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Austrian wines

by Tom Cannavan, 03/05

Suddenly Austria is on everyone's lips. Retailers like Marks & Spencer has added a small but significant selection of Austrian wines to its range, whilst Grüner Veltliner, snappily referred to as "GruV" in fashionable circles, is one of the hippest grapes around.

Nick Dobson Wines was established in 2002 and has become known for its range of Beaujolais, Burgundy, and more recently, its unusual and high quality Swiss range. Now Nick Dobson has added a wide selection of truly excellent Austrian wines to an expanding portfolio that is crammed with interest, and something a bit different from run of the mill fair.

I tasted through a selection of 20 wines, which offer ample evidence of Austria's potential for quality, not just in dry white wines, but with sparkling, red and sweet wines too.

 

sparkling

Josef Jamek (Austria) Grüner Veltliner Sekt Brut 2002
This pale gold Sekt has plenty of tiny bubbles rising in a steady stream across the glass. On the nose it is very musky and deep, with toasty, honeyed notes and a deep caramel character. There is good, peachy fruit and a hint of exotic flowers. On the palate the mousse is quite short-lived, but this is brimming with toasty flavours of biscuit and honeyed, ripe but crisp pear and apple. There's a great thrust of lemony acidity that really sharpens the finish in a very plush, hedonistic style of sparkling wine. I have to say I liked this a lot: very distinctive. Very good indeed. £12.95

white

Dinstlgut Loiben (Austria) Weissburgunder Qualitätswein 2003
This Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) is a lovely dry wine from the Wachau, with only 12.5% alcohol, but plenty of character. The colour is a very pale gold, and the nose juicy and appealing, with lots of succulent, lightly-honeyed white fruits, and a clean, fresh appeal. On the palate it is packed with fat, juicy, bursting fruit suggesting both a white fruit (pear and peach) linearity, and broader, more tropical notes. There is good body and weight, and the sweet-toned impression from the natural fruit ripeness is braced by fine mineral acidity. This wine has good length, and is very good indeed. £8.95

Schweighofer (Austria) Gelber Muskateller Federspiel 2002
Gelber Muskateller is a gold-skinned member of the Muskateller family of grapes, much prized in Austria. This very pale-coloured wine has a wonderfully exotic nose, filled with heavy floral scents and a real blast of perfumed mango and papaya fruit. On the palate, it is much drier than the nose suggests, with quite a pungent gooseberry-edged flavour and just hints of those exotic mango notes. The fruit is very good, focused mostly on pear and melon, with an edge of mineral acidity that dries the mouth in the well-balanced, quite long finish. This is a lovely wine, with plenty of interest and really good fruit on the palate. Excellent. £9.95

Schweighofer (Austria) Neuberger Smaragd Ried Loibenberg 2001
I don't know that I've tasted a wine made from the Neuberger grape before, a cross of Silvaner and Weissburgunder. This comes from one of the prime sites of the Wachau, and it has a pale, buttercup yellow colour. The nose is very honeyed and limpid, suggesting richness and maturity. There's a gently leafy note and some peachy fruit. On the palate it is dry and composed of mostly non-fruit flavours, with suggestions of walnut and more honey, but also a rather pithy, slightly harsh acidity and dry, herbal finish. I liked this more on the nose than the palate I confess, but am quite prepared to believe it is a good example of the grape, and distinctive enough in its way. Good. £10.95

Karl Lagler (Austria) Riesling Smaragd Tausendeimerberg 2003
The Tausendeimerberg vineyard (meaning "thousand bucket hill") is a steep slope, terraced if the label illustration is anything to go by, on the banks of the Danube in the Wachau region. This is a cracking Riesling for those who like a bit of residual sugar in their wines, as it is almost made in a late-harvest style. The nose is pungent and vivid, with loads of floral and lychee fragrance underpinned by a sour apple and lime core. There's a toffeed note in there too, in a deep and dramatic profile. On the palate that intense burst of sweetness makes an early impression, though it is soon overtaken by racy mineral flavours, and then a ripe core of peach fruit. This is a touch disjointed at present (it was bottled only in November) and a the acidity in the finish rather bites into the length of the wine, but I confidently expect this characterful wine to be something quite special in another six months, and to cellar well for several years. Very good indeed, potentially excellent. £17.95

Dinstlgut Loiben (Austria) Riesling "L" Loibner Loibenberg 2001
Another from Dinstlgut Loiben, this Wachau Riesling is a modest 12% alcohol, and is made from a selection of late-harvested grapes from the best parts of the Loibenberg. It has a pale yellow colour and immediately attractive nose, with aromas of waxy limes and a faint touch of petrol, with a creamy quality and big core of minerality. It is sensational on the palate, with a blast of sweet-edged, zesty but full and unctuous fruit: a fascinating mélange of lime and grapefruit, but with a richness and succulence papaya and ripe nectarine. The wine is quite full and creamy-textured through the mid-palate, and the finish absolutely sings with more of that mineral and fat, quite oily citrus acidity. A cracking wine, and Nick says he has been drinking the 1997 recently, so this should age very well for a few more years at least. Excellent. £14.95

Josef Jamek (Austria) Grüner Veltliner Ried Achleiten Federspiel 2003
From Terraced vineyards on a granite soil, this GruV has a very pale yellow colour and a nose that is quite intensely mineral, with a steely white fruit quality. It is very reserved, but composed. On the palate this is bone-dry, though there is an immediately creamy texture. The palate is has cool, crisp pear and citrus flavours that are all very tight and grippy, with a powerful thrust of mineral, almost salty acidity. Long and very sharply focused, this wine is structured and beautifully pure, but really does need food to overcome a rather severe character. very good. £12.95

Leo Alzinger (Austria) Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Loibner Mühlpoint 2003
Also pure and mineral on the nose, but this exudes a little extra complexity with fine floral nuances and a delicately spicy undertone. The fruit suggests restrained, but ripe pear and peachy sweetness. On the palate it is again dry, but there's a hint of fruit sweetness here that just lifts the palate a touch, with a background of ground spices and tangy, citrus and white fruit flavours. There's a fine, long finish where that suggestion of fruit sweetness reasserts in a beautifully balanced GruV. Excellent. £12.95

Heidi Schröck (Austria) Furmint 2003
From Burgenland on the Hungarian border, comes this Furmint, a grape more usually associated with the great Tokaji wines of Hungary. It has a pale straw/green colour, and a soft, oatmeal and honey nose with little notes of gently perfumed, peachy fruit. On the palate it is quite distinctive: there's a really pure, ripe pear and pear-skin quality, with a medium-bodied creaminess to the texture. There's a tangy citrus and gentle cinnamon spice, and mineral acid quality that adds an elegance and freshness on the finish, which is really quite long and has a certain shimmering quality. Very good indeed. £12.95

Josef Lentsch (Austria) Pinot Gris 2002
Another from Burgenland, this is a big-scaled Pinot Gris at 14.5% ABV, aged in all new French oak barriques. A very pale gold colour, it has a wonderfully honeyed, nutty nose with little notes of Jack Daniels and toast. There's a big core of white fruit, that is almost minty in its intensity. On the palate it is powerfully oaky, with a sweep of toasty, buttery character shot-through with zesty lime and ripe, sweet pear and apple fruit. This has terrific drama and concentration, with loads going on in the glass, and a big, buttery finish that is given a real edge by mineral acidity. Excellent and unusual stuff. £12.95

sweet

Heidi Schröck (Austria) Ruster Ausbruch 2002
This fascinating Botrytised sweet wine from 2003 Austrian winemaker of the year, Heidi Schröck, is a blend of Welschrielsing, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat. Her 1998 "Elysium" was awarded 98 points by Robert Parker. The colour of this rich wine is a medium-deep gold, and the nose is just a deep well of honey and barely sugar, with a hint of toast and spice, and of unctuous nectarine fruit. On the palate there is an absolute flood of honeyed orange and thick, fantastically sweet nectarine and fleshy, ripe peach. This stays very, very fresh despite the weight of rich, viscose fruit, with little hint of the figgy darkness of some Botrytis wines, but a lovely shimmering quality of acidity and a hint of toast adding a broad complexity o the endless finish. Fabulous wine, and outstanding. £26.95 (37.5cl)

Josef Lentsch (Austria) Trockenbeerenauslese 2001
A blend of Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, this TbA has a light- to medium-gold colour and a lovely, delicate nose of gently honeyed, buttery, almost mint humbug aromas with very elegant notes of leaf tea and gentle peach fruit. On the palate it is thick-textured and very luscious, and that melting honey character coats the tongue. This is very sweet and very opulent, with a lemony fruit quality that is swaddled in the sweet, barley sugar and slightly nutty, honeyed qualities. Lovely balance though, with just enough acidity to withstand the onslaught, in a very long and very impressive wine. Excellent. £22.95 (37.5cl)

Franz Klein (Austria) "La Métisse" Beerenauslese 2001
With a striking 15.5% alcohol, this Burgenland wine is Botrytised, and though the varieties are not listed, I see the winery has Pinot Gris and Riesling as its main plantings. It has a gold colour with a hint of amber. It has a powerful Botrytis nose, with a great depth of honey and caramel, and notes of quince and fig. There's an Oxford marmalade quality too. On the palate this is thick-textured and sweetly oily, with a little herbal edge to bold, rich, toasty and buttery fruit that has plenty of figgy richness. The acidity here is quite mineral, and along with a powerful edge of alcohol, adds a very firm backbone to the wine. Not nearly so sophisticated as the wine from Heidi Schröck, but very good value for this complexity. Very good indeed. £14.95 (37.5cl)

red

Dinstlgut Loiben (Austria) Blauer Zweigelt 2003 Qualitätswein
From Kremstal, this red wine is made from the Zweigelt grape, a crossing of two Austrian specialty grapes, Blaufränkish and St-Laurent. The colour is a bright crimson/cherry red, and the nose is immediately fruity fruity and very appealing, with a hint of juicy sultanas, plenty of vivid cherry fruit and an undertow of earthy, subtly smoky character that is quite Pinot Noir-like. On the palate it is richly fruity, with a medium body and very juicy, broadly fruity style. There is plenty of fruit sweetness, but this is mellow and quite darkly rich on the palate, with notes of autumn berries and a faint truffly hint. I thought this worked sensationally well with a Moroccan lamb tagine. Very good indeed. £8.95

Heidi Schröck (Austria) Zweigelt Bandkräftn 2003
Zweigelt is Austria's most planted red wine grape, a cross of Blaufränkisch and St Laurent. This wine has a very dark, very vibrant crimson colour. The nose offers a huge, silky blast of creamed raspberries and cherries, with hints of fragrant, blossom and spice. On the palate it again has that suggestion of velvety, creamy dark fruit, with a broad, generous mouthfeel and plenty of fruit. There is plenty of dry, liquoricy tannin and really nice cherry-skin acidity that adds a zest on the finish. This is another lovely wine from Heidi Schröck, of great quality. Excellent. £10.95

Weingut Fischer (Austria) Premium Gradenthal 2002
The contemporary, minimalist packaging of these wines from Weingut Fischer sets the scene for the modern wines within. The Gradenthal is a blend of 85% Zweigelt, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Merlot, is a wine that has won national and international awards. The colour is a dark, vivid crimson, and the nose has a beautifully delineated core of ripe blackcurrant fruit, infused with a cedary background of spicy oak. There are little exotic hints of sandalwood and cinnamon. The palate is medium-bodied, with a cool, classy edge to the sweet blackcurrant fruit. There's a brightness about this, and though that spicy and cedary oak makes its presence felt on the mid-palate, the core of fruit is solid and pushes through into the dry finish, where smooth tannins and acids keep the wine poised. Very good indeed. £17.25

Weingut Fischer (Austria) Premium Cabernet Merlot 2002
Very deep, vibrant crimson with a little ruby warmth. The nose is very smooth, classy and cedary, filled with sweet scents of cassis and black cherry, and a pencil-shavings refinement. On the palate this is immediately drying through dusty, fine, but very noticeable tannic structure. The fruit is concentrated and deep-set, with black plum and blackcurrant, and lots of bittersweet plum skin and dark chocolate. The acidity adds a nicely sour cherry grip, as the finish fills with more of that toasty and cedary oak character. Very fine indeed, this is "internationally styled" but is a terrific Bordeaux look-alike with a slick of New World extra ripeness. Very good indeed. £17.95

Freigut Thallern (Austria) Pinot Noir Barrique 2001
From the Thermenregion, this is no shrinking violet with 14.8% ABV. It comes from the top Ried Garten vineyard site and has scooped a fistful of international awards. The colour is a deep, glossy, medium density ruby. The nose is filled with sweet cedary scents at first, and the alcohol is apparent. An earthy, smoky darkness of fruit emerges, loaded with exotic spices, violet and gamy notes. On the palate it is a big, strapping, powerful wine that is hugely extracted for a Pinot Noir, with rich, dense, cherry fruit and a tongue-tingling raft of spicy wood and ripe tannins adding masses of grip. Quite full-bodied and with a muscularity about it, this is a wine to shock the Burgundy purist, but it is extremely interesting and is a successful style in its own right. Very good indeed. £18.95

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