Sunday, June 8, 2008

Austria Wine Trip Part I: Days One and Two - Arrival to Vienna and Attending Vie Vinum

I left on a Thursday and arrived on a Friday morning to the city of Vienna. Surprisingly, it was hot - I estimate over 80 degrees. I immediately realized I packed wrong, expecting it to be the cool, sometimes rainy European-type weather. My black coat would not see the light of day.I emerged from the subway station at Stephansplatz, and saw before me the Stephansdom, a medieval church from the 14th century. It was quite a sight and probably the last medieval church I was to see in this city:

I got a little turned around until I finally found the direction toward my hotel, which was located in the center of town, in the 1st district, the Hotel Wandl, a rather nice place located in a gorgeous part of town, just blocks from the Hofburg, where I was about to attend Vie Vinum, the city's largest international wine tasting, which occurs every two years.

But Friday was the day before the opening of the wine fair, so I had time to wander and figure out the city. The city is fairly easy to figure out, with most of its sights within walking distance. I managed to find the famous Hotel Sacher, birthplace of the Sachertorte, Albertina Museum (which I never managed to go inside - something for next time), and the Staatsoper, the State Operahouse. At the Operahouse, I booked myself a guided tour inside in English. I didn't manage to make time to attend an opera, though, but it was tempting. Maybe next time.

After this tour, I did return back to the hotel in order to enjoy a nice, relaxing nap.

When I awoke, I got something to eat and continued to explore the city. I walked a different way and found myself drawn to a very green area with leafy trees. When I got nearer, I could see it was a park, and in the park, people were milling around kiosks, buying foods and drinking white wine. It seemed to be a food fair of some sort, a mini-farmer's market set up in the Stadtpark, and what struck me about this scene was the ease with which participants were enjoying a glass a refreshing white wine (and some were having rose) in the early evening in the park. Looked like great loads of fun. I didn't partake, but would have if Johan were with me. I noticed this of course because here in the United States, there is rarely an instance were wine is served in the park or at a market. Wine and beer seem very liberally served here:

It seemed like a very easy and enjoyable way of life.

The next morning, I managed to squeeze in a short run through part of the city. That was really refreshing. Following that, I attended the first day of VieVinum - the wine tasting in the city for which I was scheduled. This tasting takes place in the mighty Hapsburg palace in the center of town. The Hapsburgs ruled the Austrian-Hungarian empire for over 6 centuries. Over that period of time, they accumulated a great deal of wealth and distant lands. The Hofburg is but one of their palaces. It is very elaborate, and having a wine tasting in this ancient building was a treat. Of course, there was not really any air conditioning here, so the heat did not help the ability to taste, but we managed.

The Hapsburgs seemed very into chandaliers! There were many of them, and some rooms had very elaborate ceilings.

There were so many producers here, about 95% Austrian. Tons of Gruner Veltliner to be had, along with other favorite varieties including Riesling, Gelber Muskateller, Blaufrankish, Pinot Noir (which they do not call Spatburgunder, but more often, Pinot Noir, Blauer Burgunder, or Blauburgunder), Sankt Laurent, and Zweigelt.

I tasting some famous producers such as F.X. Pichler, along with some producers I would be visiting, such as Nikolaihof and Brundlmayer, and some producers I carry that are not imported by the importer that brought me to Austria (that would be Skurnik), and some producers that are not even imported to the United States at the moment. There was much to taste but there was no way I could taste through the millions of producers present. I did get a great overview though.

In the middle of the day, I did duck out to visit some touristy things, including the Lippizaner Stallions, the horses that originate from a Spanish bloodline that have been bred from from the 16th century to be the court horses for the Hapsburgs. I managed to get a standing-room ticket to their practice demonstration, which explained the training the that the horse and rider go through to learn how to pirouette and do other things, like stand on the hind legs. Very fun!

After that, I went to the Kaiserappartments, which are the Imperial Apartments of the Hapsburgs. This was okay. It was nice to see to have seen it but it very much resembled the sort of thing one sees at Versailles in France, and after seeing the rooms in which VieVinum was taking place, it was more of the same, but with furniture and silverware.

Later that same evening, I did meet up with others on the Skurnik trip, including the local California distributors, Adam and Brian from WineWise, and met some new people. We headed to two parties, one at Kursalon in the Stadtpark, and the second at Palais Coburn, a refurbished castle that the current owner bought for a mere $10 million Euro, but spent another $100 million Euro gutting and refurbishing it and another I believe they said $20 million stocking the 6 wine cellars full of trophy wines like vintage after vintage of Mouton and tons of other stuff which the bars and restaurants allow one to order. We got a tour of 5 of the 6 of these cellars; the one we couldn't tour was disallowed by the insurance people. I couldn't get any pics because flash apparently hurts old wines. We were also not allowed to stay in any cellar for too long lest our body temps raised the cellar temps to dangerously high levels!

Near midnight, we finally returned to our hotel, walking through the gorgeous streets of the city, including the lively Graben (meaning "ditch" - a wide city street that used to be a ditch) and the elegant Kohlmarkt.


Samantha Dugan said...

Welcome home Nancy and greetings from Louisville. I feel you when you talk about is in the 90's here and humid like nothing we have back home, seems to take twice as long to breathe.
So far the trip sounds lovely but as these things always are, gruling. I gotta tell you those trips you and Ronnie go on that include sightseeing make me green with envy! I go to France three times and see nothing but wineries...lucky.
Your pictures are lovely and I look forward to seeing more and reading more about your trip. So was there one wine that totally blew your mind? One meal that made the flight worth it? One night that you stayed out too late behaving like a college student? Do tell tell!

Nancy Deprez said...

Hi Sam in Louisville!

I will tell, I will tell - I just didn't want to give it all away, you know, give some suspense!!

Okay, okay - wines that were really impressive: Nikolaihof. These wines are fantastic and I tasted a 1993 that was a Gruner - awesome. Not cheaps wines. 100% biodynamic. I hope I can find a market for these as these are Gruners I can feel passion for. The estate is amazing.

One meal? There were so many great ones and I took pics! Hmmm..... I can only remember the white asparagus was a constant theme that blew my mind. I always wondered why people raved about white asparagus - now I know.

Nancy Deprez said...

Oh, dang, I cannot comment on your new blog because I'm not a member of yahoo360. But I loved your review of Alice Feiring's new book! Glad she is having some effect on the wine world. That's awesome. We all need some balance.

One thing I will say about Austrian wine, they are not international wines, the ones I tasted anyway. Well, some reds have oak but the best terroirs - they know to leave them the heck alone!

Samantha Dugan said...

I cant wait to see more pictures! Good to hear they are not monkeying around with their wines too much in will have to clue me in on the wines you think I will dig!
Thanks for the comment about my can join yahoo360 really easily, I had to join google so I could comment to you, wonder why we have to be members to post? Kinda bugs me! The one thing that helped me was keeping all my stuff the same...same password and screen name...otherwise I would forget which one is which name, blah blah.
Anyway...cant wait to read more.