Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Austria, Part II - Sunday at VieVinum

I last wrote about my Saturday evening party hopping from one great locale to another, tasting wine, eating food, chatting with wine people and all that good stuff. Above is a pictures of that Saturday evening party at the Palais Coburn.

Sunday morning, it was back at it at the VieVinum tasting, held at the Hofburg pictured above. We headed there together as a small group and began tasting the wines of the Wachau. These are perhaps the most famous of Austrian wines. The Wachau (pronounced VAK-COW) is a region of what is called Lower Austria (Niederosterreich) which is at the northern part of Austria, near Vienna. The southern and eastern parts of Austria have higher elevations, due to the Alps, so the flatlands in northern Austria are actually called Lower Austria. At any rate, the Wachau is unique in that it is right on the river Danube, and the warming effects of this large body of water contribute to a greater ripening of the grapes, giving wines of greater power and body (compared to other Austrian whites, which can be lighter and crisper).

It was here in the Wachau room of the tasting that I tasted my favorite wine on the whole trip, and met probably my favorite wine people (though there are other great people, which I will talk about later). The estate is Nikolaihof, an old, old estate dating back to the Roman days, and which is now 100% biodynamic. For those readers who are not familiar with the term biodynamic, it is a philosophy of wine growing that is one step beyond organic. It is completely 100% organic and beyond. In the biodynamic way of viticulture, one performs essential vineyard duties in timing with the earth and the moon - and there are specific tasks one performs that sound like voodoo to others; for example, filling a cow horn with manure and burying that in the ground at specific sites.

But mostly, biodynamics is the specific timing of certain vineyard activities such as planting of new vines, spraying with organic pesticides, things like that. Proponents of biodynamic viticulture suggest that their vines are healthier and able to withstand severe weather conditions, and produce wines with less vintage variation compared to conventionally grown vineyards.

I had tasted Nikolaihof wines before at large trade tastings, but I had mostly never realized the qualities of these wines. I only saw the price tags and got scared off, since I was mostly at these tastings looking for inexpensive Austrian wines I could easily sell, before moving onto more interesting German wines (these are at Terry Theise portfolio tastings held by our distributor, WineWise where Austrian and German wines are featured in the same mega-tasting).

After this trip, though, I am convinced that I need to carry the wines of Nikolaihof. Well, at least one of them.

The wine that took my breath away was the 1993 Nikolaihof Vinothek Gruner Veltliner. First off, I had never tasting a Gruner that old before - we are always going for the youngest and freshest of the Gruners. Also, I have heard that Austrians themselves tend to drink their wines young, so what this estate is doing, keeping wines for years and years and releasing them later, is completely different from the status quo. Second, I had the winemaker, Nikolaus Saahs Jr (pictured below), and his lovely girlfriend Katarina explaining to me that this wine was just bottled this year, after it had spent 15 years in cask!! Completely amazing. I don't have my detailed notes on this wine in front of me, but suffice it to say this is one complex wine with tons of flavor and layers and would rival any aged white Burgundy for stature and elegance.

The name "Vinothek" by the way, simply means "wine library" and is actually the common word for specialty wine store in Austria. We saw many vinotheks when we were traveling through parts of Austria.

Other revellations at the VieVinum fare included a Blaufrankish tasting we attended where I learned of a particular sub-appellation in Burgenland, home of the Austrian red wines, called the Leithaberg. The Leithaberg has a specific soil type which is rich in shell limestone and mica slate. This resulted from being beneath the ocean at some point in the ice age, and now is a deposit of limestone with little shell fossils embedded into the soil. Here, the loveliest Blaufrankish are made, with a beautiful and elegant nose that is reminiscent of red Burgundy, and the palate matches as well.

These Blaufrankish, made by 14 different vintners who have formed a joint association, are usually vinified and aged in old large neutral oak or acacia barrels that do not impart any wood flavor. The reason is that they want the flavor of the terroir to shine through. Now this is fantastic, because sometimes I don't like Blaufrankisch for the simple fact that it has way too much wood on the nose and the palate!

So the Leithaberg was also a great discovery for me at this wine fair.

As for the rest of Sunday, I did duck out and visit the historical art museum of Vienna, which houses some of the artwork that the Hapsburgs collected through their centuries of rule. I was particularly drawn to the Flemish paintings of the Bruegels, Jan van Eyck, Peter Paul Ruebens, and Rogier van de Weyden as I have seen the works of these artists in other museums, such as the Beaux Arts in Brussels.


David McDuff said...

Glad to hear you liked the Vinothek, Nancy. I tried the '93 GV when I visited Nikolaihof a couple of years ago. It ended up being one of the few bottles that I carried back to the states with me. I was surprised to learn that Nikolaihof does all of their fermentation and aging in wood. Not a tank of steel to be found.

Nancy Deprez said...

Thanks for the comment David. Yes, I loved this wine, thinking about bringing it into the store but will have to figure out how to market it!