AUS­TRIAN WINE TRAIL

While in search of vine­yard in­ter­faces in the heart of Europe, June Lee dis­cov­ers the clas­sic grapes and food that de­fine Aus­tria’s bor­ders.

Epicure - - WINE FEATURE -

It has been 100 years since World War 1 ended in 1919, and along with that the col­lapse of the Aus­tro-hun­gar­ian em­pire. I’m lis­ten­ing to a some­what dry his­tor­i­cal lec­ture at a pic­nic bench named Gren­ztisch – which lit­er­ally means ‘ta­ble at the bor­der’, built with one half in Aus­tria, and the other half in Slove­nia. There’s noth­ing dry about my op­tions though, choos­ing be­tween an Aus­trian Muskatelle­r or Slove­nian Welschries­ling as my wine group takes in the stun­ning but once sav­age hills and val­leys of both coun­tries laid at our feet.

TALES OF EIGHT BOR­DERS

Small but mighty Aus­tria sits lit­er­ally at the heart of Europe, shar­ing bor­ders with Germany, Italy, Liecht­en­stein, Switzer­land, Czech Repub­lic, Slo­vakia, Hun­gary and Slove­nia. My route skirts the lat­ter four of those coun­tries, to un­der­stand how the con­tin­u­ing post-war (re)as­sign­ment of these bor­ders had in­flicted trau­matic ef­fects on the peo­ple and pro­duce of those lands.

South Ty­rol, for in­stance, de­spite its mainly Ger­man-speak­ing pop­u­la­tion, was ceded to Italy and is today Alto Adige. In Styria, where we blithely sipped wine at Gren­ztisch, 30,000 hectares of vine­yards were ceded to the new King­dom of Serbs, Croa­t­ians and Slovenes, which even­tu­ally gave rise to “dual own­ers” who could process im­ported grapes in Aus­tria and la­bel them Styr­ian. Only after the rais­ing of the Iron Cur­tain in 1989, could Aus­tria and its neigh­bours nor­malise re­la­tions and for­mally es­tab­lish “cross-bor­der” or joint project vine­yards which were the re­sult of the his­tor­i­cal tur­moil.

That brings us back to the wine in my hand, the sprightly Gamser Welschries­ling 2018 (www.gamser.at) made by Anna Gamser’s fam­ily from grapes grown on both sides of the bor­der. For 50 such fam­i­lies who were sep­a­rated by bor­der de­mar­ca­tions, who col­lec­tively own around 40 hectares, they can now use the His­torischer Dop­pelbe­sitz la­belling sys­tem to de­note their unique viti­cul­tural cir­cum­stances.

But what is wine without its food to match? Over the course of my visit to three dif­fer­ent re­gions, I be­gin to un­der­stand even more of the coun­try – through the din­ing ta­ble.

THE WHITES OF SÜD­STEIER­MARK

Sur­pris­ingly, Sau­vi­gnon Blanc is the break­out star of south­ern Styria, where it thrives on fos­sil lime­stone soil along­side va­ri­eties like Mo­ril­lon (Chardon­nay), Muskatelle­r, Ries­ling and Weiss­bur­gun­der.

At Dreisieb­ner Stammhaus (Sulz­tal an der We­in­strasse 35, A-8461 Sulz­tal an der We­in­strasse. www.dreisieb­ner.com) where we pull up for lunch, a sum­mer squall damp­ens our clothes but not our ap­petite. The spread is rus­tic but lips­mack­ing: a buschen­schank lunch with mostly home­made del­i­ca­cies of curd and veg­etable spread, liver pâté, boiled and cured pork and beef ham, sausages, Al­men­land cheeses and homey breads.

Over lunch, we ab­sorbed with in­ter­est the new Süd­steier­mark DAC sys­tem which started from 2018. Wines from this vin­tage on­wards may be la­belled as Ge­bi­et­sein (re­gional wine), Ortswein (lo­cal or ‘vil­lage’ wine) and Rieden­wein (sin­gle vine­yard wine) in or­der to dis­tin­guish qual­ity lev­els. The es­tate we’re at, Weingut Dreisieb­ner Stammhaus, com­prises 17 hectares in the sin­gle vine­yard sites of Hochsulz and Zop­pel­berg, now in the hands of the fourth gen­er­a­tion. Their un­oaked Sau­vi­gnon Blanc Hochsulz won the cham­pi­onship ti­tle in its cat­e­gory at the Con­cours Mon­dial du Sau­vi­gnon.

For more un­beat­able views of Slove­nia and the south­ern part of East Styria, make a stop at Te­ment Win­ery (Zieregg 13, A-8461 Berghausen. www.te­ment.at) where its moun­tain plateau lo­ca­tion over­looks its fa­mous Zieregg ried. If a tast­ing of the plush and pre­cise 2007 name­sake Zieregg inspires you to stay, they have six mod­ern wine­maker apart­ments lo­cated at the high­est point of the es­tate as well as a vinothek for re­gional dishes.

Last but not least, Sat­tler­hof (Ge­niesser­ho­tel Sat­tler­hof, Ser­nau 2a, A-8462 Gam­litz. www.sat­tler­hof.at) might perk up the ur­ban palate more used to white table­cloth than check-cov­ered pic­nic benches. While Willi Satt­tler and his fam­ily farm the 35-hectare or­ganic es­tate, which spe­cialises in Sau­vi­gnon Blanc, Hannes Sat­tler has been run­ning the restau­rant and tav­ern for 25 years. The restau­rant cui­sine is re­fined; think del­i­cate horse­rad­ish soup with an earthy black ravi­oli pud­ding, per­fectly matched to a Weiss­bur­gun­der with its flo­ral, spicy notes. A Kranach­berg roe veni­son for mains was the ideal foil for a vi­va­cious 2013 Niederöste­r­re­ich Re­serve Pinot Noir from Brundl­mayer.

THE REDS OF BUR­GEN­LAND

Barbed wire, mine­fields and guard tow­ers were in place be­tween the Aus­tria-hun­gary bor­der un­til as re­cently as 2007, when all bor­der con­trols were fi­nally de­mol­ished. At Eisen­berg, an ob­ser­va­tion deck com­mem­o­rates the war-torn past as it of­fers

bu­colic views of placid vine­yards criss-cross­ing both coun­tries. It gets more con­fus­ing as you find out Bur­gen­land used to be part of Hun­gary un­til 1920, while So­pron – just across the cur­rent bor­der – voted in a lo­cal plebiscite to be re­turned to Hun­gary in 1921.

Blaufränki­sch and Kék­frankos are two sides of the same grapes, grown in Aus­tria and Hun­gary re­spec­tively. Sim­i­lar to the Süd­steier­mark, fam­i­lies in Eisen­berg farmed land on both sides of the bor­der, where the ter­roir is iron-rich and cov­ered in slate. You won’t want to miss Weingut Schützen­hof (Winz­er­strasse 41, 7474 Deutsch Schutzen. www.schuet­zen­hof.cc), one of the ar­chi­tects of the new Eisen­berg style, al­low­ing Blaufränki­sch’s flo­rals, spices and bright acid­ity to shine rather than hide un­der showy new oak. Start­ing from 2009, qual­i­fy­ing wines from Eisen­berg can be la­belled Eisen­berg DAC or Eisen­berg DAC Re­serve.

You’ll want to savour these wines with cui­sine that’s seam­lessly Hun­gar­ian and Aus­trian – beef tartare, ragout of game with spat­zle noo­dles, Hun­gar­ian tri­fle and ap­ple strudel. Look fur­ther afield to Mit­tel-bir­gen­land DAC for Blaufränki­sch that’s more earthy and warm, thanks to the loamy soils that im­bue a spiced and black for­est berry char­ac­ter to the wines. A good start is at first-gen­er­a­tion Rotweingut Prick­ler (Bach­gasse 4, A-7361 Lutz­manns­burg. www.prick­ler.at) where their top-end is a Blaufränki­sch Re­serve, though you’ll also find Zweigelt, Mer­lot and Pinot Noir grapes.

THE LUSCIOUS SWEETS OF LAKE NEUSIEDL

Smack in the mid­dle of Bur­gen­land’s red wine coun­try is the Seewinkel sub­re­gion, where Lake Neusiedl is a bona fide tourist at­trac­tion. En­thu­si­asts of an­other kind flock here for the UNESCO na­ture re­serve and park that spans Aus­tria and Hun­gary – bik­ers, ca­noeists, pho­tog­ra­phers and hik­ers in full strength along­side us thirsty wine seek­ers. The lake’s spe­cial hu­mid­ity makes pos­si­ble the ‘good’ bortry­tis rot along its east­ern side, al­low­ing houses like Tschida and Velich to make world renowned sweet wines (in the same style as Sauternes and Tokaj) from Welschries­ling, Traminer, Chardon­nay and even Zweigelt.

We find our way to the mod­ern tast­ing rooms of Wein­lauben­hof Kracher (apet­lon­er­strasse 37, A-7142 Ilmitz. www.kracher.at), where it’s pos­si­ble to find back vin­tages of some of their famed Trock­en­beer­e­nausle­sen (TBAS, or medium to full bod­ied sweet wines). Tast­ing the wines along­side gourmet treats from the same area re­in­forces the old adage that what grows to­gether tastes good to­gether. A melt-in-the-mouth chicken liver par­fait, made by Hink Pasteten for Kracher, finds the per­fect pair­ing with a young fruity Spätlese, while the blue cheese from Styria, Schärdinge­r Affineur Kracher, was cre­ated specif­i­cally with Kracher’s Beer­e­nauslese Cu­vee in mind. Choco­late and Ilmitz cake, a lo­cal cream lay­ered spe­cial­ity, were also nat­u­ral matches, bear­ing in mind not to let the sweet­ness of the cho­sen dessert wine over­whelm the sweet­ness of the dessert.

THE BLENDS OF VI­ENNA

Vi­enna’s name – Wien – refers to wine, no sur­prise as it is the only city in the world to have a sig­nif­i­cant area ded­i­cated to vine­yards. At least 30 per­cent of these are de­voted to Gemis­chter Satz, a spe­cialty white field blend com­pris­ing grape va­ri­eties that have been planted to­gether.

At max­i­mum 12.5% ABV, these wines are meant to be fresh and fruity, prefer­ably drunk young. Check out Fuhrgassl-hu­ber (Neustift am Walde 68, Vi­enna. www.fuhrgassl-hu­ber.at) in the 16th dis­trict, where third gen­er­a­tion Thomas Hu­ber has 14 hectares of Wiener Gemis­chter Satz DAC over­look­ing the spa­cious heuri­gen and its gar­dens. Ex­pect to dine on clas­sic dishes, such as pork esca­lope, fried chicken in bread­crumbs, meat­balls, and strudels filled with veg­eta­bles, spinach and goat cheese – all which need the juicy acid­ity, struc­ture and round­ed­ness of a fine qual­ity Gemis­chter Satz.

The writer was a guest of the Aus­trian Wine Mar­ket­ing Board.

The Eisen­berg view­ing plat­form

The view from Te­ment Win­ery

Mar­i­nated char paired with Sau­vi­gnon Kapel­len­weigarten 2017 from Weingut Sat­tler­hof

A wine din­ner at Sat­tler­hof

Big Heuri­gen Party at Fuhrgassl-hu­ber, Vi­enna

Buschen­schank lunch at Dreisieb­ner Stammhaus

Noble sweet wines of Lake Neusiedl

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