Austrian wines on the verge of a breakthrough
At a recent Vancouver tasting of outstanding wines from Austria, someone remarked to me: “If we can only train consumers not to confuse Austria with Australia!”
Japanese wine consumers famously confused the countries after the 1985 Austrian wine scandal and stopped buying both Australian and Austrian wines.
I would be surprised if consumers in British Columbia are making that mistake, if only because there are not enough Austrian wines in the market to confuse anyone.
The B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch currently has 11 Austrian wines compared with 495 from Australia. Everything Wine has 21 Austrian wines compared with 748 from Australia.
Austrian wines have almost nothing in common with Australia. A more appropriate comparison might be New Zealand which, like Austria, is a relatively small producer of wines that are high in quality and often a bit pricy.
The New Zealanders have penetrated the British Columbia market. Everything Wine lists 132 New Zealand products while the LDB has 90.
There should be more Austrian wines here. In the United States, one of the hottest wines in recent years has been Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s flagship white variety. One would have expected that trend to have crossed the border by now.
There has been a chicken and egg problem. Until recently, there was only one importer in Vancouver who represented a mere handful of Austrian wines (and that importer seems to have left the business). Other agents would not pick up Austrian wineries (even though several sought agents here) because they perceived that was little market for Austrian wine. Of course, there was not enough Austrian wine to build a presence in the market in the first place. After you, Alphonse!
There is a breakthrough on the horizon. Austrian wineries have at last been taken on by major importers. Authentic Wines & Spirits represents Laurenz Five Fine Wine. Christopher Wines & Spirits has taken on Weingut Stift Göttweig and Weingut Stadt Krems.
Delancey Direct has taken on Winzer Krems. Renaissance Wine Merchants represents Schloss Gobelsburg and Weingut Bründlmayer , one of the greatest wineries in Austria. Select Wine Merchants is representing Salomon Undhoff. Terrarosa Imports, which is associated with Marquis Wine Cellars, handles Weingut Loimer and Weinlaubenhof Kracher.
At the recent Vancouver tasting, which was sponsored by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, several Austrian wine brokers attended, looking to connect with yet more agents in British Columbia.
For example, Michael Thurner, who used to run the Wine Marketing Board but now has his own company, was showing wines from such great producers as Weingut Jurtschitsch, Weingut Familie Markowitsch and Johanneshof Reinisch.
I came away from the taste with notes on 52 wines, most of them white. None scored less than 85 and a remarkable number scored 90 or better. There were almost as many more to taste but time was up and the palate exhausted.
Here are my 90 points or higher wines. Note some wines have vineyard names. Some of the top quality whites from the Wachau region may also be identified with the curious term, Smaragd. It is the name of a local lizard. Go figure – but it always signifies a quality wine.
Tement Zeiregg Sauvignon Blanc 2007. Tement is a fairly new winery in southeastern Austria that is one of Michael Thurner’s clients. It offers an appealing range of wines, from entry level to this outstanding Sauvignon Blanc, a lush wine tasting of tropical fruit, enhanced by spicy oak notes. Austrian Sauvignon Blanc wines are every bit as complex and delicious as those from New Zealand.
Jurtschitsch Riesling ‘Zöbinger Heiligenstein’ 2007. Another the Thurner’s wineries, Jurtschitsch is run by three brothers and their families and also offers everything from entry level to spectacular wine. This is an elegant Riesling, with flavours of lime and minerals and with a dry finish. Austrian Rieslings should not be confused with German Rieslings; the Austrian versions are more food friendly.
Weingartnerei Aichinger Grüner Veltliner Alte Reben 2007. This winery is looking for an agent here. Keep your fingers crossed. This is a fantastic wine with concentrated flavours of cantaloupe, apricot and peach with a touch of white pepper and a full texture. White pepper is a common and appealing varietal mark of Grüner Veltliner.
Weingut Stadt Krems Grüner Veltliner ‘Weinzierberg’ 2008 ($24). This is a lovely juicy wine, with flavours of pears and with a nice mineral note on the finish.
Weingut Stadt Krems Riesling ‘Grillenparz’ 2007 Reserve ($33). This is a great Riesling, with complex flavours of orange rind and tangerine wrapped around a backbone of minerality. Fantastic quality from a city-owned winery! Krems is one of Austria’s most attractive wine cities.
Weingut Stift Göttweig Grüner Veltliner ‘Göttweiger Berg’ 2008: Stift Göttweig is a beautiful Benedictine monastery founded in 1083 that has been making wine for 900 years. This wine has lovely ripe pear flavours with a touch of white pepper.
Weingut Stift Göttweig Grüner Veltliner ‘Gottschelle’ 2007 ($33): Even more concentrated than the previous wine, this tastes of pears and peaches enhanced with minerality and white pepper.
Weingut Stift Göttweig Riesling ‘Göttweiger Berg’ 2008 ($24). A fine dry Riesling, tasting of melons, citrus fruits, green pears.
Weingut Brundlmayer Grüner Veltliner ‘Käferberg’ 2006 ($70). Yes, this is expensive but what a wine! Honeyed pear and melon, full-bodied, with a very long finish.
Weingut Brundlmayer Riesling ‘Zöbinger Heiligenstein’ 2006 ($43). Mouthfilling flavours of citrus and peach, tasting remarkably fresh still at three years.
Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner Reserve ‘Kammerner Grub’ 2007. ($50) Schloss Gobelsburg is a former monastery. In 1996, the monks leased the winery to Michael Moosburger and Willi Brundlmayer (and their wives). Michael has a Canadian connection – he once worked at the Banff Springs hotel. One of his closest Vancouver friends is chef Vikram Vij, in whose restaurant some of these wines are found. This particular wine is rich on the palate, with flavours of ripe pear, a spine of minerals, and a lingering finish with a hint of anise.
Schloss Gobelsburg Riesling Reserve ‘Kammerner Gaisberg’ 2007. ($30) This is beautifully restrained, with citrus and mineral notes and a long finish.
Weingut Rabl Riesling ‘Schenkenbichl’ 2007. Rabl has been in the British Columbia market and seems to be returning with a new agent. The wines are certainly fine, including this refreshing but ripe-flavoured Riesling, with tastes of citrus and honey.
I did not get around to tasting the dessert wines but I know from previous experience there that Austria makes some of the world’s best sweet wines. The most renowned producer is Kracher, whose wines have long been available in the Marquis Wine Cellars store.
These Austrian wines are all remarkable wines and should be more widely available.