Time for Austrian wine : Grüner Veltliner

After my posts about Vienna and Vienna’s wine bars, it’s time to finally talk about Austrian wine! I focussed on the typical Austrian grapes : grüner veltliner, sankt laurent, zweigelt and blaufränkisch. I’m pretty sure Austria produces very taste bud worthy sauvignons, chardonnays and rieslings, but for now I reserved my taste buds for the indigenous grapes. Today I’ll share a couple of grüner veltliners that I liked with you. The white wines made from this grape are described as light, very fresh and often you will read that these wines have an aroma of white pepper. While you will certainly find wines that match this description, I found that grüner veltliner is capable of producing very different styles, from light and fresh to powerful and heady.

Light and floral

The first grüner veltliner is an easy going one that goes easy on your budget as well. It’s the “Sandgrube 2013” of 2016 produced by Winzer Krems, a cooperative and the biggest wine producer of Austria. The wine is very aromatic and an instant pleaser, with loads and loads of floral aromas that jump out the glass. It also has a nice underlying minerality, peach, and a somewhat yeasty nose. The wine has a light sparkle, which is also very typical of grüner veltliner, and that adds to the freshness of this wine. The fizz and the acidity make that this wine is light on its feet despite the ripe aromas of white flowers and peaches. This is pretty dangerous stuff to drink, as it goes down all too easily. Perfect wine for a summer pick-nick. No great complexity or refinement, but a cheerful, easy-going wine. Bought at 11,50€.

IMG_1321

Fresh and elegant

The Zöbinger Terrassen 2016, Kamptal Reserve is quite something else than the previous one. While it also has a light sparkle, the nose is much more refined, with the minerality dominating. The whole profile of the wine can best be described as fine : the aromas, the acidity, the fruit. It’s all very elegant and well-balanced. This clearly stands one step above the easy-going grüner of Winzer Krems. You obviously pay a bit more, but the difference in quality justifies the difference in price. Grab this one if you can find it! Bought at 15,95€.

IMG_1397

Powerful

The most powerful grüner I had was at the Eulennest, a wine bar in Vienna. It’s the Brunntal Reserve 2016 of Kolkmann, Fels am Wagram. The color alone already tells you that this is going to be something completely different. Instead of greenish yellow, the color here is much darker, rather golden yellow. The nose is fuller, riper, with peach, apricot, quince, and something that reminds me of curry. I also have a touch of yeast here like I had in the Sandgrube 13. The wine is very round and full-bodied. This not a grüner that is defined by its freshness anymore, but rather by its power. I like it, but this is definitely not a summer pick-nick kind of wine anymore. Rather something to accompany a salmon fillet, for example. Unfortunately no picture of this wine. I see it’s available in Belgium for 21,30€.

I was very happy with my little tour of grüner veltliner. There’s so much more to discover of course. Some of these grüners can age very well, actually, and then develop honey and quince aromas. I haven’t had an opportunity now to try one that has aged, but will look out for more grüners. They are all-rounders really. They are perfect on a sunny day as a refreshing apéritif, but will also accompany a summer salad, or even a light fish dish. In that way they have a profile that is a bit similar to a classic sauvignon blanc : from very light and easy to fresh and refined and even quite powerful wines. And yet, they have their own touch, that typical fizz, but also the floral and somewhat yeasty aroma’s. Plenty to discover in other words, and in general at reasonable prices. So grab a grüner veltliner if you find one and let me know how you liked it!

Discovering Vienna’s winebars

Austria is a wine producing country. About 2 to 2,5 million hectolitres every year. That’s not so much in comparison to a country like Italy, which produced 50 million in 2016. But what I like alot about Austria is that it has very interesting indigenous grape varieties, such as grüner veltliner (for white wine), and zweigelt, blaufränkisch and sankt laurent (for red wines). So when I knew I was going to Vienna, I didn’t have to think twice to go and explore what Austria has to offer.

Vienna has quite a few winebars and restaurants with a focus on wine. I went to a few of those winebars curious to sample a couple of Austrian wines.

Eulennest, Operngasse 30

My favorite winebar in Vienna. It’s not in the area within the ring road around the historical centre of Vienna, so you won’t stumble upon it by chance. But it’s really not far from the opera house, so within walking distance from the main sights in Vienna. Stefan and his wife have a very cosy place where you can have a decent selection of, mainly, Austrian wines by the glass. Actually, it’s the only place where I could try a sankt laurent, the grape obviously not being very popular. You can also have a plate of cheeses and/or hams, quiches and other tapas styled dishes. This is the kind of place where many locals come for a glass and where everyone seems to know each other. The house wine is very reasonably priced, around 3€ and most wines are around 5-7€. Within that range you can try several grüner veltliners, zweigelts, blaufränkisch and at the time there was also one sankt laurent. I absolutely loved the 7301 Blaufränkisch of Kirnbauer there. But more about that in a next post. All wines can be bought there, so it’s basically a winebar and wineshop at the same time, something I’ve seen in several places in Vienna. I can definitely recommend the Eulennest (Owl’s Nest)!

IMG_1387

The Eulennest is a very friendly place.

 

Vis-A-Vis, Wollzeile 5/Durchgang

Another interesting place is Vis-A-Vis, situated in the heart of Vienna just across Figlmüller, where you’re supposed to get the best schnitzel in Vienna. (Make sure to book in advance if you want to go there, there were literally queues to get in!) It’s a tiny, tiny place. I counted 4 tables for two people each. The atmosphere was interesting, I’d say. The music was a bit “suave”, think Barry White, and the people there could have come directly from the Loveboat.

Also here you get a good selection of Austrian wines by the glass. And I saw, but didn’t try, a nice range of cheeses and hams on offer. What was interesting here, if you fancy that, is that they also offered several kinds of tresterbrand, an Austrian liquor, much like grappa. Finally, they also had a couple of sweet wines by the glass.

Nice place for a glass of wine, or to digest your schnitzel from Figlmüller’s with a schnaps. But you might find yourself in the company of tourists who come in for “a beer and a whisky”. I suppose “Weinbar” doesn’t sound anything like wine bar.

IMG_1391

 

Wein & Co, Linke Wienzeile 4

Wein & Co is a big chain in Austria and Germany, and has 8 shops just in Vienna alone. It’s a wine bar and shop in one, and in most places you can also eat. I was in the Wine & Co Naschmarkt, a huge wine bar, with a big shop next to it. A very different kind of place than the other wine bars I visited. It’s young, it’s hip and the people come here to meet their friends and chat. That makes it a bit busy and loud, but at the same time that gave the place a not unpleasant, sort of rowdy atmosphere. What was less pleasant here, however, was the fact that the smoking part (I was very surprised to see that so many places still had smoking zones) and the non-smoking part were not well separated, so the cigarette smoke spread also to the non-smoking part. I don’t mind if people smoke in the designated zones but I prefer to know when the tobacco comes from the wine or from cigarettes.

Anyhow, a good selection of wines per glass, and a wider, also international, range of wines by the glass. Because Wine & Co is such a big chain, I didn’t expect the staff to be very knowledgeable, but I was wrong. Both the staff in the wine bar and in the shop were very knowledgeable and friendly. The number of wines on offer in the shop is quite impressive. Unfortunately, keeping a shop open until 24h00 has a price, and that was reflected in the prices of the wines, both in the wine bar as in the shop. But still, definitely worth a visit.

IMG_1394

Weinorgel, Bäckerstrasse 2

Weinorgel is situated in the heart of Vienna and actually has an organ inside. It looked like a very cosy place, with many locals sipping on a glass of wine. Unfortunately, when I entered, I noticed the place was full of cigarette smoke. I suppose there was no separate smoking zone here. I hate it when my clothes smell of cigarettes, and most of all, I don’t see how you can really enjoy the wine if you can only smell cigarettes. So, off I went. No wine in Weinorgel for me.

IMG_1393

And that was that. I discovered a few nice places, all very different, and had good Austrian wines. But more about those in the next posts!

Enjoying Vienna

Work brought me to Vienna for a couple of days. In the next few posts I will tell you more about Vienna’s wine bars and some of the Austrian wines I had. But today I want to share a couple of pictures with you from this beautiful city, because I liked it so much. I had been in Vienna a few years ago, but didn’t have time then to really explore the city. This time I had a bit more time and luckily the weather was good as well.

In 2018 Vienna was voted the most liveable city in the world for the ninth time in a row. Quite a feat! (Baghdad is the worst in case you wonder.) And I must say that in the little time that I had to wander around, Vienna really made a big impression on me. What I find really unique here is that the city is packed with beautiful historical buildings in a relatively small area. Vienna has a total area of 414.65 square kilometres. The metropolitan area of Paris is about 2300 square kilometres, just to give you an idea.

IMG_1375

Amazing, isn’t it?

In Vienna impressive palaces, old churches, and elegant houses keep appearing in every new street you take. And there is absolutely no need to take a bus or a metro anywhere, you can cover the whole historical centre by Foot. Even outside the historical centre, you will still find beautiful and stately houses like the one below.

IMG_1365

Probably not in any guide, but this was just one block away from where I was staying.

One day I finished early and took advantage to go to the Leopold Museum. As there was little over an hour left to visit the museum, I almost ran through all the exhibitions, but I’m glad I did it. There was a beautiful exhibition dedicated to Egon Schiele. I will not post a picture of his work here because I would probably be banned from WordPress. Rather explicit!

An artist whom I did not know before, but really impressed me, was Koloman Moser, one of leading artists of the Vienna Secession movement, a group of “rebel” artists at the end of the 19th century, amongs whom also Gustav Klimt. He was known for his graphic art, but also his paintings and his furniture.

IMG_1367

I wouldn’t mind having this in my living room

IMG_1370

And a loungy couch for on the terrace perhaps?

The Leopold Museum is situated in an area that concentrates quite a few museums around a square. The square was a great place where people just chilled, had a beer or soaked up the sun.

IMG_1366

You’d probably need a week to visit all the museums around this square.

And of course, when in Wien, you need to have a sausage at one of the many food stalls in the city. I had a great curry sausage, with a sauce that was actually quite spicy, but I liked it very much. Purists will say that curry wurst is actually from Berlin. And they’re right, but they make darn good ones in Vienna too.

IMG_1381

Comfort food

I just want to show you the food stall that sold these sausages :

IMG_1379

Have you noticed the rabbit?

And on the other side there’s the Opera House :

IMG_1382

How often do you get to eat street food with a view like this?

And they actually sold wine! And not just any…

IMG_1380

Do you fancy a glass of champagne with your sausage, sir?

I’ll stop it here. I could go on forever about the wonders of Vienna. If you have a chance to visit, don’t hesitate. It’s a great place!

Next time, I’ll talk about wine again, I promise!

 

 

Reviewing James Suckling’s The Miracle of Alto Adige

On 22th of March, the Miracle of Alto Adige was released, a documentary produced by James Suckling and his son Jack about this wine region in the north of Italy. On 29th it was released for the general public on his website. I was pretty excited about this documentary and eager to see it. I’m a big fan of audiovisual productions about wine. Probably because I’m not the most avid reader there is, but also because the treshold is lower than reading a thick book. After a long day at work, I find it quite relaxing to watch a documentary or listen to a podcast. On the train for example, since I spend at least two hours per day commuting.

One of the series I really enjoyed watching, already quite a few years ago, was Jancis Robinson’s wine course. When I started getting interested in wine that was the perfect introduction for me to the subject. It was very educative and had a good mix of factual information, beautiful images of the world’s best known wine regions, and interviews with key winemakers. When I heard about James Suckling’s documentary about Alto Adige, I expected something similar. I was particularly happy to see that someone like James Suckling chose a fairly unknown region like Alto Adige. I might be wrong, but I think of him as a critic who has a preference for “big” wines, while I know Alto Adige as a wine region that’s especially known for somewhat lighter and fresh wines. Anyhow, it’s a region that doesn’t get a lot of attention, even among lovers of Italian wines, Tuscany and Piedmont still being the go to regions for many.

The documentary starts off with very impressive footage of the mountainous area. The images, shot by drones and helicopters, are really breathtaking, immediately driving home the point of the “miracle” of Alto Adige. That probably should not come as a surprise, the director of the documentary being James Orr, known for popular Hollywood movies such as Three Men and a Baby, and Sister Act 2. The scenery is the perfect introduction to the winemakers of the region, including top winemakers such as Alois Lageder and Elena Walch, but I was happy to see also a few cooperatives such a Cantina Tramin. They only get a few minutes each to talk about their experiences with wine making in the region. After all, the documentary is only 23 minutes long and that seriously limits the possibilities of what you can show. If you want to showcase 6 wineries, well then there’s not an awful lot of time left to show or tell anything else.

Unfortunately this means that you don’t get to know much about the region in general : where is it situated? what kind of wines are made there? and which grapes are used? Particularly the last question is of interest, I find, because Alto Adige is home to a few indigenous grapes such as the well-known gewürztraminer, but also less well-known, but not less interesting, grapes such as schiava and lagrein. Especially lagrein is a grape that I find interesting. It produces medium-bodied, sometimes floral, but mainly spicy, peppery red wines,  reminiscent of syrah. Alas, no word about lagrein or any wine of the region for that matter. It makes you wonder a bit about the point of this documentary. Perhaps James Suckling has a personal preference for the wines coming from Alto Adige? Well, again, you won’t find out by watching this documentary! James Suckling is not to be seen anywhere. You only hear him saying a few lines at the beginning of the documentary.

I won’t hide that I find this documentary a bit of a missed opportunity. James Suckling uses his popularity to draw the attention to a less-known wine region, such as Alto-Adige, and that’s great. But he does not use his knowledge or tasting experience to share his insights, or to let us in on a few talented but yet undiscovered wine makers for example. Nor do we really learn anything about Alto Adige. Pity…

Well, let me give you at least one lagrein to look out for then! It’s the Staves, a Lagrein Riserva of Weingut Kornell. This is a wine that is defined by its pureness, its elegance and yes, the black pepper that could lead you to northern rhone syrah. In its youth the wood can still dominate the fruit a bit, but I drank the 2012 and the wood is perfectly integrated now. I found this wine just under 30€, so quality also has its price in Alto Adige, but what you get in your glass is definitely worth the money.

IMG_1302

So, if you watch The Miracle of Alto Adige, then treat yourself with a nice peppery lagrein or a flowery schiava. They go well with the beautiful scenery.

A few Taste Bud-worthy Barberas

Barbera is probably not the sexiest grape to write about. It’s not the kind of trophy wine you see on top of wine tasting lists. And yet, it’s one of Italy’s most-planted native grapes. You can find it in many regions but it’s in Piedmont that it shines. Or should I say, tries to shine? I suppose nebbiolo will probably always be the first grape that springs to mind when you think of Piedmont. But nebbiolo and barbera are two very different grapes and produce very different wines. Nebbiolo is late ripening, while barbera is earlier ripening (still later than dolcetto though). Barbera wines are often very dark, while nebbiolo is very transparent. And barbera is low in tannins, while nebbiolo tends to produce very robust and tannic wines. The only thing they have in common is the high acidity. So all in all, despite the fact they are grown in the same area, there is very little common ground.

The reason why I find barbera interesting, however, is because it occupies a place where you don’t find many other grapes. Just think of the usual suspects in red : cabernet sauvignon or franc, merlot, syrah, grenache. Or popular Italian grapes, such as sangiovese, nebbiolo, and montepulciano. None of them really has the same characteristics as barbera. Barbera’s ripe but juicy black cherries, its freshness and virtual absence of tannins make barbera worth investigating. On top of that, barberas are normally not too expensive and can be enjoyed while young. The acidity of the grape is also a grateful partner for tomato based sauces. Think bolognese or puttanesca sauces with pasta. For me that’s comfort food with comfort wine. Perfect for those evenings when you want to treat yourself with a nice meal without having to spend hours in the kitchen…

I focused a bit on barbera in the past few months to explore the grape. In general I found that I prefer the Barbera d’Asti over the Barbera d’Alba. In Alba we are in Barolo territory, so it’s nebbiolo that is in the spotlight here. It’s therefore no wonder that wineries choose to use their best vineyards for nebbiolo, as Barolo can be sold at much higher prices than any barbera. In Asti things are different, because barbera does not have to share the attention with nebbiolo. In general I found that Barbera d’Asti is a bit more full-bodied and with more pronounced acidity than Barbera d’Alba, the latter being a bit warmer, rounder. Of course it’s difficult to generalise not having tasted dozens of barberas from Alba, but the Albas I had were not from obscure unknown wineries, so I suppose they were representive for Alba.

The second conclusion I draw from my experience is that barbera is a winemaker’s grape. Despite my feeling that barberas are best when they are juicy and fresh, some were very modern, with very strong wood aromas, obviously more geared towards an international palate. Those are not bad wines per se, but they loose their unique selling proposition. However, the grape allows it, contrary to  terroir grapes such as nebbiolo or pinot noir, which need very cautious extraction and use of wood.

So here’s a few barbera’s I can recommend…

If you’re looking for good, textbook barbera :

Tre Roveri 2011, Barbera d’Asti Superiore, Pico Maccario

IMG_1261

The nose is loaded with ripe dark cherries, yet at the same time it has a spicy freshness. The fruit is evolving towards dried fruit, showing a bit of evolution. The wine is rather full-bodied, but has the typical barbera acidity that keeps this wine fresh, nicely covering the 14% alcohol. Actually, this wine was best on day two, showing more elegance and perfect balance. So no hurry here.

If you want to show off :

Vigna Scarrone 2012 Barbera d’Alba, Vietti

Beautiful, well integrated nose with cherries and a whiff of  chocolate. Elegant and complex, with multiple layers and very long finale! No doubt that barbera transcends its peers here, but it also costs more than 30€. That’s a price point where the competition with premium wines from other grapes starts getting really tough. I know that that is comparing apples and oranges. But in the end, isn’t that what everyone does? Nevertheless, great effort.

Nizza 2011, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza, Dacapo

dacapo

Picture courtesy of the Associazione dei Produttori del Nizza

This is a barbera from the subzone of Nizza which was in 2011 still a part of the denominazione of Barbera d’Asti, but exists separately as DOCG Nizza since 2014. Before that barbera could still be complemented by 10% other grapes. Now it is 100% barbera.

The wine is a bit evolved and the nose has become a nice bouquet where everything has blended beautifully together. The morello cherries stand out, together with a bit of coffee. The ripe fruit is balanced by a razorsharp acidity that might be over the top for some, but I like it. I had it with ragu alla bolognese and that went very well. But mind you, this is more than just a simple spaghetti wine!

If you’re looking for a good price quality ratio :

Soliter 2016, Barbera d’Asti, Pescaja

IMG_0457

This is a barbera that can be found around 10€ and it gives very good value for money. It’s a modern barbera, the wood is still very noticeable, but then again it’s also a very young wine. Beautiful ripe cherries as well and a hint of black pepper. This is a very smooth wine that makes you grab the bottle as soon as your glass is empty. Dangerous stuff!

Piova 2014, Barbera d’Asti, La Montagnetta

Another pleasant easy-drinking barbera at around 10€. Graphite, black cherries, chocolate, and a hint of rose. Quite ripe and round, and the wood is very present. Good and lively acidity that give this wine freshness. Very modern style, but pleasant wine.

So these a couple of barberas that I liked. I did not post all the barberas I tasted here in order to avoid a too lenghthy post, but I started using Vivino to post my tasting notes there, so if you’re interested in the other barberas I tried, you can find them there if you go to my profile.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

Riesling with Asian food – an all-time favorite

It’s classic stuff… Riesling with Asian food. If you’re a bit of a foodie, then you surely know that Riesling is an often recommended companion for Asian dishes that are built around sweet and sour contrasts. Riesling basically has very similar characteristics : often you’ll find pine apple, candied lemon, peach, and honey if it’s sweet or evolved. And of course that magnificent acidity that makes that Riesling hardly ever comes across as flat or plump, no matter how sweet the wine is… When the dish has more spicy flavours coming from cardamom, cloves, cumin,… then muscat or gewürztraminer will also be a very good match.

Today I prepared Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetarian version of a Chinese classic dish : Black pepper tofu. This is one of our favorites here. But mind you, this is an extreme dish, in every possible way! In his recipe, Ottolenghi uses 8 chillies, 12 garlic cloves, three table spoons of ginger, and 5 (!) table spoons of crushed black pepper. It made me laugh when I read his version is already a milder version than the original… I can have a bit of pepper and chili, but I toned things down another notch or two, bringing the quantities down to 4 chillies, 6 garlic cloves and a few whiffs of pepper. Believe me, I found that hot enough.

IMG_1251

There’s a funny anecdote to this dish. You’re supposed to dust the tofu with corn flour to make it a bit crusty when you fry it. I had corn flour, but it was yellow corn flour to make polenta. That’s a much rougher version than the white corn flour, which is so fine you can hardly distinguish a single grain. On the picture above you can clearly see the corn flour I used. Well, this sure gives a crunchy coating! But we actually liked it. By now I’ve prepared this dish quite a few times, and I’ve tried both white corn flour and yellow corn flour. We actually prefer the yellow corn flour as it adds structure to the dish, which is interesting.

The wine we drank with it was a Riesling of Domaine Meyer-Fonné, a winery in the Alsace, France. It was the Pfoeller 2012. That’s a “lieux-dit”, a single vineyard coming from a specific place with the name Pfoeller.  On the website they describe the wine as follows : “The palate has a clean attack, distinguished, and an athletic acidity. As a slowly developing wine this is a riesling without compromise for the enlightened connoisseur.” Well, I can confirm that this wine has an “athletic” acidity (what a nice description, don’t you think?), but as is so often the case with Riesling, the acidity is not disturbing at all. This is a mouthwatering wine, very elegant, racy, complex. I also love the minerality in the nose, and there’s a hint of honey suckle as well. It’s true that this wine is no where near the point that it needs to be drunk. This wine will still develop for many years to come and will still get better, probably developing more mellow flavors alongside the racy acidity.

IMG_1254

The glass is empty and so is the bottle!

The combination worked really well. This black pepper tofu dish was very rich, and the riesling was a refreshing break in between the chili-loaded tofu. If you decide to make this dish and use the original amount of chili and black pepper, then by all means do not hesitate to take a riesling that’s slightly sweet, such as a Mosel Kabinett. It’s wrong to think that such wines are dessert wines. The sweeter versions, think of Spätlese, are indeed good partners for a fruit dessert. But a Kabinett can perfectly be paired with hot dishes and will help not to burn your tongue with the chili and pepper…

If you try this dish out, let me know how that went. Especially if you go for the hot version 🙂