St Laurent : an alternative for pinot noir?

The last leg of my Austrian tour brings me to another black grape : Sankt Laurent. The jury still seems to be out on the origin of this grape. Some say it is a seedling (raised from seed) of pinot noir, others say it is a crossing of pinot noir and savagnin, a white grape mainly used in the Jura. But apart from the different versions I find, there always seems to be a link with pinot noir. The latter being a wine lover’s favorite, I thought this link would guarantee an interest in St Laurent. It seems I was wrong! When I asked the shopkeeper of Wein&Co in Vienna for St Laurent he said that there is not much demand for it. The numbers on www.austrianwine.com confirm this : the share of St Laurent in the total value of Austrian wine in 2015 was a meagre 1,6%. Zweigelt (which is actually the progeny of blaufränkisch and St Laurent) is the most popular blue grape with 13,8%, just to give you an idea. Since there is so little St Laurent planted, it’s hard to say which region specializes in it, because none really does, although Carnuntum (south-east of Vienna) and the Thermenregion (south of Vienna) seem to be areas where it is more commonly found.

Master of Wine Jan De Clercq told me he does not always sell St Laurent because it is not an easy grape and it sometimes has difficulties to ripen in challenging years. So he only has it on offer in vintages where it ripened well and has no vegetal aromas. Still I was eager to get a taste of St Laurent, remembering a nice 2010 of Weingut Glatzer a few years ago.

St Laurent Selection 2015, Carnuntum, Weingut Netzl

The nose is surprisingly ripe with black cherries, even a bit lactic, and also a whiff of tobacco. The mouthfeel is very round and soft, with the acidity only emerging in the final. The black cherries define this wine, which is not very complex, but it is soft, velvety even. I had this St Laurent in a wine bar and had it with a mixed plate of cold cuts, and that went actually very well together. (12€ on the webshop of Netzl)

St Laurent Classic 2016, Carnuntum, Weingut Grassl

Very expressive wine immediately after opening. The first aroma I get is again something lactic, just like I had in the St Laurent of Netzl and one or two blaufränkisch. It’s pretty volatile here, however, because after a whirl or two it makes place for forest fruit, a bit of raspberry on the background, a hint of minerality and a touch of wood. This opens up beautifully and gives a rather complex and attractive nose. The wine balances between the forest fruit and the markedly higher acidity than in the Netzl St Laurent. Like I have found in so many of the Austrian wines I had, there is again this very exciting tension between ripe fruit and refreshing acidity. Not everyone might fall for this, but I particularly like this style of wine. Just when the wine seems to disappear there is some tobacco and forest fruit that pop up in the final, giving good length here. I bought this for 13€ in Wein&Co. Pretty good value for money, I would say! This is the kind of wine that I could keep sipping on. Until it’s finished…

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One of my favority St Laurents

Sankt Laurent Ried Hochschopf 2015, Traisental, Markus Huber

A St Laurent from a different area than the previous two. Traisental is situated next to Wachau, from where the top grüner veltliners come. A “Ried” in German is a single vineyard. The aromas remind me of the St Laurent of Grassl, without the lactic aromas then, with ripe cherries, raspberry and again a hint of minerality. The start is fruit driven, but quickly all of your attention is drawn to the razor sharp acidity that forms the backbone of this wine. Forest fruit heals your palate in the finale and prepares you for another sip. This wine is definitely not a crowd-pleaser, but it pleases me, although I suspect this might be a difficult wine in a cold vintage… You might also remember the zweigelt rosé of Huber in a previous post. That rosé was also surprisingly fresh and completely built on the acidity rather than the fruit. So it seems that Huber, who was Austrian winemaker of the year in 2015, really goes for freshness. Does that ring a bell, pinot noir lovers?

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An attractive bottle, and an attractive wine. But perhaps not for everyone’s palate.

St Laurent 2015, Burgenland, Andreas Gsellmann

Another one of Austria’s top wine makers. His organic St Laurent is pretty consistent with everything I’ve found so far in the previous wines. Again a lactic, kind of yogurt, aroma that finds its way to your nostrils first. To be gently sent off by a couple of whirls. Sour cherries and tobacco come in its place. The mouth feel is again a playful interaction between the ripeness and roundness of the dark fruit and the zingy acidity that cuts right through it. Again a wine that will appeal to lovers of fresh, elegant wines.

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In case you wonder if such fresh wines actually pair with anything. Well, we experimented with this mediterranean quiche with lamb mince, raisins and pine nuts. And that went surprisingly well, the freshness of the wine counterbalancing the ripe and sweetish flavors of the quiche.

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St Laurent and this lamb quiche : very complimentary!

Conclusions? Well, the style of these St Laurents was very consistent, apart from the first one of Netzl perhaps. A lactic touch here and there, cherries, forest fruit, raspberry sometimes, minerality, and especially the trademark acidity that shakes you up and keeps you focused. Probably not a grape for people who like a bolder style of wine, but is it reasonable to say that St Laurent is an alternative for pinot noir? Actually, I wouldn’t go as far as that. St Laurent clearly has its own style, and that’s good, a grape with an identity. But I do think that pinot noir lovers might also enjoy St Laurent and that it has its place in the cellar next to your burgundies and spätburgunders. To bring a bit of variation in what you drink. Without pulling you too far out of your comfort zone…

So, this is the end! My Austrian tour, I mean. At least for now, because I have to say I liked these wines very much and I definitely want to try more. In fact, I am very curious now what all these grapes can do once they are blended. Most wineries have what they call a “cuvée”, a blend of the different grapes they have. I Vienna I had one such blend : the Opus Eximium 2015 of Gesellmann. It was wonderful, very refined, complex, deep and long. So this one triggered my interest for sure! Another thing I’m curious about is how these wines age. Do they get better? I didn’t find the ones I had disturbingly young, but it would be interesting to explore the evolution of these wines. So, as you see, plenty of reasons to continue my investigations into Austrian wine.

For now, though, auf wiedersehen!

 

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