­tered, south-eastern fac­ing vine­yard area, with a large body of wa­ter close by, tem­per­ing ex­tremes of cli­mate. But the most im­por­tant point about Lei­thaberg is the soil. When the Lei­tha Moun­tains were pushed up 20 mil­lion years ago they ex­posed two dis­tinct types of soil. One is brit­tle mica and quartz-rich slate and the other is soft lime­stone and chalk. These soils lie side by side, and you can step from one to the other as the land tilts be­tween slopes.

Be­cause of these unique fac­tors a group of wine­grow­ers in the re­gion have banded to­gether and cre­ated a spe­cific DAC (the Aus­trian equiv­a­lent of the French AOC). They have spec­i­fied not only the re­gion and grape va­ri­eties, but also its taste which must have a “char­ac­ter­is­tic min­eral ex­pres­sion”.

The grapes they have se­lected are, for white wines, Grüner Velt­liner, Chardon­nay, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Neuburger which is a par­tic­u­larly Aus­trian grape with a soft, nutty taste. For reds there is just one per­mit­ted grape – Blaufränkisch which must form 85 per cent of the wine.

Lei­thaberg may be a new name on our wine shelves, but grapes have been grow­ing in this re­gion for thou­sands of years. It is known that the Ro­mans and the Em­peror Charle­magne val­ued the wines of this re­gion highly. Now 70 winer­ies have signed up to pro­duce Lei­thaberg wines. They all have vine­yards within the des­ig­nated area of 16 vil­lages from Jois to Mör­bisch and they all com­ply with the rules of ag­ing the wines us­ing large oak bar­rels to add tex­ture with­out dom­i­nat­ing the taste. I met most of the grow­ers and with­out ex­cep­tion they are the most lively ded­i­cated wine­grow­ers I have en­coun­tered. They may all toe the line ini­tially, pre­sent­ing their own wines po­litely, but once you get them to talk about their land and wine­mak­ing they al­most burst with en­thu­si­asm.

Bir­git Braun­stein (www.weingut- braun­ took me to the top of a hill, over­look­ing the lake and picked up chunks of slate rock that sparkled in the sun. These rocks ab­sorb the heat of the day and re­flect it up to the vines at night. She is also go­ing back to the old ways of mak­ing wine and has am­phorae buried in the ground where wine is left to ma­ture.

Another grower, Hans Nit­tnaus (www. nit­ talked end­lessly about or­ganic and biodynamic grape grow­ing, us­ing or­ange and fen­nel oils to help pre­vent moulds.

What re­ally im­pressed me was the sheer qual­ity and in­di­vid­u­al­ity of these wines. The reds in par­tic­u­lar have cherry and bram­ble fruit, clear and fresh with notes of herbs and spice. They go well with a plate of spit-roasted pork or ac­com­pa­ny­ing a pic­nic of ham and salad.

These wines are still quite dif­fi­cult to find, but Alpine Wines (www.alpinewines. is a good place to start. Based in Brad­ford, pro­pri­etor Joelle Nebbe-Mornod sources a num­ber of wines from Aus­tria and she is look­ing to ex­tend her range to in­clude some wines from Lei­thaberg. Don’t be con­fused by the Lon­don phone num­ber (020 3151 3454). Ap­par­ently she has that so that South­ern­ers are not alarmed by hav­ing to ring the North.

Un­til Alpine Wines has built up a stock of Lei­thaberg wines then you may need to or­der them from fur­ther afield. Here are some to try.

Nit­tnaus Blaufränkisch 2011 Alte Reben, Lei­thaberg, Bur­gen­land, Aus­tria, (£23.95, Lea and Sande­man, 020 7244

CHRIS­TINE AUSTIN The rocks ab­sorb the heat of the day and re­flect it up to the vines at night.

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