Vienna’s vinous delights – By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

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The verdant vineyards of Vienna’s Nussberg sub-region

Vienna regularly tops the list of the world’s most liveable cities and I can’t help but think that having hundreds of wineries right on its doorstep might be a contributing factor. Despite modern Vienna’s status as a major metropolis, its residents are no stranger to grape vines; for centuries they have been an almost daily part of life and were even cultivated within the city walls until the late Middle Ages. Today there are almost 700 hectares of vineyards within the city limits. The famous sub-regions of Bisamberg and Nussberg form links in a great green chain that wreaths the city, a vista that is both beautiful to the eye and exciting to the palate.

The slopes that garland the city and suburbs are a verdant tapestry of every green in the book; trails and tracks climb over forested hillocks then gently wind through valleys of bravely disciplined vineyards clinging to the undulating landscape. It only took fifteen minutes to get from my hotel in the centre of town to the foot of the Kahlenberg hill whose city-facing slopes make up the Nussberg sub-region.

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The Heurigen Express takes you on a vinous journey

Here I paid the modest fee of five euros to jump aboard the Heurigen Express which clattered its way up the tight switchbacks until we reached the summit. The full route takes the Heurigen Express through several villages and small towns, eventually returning to Nussdorf; but the view of the city and surrounding woods compelled me to jump off and stare for a while, and as the rest of the loop was all downhill from there, I decided to complete the circuit on foot.

The vintners of Vienna have been blessed in that the region is capable of growing a wide range of varietals, and this flexibility was of tremendous help to early winemakers who planted many different varietals in the same vineyard as insurance against unpredictable ripening conditions. The fruit of these different varietals would be co-picked then co-fermented into a fresh but simple and inexpensive wine. This field blend went on to be called Gemischter Satz and would become the signature style of Viennese wine, being consistently and reliably delicious.

Until about 15 years ago, Gemischter Satz was not always given its due recognition as there were those who dismissed it as being merely ‘tavern wine’. However, for the Viennese vintners who tweaked and tinkered with their pet style, and who worked hard and persisted, the reward came in 2013 when the ‘Wiener Gemischter Satz’ achieved formal DAC status. Today, the wines that carry this DAC status are as elegant and sophisticated as those to be found in the swanky regions, but these wines have not forgotten that their roots or natural habitat lies in the heuriger.

A heuriger or wine tavern is a Viennese institution; for generations the only way a small producer was able to sell their product was to build their own tavern where they would serve their wines with platters heaped with cold meats, cheeses and pickles. Over time some evolved to offer warm food and even buffets and on the day I arrived one heuriger was serving up a full spit-roasted pig! Regular readers will know there is little I won’t do for roast pork and on this day I discovered I left my moral compass in Australia when I expertly crashed an 80th birthday party and shamelessly tucked into more crackling than was seemly. I am not proud of my actions but I regret nothing!

Today the hills and suburbs surrounding Vienna are peppered with heurigen that run the spectrum from timber shack to fine dining but one thing is constant: The heuriger is a place for groups of friends or extended families to let their hair down. The famously reserved Austrians’ volume increases, their smiles widens and hard edges soften.

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The bucolic setting of heuriger Mayer am Pfarrplatz
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Beethoven still resonates in Vienna’s heurigen

Mayer am Pfarrplatz in the outer suburb of Heiligenstadt is typical of the smarter style of heuriger with a central courtyard lined with picnic-style tables and benches surrounded by dining rooms and a small museum dedicated to Ludwig van Beethoven, who stayed on the property in 1817. At that time there was also a sanatorium in Heiligenstadt which Beethoven visited regularly in hopes of finding relief for his deteriorating ear condition. It was during this time that he worked on his Ninth Symphony. A connection to the region’s most famous son is claimed by several heurigen in the region; Beethoven’s ghost is even said to be a regular visitor in the heuriger of Schubel-Auer which is only two doors down.

Delectable wine flight at heuriger Schubel-Auer

Schubel-Auer is a casual and cosy heuriger owned by a husband and wife team who form the tenth generation to run the business which is in its 308th year. The wines are all delicious but I would like to single out their Gelben Muskateller which hypnotized me with waves of rose water, apple and lime.

Michael Edelmoser’s heuriger has been rated as the best in Vienna

The heurigen’s significance to Viennese culture cannot be overstated and no trip to Vienna would be complete without a visit to Edlmoser winery, which was recently recognised as the best heuriger in Vienna by Falstaff magazine. Current custodian Michael Edlmoser greeted me at the door and treated me to flight after flight of his beautifully crafted and considered wines. I arrived on a busy night and the dining room was energized by people of a common purpose: To relax and enjoy themselves over platters of deliciously roasted meats with the ubiquitous potato salads and the fruits of Michael’s hard work in the winery. 

Tuck in! Mouthwatering roast pork and sensational potato salad at the Edlmoser heuriger

The Edlmoser vineyards are to the south of the city where red grape varieties thrive and where Riesling and Gruner Veltliner are prized. The Gemischter Satz wines reflect this and are leaner and more acid driven than the Muskateller-dominant styles to the north. Here I tasted exciting wines so razor sharp I could shave with them through to opulent and generous wines that I could easily believe were more sunlight than grape. But such hyperbole would only embarrass Michael Edlmoser who would much rather discuss what music to pair with his wines and who completely rejects what he sees as just the highbrow bollocks of wine journalism. I very much enjoyed my evening at the Edlmoser heuriger and can see why the whole package is so highly regarded. 

Rainer Christ is one of the vinters instrumental in the rise of Vienna’s Gemischster Satz

The sub-region of Bisamberg is relatively small but rich in geological variety; loess, shale, glacier ground gravel and compacted ancient sea shells are all tugging on the thin quilt of top soil. It is this mix of mediums that gives the fruit grown here a distinctive acid and floral aromatics, characteristics prized by Rainer Christ of Christ winery and heuriger. Here the modern seamlessly complements the traditional in every way; the winery is state of the art but also deceptively low-tech. The fruit and must progress through five expertly designed climate zones without ever seeing a pump; gravity is the master here and the result is wines of quiet power and subtle authority.

Gemischter Satz forms the heart of the portfolio with several examples being among the best I have tried; I was especially smitten with the Bisamberg Gemischter Satz DAC, from the Ried Wiesthalen vineyard. White blossom and ripe orange spring from the glass while toasty, nutty rye bread notes stroll in at their own pace. The vineyard is over 70 years old and is thought to be planted with over 10 varieties; no one is quite sure, but one thing is certain, I want more.

Originally home to fresh cheap wines that were served ice cold in large carafes as soon as possible to the ordinary people of Vienna, the heuriger evolved over the past 100 years to become an integral element for everyone in any successful spring and summer. Long afternoons sipping Gemischter Satz in the sun with friends and family has become as essential to the Viennese as enjoying wiener schnitzel, and while the heuriger is not a uniquely Viennese venue, it is they who have mastered it. An afternoon spent sipping, munching and chatting in a heuriger is good for the soul, and I have already pencilled in several more to visit on my next trip.

The Vienna wine region is rich and varied;  several sub-regions that sit on a myriad of soil types has gifted its winemakers with a broad palate from which to paint wines that have stood the test of time. I have long been a fan of field blends and I can now confirm that Vienna Gemischter Satz sits at the zenith of the style.

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Reappraising the Weinviertel – By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

I have a confession to make: In my life I have taken as gospel many things I have read or heard with little to no first-hand experience. I believe man went to the moon fifty years ago this month; in my heart of hearts I am convinced that if given a competitive car Daniel Ricciardo could be a Formula One world champion; and I accepted that the Weinviertel region in Lower Austria made only cheap bulk wine but for a handful of maverick producers making wines of quality.  On a recent trip to the region I was initiated into the truth beyond that last and what I now know to be utterly erroneous statement and quickly committed my sword (or in this case pen) to help correct this widely held misconception.

Welcome to the Weinviertel – Austria’s largest wine producing region

Finding an interesting article or recipe in a well-thumbed waiting-room magazine, discovering a hidden bonus track at the end of your favourite album or flicking over to a genuinely funny comedian on late night TV, can all excite and gift a flare of thrill. You have found a diamond in the rough, an unexpected treat in the most unlikely of places. Now imagine that diamond is not the exception but the rule and you are not toiling away in an underground mine but strolling through Aladdin’s Cave, a sparking place stacked with gems. Welcome to the Weinviertel.

The rolling fertile plains of the Weinviertel

I began my journey through the Weinviertel in the centuries-old town of Poysdorf. A Google search suggested a travel time from Vienna of around 50 minutes but as I hired a local Uber driver to whom speed limit signs were more of a suggestion than a restriction, I arrived at my hotel about twenty minutes earlier than predicted. After changing into some fresh trousers and confirming my will was in fact up to date, I made my way to the local Vinothek.

The bright and airy Weinmarkt tasting bar at the VinoVersum Wine Museum & Tourism Centre rotates through around three dozen bottles of local wines at any one time. White wines are dominant in this area but a few wines of a more pronounced complexion are also opened to taste. The Weinviertel is Gruner Veltliner country but she has graciously made some room for Welschriesling, Riesling, Muller Thurgau and Zweigelt. The staff were very friendly and knowledgeable with excellent English. Attached to the vinothek is a very good museum detailing the region’s rich history with a special focus on its grapegrowing and vinification traditions.

The flight of wines I tried in the Vinothek left me a little confused; I had expected to find tooty-fruity Sauvignon Blanc-like wines with little finesse or structure, but the first bracket of wines were anything but, so I kept tasting, then I tasted some more. Something was afoot here; almost all of the two dozen wines I tasted had been made with care and by people who prize things like balance, texture and spice. It was at this point I took down a handful of addresses of local producers and set off down Poysdorf’s sloped and winding laneways in search of answers. Was the selection at the Vinothek really representative of the region? Did we have this place all wrong?

The “Aspergerhaus” is one of the prettiest buildings in the region and has been a functioning winery for centuries; no-one is quite sure exactly when it was built but it is known to pre-date the parish church consecrated in 1640. The Taubenschuss family took up residence in the 1850s but was already well established in the wine industry, being first mentioned in 1670. A modern winery and cellar was built under the rear wing of the house in the 1990s, and the marriage between old and new is seamless.

Tasting with Thomas Taubenschuss of the highly regarded Weingut Taubenschuss

I met Thomas Taubenschuss when I accidently interrupted a tasting he was presenting to a group of Hungarian restaurateurs in the family’s beautiful tasting room. We met in the courtyard of what I now know to be the private residence. Upon realising my mistake I quickly introduced myself and outlined my mission: “As a fellow producer of Gruner Veltliner I have come all the way from Australia to learn for myself the real Weinviertel.” Only too aware of the region’s reputation for “entry level” or fruit-driven bulk wine, he insisted I stay and join his group for lunch. I apologised for interrupting and tried to arrange a meeting for later in the day, but Thomas refused to let me go. He saw someone as serious about his passion as he was, and he would not let me out of his sight until he was confident I really understood what they were trying to do.

The ancient Hermannschachern single vineyard block features very deep loess

After a delicious lunch in a local restaurant with the Hungarians, Thomas and I strolled back to the house and toured the underground winery and cellars. Here I got to see first-hand the care and attention paid at every step of the process; this cellar produces delicate and pure wines that truly speak of the terroir. A short drive from the winery atop a gently sloping hill is their premier Hermannschachern block; deep loess with a limestone and gravel sediment provide flinty minerality and the region’s signature white pepper spice.

Thomas generously guided me through his whole range of whites and I can honestly say I enjoyed every one; this was Gruner Veltliner in her Sunday best – fresh, complex and textural. I must give the 2015 Grosse Reserve MX Alte Reben a special mention; had I been at home with this bottle I would have turned off the lights, locked the door and pretended I wasn’t home. If you are lucky enough to have a bottle of your own be sure to only open this around people you like; every drop is to be jealously guarded. The 2015 “MX” is ripe and creamy but so much more; an almost briny minerality expertly balances and freshens the richness … a Reserve style in the truest sense.

I have spoken already of the Taubenschuss generosity but it didn’t stop with lunch and a comprehensive tasting; keen to show me more of his favourite local wines, Thomas started to work the phone and we drove to the other side of the village to visit his friend Melanie of Weingut Weinrieder. Thomas offered to stay and taste with me as Melanie doesn’t speak much English and I quickly sensed between the two a mutual respect and shared passion for the land both families have loved for generations.

Some impressive beauties from Weingut Weinrieder

Like Taubenschuss, the Rieder family source their fruit from several of the region’s premium blocks – and it shows. The Classic styles of Gruner Veltliner are elegant and sophisticated with fresh spice and acid; the Reserve wines are leaner than the Smaragd style of the Wachau but no less textural and cultured. White pepper, stone fruit, citrus and pear all link to pique turn across the palate. I especially enjoyed the 2013 Hohenleiten Lagenreserve which would pair perfectly with roast pork, charcuterie or fresh fish.

Weinrieder was originally founded on Ice Wine and the 2014 vintage excited me immensely as it reminded me of our own dessert-style Green Angel Gruner Veltliner. Honeyed pears and white pepper are the signature of this surprisingly light wine and at only 180 grams of residual sugar, I was glad to taste a kinship and shared philosophy.

My second day in Poysdorf dawned clear and bright; the golfers on the course next to my hotel were out early and I enjoyed a hearty breakfast in preparation for another big day of tasting.

My first meeting was with Monika Neustifter, fourth generation winemaker of Weingut Neustifter, one of the largest producers in the region. Carved into the hillside, the winery and cellars extend deep underground and are home to barrels of all sizes. It was there that I was let into a little secret; all around the village I had seen pictures and sculptures of a stylised black cat which had over time become an unofficial mascot of the town. Legend has it each winery had a pet cat that would guard what it judged to be the best wine in the cellar by sitting atop the barrel all day long. The locals would then put a black cat on the bottles drawn from that barrel.

Discovering the secret to the black cat phenomenon in the cellars at Weingut Neustifter

Modern vintners noticed the barrels selected were always the dessert styles still going through their long slow ferment and therefore radiating heat; hence the cats had simply found the warmest spot in the cool cellar. The Keller Katze or Cellar Cats were also thought to have supernatural powers. Their refusal to enter the underground cellars warned of an often deadly build-up of “evil air”, which we now know to be carbon dioxide.

Weingut Neustifter produces eight distinct Gruner Veltliners ranging from the fruit forward, to the lean and minerally Classics, decadent Reserves and a Natural. The white pepper prized in the Weinviertel is a constant; the Classic styles revelled in their white blossom, musk and tropical fruits, while the Reserves balanced spice with chalky tannins and creamy orchard fare.

The 2018 DAC Klassik with its lifted pear and lychee put me in mind of our White Mischief, perfect for sharing with friends in the sun or to accompany an intimate take-away curry for two. The 2015 Hermannschachern Reserve with its custard apple, crystallised orange peel and almost oriental spice, is a wine to be sipped with roast chicken, buttery Morten Bay bugs or the deepest dark chocolate.

Fourteen years ago Erich Schreiber resigned from his high-flying banking job in Vienna and returned home to take over the family business. His family had been in the wine industry for generations but Erich’s passion lay in the pouring, discussing and drinking rather than in the making. In Poysdorf he converted the family home and cellars first recorded in 1609 into the Wino Vinothek & Wein Bar, and never looked back. I emailed Erich before I left Australia to book a table and asked if he could put together a flight or two that would in his experience best represent the Weinviertel region – and he did not let me down.

Man with a mission – Erich Schreiber of Wino Vinothek & Wein Bar in Poysdorf

I could listen to Erich for hours; his passion for his region is all consuming and he knows each of his 129 suppliers personally. He knows the back story, philosophy and production methods of every bottle he sells and I can almost see him swell with pride that others are starting to take notice of what, is in his mind, the most under-represented region in Austria.

I tasted through five flights of six wines apiece, each expertly assembled to highlight a theme, style, vintage or sub-region. I tasted Classics, Reserves, a few Natural wines and even a couple of Gemischter Satz wines, a style made famous by the Viennese but also embraced here in the north. The Wino Vinothek & Wein Bar is a warm and welcoming place that puts no value in snobbery. Erich personally welcomes every customer with a handshake or kiss and a lucky few get both! The wine list is carefully considered and I can highly recommend the platters of meats, cheeses and pickles. I very much enjoyed my afternoon/evening at Wino and will definitely call through again in the future.

The Weinviertel is Austria’s largest wine producing region but, as much as I enjoyed the wines of Poysdorf, my brief was to really get to grips with the region as a whole. It was time to move on; an hour or so down the road is the town of Retz. First mentioned 900 years ago but officially incorporated in 1278, Retz has deep roots. Through a combination of location, logistics and a series of privileges granted by successive monarchs, Retz has been at the heart of the Eastern European wine trade for centuries.

The twin fountains in Retz flow with red and white wine respectively during the town’s end of vintage festival

The town sits on a deep layer of highly compacted quartz sand which once formed the bed of a primordial inland sea. This sand which is very stable but easily excavated is perfect for tunnelling out cellars, and that is what the people of Retz have been doing for centuries. There are over twenty kilometres of passages under the town; a network more extensive than even the road system above and new tunnels are still being discovered and charted.

The remarkable Althof Retz Vinothek showcases over 200 wines from 80 local producers

A guided tour of the cellar network finishes in what was the basement level of a 700 year-old castle but is now home to the Althof Retz Vinothek, which ranges over 200 wines from 80 local producers. The manager of this space is the delightful Doris who, upon hearing my mission, insisted on looking after me herself, and look after me she did. Under Doris’ watchful eye I was treated to seven flights she personally curated to best demonstrate the underlying DNA but also the variation in the Weinviertel DAC.  Winemaking is all about embracing and highlighting the variables unique to your patch and in a region as large as the Weinviertel, the variations can be profound. But, after following Doris through dozens of vineyards, large and small, high and low, warm and cool, I am now tuned into the underlying bassline of this place.

The wines and winemakers of the Weinviertel have been put down and misrepresented for centuries. Until relatively recently the region was mostly mixed farms with grape vines growing alongside other crops and livestock; a necessity in a poor agrarian region. It was this diversification that kept the locals fed but also caused the more prestige Austrian regions to look down on these so-called “amateurs”; but, as is so often the case, the high took their eye off the low. In that time a passionate and dedicated few inspired the enthusiastic many into a complete rejection of the status quo. Those who once looked down their nose are now looking over their shoulder at a Weinviertel that can more than hold its own at any black-tie dinner.

If this article achieves just one thing, let it be to not believe everything you hear. I accepted the words of others and in not seeking my own answers I very nearly missed out. The Weinviertel hears the gossip and whispered slights but has committed itself to rise above it; to make wines of subtlety, elegance, texture and soul.

Weinguts Taubenschuss, Weinrieder and Neustifter, and the vinotheks Wino and Althof Retz, are representative of a proud Weinviertel that is not only the power-house of the Austrian wine industry but is also its flagbearer for some of Austria’s most exciting wines. I have never been so glad to have been so wrong.

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Saint Laurent: An amazing Austrian red – By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

In May of this year I was lucky enough to visit Austria for a second time. I spent a little over a week travelling through three regions that each have their own signature style or varietal. The first of several articles I plan to write about this trip will be dedicated to the Thermenregion and its unique expressions of Saint Laurent.

The grand sweep of the beautiful Thermenregion

The Thermenregion achieved formal status as a wine region when the districts of Gumpoldskirchen and Bad Vöslau joined forces in 1985; its vines reach from the outskirts of Vienna’s Wienerwald forest southward along a chain of hills to just beyond the town of Baden.

Named for its geothermal hot springs, the region enjoys long, warm, summer and autumn days, and its nights are chilled by the cool air flowing down from the Vienna Forest and the Anninger Mountain. A primordial sea once covered the area and deep deposits of marine shells are now complemented by loam and gravel that time has driven down from the surrounding hills.

It was the Roman soldiers stationed in nearby Carnuntum who first planted vines in the rocky gravel and shell-rich soils more than 2000 years ago; but as is so often the case in Austria, it was the monks who revitalised and refined viticulture from the Middle Ages onwards.

Cistercian monks brought Pinot Noir from Burgundy and established a winery in 1141 at Freigut Thallern in Gumpoldskirchen. Centuries later, Augustinian monks planted St. Laurent at the Klosterneuburg Monastery outside Vienna, when they founded the world’s first viticultural school there in 1863.

It is said that St. Laurent and Pinot Noir make good bedfellows; they both enjoy similar terroir and the houses in Austria famed for one will often also produce premium examples of the other. St. Laurent’s genealogy is hotly debated; Pinot Noir is broadly accepted as one parent but the other is shrouded in mystery and misted in time.

Thought to have originated in Alsace and then migrated east to Germany and then Austria, St. Laurent is now firmly ensconced at the head of Austria’s prestige varietals and the wines produced in the village of Tattendorf in Thermenregion are especially prized. I will forever be indebted to my friend at the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, the very resourceful and ever helpful Valentina, for organising a meeting with one of Austria’s elite and most acclaimed St. Laurent producers – Hannes Reinisch of Johanneshof Reinisch.  

The esteemed Holzpur Saint Laurent vineyard of the Reinisch family

The Reinisch family has been growing grapes in Tattendorf for four generations, and the family company is now run by the three brothers, each having his own sphere of responsibility: Christian is the viticulturist, Hannes the winemaker and Michael oversees sales. Whilst the brothers are rarely together in one place (“the secret to how the system works,” winks Hannes), they have agreed that full consensus must be reached and no wine will be bottled if each brother has not approved it. A system that ensures that only the best will bear the name, Johanneshof Reinisch.

Before conducting the tasting, Hannes drove me out to visit some of his family’s vineyards; one of the stops was at his most prestigious block named Holzspur, which was planted in 1956-1958. Deep soils with lots of blue/grey stones and gravel typify this relatively flat plain which is ringed by tall, white-tipped mountains. All of Johanneshof Reinisch vineyards are biodynamically managed and the family insists on hand picking all the fruit.

As readers of this blog will know, Hahndorf Hill has planted St. Laurent and, once I had described our terroir, Hannes was pleased with our clonal selection.

After visiting the vineyards it was time to head back to the winery and taste through the fruits of the family’s labours. On a trip like this it is important to stay disciplined and keep to the brief; I was there to learn about St. Laurent but I was also treated to several wines made from the indigenous grape varieties, Zierfandler and Rotgipfler. Both were delicious and will have their moment but in another article, as this was St. Laurent’s day. Broken into the two main styles of Classic and Reserve, the five wines we tasted brought me a new understanding and a deeper appreciation for this grape. If I had been smitten before, now I was hopelessly lost to St. Laurent.

Tasting through a flight of terrific Saint Laurent wines at Johanneshof Reinisch

The Classic style has bright and fresh white spice and black cherry that carry down the length of this cheerful yet elegant wine. Delicate tannin and perfectly balanced acid give the wine texture and structure whilst keeping to its fresh and relaxed nature, making this a perfect “grazing” red. I would love to drink this in the sunshine with a range of crumbly cheeses, charcuterie, pickles and fresh breads.

The wine cellar at Johanneshof Reinisch in Tattendorf

Next I was poured two single vineyard wines in the Reserve style – the Frauenfeld 2016 and Holzspur 2016 and I could not have been happier. Both were wines of such sophistication and substance I had to get to know them better. Black cherry is in St. Laurent’s core, but here were two sisters with an obvious resemblance but also worlds apart. The Frauenfeld showed more oak and a powdery tannin, while the Holzspur was rich in leather, anise and that meaty “bulls blood” element that is impossible to describe but unmistakeable when found. These two wines are in my all-time Top 10, and as our nights get colder and the cuisine we enjoy shifts back to the hearty, I can’t help but feel there is a big Holzspur-shaped hole at my table.

Hannes Reinisch and Jack Simmonds talk Saint Laurent

Hannes Reinisch was extremely generous with both his wine and experience; the time I had tapping into his knowledge and passion will be well spent and diligently applied.

A short Uber ride away is the village of Gumpoldskirchen and the vineyard of the Heiligenkreuz monastery, which was established by those thirsty Cistercians in 1141. One of the buildings on the sprawling estate has now been converted to a vinothek that sells the wines of around 30 of the region’s producers as well as the wines made by the monastery itself: Freigut Thallern.

Vineyard at Freigut Thallern in Gumpoldskirchen

In the traditionally white wine producing end of the region, Freigut Thallern has a range of delicious Gemischter Satz, Zierfandler, Gruner Veltliner and Rieslings, all of which will get a mention in later articles, but my mission on the day was the St. Laurents, and I was not disappointed.

The lovely Nicole guided me through a range of St. Laurents from the estate and the surrounding village; the signature red/black cherry was always present but brought with it different friends from each block or sub-region such as anise, white pepper, lavender and cured meat characters. I was treated to a range of Classic styles that danced lightly upon the palate and sang of delicate spice and red black fruits, then a flight of brooding, textural Reserve styles that spoke of leather, charcuterie and tobacco in a rich baritone.

Like all varieties, St. Laurents of quality have some constants: black cherry, white pepper and delicate tannin for example, but in my experience only Gruner Veltliner can compete with Saint Laurent when it comes to expression of terroir.

Over the course of my trip, I tasted St. Laurents that flirted with delicate and ethereal Pinot Noirs and some that could shout back at a Syrah or Grenache. I found floral notes here and meaty notes there; I enjoyed bright fruits and dark, bracing acidity, and some that were almost chewy, but in the end they all pointed to one thing: St. Laurent is truly one of the great gifts of the red wine world.

And here at Hahndorf Hill we are excited to be developing this wonderful grape in the Adelaide Hills!

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St. Laurent, the breaker of hearts – By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

In several editions of this blog I have written of our commitment to ongoing staff training and education. We regularly assemble themed flights of wine designed to highlight one variety or style to snap us out of the everyday and keep us alert to the bigger picture. The latest session in this program focused on the prestige red variety of Eastern Europe and a future darling of the Hahndorf Hill wine portfolio – the rare St Laurent.

Although it flies under the radar of most Australian drinkers, St Laurent has sat at the head of Eastern European tables for generations. Its parentage is unclear and regularly debated but Pinot Noir is recognised as an immediate relative and this is something of a double-edged sword. A well-made St Laurent can raise the work of even the laziest of cooks to haute cuisine, but it has also been called the “heartbreak grape” for its diva-like attitude to any inconvenience whilst still on the vine.

As is often the case with great loves the road to those perfectly transcendent moments is rarely easy. St Laurent can and has broken many viticulturists’ and vintners’ hearts; she can be fickle, callous and even cruel, but when she smiles at you all is forgiven and forgotten in a heartbeat.

Vineyard at Weingut Johann Gisperg in the Thermenregion of Austria

Under vine since Roman times, the Thermenregion or “Thermal Springs Region” is just a little south of Vienna and was named for the hot sulphurous springs peppered around the spa town of Baden bei Wien. Deep deposits of famously well-draining loam, sand and clay dominate the north, but it is in the south where the loam gives way to very coarse gravel and fossilised shell that St Laurent has made herself at home.

Weingut Johann Gisperg is a multi-generational family business in the village of Teesdorf. The winery is one of the proven Burgundy specialists in Austria and their commitment to quality over quantity has netted the family a swag of awards. Unsurprisingly, their 2015 Reserve St Laurent made an indelible impression on me in the flight mentioned above.

Saint Laurent tasting at Hahndorf Hill

Swirling the dark crimson wine in the glass put me in mind of a cardinal late for an important meeting, scarlet robes billowing as he hurried down some ancient corridor. Cured meat, white pepper and savoury spice slowly seeped to the nose, while rich dark fruits, woody spice and delicate tannin rooted me to my chair. This wine has presence and authority but wields it with a feather, a glance, a discreet nod. White pepper glides with black fruit, opulent tannin curtsies with delicate acid and the whole pageant had this writer dreaming up joints of roast venison, tomato-based Italian and platters of cured meats, sundried capsicum and mild blue cheese.

Two superb Saint Laurent wines from Austria

The wines served in the training flights are always tasted blind so I was pleasantly surprised when it was revealed that the other sample that stood out for me was from a winery I had already featured in a previous article in this very blog.

We last spoke of Rosi Schuster when I confessed my love for the field blend style, Gemischter Satz. I won’t go over the same ground again except to say that while the white was delicious, their deservedly high profile has actually been built on their reds, particularly St Laurent and Blaufrankisch.

The Burgenland region shares a border and the coarse gravel and shell deposits with the Thermenregion, but has a lower diurnal variation thanks to the massive Lake Neusiedl. The reds of this region are typically more robust and fruit driven than their neighbours and currently enjoy a high international profile.

The 2016 St Laurent featured in the flight spoke to me as if we were old friends; its richer fruit weight and more pronounced oak would be very welcome at the table of any Australian Pinot Noir or Cab Franc drinker. At first tasting it was a little tight and closed, but I was careful to keep one eye on the bottle and made sure it came home with me; I had a suspicion there was a real treat that hadn’t quite woken up yet and I am pleased to report I was right. After another hour or so spring had sprung and this delicate, sophisticated and aromatic wonder unfurled and blossomed.

St Laurent’s signature white pepper, charcuterie and black cherry are all here but I was not expecting the tomato bush, coffee and faint anise. This is a complex and layered wine that will reward the disciplined drinker; come back to it over several days and it will read you more chapters of its home and the obvious care put into it.

Game meat such as duck, kangaroo or lamb with a plate of roasted mushrooms, fennel bulb and purple carrot will pair beautifully.

From the outside looking in it is always difficult to see your friends in a relationship that you don’t think is good for them; when you hear the fights and see the disappointment on their faces you just want to shake them and tell them to snap out of it, and they always say the same thing: “You don’t know them like I do” “he/she loves me, they really do”. I think now having looked into the eyes of the “Heartbreak Grape” she has me as well. I know she won’t be good for me … and I don’t care.

Posted in Adelaide Hills, Adelaide Hills best Cellar door, Adelaide Hills Gruner Veltliner, Adelaide Hills wine, Adelaide Hills wine region, Blaufrankisch, cool climate wine, dessert wine Aelaide Hills, Diurnal variation temperature, Gruner Veltliner, Gruner Veltliner Australia, Hahndorf, St Laurent, sticky wine Adelaide Hills, Uncategorized, wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Highlighting Austria’s lesser-known wine gems – by Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

The last article on this blog highlighted the ease with which we can now source varietals and wines from regions or producers once deemed too exotic or confusing for the Australian consumer. Our obsession with keeping abreast with what is going on in the so-called “prestige” regions of the old world had dazzled us to the point that we as consumers were blinded to the very real delights to be found just a little east of Europe’s more celebrated appellations.

At Hahndorf Hill we are working hard to one day bring Austrian varietals into the Australian mainstream consciousness. I release these articles into the wild in an effort to highlight the wines, styles and producers that until recently may have flown under the Australian radar. However, could my passion for a few superstars have deafened me to the greater orchestra?

Our adoration for Gruner Veltliner and Blaufrankisch is clear to see and they are at the core of almost everything we do, but there are other treats peppered throughout eastern Europe and Austria in particular. Styles and varietals not yet covered in these Gru Files have danced across Austrian tables for generations and I for one think it is timely to look beyond the Gruners and Blaus and taste my way through some of their lesser known compatriots.

The Veltliner family tree is broad and gnarly; a history of divorces, affairs, adoptions and hyphenations have made getting a definitive pedigree maddeningly difficult. Even the highest profile member of the family – Gruner Veltliner – looks to have just “married in”; my study on Gruner’s relationship with the rest of the Veltliner family has taken me down several wormholes each more fascinating than the last and will no doubt feature here in the Gru Files one day.

Roter Veltliner on the other hand is considered a founding member of the Veltliner line, and even something of a viticultural Don Juan. Varieties such as Frühroter Veltliner, Neuburger, Rotgipfler and Zierfandler all have Rotor Veltliner blood and according to Wikipedia it is known by over 160 names! Christmas in the Rotor Veltliner household must get very tricky.

Compared with Gruner’s Austrian plantings of 14,423 hectares, Roter Veltliner’s plantings of 195 hectares or just .4% of Austria’s production put it firmly in the boutique bracket. The last few decades have seen a decline in in its footprint as it was originally planted on loess-heavy sites which are perfect for growing the higher value Gruner Veltliner. But as is so often the case there is a small group of producers who have refused to follow a market and have instead backed this ancestral variety.

There is very little literature to be found online about Kurt Angerer or his winery in the western end of the Kamptal, but the few sources all agree on several points. His wines are consistently delicious and despite his success Kurt has kept his feet on the ground, and isn’t that enough? The man would obviously prefer his wines do the talking and his 2016 Roter Veltliner has a lot to say.

Clean and lean best describes this wine’s arrival; like a bantam-weight boxer waiting to touch gloves before a fight, there is a barely contained energy to the green apple and citrus nose that almost can’t wait for the bell. This is not a frantic wine but a beautifully balanced combination of confident footwork and devastatingly precise punches. Distinctive and refreshing acid and slatey minerality keep this wine striding across the canvas to deliver a lime, white stone fruit and a green apple combination to the palate.

A delicious alternative to a Watervale Riesling or an Alto Adige Pinot Grigio. This wine will pair beautifully with natural oysters, seared salmon or trout, jalapeno peppers and roast pork.

Gemischter Satz or “Mixed Set” is a style of field blend made famous by Viennese producers but has been embraced all over Austria for centuries. The regulatory fine print varies from region to region but the bones are more or less the same; minimum of three varieties, co-picked from the one block then co-fermented with little to no detectable oak influence. I am deliberately over simplifying this style because I was so impressed with the example I most recently tried that I intend to devote an entire upcoming article exclusively to this exciting and richly varied category.

Rosi Schuster is a house best known for its traditional Austrian red varietals with a particular focus on St Laurent and Blaufrankisch. Hannes Schuster took on running the estate alongside his mother Rosi in 2005 and has overseen the transition to manage the family’s blocks organically whilst also building relationships with growers around Burgenland, thus giving him access to fruit from a diverse range of soil types. This reach has given Hannes the opportunity to experiment with new styles and he has been rewarded with a steady stream of accolades.

The 2015 “Aus Den Dorfern” (From The Villages) is a Gruner and Gemischter Satz blend; yes, it’s a blend of blends! This wine is a textbook example of how one region’s non-negotiable is another’s loose guideline. It was a little validating to know that even though I don’t have a large sample size having only tried five or six Gemischter Satz wines before, I could tell this example wasn’t made in the traditional style. This wine is 80% Gruner Veltliner and 20% not specified other whites which were all picked separately; both primary and malolactic fermentations were spontaneous and a significant portion of the Gruner saw oak.

Class, texture and sophistication define this wine; it sits in the glass like a pool of golden sunshine and it quite literally lit up the faces of all lucky enough to be at my table when I opened it. Delicately toasted nuts and honeyed peach make up the nose while a refreshing briny flint couples seamlessly with pear, apple and white spice on the palate.

I loved this wine and if you enjoy a Smaragd Gruner, Adelaide Hills Chardonnay or Fume-style Sauvignon Blanc, it will seduce you too. Roast poultry, seared scallops or spiced pork sausages on creamy mash will all partner impeccably.

At Hahndorf Hill we have made it our mission to explore beyond the familiar vinarius and to return home with treasures, trophies and tales to share. We firmly believe that there is no standing still; you are either pushing forward or falling behind and that is why we devote so much time and effort to looking, listening and learning, always hoping to inspire you to join us. This article touched on just two of the many as yet un-tasted treats to be found just east of famous and there are many more to come.

Prost! Jack

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Sourcing Austria’s finest wines in Australia – By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

Wines from the Old World – the cellar at Austria’s Weingut Allram

The Australian wine market has always been dominated by local producers (and rightly so) with the import component largely ruled by New Zealand, France and Italy. And while the wines we are importing from the big three global-producing countries are famous for quality and eminence, they are not well known for stylistic innovation or varietal experimentation. New Zealand and Western European wine sales are still very strong here, but for how long?

When a bottle of red was passed around my father’s table, it would undoubtedly have been Shiraz, and someone ordering a glass of the house white at almost any bar could, until recently, safely expect a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. This almost industry-wide homogeneity has been frustrating, but the light at the end of the varietal tunnel is getting much brighter. The last 20 or so years has seen a slow but steady revolution in Australian wine bars, restaurants, bottle shops and vineyards.

This quiet but implacable growth owes its momentum to several forces, all of which have made a conscious effort to look beyond the immediate whims and demands of the comfortable yet easily intimidated consumer. These brave few have scoured the earth in an effort to liven up and rejuvenate our dining tables and trendy wine bars.

Across the country courageous importers, sommeliers, retailers, journalists and vintners have put their money and reputations where their mouths are; and now the range available to the curious drinker in Australia has grown exponentially, and I for one thank them. We in Adelaide are particularly lucky to have Liinaa Berry of 2KW and Shaun Lau of Orana, two somms who have embraced Austrian varietals. Dan Traucki of Winestate Magazine has committed more column inches to Gruner Veltliner than anyone else I know, and importers such as Cellarhand and Vinous Imports have spent years chipping away at our resistance to anything difficult to pronounce.

Until recently the only place adventurous drinkers could find alternate varietals and styles was the boutique and independent bottle shops. For a generation now Adelaide’s Edinburgh Cellars, East End Cellars and Stirling Cellars have been challenging the status quo and offering a range of depth and quality. Nicks Wine Merchants and Blackhearts & Sparrows serve the Victorian and Canberran markets faithfully and Prince Wine Store keeps Sydney on the cutting edge.

The large supermarket-style and online retailers have also played their part in bringing alternate varietals and the traditionally ignored wine-producing regions to the public palate – Dan Murphy’s ranges a few wines from my friend Gerhard Pittnauer and a selection of Domäne Wachau. The online giant Vinomofo has also thrown its weight behind the cause and it is two of their wines that inspired this article.

Weingut Allram from the Kamptal wine region in Austria is a multi-generational family business with three tiers of kin actively involved on a daily basis. Like the other few houses who have earned the right to display the prestigious Erste Lage or “Grand Cru” insignia on their bottles, they know that all great wines begin in the vineyard. They see themselves as custodians of the land first and vintners second; every effort is made to care for each vine thus providing the best vehicle for the terroir to express itself. A “less is more” attitude in the winery allows each bottle to stay on message; to speak of the warm days that slip into chill nights, of the cool dark slate hidden below layers of calcareous loam and loess, and of the steady hands which care for each vine with reverence and respect.

Erich and Lorenz Haas of Weingut Allram in the Kamptal
Erich and Lorenz Haas of Weingut Allram in the Kamptal

Lorenz Haas-Allram took the wheel in the cellar from his father Erich in 2015 and his first few vintages in charge indicate he will be a steady pair of hands. He has held firm to the family’s viticultural and vinification philosophies and continues to blend ancestral experience with modern techniques and technology.

The 2016 “Renner” Gruner Veltliner is true to form; this wine is all about purity and structure. Apple, pear and white stone fruit ring like a bell while a delicate and faintly nutty bass line chaperones this orchard orchestra across the palate. There are a few common denominators in Gruners of this quality and the acid is one of them; this is a crisp and flinty wine that, while delicious now, has me rueing not ordering more. I predict this wine will age with grace and those lucky enough to sample it in another 10-12 years will be rewarded with a glass of pure sophistication and textured elegance.

This wine will sing with Coffin Bay oysters with just a twist of lemon, crunchy veggies in a light tempura batter or a good old fashioned roast chicken with all the sides.

The Wellanschitz family produced their first Burgenland Blaufrankisch over fifty years ago; several generations have since shaped the business but the original vision has never changed: Only the best will do. A member of the family is always personally involved in every step of the process and the firm never buys in fruit or wine.

Ripening grapes at Weingut Wellanschitz in Burgenland

I spoke before of certain qualities and philosophies being shared by many of Austria’s top houses; a deep respect for the terroir, scrupulous fruit selection and a light touch in the winery all mark out the elite producers and Weingut Wellanschitz deserves its place in such company. Their blocks are peppered across Mittelburgenland and cover a diverse range of sites; each selected for its unique terroir and voice, which is then allowed to say what it wants to say.

The “Well” block is a relatively flat site consisting of rich heavy clay with pockets of ironstone and is situated in the village of Horitschon, only a few minutes from the winery in Neckenmarkt and close to the region’s largest centre, Deutschkreutz. This article is all about the growing diversity available to the Australian drinker and the 2015 “Well” Blaufrankisch is a point within a point; this wine will provoke and intrigue even those who consider themselves to be “Blau literate”.

If Muhamad Ali could “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee’’, then this would have been the wine for him. The 2015 “Well” has the waistline of a Pinot or Syrah but delivers an aromatic jab and a tannin hook. Blackberries and cherries make up the primary fruits but don’t fret, there is tannin for days. This is no fruit salad; delicate oak and extended maceration have imparted a balance and sophistication that makes for pleasurable drinking now but hints at the treats that will reward the patient. If you were to put this wine down for another 10-12 years (as I fully intend to do), I suspect you will have a table mate as charming and engaging as any Burgundian.

Game meats such a venison, duck or braised rabbit will pair beautifully and if you were to support the protein with roasted field mushrooms, onions and beetroot on a polenta foundation, than I can guarantee you will have to set at least one extra place! I promise I will bring another bottle.

As attitudes evolve and horizons broaden, the experiences available will inevitably multiply. The Australian wine scene was once called stagnant and boring, but with the help of the brave few listed above and numerous others, there is hope. I delight in not being able to recognise or sometimes even pronounce all the varieties I can now source at my local bottle shop or at the click of a mouse. It is incumbent upon all of us to help lift the veil that so often scares the drinking public back into the arms of the familiar and tired. We now have an arsenal brimming with new weapons with which to titillate and tease, from Assyrtiko to Zweigelt, and I am very excited about the direction our industry is heading in.

I look forward to new challenges, to sharing something new and learning right along with you.

Prost, Jack.

Posted in Adelaide Hills, Adelaide Hills best Cellar door, Adelaide Hills Gruner Veltliner, Adelaide Hills wine, Blaufrankisch, cool climate wine, Gruner Veltliner, Gruner Veltliner Australia, Hahndorf, St Laurent, sticky wine Adelaide Hills, Uncategorized, wine, Zweigelt, Zweigelt Australia | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hahndorf Hill explores the beauty of Blaufrankisch – By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

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Hahndorf Hill Winery
  Adelaide Hills

We at Hahndorf Hill have never shied from publicly declaring that we love drinking other people’s wines. I have written previously of the regular critical tastings we do after hours at the cellar door, normally a flight or two selected to highlight or isolate a specific theme. We all very much enjoy the opportunity to study prime examples of varietals so close to our hearts.

Whilst we always make an effort to apply a veneer of legitimate “professional development”, our passion for these varietals means that these tastings do have a way of pulling us in. Before we know it we are mentally soaring over the Blaufrankisch powerhouse of Burgenland or the steep and winding lanes of Langenlois. By the time we land back in Hahndorf it will often be dark and each of us late for something.

Vineyards near Neckenmarkt

Our most recent tasting “journey” took us over the villages of Lutzmannsburg and Neckenmarkt in Austria, over the region of Württemberg in Germany, then a lap of our own estate here in the Adelaide Hills.

Weingut Moric the brand was born in 2001 and has enjoyed a meteoric rise to global recognition; its founder and chief winemaker Roland Velich applied the skills and perspective he gained studying marquee Pinot Noirs and Barolos to the mature vines of his native Burgenland to impressive effect.

Moric wines have received glowing reviews from some of the industry’s most qualified and respected wine writers such as Eric Asimov of the New York Times and Alder Yarrow, Jancis Robinson Purple Pages contributor. It is with humility and a quivering keyboard that I would like to add my voice to this chorus of praise.

The vintners of Burgenland will often speak of the magnificent sunshine that bathed their region in the autumn of 2016 in an effort to bury deep the trauma of several biting frosts early in the season.

The frosts came at the worst possible time and hit very hard; significant damage was done and many questions were asked about the very viability of the region’s crop. Eventually the sun arrived and lifted the spirits of vintners and schoolboys alike; off came the winter coats and the hard work began in earnest. The 2016 Moric Blaufrankisch is typical of the house; that is to say, it’s delicious.

The obsessive sorting ensured only the best fruit was allowed in and it shows; a parcel of 20% – 25% whole bunches contributes to the velvety tannins, moody spice and opaque ruby garnet colour. A perfume of jasmine, curry leaves, blackberry and clove spice announce the bottle has been opened, while the rhubarb, woody spice, tart plum and disciplined acid on the palate sent me straight to the fridge praying to any divinity that would listen that it would be magically stocked with venison, lamb meatballs swimming in a tomato sauce, or a mild crumbly blue cheese.

In a previous Gru Files article focused on Rosé, I wrote about Weingut Knauβ (pronounced Knauss), a German producer in the region of Württemberg. Andi Knauss took over the family business in 2004 and with the skills he picked up in Austria, poured himself into managing the health of his vineyards. Andi’s style is so old school it’s new school; minimal intervention in the winery and the generous use of whole bunch fermentation give his wines vim and energy all of their own.

Since taking over he has expanded the portfolio to nine varieties spanning globally familiar Francocentric varieties to the lesser known Eastern European classics. As a rule, vines don’t care where they come from; that prejudice is a uniquely human trait and as is so often the case the same variety can be known by several different names in different countries.

Blaufrankisch is a variety often written about in this blog and its homeland is more or less universally recognized as Austria, but as it enchanted and seduced neighbouring vintners it was often rebranded. In Germany Blaufrankisch goes by the name of Lemberger and, as with other international examples, it will always bear a resemblance to ancestral kin but will inevitably come to speak with the accent of its new home.

Confirmable details are hard to come by so I will rely on my own tasting notes and the impassioned rants we each went on during the tasting. To our mind this 2016 Knauβ “Pure” Lemberger was crafted to be enjoyed young and fresh; I would speculate that a generous percentage of whole bunch ferment has created the whimsical structure. Anise, blackberry, clove and cured meats all march across the palate in perfect time. Just like the rosé profiled in a previous article, this wine will polarize and not least along generational lines. Fans of our lighter, spice-forward red “Zsa Zsa” Zweigelt will find a friend here, as well as followers of the wines of the Basket Range region of the Adelaide Hills.

Char grilled lamb, roasted mushroom, strong cheese platters and charcuterie will all complement this wine beautifully.

The 2016 Hahndorf Hill “Blueblood” Blaufrankisch is the first vintage to go out in her sexy new label and she has been very well received. A warm and dry vintage saw bold fruit characters across most of the Adelaide Hills and we enjoyed our fair share of the sun. Local markets will always influence stylistic choices and as the Australian palate has traditionally trended towards a firmer oak influence, our Blaufrankisch shows more of the Vosges and Troncais notes of vanillin and tea spice than its European cousins.

Black plums, blueberries and ripe cherries form the front palate with woody spice such as clove and cinnamon making up the middle; the back palate is where I find most drinkers diverge. I have heard drinkers describe liquorice, tobacco, saddle leather and cherry musk and have found them all myself at one time or another, and that is the beauty of this variety. Like an office gossip, she will whisper slightly varying tales into each glass, making this a fun wine to track.

Be it Blaufrankish, Lemberger, Kekfrankos or Franconia, this black/blue beauty beguiles and bewitches. A dream match with most game meats, ripe cheeses, charcuterie, dark chocolate and innumerable other dishes. Time spent with this variety is time well spent.


Posted in Adelaide Hills, Adelaide Hills best Cellar door, Adelaide Hills Gruner Veltliner, Adelaide Hills wine, Adelaide Hills wine region, Blaufrankisch, cool climate wine, Diurnal variation temperature, Gruner Veltliner, Gruner Veltliner Australia, Hahndorf, St Laurent, Uncategorized, wine, Zweigelt | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three svelte Germanic rosés – By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

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Hahndorf Hill Winery
  Adelaide Hills

As vineyards across the region slowly awaken and stretch up into the warm lengthening days, so too do we, and the hearty recipes that got us through the cold dark months are rotated away and the BBQ makes a triumphant return.

This time of year my friends and I need very little provocation to dine outside; the lads almost involuntarily gravitate towards the grill and the ladies once again discreetly wage their annual “who brought the most interesting salad” war. Just for the record my wife’s salmon and spring onion cob was the clear 2017 champion … just saying.

As the seasons must change so too do the wines we reach for. The demographic in ice buckets across the country has slowly but surely shifted. Gone are the ubiquitous Kiwi sauv blancs in favour of a dry and savoury newcomer with a distinctive pale-pinkish hue.

Although exact numbers are hard to pin down, one thing is undisputed: Rosé is the fastest growing category in Australian wine and it is not slowing down. What was once relegated to the bottle shop’s back shelf or the last fridge, often in the sweet section, now takes pride of place. Although there is still a big market for the sweeter styles, it is the drier “Provence” inspired wines that are responsible for rose’s almost exponential growth.

Last Saturday I woke to see my balcony bathed in sunshine and being the patriot I am, I invited some friends over and woke up my BBQ. I rarely have trouble attracting guests to dine with us as they know I will often have a flight of wines that need tasting for this very blog and this day was no exception. I am not a recent convert to rosé but I will confess an ignorance of eastern European examples (a blind spot I am not proud of and to be addressed).

The three I chilled for the group were all made to a similar style but all told a very different tale. I chose a German blend, a famous Austrian, and a bottle of our own current vintage.

For generations the vineyards owned by Andi Knauss’ ancestors were strictly a hobby but after graduating as a vigneron and a stint in Austria, Andi came home in 2004 and turned Weingut Knauss into a serious concern.

With a focus on vineyard health and minimal intervention in the winery, Andi has become a rising star in one of Germany’s premier wine producing regions, Wurttemberg-Remstal. He has slowly expanded the plantings and now works with nine different varieties. Andi has an eye for the details and it shows; minimal intervention is making wines on the razor’s edge, requiring precision and care. By managing the vineyards with patience and in harmony with nature, he has given himself the best chance.

As soon as I poured the Knauss 2016 I knew it would be popular; rose petals and quince leapt from the glass. The palate was sophisticated and refined; pomegranate and white blossoms up front with pink lady apple bringing up the rear. A delicate powdery tannin had everyone salivating and I fear that had I not been sitting right there this would have been the first empty bottle.

A blend of Pinot Noir, Zweigelt, Trollinger, Blaufrankisch, and Merlot, the Knauss Rosé is one to share; a treat with grilled lamb, sautéed mushrooms, crumbly blue cheeses and white fish.

The village of Gols on the shores of Lake Neusiedl in Burgenland, Austria, is one of the prettiest places I have visited. The lake is immense but quite shallow, contributing to this region’s unique micro-climate. Peppered around the lake are several of Burgenland’s superstars, but I have a special affinity for the wines of – and the people behind – Weingut Pittnauer.

During my recent trip to Austria, as I walked from the train station dragging my suitcase up the cobbled streets to Weingut Pittnauer, I was struck by the relaxed nature of the place. Up until this point I had found Austria quite formal, but here the people waved and smiled, happy to ask the obvious stranger if he needed any directions.

Jack (left) with Gerhard Pittnauer

Gerhard Pittnauer (or ‘’Pitti” to his friends) inherited the family business as a very young man at an impossibly difficult time for the Austrian wine industry. Twenty plus years later, he and his wife Brigitte have emerged from these dark times as one of the highest profile Austrian producers in the world and in 2014 Gerhard was recognised with Austria’s highest winemaking accolade – the Falstaff Winemaker of the year.

All of Pittnauer’s wines are well thought out and expertly crafted; the focus on premium fruit and respectful winemaking is non-negotiable. The 2017 “Pitti” Rosé has done the house proud; 100% whole bunch Blaufrankisch gives this wine an earthy red berry aroma. The palate leads with sour cherry and ripe red berries, but this wine is not without the signature Pittnauer savoury finish.

This example could be a bit of a challenge to the drinker only recently weened off the sweeter rose’s, but will delight when served with game hen, gnocchi, sardines or seared tuna.

The 2018 Hahndorf Hill Rosé has been one of our most critically successful ever and its sexy new packaging has seen it flying off the shelves. A few shades lighter than previous vintages but still featuring our unique blend of the Germanic variety Trollinger and other Adelaide Hills reds, this wine is already breaking hearts. Cherry blossom and raspberry frame the nose, while pomegranate, quince and delicate pink musk and pepper form the palate.

This wine is the perfect accompaniment to fiery Thai or whole-grilled fish, a wide selection of cheeses and especially successful with the hot Italian sausages from my local butcher.

The rosé revolution is now past the point of no return. Australia has embraced the dry, savoury and balanced, pale pink seductress and Sauv Blanc is in retreat. This is one bandwagon I will be happy to get on!

Posted in Adelaide Hills, Adelaide Hills best Cellar door, Adelaide Hills Gruner Veltliner, Adelaide Hills wine, Adelaide Hills wine region, Blaufrankisch, cool climate wine, Gruner Veltliner, Gruner Veltliner Australia, Hahndorf, Rosé, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gruner Veltliner’s two predominant styles – by Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

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Hahndorf Hill Winery
  Adelaide Hills

Regular readers of this blog will by now be familiar with the system that classifies the different styles of wines produced in Austria’s highest profile region, the Wachau. This system referred to as the Wachau Codex has led the way in regulating quality control and restoring international faith in the wines of a whole country.

The Wachau wine region of Austria

With rules that govern decisions made in the vineyard, winery and cellars, the Wachau Codex has sought to bulletproof the reputation and integrity of the wines produced along its short stretch of the Danube.


The Austrians love a rule book as much as their Germanic neighbours and the list of technicalities a wine must meet can quickly confuse and bamboozle, so let me simplify things a little by saying that the wines which meet the exacting standards set out in the Codex are sorted into three distinct categories:
Steinfeder: Fresh, fruit forward and spicy. Alcohol level not to exceed 11.5%.
Federspiel: Sophisticated orchard fruits, lean and acid driven. Alcohol levels restricted from 11.5% to 12.5%.
Smaragd: Ripe, rich and opulent with excellent cellaring potential. Minimum alcohol level 12.5%. (Alcohol levels often at 13 – 14%.)

It is of course much more complicated than this simple abbreviation but for now let me draw you away from the Wachau; let’s descend its steeply terraced slopes and glide down the Danube, then head north across the rolling plains into the heartland of Austria’s largest wine region – the Weinviertel.

Producers outside of the Wachau take their quality control no less seriously and have adopted their own mechanisms to protect their reputations and customers. These areas subscribe to a master ‘DAC’ (Districtus-Austriae-Controllatus) template, where each region has set up a tailored system to suit their specific signature styles. While there are common principles and values, each region can tweak the fine print to best reflect their unique terroir.

The vast Weinviertel region in the north east of Austria was the first wine region to implement a DAC system, effective as of the 2002 vintage. Other regions soon followed and today the DAC system applies across Austria, including in the famous Gruner-producing regions of the Kamptal and Kremstal.

• This much more widely applied DAC system divides Gruner into two distinct styles – Klassik and Reserve.

Before an Austrian wine can be classified as either a Klassik or Reserve, it must first pass a range of specific quality requirements; all wines are submitted for sensory and chemical analysis to confirm that they meet this first level of quality control – primarily, that they accurately represent the variety’s regional typicity. Only once a wine has been approved for DAC classification can it then be labelled as one of the two recognised styles, Klassik or Reserve.

As I referenced earlier, each region can adapt this DAC template to suit its local specialities, so let’s zoom in on how this system classifies wines from Austria’s Kamptal region, a DAC that shares more than a few similarities with the Adelaide Hills, such as a similar MJT (of 19 degrees), a profound diurnal temperature variation (of up to 25 degrees), and a similar soil composition of red clay overlaying metamorphic rock such as slate, schist and quartz.

• In the Kamptal, wines designated as Klassik are described as being aromatic, spicy, well balanced, and with concentration reflective of that specific vintage.
• There are no botrytis or oak notes allowed and the alcohol level generally must be a minimum of 11.5%.
This DAC Klassik style corresponds to the Federspiel style of the Wachau.

Kamptal Reserve styles are described as being:
• Robust, concentrated and long in the finish; delicate notes of botrytis and oak are permissible and the wine must also show pronounced ‘regional character’ (in the case of the Kamptal this means stone fruit, white pepper and citrus). The minimum alcohol level must be 13%.
This DAC Reserve style corresponds to the Smaragd style of the Wachau.

The most recent Gruner Growers’ Group (GGG) meeting was held in July at the beautiful Victoria Room at the Edinburgh Hotel & Cellars in Adelaide, and it focused on the two predominant styles of Gruner as reflected in the DAC system and the Wachau Codex. This event was fully booked with Adelaide Hills’ growers and producers attending as well as journalist Dan Traucki.

Hahndorf Hill Gruner Veltliner seminar

Jack Simmonds presenting his seminar to the Gruner Growers Group

To open the meeting, I delivered a short presentation on the DAC system as a whole, and then to contextualize and gain some perspective on the two different styles, I took the group through a tasting representing each flight, ranging in price, vintage and region.

Flight one featured six examples of the Klassik / Federspiel style.
1. 2017 Stadt Krems ‘Lossterrassen’ – 12% alc – Kremstal
2. 2017 Groiss – 12.5% alc – Weinviertel
3. 2017 Prager ‘Hinter Der Burg’ Federspiel – 12.5% alc – Wachau
4. 2016 Kurt Angerer ‘Kies’ – 12.5% alc – Kamptal
5. 2016 Brundlmayer ‘Terrassen’ – 12.5% – Kamptal
6. 2016 Loimer ‘Loiserberg’ – 12.5% alc – Kamptal

Wines presented at Jack Simmonds’ seminar

After this first flight we paused for discussion with several questions and comments focused on the wines’ vinification, local terroir and the DAC qualification requirements. The selection above represents some of what Gruner is capable of when treated with care and respect. When quality above quantity is the doctrine, Klassik/ Federspiel Gruners will titillate and beguile with refreshing acid and delicate fruits.

Flight two was devoted to the richer, more robust Reserve / Smaragd style.
1. 2016 Knoll ‘Schutt’ Smaragd – 13% alc – Wachau
2. 2015 Brundlmayer ‘Lamm’ Reserve – 13.5% alc – Kamptal
3. 2015 Domane Wachau ‘Achleiten’ Smaragd – 13.5% alc – Wachau
4. 2015 Jager ‘Vorder Seiber’ Smaragd – 14% alc – Wachau
5. 2015 F.X. Pichler ‘Loibenberg’ Smaragd – 14% alc – Wachau
6. 2015 Franz Hirtzberger ‘Axpoint’ Smaragd – 14% alc – Wachau

The Adelaide Hills has long been known as a region responsible for some of Australia’s best Chardonnays; so it was no surprise when the room got very quiet while tasting this flight, as the textured opulence of this bracket impressed us all.
Having recently tasted these wines I made a point of sitting back to study the faces of my colleagues and was delighted to see eyes widen and hurried notes committed to paper. The discussion that followed was long and passionate; several producers present have released wines in this spirit and I am supremely confident we will see more in the not too distant future.

Gruner Veltliner vineyard in the Adelaide Hills

Following the tasting of the Austrian flights, participants enjoyed an informal tasting of a range of Adelaide Hills Gruner Veltliners. So how does this all fit in with the way Gruner is evolving in the Adelaide Hills? So far, it is clear that the local producers are still experimenting with viticultural practices, yield management and how the grapes are dealt with in the winery. Stylistically, we are also still exploring, developing and learning, with each vintage bringing new experience and understanding.

It would be fair to say that most styles produced locally would fall into the ‘Klassik’ category, with a handful of wines using riper fruit, skin contact and some oak influence, which the Austrians would recognise as a ‘Reserve’.

In addition to this, there have been several locally developed Gruners that are distinctly more ‘fruit-forward’ in style – often being described as being as exuberant as a Sauvignon Blanc. If, however, one teases out these generous Gruner aromatics, then they are found to be in a spectrum of juicy citrus, nectarine, ruby grapefruit and even pawpaw flavours, and are therefore quite different and more complex to what Sauvignon Blanc is able to offer. This fruit-forward style shares a common DNA with that of Austria’s largest Gruner-producing region – the Weinviertel.

We have learnt that Gruner is an amazingly complex and expressive variety, capable of communicating in the bottle its entire life story: Where it came from, how long it hung out in the sun and the philosophies of the vintner.


Communication, co-operation and a shared sense of purpose are not common traits in an industry as competitive as ours, but we believe the ‘everyman for himself’ attitude is for those who sit squarely on their laurels. The spirit of the Gruner Growers Group is to look forward, to form the very tip of the spear.

Michael Sykes of Lodestone winery in the Adelaide Hills is arguably the most qualified Australian winemaker to speak about the technicalities of Gruner production and it was for this reason he was asked to be a judge at the recent Global Gruner Challenge. In the panel discussion afterwards, he put voice to a suspicion I have held for some time, that Australian Gruner Veltliner bears a stronger resemblance to its old-world relation that any other Australian varietal version –  Chardonney to Chablis, or Pinot Noir to Burgundy, for example.

I am convinced that this is due in no small part to the GGG’s ongoing commitment to thorough study and research, intelligence sharing and due diligence.

Posted in Adelaide Hills, Adelaide Hills best Cellar door, Adelaide Hills Gruner Veltliner, Adelaide Hills wine, Adelaide Hills wine region, cool climate wine, Gruner Veltliner, Gruner Veltliner Australia, Hahndorf, Uncategorized, wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jack Frost’s choice – By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

Copy of Copy of HHW_300dpi_col

Hahndorf Hill Winery
  Adelaide Hills

Adelaide Hills wineFew places can wear white better than the Adelaide Hills, and whilst real snow is rare, we are occasionally treated to a landscape of pure and crystalline beauty. As the days get shorter and we scramble to stack our beds with extra blankets, the languorous golden afternoons spent sipping Gruner can feel a lifetime away. But change is inevitable and when embraced can be a time of warm reacquaintance and new discovery.

Hahndorf Hill Adelaide Hills Wine

I have always been a ‘winter person’; it is not just that I struggle in the summer heat but I have always taken a little extra pleasure in the cuisine we look to in the colder months. The dishes we enjoy this time of year also necessitate a different dining attitude; they take longer to prepare and will often fill one’s home with aromas that can draw even the most brooding of teens to the table. It is very difficult to eat a proper Sunday roast and play videogames, and I think that might be the point.

As we yearn for dishes of warmth and substance we also look deeper into the wine rack, seeking heft and complexity. For most of us red wine is a year-round delight and few would argue that as the sun puts up less of a fight and the smell of wood smoke drifts down the street, that reds are not so much an option but the default.

It is in this spirit that I would like to share some thoughts on a couple of my absolute favourites, and perhaps unsurprisingly for regular readers, two of them are Austrians.

The town Deutschkreutz sits in ‘the heart of Burgenland’, the broad rolling plain that stretches across eastern Austria and spills over into Hungary. The region has for centuries been the home of Eastern Europe’s prestige reds with three varieties that are dear to the hearts of all Hahndorf Hill fans, often teaming up to create ‘cuvées’ or ‘blends’ of exquisite depth and complexity. Like most ancestral wine producing regions, Burgenland was built on blends with Blaufrankisch often doing the heavy lifting and Zweigelt and St Laurent adding backing vocals of aromatic lift, spice and delicacy.

The first record of the Gesellmann Estate in Burgenland is from 1767, but it was in the 1980s that they took the first steps towards the top shelf of Austrian reds. A militant insistence on only picking the very best fruit from their 40 hectares planted around the town of Deutschkreutz and diligently applying the wisdom of previous generations has set the platform for one of the most consistently delicious wines I have tasted.

Two tasty Austrians

The 2012 ‘Opus Eximium’ is a wine intended to be savoured, or as a whisky drinker would say, ‘slow & low’. Like a troupe of expert medieval tumblers would cascade across the stage, the blackest of blackberries and most purple of plums spill from the rim to dance for the nose. A composition of 60% Blaufrankisch, 30% Zweigelt and 10% St. Laurent delivers the palate a bounty of red and black berry fruits, while the signature spice and a welcome acidity act like a veteran headmaster, keeping this quiet riot on the straight and narrow. This is a complex and beautifully balanced wine that with calm consideration will reveal layer after layer.

Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this son of … St. Margarethen?

The village of St. Margarethen near Burgenland’s capital can boast many attractions; a 1st century Roman quarry, world-class operatic performances and Austria’s largest theme park. But my attention has been firmly grasped by the wines of mother and son team, Hannes and Rosi Schuster.

A commitment to a ‘less is more’ philosophy and organic vineyard management has seen Weingut Rosi Schuster recognized all over Europe. Hannes sources his fruit from a handful of very diverse spots surrounding his village, then lets the ferments gently bubble away in open-top vessels. Both primary and malolactic fermentation is spontaneous with more than a little whole bunch thrown in to add extra complexity.

The 2014 Reserve Blaufrankisch/ St. Laurent blend was a wine born of a nightmare season; a combination of Hannes’ extremely high standards and excessive rains at the worst possible time forced him to turn his back on a significant amount of fruit. This wine is testimony that adversity can breed excellence; like a soggy phoenix this wine rises above its early challenges to lift your roasted game meats or cheese/grazing platter to a whole new level.

A significant proportion of this wine was whole-bunch wild fermented then sent to bed in large format barrels for a whole year. This parcel was then reunited with its kin in an even bigger vessel for an extra 21 months.

For a wine that was unfined and unfiltered it has remarkable clarity of flavor; red, black and blue fruits harmonize seamlessly, putting me in mind of a late Monet. This must read like a wine made by a recent Burgundian graduate who has set up shop in the Basket Range, but I was pleasantly surprised by the stealthy tannin and well defined structure. I was expecting a more diffused presence on the palate given the colour and aroma, but this wine is taut and clean with a quiet and hypnotic dignity.

The Hahndorf Hill blend of Shiraz/ Cab/ Merlot we call the ‘Compatriots’ was also born of necessity, not one of tragically timed pounding rain but of overwhelming demand. As I write this we are still the only Australian producer of our marquee red variety Blaufrankisch; every single berry is grown on our Hahndorf estate and the same goes for our single vineyard Shiraz. Years of hard work has seen our profile rise and while interest in our two red wines has grown, the volumes we can produce has not. Halfway through each year a storm would brew as Dee Wright (our enchanting cellar door manager) and I would plead our cases to get the last remaining stock to supply our respective customers.

Something had to be done, thus the rich and bold ‘Compatriots’ was born. It was on the back of Shiraz/ Cab/ Merlot blends that regions such the Barossa Valley achieved global recognition, and despite it being a blend traditionally embraced by producers in warmer climates we were confident we could offer a new take on an old classic.

The ‘Compatriots’ is the boldest red in the Hahndorf Hill stable and is a wine of many faces. It presents like a group of boisterous lads on a stag do, but quickly mellows into a plush and cultured conversationalist. Liquorice and peppery, wood spice frame ripe plums and juicy blackberry. This wine is a ‘fireside specialist’; rare steak, earthy mushrooms or a mild crumbly blue cheese will highlight the subtle sophistication reclining behind the bold headline.

I really do enjoy this time of year; I find the icy dawns invigorating and the crisp evenings provide extra opportunities for spontaneous snuggles with loved ones. Years ago my partner (who does not share my indifference to the cold) dubbed me ‘Jack Frost’ as she claims my embracing of winter’s charms somehow ‘chills her to the bone’. We have been together long enough for me to decipher this code; she will shiver theatrically as I scan the wine rack but quickly thaws as I hand her a glass as dark as the closing night.

Posted in Adelaide Hills, Adelaide Hills best Cellar door, Adelaide Hills Gruner Veltliner, Adelaide Hills wine, Adelaide Hills wine region, Blaufrankisch, cool climate wine, Diurnal variation temperature, Gruner Veltliner, Gruner Veltliner Australia, Hahndorf, Uncategorized, wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment