Ageing by Design – by Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

According to Norse mythology, each season is assigned to and governed by one of four deities. Winter is the dominion of the goddess Scadi, and as I sit down to pen you this letter from my home in the Adelaide Hills, I very much feel her frigid icy influence in the air. The nights are long and some mornings I could swear I feel Scadi’s frosty fingertips cutting right through me. It is enough to make old injuries ache and new complaints protest even louder.

Winter has a way of highlighting and drawing one’s attention to certain realities and inevitabilities. Scadi’s reign is necessary; the land needs a rest after the boon and abundance of the other seasons, and when we mortals finally rest, we tend to feel each and every one of our years. This evening, however, I am enjoying several of my favourite things: a warm fire, music, good company and a growing sense of quiet resolution. A resolve to not simply yield into maturity but rather to age gracefully and with a dignity born of a life well lived.

But where to seek noble role models? Where can one find examples of how to age with distinction? Well, in the wine cellar of course …

Hahndorf Hill Adelaide Hill Austrian wine
Jack on arrival in the red heart of Burgenland

Few wines pair with a quiet wintery night in like a mature red blend from Burgenland. The region is internationally recognised for producing wines of deep complexity and gravitas and the 2011 Gesellmann ‘Deutschkreutz’ blend of Blaufrankisch and St Laurent is custom-made for evenings such as this.

The undulating vineyards around the village of Deutschkreutz in Burgenland, Austria

I have written to you of Weingut Gesselmann previously and made special mention of their range of elite red blends which I tasted on my first trip to Austria, but let’s do a quick recap. Weingut Gesselmann farm 50 hectares consisting of several choice blocks within the Deutschkreutz sub-region. This multi-generational family business consistently achieves global acclaim for their wines which are made from classic Austrian and Western European varieties to exacting standards and which blend the best of the traditional with the cutting edge.

Like all great producers, they focus entirely on helping their wines speak of their time and place; a premium is placed on vintage expression and a quality over quantity philosophy means we are unlikely to ever get as much of their premium wines as we would like.

At 11 years old, the 2011 ‘Deutschkreutz’ Blaufrankisch/St Laurent blend is still a bold and robust example of the power which cuvées from this region exert, and which Gesselmann in particular are so famous for. Deep ruby-garnet red in the glass and with aromatics like black cherry, dark chocolate, woody spice and French oak, this wine is powerful, hearty and in “ALL CAPS”. The palate swirls with oak at first but this soon yields to a medley of blue/black fruits and a surprisingly delicate spice. I have tasted a number of its sister wines and I can well see the familial resemblance.

I was excited to pair this wine with seared duck breast in a pomegranate and anise jus on a bed of sweet potato mash.

A few weeks ago, I was gifted a bottle of Gruner from an Austrian visitor to our cellar door who I had met several years earlier. We had first met at a tasting in Hahndorf where I was presenting a number of our wines and he was astonished to see his favourite white variety not just growing but positively thriving thousands of miles away from its traditional home. We exchanged details and he promised to send me a special bottle from his homeland that he was convinced I would not have tried but absolutely needed in my life. Well, now I have, and he was 100% right!

The Muller family has been producing wines in the Kamptal region for generations; they make several styles of white, rosé, red and bubbles, but it is their Gruner Veltliner from the neighbouring Wachau region that I would like to share with you.

The ancient blocks that birthed this fruit are on the eastern end of the valley and belong to the Kremsmünster Abbey. The Abbey was founded in 777 AD by the Bavarian Duke Tassilo III and the first recorded vineyards were planted in 893 AD. It is for him the Muller family has named the wine they produce from this region.

The Leukuschberg site sits at the spot at which the narrow valley opens and is dominated by exposed and weathered bedrock; this topography and the region’s signature diurnal variation have penetrated the wine to its most elemental level. Made in the Klassik style, this 2015 ‘Tassilo’ Gruner Veltliner has beautiful natural acidity and is so mineral rich I am surprised BHP hasn’t bought up the whole vintage! The spice elegantly frames the pale golden apple and citrus fruits while the mouthfeel is full for the style but not cloying.

The Leukuschberg vineyard sits at the eastern end of the Wachau

I would have loved to have paired this wine with crumbed fish, whitebait or a chorizo pizza, but it was a crispy roast pork night and it still broke my heart.

While our ‘Gru’ Gruner Veltliner is made in the Klassik style and our ‘White Mischief’ Gruner reflects a distinctly New World style, our ‘Reserve’ Gruner Veltliner takes its inspiration from the fuller, Reserve-style wines of the Kamptal. The 2016 Hahndorf Hill ‘Reserve’ Gruner Veltliner was the last vintage in our original label.

Like all Hahndorf Hill wines, the fruit from this most premium of blocks was harvested by hand, but unlike its kin she was wild fermented in French barriques on her lees for several months. This more ancestral style of winemaking is what has allowed the wine to express all the opulence and elegance this most regal of varieties is capable of.

She sits in the glass like a golden autumnal sunset, offering a thousand shades of the palest yellow to the deepest amber, like a chalice prized at the court of Montezuma. Aromatics of candied orange, vanilla and all-spice lazily roll over the lip of my glass and only briefly precede a palate rich in citrus marmalade, white pepper and oak so perfectly balanced one almost misses it – almost.

While this wine will effortlessly continue to mature for at least another nine or ten years, I am grateful I got to spend some time with her now.

Cellared beauties can richly reward those who are patient

All three of these wines have fortified me; I sense all of the aches and complaints of middle age are circling on the edge of my consciousness, but for now I am strong, confident that ageing well always comes down to planning. These wines were made with cellaring in mind, decisions regarding yield were made well in advance and choices were made in the winery that when considered in the whole, all contributed to wines that will continue to mature with grace for years to come.

It is in this spirit that we too must all look to the dozens of little decisions and choices that we make each day; get in the lift or take the stairs? Plan our meals or swing through the drive-through? These wines are where they are because of planning, preparation and considered execution; they elevate shared meals and stimulate intelligent conversation. I want that; I want to be that guy and I invite you to join me, first in the cellar amongst the dusty bottles … and then in the gym.

Prost, Jack.

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, Foundling Saint Laurent, Gruner Veltliner Australia, Hahndorf, Saint Laurent, St Laurent, Uncategorized, Zweigelt, Zweigelt Australia | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The A to Z of Zweigelt, By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

Zweigelt grapes at Hahndorf Hill’s 2022 vintage

At the time of writing this article, we find ourselves at the halfway point of the 2022 vintage. Larry and his team have swung their minds away from our signature white varietals and we are preparing to harvest our reds, the first of which is Zweigelt.

Zweigelt is a variety we have a history with; regular readers may remember our earlier vintages were made as a textural rosé. Over the years the style evolved into a summery, light red made in the ‘spirit’ of a Beaujolais, but as the vines are getting older, the style is moving towards a more full-bodied wine.

To better attune ourselves to what the 2022 Hahndorf Hill Zweigelt will have to say, I thought it timely to delve into the cellar and draw out a handful of Austrian examples for calibration purposes. Let us taste through what some of my favourite European producers have released into the wild, for strictly academic purposes, I assure you! That they will no doubt be delicious is a bonus.

Hubris is an ultimately self-sabotaging trait in most vocations but is especially pernicious in a winemaker. It is for this reason that whenever we look for a benchmark upon which to calibrate or measure our Austrian red varietals, we first look to a handful of marquee producers from the Burgenland region – a red wine powerhouse and home to names such as Pittnauer, Gesellmann and Beck, all leaders in their field and deserving of every respect and accolade.

Judith Beck

The first Zweigelt I would like to share with you is the 2016 Beck ‘Bambule!’ and while I have written to you of Beck wines once before, I like them so much I beg you to indulge me in a little walk down memory lane. Judith Beck is the real deal; hailing from a line of winemakers and a graduate of one of the world’s most prestigious viticultural universities, the famous Klosterneuburg. She has credentials to burn but there is nothing of the wine snob about her. Her home is smack bang in the middle of her vineyards and she values her connection to the healthy and fertile land above all else.

Her wines speak of their place and bear only the faintest whisper of human intervention; the wines in her ‘Bambule!’ range are all bottled unfiltered and without the addition of So2. This gives the wines a naturally cloudy appearance but offers a glimpse into a land populated by untamed yet still incredibly sophisticated examples of Zweigelt, Blaufrankisch, Chardonnay, Welschriesling and Pinot Blanc. Judith Beck has struck the balance between natural and palatable that has (in this writer’s humble opinion) eluded most producers of this style.

The 2016 Beck ‘Bambule!’ Zweigelt was gently de-stemmed and the loose berries were then rested under a blanket of carbon dioxide to slowly macerate carbonically for two to three weeks. The slow and cool ferment provided the perfect landscape for the tannins to emerge as gently as I have ever seen, which under normal circumstances would limit a wine’s cellaring potential. But as the wine was bottled cloudy the yeast lees must have scalped any rogue oxygen and provided a counter to the typically life limiting mellow tannins. This is not quite mad scientist stuff, but it is close! This level of intimate understanding of the fruit’s potential can only come from completely devoting oneself to the place, cause and philosophy. Judith Beck has made that commitment and the wines have rewarded both her and everyone else lucky enough to drink them.

The first thing that struck me about this wine is the bouquet of crushed herbs such as tarragon and clove followed by a tumble of red and black fruits. The acid profile is subtle but skilfully guides the fruit and spice along the palate; most uncharacteristically for a wine made in this style it is revelling in its maturity. Most ‘natural’ wines will have fallen over long before their sixth birthday but this one is perfectly content, and so am I.

Christoph and Heidi Bauer in their Weinviertel vineyard

Zweigelt has been embraced by many regions across Austria and has also made a home for itself in the Weinviertel region. Weingut Christoph Bauer is based in the village of Haugsdorf and runs approximately 20 hectares of organically managed vineyards. Christoph and his wife Heidi pride themselves on balancing a combination of old traditions and new ideas and that philosophy has definitely translated to their 2017 Zweigelt.

Older devotees of the variety will be drawn to this wine on looks alone; it is inky crimson, bordering on purple. And more recent converts will enjoy its almost Pinot-like, slightly sour cherry fruits and white peppery spice, a signature of the Weinviertel. The palate weight is medium by Australian preferences but is gaining weight and gravitas as it ages, which it has done very gracefully for a wine retailing at only €6.50 (about $9.60 AUD! Bonkers!) I enjoyed this wine with roast beef and I could not have been happier.

The last of the wines I pulled from the cellar hails from Germany, the Wurttemberg region to be precise. Weingut Knauss is a multi-generational family business with three generations still working in the vineyard and winery. A less-is-more philosophy reigns here so each vintage can express itself without the burden of having to be anything but itself.

Andreas Knauss in his Wurttemberg vineyard

The current steward of the winery is Andreas Knauss who values a no-frills approach to his winemaking; ecologically sound vineyard management and yield restriction have the biggest influence on the fruit so most of the work is done by the time it arrives in the winery. Their wines are all about the finer detail; there are layers of sophistication and elegance that don’t rush to reveal themselves but reward the patient and attentive drinker.

The terraced and tapestried Knauss vineyard in Wurttemberg, Germany

The 2016 ‘Pure’ Zweigelt was made in as minimal interventional method as I have seen, wild ferment, unsulphured, no filtering, no CO2 and no additives of any kind. Talk about walking a tightrope! Wines made using such ancestral methods can very easily go wrong; I have had the misfortune to taste many myself, but this was not one of those times. The wine sits cloudy and mysterious in the glass, it has secrets and is still weighing up whether or not it wants to share them. It yields little at first; but once it decides it likes you, it sends over wisps of crushed anise, tarragon and white pepper spice. The palate is all red, black and blue like the building clouds of a thunderstorm in the tropics; red currant, ripe plum and black cherry.  This is a wine best enjoyed fireside, snuggled up in comfortable silence with a loved one. No one needs to say anything, this wine will speak for both of you.    

Zweigelt can be many things; I have enjoyed it as a sparkling, a rosé, a light summer red served chilled, and heavier styles bold as brass. Like all of our favourite varieties, it speaks of its place if we just take the time to listen. When our Zweigelt block was in its first flush of youth, it yielded a rosé that was distinctly different to what was commercially popular but still a favourite of those in the know. As the vines aged, they produced wines that happily claimed a spot on the picnic rug and seat at the BBQ, and now as they reach adulthood are making wines that will age and confidently hold their own at any important toast.

I am filled with excitement and anticipation; I cannot wait for what is to come from future vintages of the Hahndorf Hill Zweigelt but wait we must. In the meantime, I heartily encourage you to seek out the wines listed above.

Prost, Jack.

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, Foundling Saint Laurent, Foundling St Laurent, Gruner Veltliner, Gruner Veltliner Australia, Hahndorf, Uncategorized, Zweigelt, Zweigelt Australia | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Festive Feasts, Old and New – by Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

I relish this time of year; I delight in watching the excitement and anticipation build incrementally in my young daughter; the brainstorming for creative and meaningful gifts; and I especially enjoy the Christmas light displays put on by so many of my neighbours.

That being said; I am sure it will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that my absolute favourite part of the whole festive season is its grand finale, the Christmas Day very, very, looooong lunch.

Christmas time in Austria at the Viennese market

I start planning the menu weeks ahead of popping the crackers and tearing the always slightly too small paper hats on my slightly too large head. By early December I am mentally scheduling cooking methods, times and temperatures, and all the while writing and re-writing the wine list. A Christmas Day wine list can be a very fluid thing (forgive the pun). Trying to pair a wine with a range of dishes and an even broader range of guests can quickly get overwhelming.

Let us then take a moment to look at what our Austrian friends enjoy when sitting down to a traditional Christmas meal and then what is becoming increasingly popular on Australian festive tables.

Christmas lunch in Australia in the 1950s was very much a roast meats and veggies affair

Gathering together with friends and family at Christmas has been a European tradition for millennia and as much as turkey is indigenous to North America, other proteins dominate Austrian tables at this time of year. Climactic and social influences have also had a profound effect on the traditions embraced by everyday Austrians; this has resulted in several key differences between how we in Australia and how Europeans celebrate essentially the same thing.

One of the most obvious differences is the weather; an Adelaide Christmas is often a very warm affair where shorts and a t-shirt are ubiquitous. When we compare this to Austria, where the winter snowfall in Vienna regularly measures over half a metre, we can see why they would prefer a more intimate indoor event. Another significant difference is that Austrians exchange gifts and share the main celebratory meal on the evening of Christmas Eve. Like many predominantly Catholic countries, a large number of Austrian families observe the Advent period of which fasting is an important part. It is this observance of religious fasting that has also helped to establish fish and poultry as the default meats on most tables.

The two most commonly served dishes at an Austrian Christmas are carp fried whole in butter and served with roasted greens, risotto and potato dumplings, and roast goose with savoury baked apples, pickled red cabbage and roasted root vegetables. As I have never tried goose, I have attempted to follow the recipe sent to me by the grandmother of a dear friend in Vienna; delicious, even if I do say so myself!

What to pair with this dish? I need something that will cut through the richness of the goose, balance the acidity of the pickled cabbage AND complement the spice of the baked apples. There are a lot of competing flavours on the plate but I can think of only one thing I want in my glass, a Gruner of course. I fancy a Gruner of complexity, so let’s go to the Wachau, I need freshness and finesse so let’s look at a Federspiel, and I want a bottle from a house of bulletproof consistency, so the 2020 Domäne Wachau Federspiel ‘Terrassen’ is just the wine for the job.

A sight for Santa’s sore eyes – the gorgeous terraced landscape of the Wachau

The wines, people and home ground of Domäne Wachau have featured in this blog many times, but here are a few bullet points for newcomers. Established in 1938, Domäne Wächau is a large co-operative of around 250 grower partners and is the only house in the region that can boast fruit from all of the Wachau’s most prestigious vineyards. Their portfolio includes wines in each of the three recognised regional styles ranging from the easily approachable through to wines of great complexity and gravitas. And, as a member of the Vinea Wachau, they are committed to maintaining the incredibly high production standards designed to protect the region’s global reputation for integrity and quality.

The 2020 ‘Terrassen’ Gruner Veltliner has sourced its fruit exclusively from the famous dry-laid stone walled terraces that climb up the valley’s impossibly steep slopes and hug its curves. Orchard fruits such as green apples and pears lead the palate and are dutifully followed by lime and ruby grapefruit; but there is also something else, an umami-like savouriness that took me three full days to articulate. Right at the end of the palate, almost like a final regal wave goodbye, is just a whisper of the finest blue cheese. This wine is delightful on its own and especially well equipped to complement a dish of many competing flavours.

The main meal shared with friends and family at an Australian Christmas celebration has undergone many generational shifts. In my grandfather’s day, they followed the English template of glazed ham, roast turkey, heaving platters of brussels sprouts and other assorted boiled-to-a-grey-mush vegetables, the flavour of which was never effectively masked by the gloopy gravy. Later, dishes cooked on the BBQ slowly crept in, and prawns or crackly roast pork served with a variety of salads came into vogue.

Today, large crowds cleaning out seafood markets has almost become a Christmas tradition in and of itself. Prawns, calamari, oysters and salmon served with fresh cold salads and sides of char-grilled asparagus or broccolini, mark the table of a household that has fully embraced all our local terroir has to offer. Australia enjoys some of the cleanest water and finest seafood in the world, a fact that has helped to drive the heavy roasts and boring veggies off the Christmas table.

How to do Christmas lunch in Australia in 2021 – seafoods and Hahndorf Hill Gru! Pic courtesy of Sarah Brabon, Oyster Bay Holdfast Shores

Our 2021 ‘Gru’ Gruner Veltliner is stylistically inspired by a number of wines in the DAC categorised Federspiel or Klassic classes and is the perfect wine to pour beside fresh seafood. The white stonefruit and citrus of the front palate is buoyed by the most invigorating acid, while gruner’s signature rub of texture marshals all the fruit, spice and acid in such a way so as to heighten the whole culinary experience.

I have said many times that Gruner is your best friend in the kitchen and can always be relied upon to complement just about every dish – and Christmas cuisine is no exception. The festive season is usually a time for coming together in gratitude and goodwill, but whenever real people gather, especially family, there are always tensions and curveballs. This person won’t sit next to that person or one unexpected guest’s food allergy has tipped the menu on its head. It is in moments like this, where you can feel all the weeks of hard work crumbling and things beginning to unravel, that Gruner Veltliner really comes into its own. I am not saying that Gruner is a universal panacea but, no actually, that is exactly what I am saying!

So this festive season stock the fridge and esky with a selection of Gruners and you simply can’t go wrong; and from all of us here at Hahndorf Hill Winery, I would like to thank you for all your support this year and wish you all a Merry Christmas and Frohe Weihnachten.

Prost, Jack.

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

The Wagram: A Treasure Hiding in Plain Sight – By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

Jack Simmonds – Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

Whilst putting together a map of Austria’s wine producing regions for a recent Hahndorf Hill cellar door staff training session, I was confronted with a glaring gap in my own training. I have spent years studying the wines, wineries, regions and framework that have seen Austria’s star rise on the global wine stage, but it appears that along with many international observers and lovers of Austrian wine, I have inadvertently led you along the path often travelled.

Together we have sipped Gruner Veltliners of gravity and majesty from the Wachau’s prestigious terraced slopes, felt the warm wind on Burgenland’s rolling plains with Blaufrankisch in hand, and gazed across the city of Vienna from its lush and verdant halo of hillsides with a glass of Gemischter Satz. We have even walked the backstreets and laneways with some of the plucky and grossly underestimated producers of the Weinviertel. How then is it possible that I have overlooked a region smack bang in the middle of the viticultural action? Let us remedy this inexcusable oversight and delve into the Wagram.

In 2007 the region previously known as Donauland was formally rechristened as Wagram (pronounced Vaag-rum). This name change was just one notable event in the region’s extremely long history, so long in fact it is home to Austria’s oldest winery. In 2014 Stift Klosterneuburg (aka Klosterneuburg Monastery) celebrated its 900th birthday. Its foundation in the year 1114 would in time establish the area as a viticultural centre, a responsibility which the monastery has taken very seriously ever since. Many of Austria’s winemakers studied here in the world’s oldest viticultural school which was founded in 1860, and Klosterneuburg is also the home of the rare Austrian red varietal, Saint Laurent.

To the immediate north east of Vienna, the Wagram shares several of the geological, topographical and climatic features so prized by its higher profile Danubian neighbours, but it also has an extra ace up its sleeve: The Wagram region is home to Europe’s greatest accumulation of fabled loess soil.

The region is split down the middle by the Danube River; its northern half borders the Kamptal and shares its signature deposits of loess which were blown in during the last Ice Age. This thick layer has compacted atop the rocky bed of a primordial sea. Wagram actually comes from the word ‘Wogenrain’ which can be roughly translated to ‘Surfside’. Gruner Veltliner is king here and the loess-rich slopes produce wines of spice, texture and exceptional aromatics.

To the south of the Danube, the incline increases and so the soils are dominated by calcareous flysch which is a repetitive layering of silt, sand and argillaceous stone. These layers were created by mudslides deep below the surface of the prehistoric ocean that once covered this area. When paired with the largely predictable climate, these soil types are especially accommodating to St Laurent and Pinot Noir.

So now we have established that the Wagram has everything it needs to make great wines; its two distinctly different terroirs are perfect for a range of Austria’s hero varietals. The Wagram is also immediately adjacent to the country’s most famous wine regions as well as to Vienna, and it carries aeons of viticultural practice. As of writing this article, examples of Wagram red wines are almost impossible to source in Australia; however, we are fortunate enough to have two Wagram Gruner Veltliners on hand.

Karl Fritsch in front of a wall of loess

Karl Fritsch of Weinberghof Fritsch is very conscious of his time and place; a commitment to nurturing the right variety in the right place as well as a dedication to sustainability, is his legacy to future generations. One of the earliest proponents for biodynamic production, Karl became a founding member of the region’s movement which is now formally recognised as ‘Respekt-BIODYN’. His base in the village of Kirchberg in the northern half of the region is blessed by a deep layer of Gruner-loving loess and the ÖTW recognised Ried Schlossberg sits in an especially pretty spot. Sloping southwards away from the ruins of the Winkelberg Castle, this exceptional single vineyard of Gruner Veltliner sits upon pure loess and has a reputation for producing full-bodied and spicy wines.

Had I tried blind the 2017 Gruner Veltliner from the single vineyard Ried Schlossberg, I could have very easily talked myself in and out of a conclusion a dozen times. Its first impression is of the white pepper spice and the apple orchard characteristics typical of elite Kamptal wines; an alluring palate of almond, cashew and yellow stonefruit of the Wachau joined in; and the acid and tannin familiar to lovers of Vienna Gemischter Satz framed out the whole package. This is, of course, not due to any identity crisis within the wine, but rather a symptom of my having allowed such a gap in my own experience to manifest.

Ried Schlossberg is one of the distinguished single vineyard sites of the Wagram

This wine has expertly made the very best of its homeground advantage; there are several forces at work on this particular site, any one or two of which would be a boon in any other region, but to have such a confluence of blessings in one place is unfair in the extreme. That being said, Weinberghof Fritsch has walked the walk when it comes to integrity in both the vineyard and winery. I am very confident the philosophies that have delivered such a delicious wine to my table are rock solid and will continue to delight drinkers for generations to come.

The family Leth atop their loess-rich soil

Just a few kilometres to the west lies the village of Fels; loess is still the predominant soil feature but the landscape levels out slightly and is more rolling. The Leth family run 100 acres of vineyards, half of which is Gruner Veltliner. Keeping close to nature and making minimal intervention and natural wines are core to this family’s success. They produce several distinct ranges which cover the fresh and friendly styles through to their elite ÖTW recognised single-vineyard wines.

The 2017 Leth Gruner Veltliner from the single site named Ried Scheiben is different from the Fritsch in several ways, but it has in common a few key features that I suspect the locals take particular pride in. Whilst this wine has a healthy dose of palate-hugging lees, it also has an acid and tannin structure that balance it out perfectly. White blossom and peppery white spice are complemented with tart pineapple and crisp minerality. This wine has incredible length and will reward a patient drinker who will re-visit it over several days.

The Wagram is at the nexus of several wine giants; they have carved out for themselves a niche of land that is exceptionally well positioned to take advantage of all the elements that the big boys pride themselves on, but they have so far managed to avoid the politics or pressures that often comes with profile. 

I am a firm believer in sub-conscious predisposition; we are hard-wired to categorise and compartmentalise and when confronted with something that pulls at a thread of our understanding of something we value, we are faced with a decision: Let confusion warp into dismissal or lean into it. For a fleeting moment both of these wines tasted like old friends, but they quickly asserted themselves as something unfamiliar and became a great discovery. I chose to make some new friends today and I am sure we will get along famously. 

Prost, Jack.

The delicious, slow-roasted crispy pork hock served at Hahndorf’s historic German Arms pub, is the perfect meal to enjoy with these two Gruner Veltliners from the Wagram

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Gruners crafted for the long haul – By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

Jack Simmonds – Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

Over my years in the wine industry, I have come to realise that there are broadly two denominations of wine drinker: Those who enjoy a wine in the first flush of youth with its bountiful aromatics, bright primary fruits and crispy crunchy acid, and then a very lucky few who were guided behind the curtain and initiated into a great and wonderful secret – a secret born of patience, care and self-discipline; that, once understood and appreciated, can unlock new dimensions of drinking pleasure. I am, of course, speaking of well-matured wines.

Now before I get too far into this topic, I would first like to give as clear and concise an answer as possible to a question I am often asked. Not all wines are created equal, and deliberately so. Most are made specifically to be enjoyed young and fresh with no real expectation that they will be cellared; these wines are at their best for a few years after release then begin to fall apart. Simply aging an-entry level wine will not necessarily make it better. Conversely, some of the world’s highest-profile wines are so unbalanced as to be almost undrinkable when they are first released; they are crafted in such a way that all of the million little variables (acid, tannin, fruit) will over the years eventually harmonise and only then show the winemaker’s true vision.

These superb Austrian Gruner Veltliners were crafted for the long haul

An excellent visual representation of this concept is the Pendulum Wave. Austrian physicist and philosopher, Ernst Mach, built the first pendulum wave machine in 1867 to demonstrate mathematical and physics theory at Prague University. This device perfectly demonstrates harmony and balance rising out of chaos through a combination of deep consideration and expert execution. After reading this article, please scroll back up here and follow this link to a hypnotically beautiful video:

Those of us who seek out aged wines have long known how stimulating a well-made and cellared Riesling can be.  Australia has a long history of producing world-class Riesling and we are especially good at crafting bottles that will continue to delight for over 20 years. This is particularly exciting for disciples of Gruner Veltliner. Austrian vintners have planted Gruner and Riesling side by side for generations and as their treatment in the winery is also almost identical, this suggests to me that all the things that we love about a well-made and diligently cellared Riesling will also bloom in Gruner. 

Let us take a look at three examples of Austrian Gruner Veltliner that we have studiously cellared to see how they have developed.

The charming entrance of Weingut Knoll in the Wachau

As a dog person, I have very special memories of my time at Weingut Knoll in the Wachau. I visited their beautiful cellar door in 2017 and was greeted by the four-legged gatekeeper who would not let me pass until he had exacted five full minutes of belly rubs out of me. Weingut Knoll is currently under the stewardship of Emmerich Knoll who is an exuberant ambassador for the region and responsible for some of its highest profile and acclaimed wines. The family have been viticulturists for generations and established their own brand in the 1950’s. Today they manage 16 hectares including many of the region’s most desirable blocks.

The 2015 Loibner Federspiel Gruner is a wine I have been lucky enough to try twice, first in Austria when it was just released and again here at home just now. This is a tremendous advantage when attempting to extrapolate the trajectory of a well-made wine. When I tried it in 2017, I remarked upon the delicious citrus, faintly honeyed apple and green vegetal characters that were braced by a body and mouthfeel so robust I almost couldn’t believe it was only 12% alcohol. I even highlighted the following line in my note book: ‘In a few years this wine will break hearts’ – and how right I was. In the subsequent five years, this wine has let its guard down enough to reveal beeswax, custard apple and an acid so elegant and graceful that I genuinely resented sharing it. Being happily married is all very well and good, but had I known I would be expected to share so much as a drop of this wine I would have definitely looked into a pre-nup!

An impressive line-up of Rabl wines at the family winery in Langenlois in the Kamptal

The Weingut Rabl family has been farming in the Kamptal village of Langenlois for centuries; by 1900 they were selling wine to local inns by the barrel, and by 1946 they were one of the very first to switch to 700ml bottles. I visited the Rabl winery, underground cellars and tasting room in 2017 and was very impressed. They have embraced centuries of tradition and married it up seamlessly with modern practices and ideas. The team at Rabl has a deep affinity for the land and work hard to make sure they are always in tune with what it wants to say; whole bunches, wild fermentation and time on skins, are all vital for expressing who and where they are.

The term ‘Alte Reben’ literally translates as ‘Old Vines’ or vines that are notably older than those around them. While not a legal definition, it has come to be understood that older vines produce higher quality fruit and it is implied that any bottle with Alte Reben on the label is – in the mind of the winemaker – their premium product; and the 2013 Rabl Dechant Alte Reben Reserve is premium by any definition. Made in the Reserve style from the loess-rich Dechant single block, this wine is everything lovers of mature white wine lovers seek. It is rich, bold and chic in all the right ways. Ginger, apricot and custard apple ripple like silk sheets across a bed of acid so delicate but still sure of itself.

The Dechant Reserve Gruner is a complex wine that has a lot to say but to like her you must be patient; there are layers to this wine the greedy or rushed will miss and that would be a terrible loss. The longer I sat with this wine the more assured I became that it was where it was meant to be. I loved the gentle tingle of the ripe red apple and delighted in the rich buttery bed of stewed apricot. I have made no secret of my love for the wines of the Kamptal and this wine is a big reason why. I am confident that Gruner will continue to conquer Australia and the early blocks planted in the Adelaide Hills will one day have the seniority and maturity to consistently rival the great Alte Reben sites of Austria. But until then I will happily continue to sip away, take notes and look forward.

The picturesque Brundlmayer tasting room and restaurant is discreetly tucked into a side street of Langenlois town

Just down the road from the Rabl tasting room is Weingut Brundlmayer, another marquee Kamptal house and one of Austria’s most famous wineries. A founding member of the Österreichische Traditionsweingüter and leader in the region’s Sekt (sparkling) category, Brundlmayer has struck the perfect balance between looking forward and back. They work hard to recognise the blood, sweat and tears of those who came before them, and build upon it to create a legacy that will have the region lauded on the global stage. 

The 2017 Ried Loiserberg Gruner is an excellent example of a wine with pedigree up the wazoo. This wine came from a virtuous family, attended the finest schools and probably still rang its grandmother every Sunday. This is a wine that has been crafted to one day fly the family standard and I am convinced it will do a very good job. Tasting this wine is like looking into a crystal ball; I predict the refreshing citrus acidity and crunchy granny smith apple will mellow with age to reveal layers of nectarine and baked red apple. The acid will gracefully yield and release the savoury white pepper spice that will balance out the whole glass and re-affirm why wines made in this style by people who genuinely care, are so paralyzingly delicious.

Ried Loiserberg in the renowned wine region of the Kamptal (pic courtesy of Weingut Brundlmayer)

The life cycle of Gruner Veltliners and Rieslings that are crafted to age can be analogous to the lives of those who love to drink them. In our youth we are excited and seek attention; then as adolescents we will often retreat to our room and only come out for meals and rarely have anything to say; but once the moody phase has passed, the ultimate product of all the hard work can finally been seen and enjoyed. Like us, if the proper foundation is laid, time and effort spent on the little things and genuine love unreservedly poured in, the results can be inspiring.

So in this spirit, seek out wines that have been intentionally made to age and then try to forget about them. Hide them away until such time as they have matured into the tablemates their parents raised them to be. When it comes to wines of quality, this patience will reward you a hundredfold because in the end: ‘It’s not how old you are, it’s how you are old’ – Jules Renard.

Prost, Jack.         

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A Rosé for all Seasons – By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

As we in the Adelaide Hills enjoy our bracing winter dawns, I cannot help but think upon the hundreds of little shifts we make in almost every facet of our lives with the change of the seasons. Some obvious and necessary, others habitual or culturally instinctive. Our wardrobe, sporting obsessions and in my case, bedtime, will vary throughout the year according to the elements, TV schedules and primal ancestral rhythms.

But why in these days of plenty and convenience do we consciously or otherwise, apply changes we don’t have to? For example, why at the peak of daylight savings do we not retire early with a book? Who among us commits wholeheartedly to a spring clean as the verdant canopies wane? And why, as the smell of woodsmoke once again fills the night air, do we turn our backs on a fair-weather favourite, Rosé?

Rosé vibe – pic by Jonas Allert on Unsplash

Summer in Australia is a time heavy with stereotypes; deepening tan lines, blaring cricket commentary, smoking BBQs and increasingly, Rosé. Gone are the days of beer and bubbles reigning supreme at every summer soirée. The last decade has seen Roé sales go through the roof; and the pale, dry, savoury style that is synonymous with the Adelaide Hills has been in the vanguard of this insurgency. Yet, many can overlook their much-loved Rosé during the long cold months of winter.

The dining tables of an Australian household in winter rejoice under the weight of heavy, dry reds: Shiraz, Cabernets and GSM’s have sat at the right hand of Australian drinkers for generations. Old habits may die hard; but I have committed myself to work towards a world where Rosé is relished, embraced and fought over at our dining tables all year round, including during our dark and stormy winters.

I believe that the dry, pale and savoury styles of Rosé are easy to enjoy with our winter comfort foods, and to prove it I have selected two of my favourites that positively sing with fireside fare.

The Umathum family established their original ‘mixed farm’ near Lake Neusiedl in Austria’s red-wine state of Burgenland in the second half of the 18th century – and they have been growing grapes ever since. In the 1980s viticulture became the family’s sole focus and current custodian, Josef Umathum, took the reins in 1985.

The renowned Umathum winery is located in Austria’s red wine state of Burgenland

A passion for the region’s signature varieties and a commitment to putting the needs of the land first, have seen Umathum recognised at the highest levels both domestically and on the international stage. Josef believes that the journey is as important as the destination; in order to create wines of style, character, elegance, structure and length, one must ‘always be awake in order to recognise nature’. This mantra goes hand in hand with the intellectual and creative to form the connection with the land which all informed winemakers find essential.

The 2019 Umathum Rosa is a blend of the region’s three most famous sons: Blaufränkisch, St. Laurent and Zweigelt, which are sourced from vineyards around the villages of nearby Frauenkirchen to the west and Jois to the north. Both sites are rich in quartz and primordial shell limestone; this mineral foundation and the region’s famously Pannonian influenced weather combine to birth fruit that is clear in voice and full of purpose. The 2019 Rosé is ruby garnet in complexion and of exceptional crystalline clarity. The colour is more pronounced than what Australian lovers of dry rosé are used to, but I implore you to stay the course. Rhubarb, black cherry and white pepper star in a generous but elegant palate that is unexpectedly dry, and these are sublimely framed by an acid line that perfectly guilds this heart-warmingly delicious wine.

An Austrian Rosé and an Australian Rosé take centre stage at a winter’s table

The plush crimson fruit and brilliant acid will cut through, clean up and complement a rich lamb shank on a bed of creamy Parisian mash, a flakey steak and mushroom pie with blanched broccolini, and will raise the spirits of every Irish stew lover. Classic winter dishes that can both heal and hearten and still be yet further enhanced by a wine that can credibly defy all seasonal bias.

Until relatively recently, the Australian Rosé scene was dominated by the jammy Alicante and Shiraz examples from the Barossa and the ‘strawberry and cream’ Grenache styles from McLaren Vale. These wines were, and still are, popular with younger drinkers and those with a sweet tooth, but have no doubt helped to reinforce the summery image that has restricted the category as a whole.

In contrast, the Adelaide Hills has largely looked to lighter varieties such as Pinot Noir for its Rosés and the most successful have taken inspiration from the pale and savoury Provencal school. Herein lays our great advantage at the table; this signature Adelaide Hills style pairs with a much broader range of cuisine.

The 2020 vintage was a trial for the Adelaide Hills; almost every winery suffered a body blow. Total production was significantly down across the region but what fruit survived the assault of the fires in January fortified the soul and reminded us why we have chosen such a precarious life. The parcels of fruit that were spared were so delicious and full of promise we doubled down in spite of the difficulty and persevered.

We at Hahndorf Hill have always been devotees of dry, spice-driven and savoury Rosé, long before it was fashionable. The Germanic grape, Trollinger, has always taken centre stage in the Hahndorf Hill Rosé; its signature pomegranate and quince characters have over the years been complemented by other classic Adelaide Hills red varieties to create a chorus of spice, cherry and savoury baked red apple.

What makes the Hahndorf Hill Rosé an especially effective weapon at the dining table is its subtle rub of texture; this physical element helps to mechanically cleanse the palate, heightening a diner’s ability to better enjoy each mouthful of food.

Pale watermelon juice in colour and with a nose of subtle pink musk, white spice and pomegranate, the 2020 Hahndorf Hill Rosé makes the perfect tablemate for spicy curries, rich pork dishes, grilled white fish, and hearty vegetarian cuisine. All of which make regular appearances on my winter dinner table.

The Hahndorf Hill Rosé proved a delicious match for free-range pork belly with spiced eggplant curry

I invite you to join me. Let’s fight together for a dining table free of seasonal formality, habitual conventionalism and tradition for tradition’s sake. Let us rebel and raise a glass of Rosé when the winter wind howls and the hearthstone beckons!

Prost, Jack.

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New World, Old World – By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

Hahndorf Hill brand ambassador, Jack Simmonds

As the Brand Ambassador of an Australian producer of noble Austrian varieties, I have a bit of a Love/Hate relationship with the term ‘New World’. The main source of my consternation – like so many things in this fantastically fickle business – is that I can rarely find two or more people who can agree unconditionally on its definition.

At first the question ‘What does New World mean?’ seems rather obvious; but the more I scratch this itch, the more nuance and inconsistency I find.  As I asked around the more varied the responses became, and while there were groups that might agree on broad terms, it often took very little probing to uncover a Rubicon most would absolutely not cross.

A number of conversations started out with what I thought was the broadest possible definition: ‘New World is any non-European region’; this declaration often being followed by something like: ‘The Europeans have centuries of viticultural tradition.’

‘OK, so if it is a question of time, how many centuries would you say a region must be under vine in order to count as Old World?’

‘I don’t know, three or four.’

‘Well, there is archaeological evidence of organised vinification in the Middle East from as far back as 5000 BC, South America’s first vineyard was planted in the 1540s, and there are a number of estates in South Africa that were established in the mid-late 1600s.’

It would be at this stage that the focus would narrow, conditions placed and exemptions made. I even had a friend eventually define the New World as any region producing wine from a varietal not traditionally (there is that word again) grown there. The example he gave was that a Chardonnay from Languedoc would qualify. I can only imagine the face of a Languedocien should he read that an Australian was calling him New World!

So, if my industry friends and colleagues could not hold fast to a position, what do our more esteemed leaders have to say? Jancis Robinson says in her book ‘The Oxford Companion to Wine’ that the term New World was initially used somewhat patronisingly but with increasing admiration in the last quarter of the 20th century to distinguish the wines from the colonies established by European exploration.

She then goes beyond the broad geographic definition to highlight how the term has come to encapsulate several of the underlying cultural, practical and market influences on non-European producers. And for me, it is in these differences that the core of the distinction might be found.

Vineyards have been tended in Austria for about 3000 years. Pic courtesy of Austrian Wine & WSNA

The regions established in the age of European exploration were planted by men steeped in the practices and procedures of the time and place from which they came. They took with them the varieties they knew and did their best to replicate the wines they made at home, with varying degrees of success. As time passed, the producers in these new colonies began to drift away from the rigid structures of their forebears in order to better survive in the often radically different climates or conditions to a variety’s ancestral home.

Once this cord was cut there was no turning back, and a more forward-looking attitude quickly became a signature of vintners in Australia, New Zealand etc. Once the shackles of tradition and bureaucracy were broken, producers could truly embrace their terrior and make wine that spoke of their place in the world. The best minds were resourced to advance the science behind what previous generations had quite literally left up to the gods, and we looked first to making wines we could enjoy at home rather than trying to carbon-copy the French or Italians.   

Julie Arkell goes one step further in her book ‘New World Wines, the complete guide’. She writes: ‘The winemakers of the New World have never been afraid to experiment. Indeed, in many respects they have deliberately set out to overturn some of the Old World’s most sacred cows of winemaking technique and practice.’

As a result of this willingness to experiment, the wines of the New World were at first easily distinguishable from their more ancient relatives. Australian and North American wines would often be described as ‘bottled sunshine’ and, while this was at first looked down upon by the European establishment, no one could deny that the people had spoken. The drinking public had developed a taste for wines of energy and attitude!

Producers outside of the European institutions enjoy a wide range of freedoms that I am positive many a geographically-controlled chateau would secretly envy. We can select from a cornucopia of varieties, sites, styles, labels, closures and bottles. Modern winemakers have absorbed and applied the hard lessons of the past and can now turn their attention to just making the best wine they can without falling foul of appellation regulations.

Gone are the days of ‘plant and pray’; early Australian wineries would habitually plant marquee French varieties such as Cabernet or Shiraz in regions that bore little resemblance to their homeland, and it was these wines that were often panned on the global stage and described as non-varietal. As we have learned to listen to the land and thoroughly researched other less obvious options, we have excelled; and wines from Australia, South America and New Zealand are now regularly winning silverware at the most prestigious wine competitions in the world.

I don’t think the irony of our more recent appreciation of terroir is lost on anyone. I suspect it is in part because of this conscious rejection of Old World tradition that we have in some ways come almost full circle. Advocates of the various European appellations make terroir the basis of all their arguments; and I agree, but for different reasons. Their systems were set up to enshrine, protect and exclude. The colonial movement towards a terroir-first mentality is driven by a desire to move our industry forward, onward and upward. We celebrate innovation and new ideas are welcomed.

It would be foolish to suggest we have completely turned our backs on – or have nothing to learn from – those with a millennia or more of experience. But it would be equally foolish to ignore what is right in front of our faces. The Barossa is not Côtes du Rhône and Tasmania is not Burgundy, but we have made it work. Houses from the Adelaide Hills are now regularly competing with the best Gruner Veltliner producers in the world precisely because we looked, we listened and we learned.

Gruner Veltliner vines aglow at Hahndorf Hill’s vineyard in the Adelaide Hills

The Hahndorf Hill White Mischief Gruner Veltliner is the product of this complex process. On the one hand, acknowledging the accumulated experience of Austrian Gruner Veltliner producers, but also allowing our unrestricted and free-spirited experimentation to lead us to an exciting and different expression of this noble variety. We studied for years the work of Austria’s finest and we travelled, tasted and interrogated. But then, in the true spirit of creative Australia, we aligned specific clonal selections, viticultural practices and fermentation techniques to create something new and different.

The wine that emerged celebrates an extraordinary range of complex and exciting aromatics and flavours that are unlike those found in more classic versions of this variety, yet still offers the all-important textural and spice-driven components. And so, White Mischief – our New World version of Gruner Veltliner – was born, and we have always been confident that it would melt the hearts of our local drinkers.

This wine is a celebration of who – and more importantly, where – we are. Exuberant, vibrant and a little bit tropical. Think Carmen Miranda in RM Williams. Gruner’s three pillars of stonefruit, citrus and white pepper are all here, but are complemented by guava and ruby-grapefruit – and even some sliced pear in the current 2021 vintage. Combine all this with an explosive mineral twist and you have Chica Chica Boom!

The Hahndorf Hill White Mischief Gruner Veltliner served at Oyster Bar restaurant in Adelaide. Pic courtesy of Simon Potts, Oyster Bar, Holdfast Shores

Regular readers of this blog will by now be very familiar with Gruner Veltliner’s affinity with food. No other grape I have worked with comes close to Gruner’s ability to lift a meal, and the 2021 White Mischief is no exception. It is a treat with South East Asian dishes, salt and pepper squid, and robust grazing platters – but it is especially critical that you have a bottle or two handy if you have any grilled Barramundi in your future!

Most would agree that simply drawing a circle on a section of Europe to define the Old World is not enough. Europe itself is a deceptively dynamic place; how they define themselves and their own borders is nothing if not fluid. The word tradition (or lack of) came up again and again when I canvassed opinions on how to define the New World; but as I mentioned above, there are non-European regions with thousands of years of vinification history.

Tradition is important: you cannot know where you are going if you do not know where you came from; but only looking backward is a great way of tripping over. When we practice a tradition we are in fact casting a spell, a choreographed incantation that lifts the veil and helps us commune with our ancestors in the language they themselves created. A tradition is a way that we, in the here and now, can for a moment live like those from the then and there.

We invite the past into the present in order to honour it, but like all guests, the past can get stale and not all attitudes age well. Tradition in the wine industry manifests itself in many ways, but its greatest glamour is not always in the glass but rather in the prestige we place in a name or label.

So, in conclusion, I would like to propose a new perspective: The New World is not a place but a state of mind. A state in which we can credit the wins of our ancestors and simultaneously celebrate our terroir. Let us listen to the soil under OUR feet, the sky above OUR heads and the dynamic culture pulsing down OUR streets.

The New World can and does compete on the highest stage, but our greatest successes come when we embrace what makes us unique: our indefatigable forward momentum.

Prost! Jack.

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, Rosé, Saint Laurent, St Laurent, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Trio of Tempting Blaufrankisch wines – By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

I am at an awkward age; I am young enough to see the value of social media but old enough to lament the often all-consuming influence it can have. I enjoy feeling connected to family and friends far away, especially in these isolating times; but I have also stopped counting the number of rich discussions and dining table debates that disintegrated after a single digital ding or ping.

These scales were momentarily tipped this week when the algorithms behind my Facebook page reminded me of some pictures and comments I had posted on my first trip to Austria in 2017; some supercomputer half a world away had put together a montage of my time spent in the Blaufrankisch powerhouse of Burgenland and even set this 60-second trip down memory lane to nostalgic music.

I think deep down I knew I had been manipulated and had a millennial been watching they would no doubt have been grinning from ear to ear; but despite this, by the end of the video I was in my cellar selecting bottles of Blaufrankisch to share with you, firm in the belief it was totally my idea. 

The six DAC wine regions of Burgenland. (Map courtesy of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board.) Click the pic for greater clarity.

The region of Burgenland is a broad rolling plain that has seen constant human habitation since prehistoric times. Over the last few millenia it has caught the eye of many tribal chiefs, Roman generals, religious zealots, a handful of emperors, one Führer and a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Much to the relief of its modern-day residents and visitors, the region is now held firmly in the bosom of the Republic of Austria and enjoys a rising level of prosperity.

There is evidence dating back to the Bronze Age of Celtic people harvesting grapes and making wine in what is now Burgenland, but as is often the case it was the Romans who initiated a systematic form of viticulture in Austria. Since then, the region has been ruled by benevolent visionaries and greedy tyrants; reaped bountiful harvests and been decimated by blight; suffered scandal and enjoyed global success for producing wines of power, presence and prestige.

The verdant slopes of the Kirchberg vineyard under a luminous sky

Today Burgenland is home to a number of varietals but it is for Blaufrankisch that she is famous, maybe even synonymous. Let’s play a little word association: bacon-eggs, salt-pepper, Gruner-gorgeous, Blau-Burgenland! And before you say it; yes, I expect Carl Jung would have had a field day with me.

From the cellar I selected three wines that each proudly fly the flag for Burgenland but are distinctly different. Burgenland has six DAC wine regions, each of which vary slightly in topography and geology but all fall under the influence of the consistently warm climate. Most of Austria’s wine producing regions bank on their profound diurnal variation common to that latitude but Burgenland has two aces up its sleeve. The immense but remarkably shallow Lake Neusiedl helps to take the edge off the brutal summer sun, and the cool evening air that tumbles onto the plain from the mountains to the west both collude to smooth out the day-time high temperatures and night-time lows.

Burgenland has its share of grand old houses and vineyards that have for generations proven themselves to be sites of consistently excellent fruit. For this article I selected two wines from especially prestigious single vineyards and one from a DAC region that has achieved extra recognition.

The Kirchberg is an especially pretty vineyard draped across a gently undulating slope that is perfectly positioned to drink in the warm sun’s rays by day and relax in the cooler air that pours off the neighbouring Leitha Mountain range by night. Originally planted in 1203 by Cistercian monks (an order with Burgundian roots), the site is now under the stewardship of the Höpler family and provides the fruit for their signature Blaufrankisch.

The Höpler Kirchberg Blaufrankisch will only be made in exceptional years and the 2015 is the first since 2007: that’s nine years between drinks! It is that commitment to quality and integrity which has made the Höpler wines so consistently delicious and highly rated. Winemaker Christof Höpler is now head of the family business and has said that the six-week long heat wave in 2015 paired with a cool autumn and fortuitous rains were the perfect conditions to create a full-bodied Blaufrankisch with ‘modern’ appeal – and thus the 2015 Kirchberg Blaufrankisch was born.

The 2015 Hopler Kirchberg Blaufrankisch matched to Jack’s seared beef fillet under a creamy porcini mushroom sauce and mashed sweet potato

Hand picking late in the vintage and a full 18 months in 2/3rds new French oak has allowed this wine to fill out to its full potential. Plump red-black fruits, vanilla and tobacco fill the nose and carry through to the palate where they are teamed with earthy, nutty and gentle spice characters. This is a full-bodied wine but is not remarkably heavy; it has bearing but is no bully. Its cheeky confidence puts me in mind of the pirouetting hippos in Disney’s Fantasia; substantial but sure-footed, balanced, poised and possessing a grace and elegance all its own.

I found this wine comforting, approachable and pleasantly familiar. I paired it with seared beef fillet under a creamy porcini mushroom sauce and mashed sweet potato; the earthy porcinis and rare beef perfectly matched the ripe red fruits and cinnamon spice of the 2015 Höpler Kirchberg Blaufrankisch.

The Juris Winery is located near Lake Neusiedl in the famous winemaking town of Gols, and is owned by the Stiegelmar family who has been practising viticulture here since 1571; but don’t think for a second that the family is using their four and a half centuries of tradition to rest on its laurels. Current head Axel Stiegelmar and his father Georg have worked extremely hard to stay on the cutting edge of winemaking technology and world’s best practice. Georg Stiegelmar pioneered the Austrian use of maturation in small oak barrels and also initiated three landmark changes to Austria’s notoriously strict wine laws.

The Juris winery is situated in the famous winemaking town of Gols near the Neusiedl Lake. (Pic courtesy of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board.)

Today the family sources fruit from some of the region’s highest profile sites, including the famous Altenberg vineyard I detailed in a previous article. Today I would like to dive into their 2015 Blaufrankisch from another of Gols’ premium sites: the Ried Ungerberg.

The Ungerberg vineyard sits close to the banks of the massive Lake Neusiedl and is characterised by significant pockets of limestone and thick deposits of clay-rich soil. The wines that call this block home all share a firm tannin structure and minerality coupled with the warm Burgenland signature of primary fruits of red-black plum and cherry. The 2015 Juris Ried Ungerberg Blaufrankisch sits in the glass like a ruby prism, bathing its surroundings in a velvety violet hue. The nose is smoky, savoury and spicy and reminds me of the good old days when we could lounge in a comfy booth at a fine restaurant. The palate is balanced expertly between red-black stone fruits like cherries and plums, and woody spice, cool minerality and rich vanilla.

It is obvious the 2015 Juris Ried Ungerberg was conceived, cultivated, vinified and nurtured by winemakers of unimpeachable integrity and dedication. It speaks of its time and its place and I rejoiced in both, but mourned sharing the last glass. Though not obviously kin there are parallels to be drawn with the Höpler Kirchberg Blaufrankisch; it is serious yet soothing, august but approachable and unselfconsciously stately. Regional typicity, shared philosophies or primal Gaian DNA, call it what you will, but the link is undeniable.   

The DAC wine region of Eisenberg (formally known as Südburgenland) sits on Burgenland’s southern border; the Pannonian influence on the climate is strong but winemakers in Eisenberg also benefit from cooler air flowing in from the neighbouring region of Steiermark (Styria) to the south. This cooler average temperature in an otherwise warm region makes the wines of Eisenberg easily distinguishable from those of Neusiedlersee or Mittelburgenland, a distinction that was formally recognised in 2008 when they were granted full DAC status. The cooler average temperatures and a geology dominated by crystalline rocks on the sloped sites and silty iron-rich clays on the lower blocks, gives the Blau’s of the region a signature earthiness and minerally spice.

The Wachter-Wiesler vineyards are found in the wine region of Eisenberg in the south of Burgenland

Eisenberg, with its curious climate and irregular geology, has long attracted winemakers with a maverick streak and passion for the unconventional. Christoph Wachter of Wachter-Wiesler seems almost custom made to succeed in a region that could test the patience and creativity of most; he really does ‘walk the walk’ when it comes to stripped-back minimalism. The ethos at Wachter-Wiesler is to embrace their terroir and create wines that transport Eisenberg’s unique character and beauty all the way to your glass with no middle man or static.

The winery’s 2013 Béla Jóska Eisenberg DAC Blaufrankisch was handled mostly by gravity, thereby reducing pump handling of the juice before a long cool wild ferment and rest in large, almost neutral wooden barrels. This deference to nature and the will of the vineyard have produced a finished product as earthy as any Burgundian and delivers as many dark berries as a Côtes du Rhône lover could desire. I am sure this wine will polarize: if you fancy pure bright red fruit with no background noise this wine is not for you; but if you love walking through the woods after rain, have ever made your own biltong or prize the funk of the Basket Range, buy this wine.

A trio of beautiful Blau’s from Austria’s red-heart wine state of Burgenland

I very much enjoyed my time in Burgenland and look forward to drinking my way across her ancient rolling landscape again one day. To call the region a melting pot would be an understatement; for thousands of years people have come from far and wide to make a life here and the cumulative effect is profound. As the prejudices of antiquity slowly yielded to contemporary preferences, the land was tasked with keeping up and much was asked of it. First wild indigenous varieties were prized, then Roman viticultural protocols and later the French varietal influence took precedence; now they have completed the circle and are once again listening to – rather than imposing upon – the gentle rocky slopes and rich lowlands.

Varieties such as Blaufrankisch, Zweigelt and St Laurent planted by the grandfathers of today’s winemakers are enriching dining tables across the world, lubricating debate and inspiring discussion once more – that is, of course, until someone’s phone dings.

Prost! Jack.

Posted in cool climate wine, Diurnal variation temperature, Foundling Saint Laurent, Foundling St Laurent, Gruner Veltliner, Hahndorf, Saint Laurent, St Laurent, Uncategorized, wine, Zweigelt, Zweigelt Australia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hahndorf Hill bottles first Saint Laurent in Australia – The Foundling Saint Laurent 2020.

By Larry Jacobs, Co-owner, Hahndorf Hill

The celebrations at Hahndorf Hill were a bit like a new baby arriving into the family. After many years since importing the plant material in 2014, passing it through two years of quarantine, and then propagating the precious material into the vineyard, we finally had our first Saint Laurent harvest in 2020. It has now been bottled and will be further aged in our underground cellar at Hahndorf Hill for a few more years before being released.

St Laurent wine Australia Saint Laurent Australai
Hahndorf Hill The Foundling Saint Laurent 2020

This Austrian variety has a very interesting history. Falstaff – Austria’s wine bible – claims that it originally came from France where it was grown in the Alsace region. Then, just prior to it being completely wiped out in the great Phylloxera outbreak, some cuttings ended up in Austria where they found a home at the Klosterneuburg Monastery – Austria’s oldest winery and also the world’s first school of viticulture.

This is where the story of this beautiful variety really starts to develop. It is here at the monastery where Saint Laurent gets embraced by its new carers and starts to be adopted by vignerons within Austria. It was always thought that this exciting variety could possibly be related to the noble Pinot Noir grape because of similarities in the bunches, the leaves and the style of wines produced. But it is only within the past two years that Saint Laurent has definitively been anointed as the actual daughter of Pinot Noir, via extensive genetic research carried out at the Klosterneuburg viticultural school.

This is why we have decided to call our wine The Foundling. This intriguing story of this variety fulfills all the mythological criteria of the foundling-infant who gets abandoned on the steps of the monastery, where it is enthusiastically embraced and nurtured in its new home. And then, after growing up, finally discovers that she is indeed a princess after all!

In Austria, the most well known region for this variety is the Thermenregion, with the top producers centered around the charming villages of Tattendorf and Teesdorf. These cool areas are where Austria, unsurprisingly, also produces its top Pinot Noir wines. Here, in its spiritual home, this beautiful and elegant variety is known as Sankt Laurent.

The grapes were originally named after St. Lawrence’s Day – August 10th – the day when this variety begins to change colour. Saint Laurent is also abbreviated as St. Laurent in some areas.

Larry Jacobs inspecting his Saint Laurent vines for vintage 2021

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Austria’s ever-evolving DAC structure – By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

I would like to bring you up to speed on recent developments in Austria’s ever-evolving DAC structure designed to classify and categorise its wines, and to flesh out some observations made in previous Gru Files articles.

So as to best appreciate the more recent developments, let us first take a quick look back at the attitudes within, and the culture of, the Austrian wine industry before the modern DAC structures were introduced. Historically, the vast majority of Austrian vineyards were devoted to ‘field blends’ – the practice of planting several varietals side by side within the one block which would then be picked and processed all together. It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that significant numbers of vineyards would become mono-varietal and after World War 2 producers also started printing on the label the name of the village in which the wine was made.

Highlighting the name of the village in which the wine was made was one way of taking advantage of what was already colloquially understood: that different regions had a different signature, that the wines typical of a village at one end of a valley could taste very different to those made by their kin at the other end.

In the 1980s producers of the Wachau realised the benefits to be gained by establishing strict definitions for their wine within a formalised system. In the early 2000s Austria’s Ministry of Agriculture, Regions and Tourism began work on constructing an official ‘appellation’ system which would serve to protect at the federal level a geographically defined regional signature. This was achieved by regulating a number of variables but the primary ones were defining which grape varieties could be used in a specific region and if a finished wine reflected its home – in other words, whether it was typical of the recognised style emblematic of that region.

If a wine was deemed to have met all the conditions set out in the regulations, its producer could promote its prestigious DAC status on the label. This system is similar to France’s Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), which also defines what grapes can be used and where they can be grown.

The Weinviertel (Austria’s largest wine region) was the first to be granted official DAC status. Pic by Gerhard Trumler, courtesy of Austrian Wine Marketing

Austria’s Districtus Austriae Controllatus (Controlled Austrian District) or DAC system of classification was designed to identify and regulate the regionally-typical, Qualitätswein (quality standard) wines produced in specifically defined geographical regions. The first wine-producing region to be awarded DAC status was the Weinviertel in 2003 and there are now 15 distinct and varied regions within Austria that have committed themselves to meeting the strict standards negotiated with the industry’s governing body, the Ministry of Agriculture, Regions and Tourism.

Early DAC models broke the regionally typical wines into two distinct categories: either Classic or Reserve. Although the specific requirements varied slightly from region to region, the Classic category would typically represent the fresh, friendly and versatile wines, and the Reserve would embody the region’s richer, riper and fuller-bodied wines.

A traditional winzerhaus in Eisenberg, Burgenland. Pic by Gerhard Trumler, courtesy of Austrian Wine Marketing

The DAC template is designed to be tweaked and customised to best highlight what makes the premium wines of each participating region special and unique. It is this combination of flexibility coupled with cast-iron rigidity that has seen the now familiar regions of the Weinviertel and Burgenland finally achieve the legitimacy and international acclaim which they deserve. These earlier structures performed well for their signatories and created the foundation for the next evolutionary step on the journey to best showcase what a defined premium location was capable of.

The most recent progression to the DAC system shows a move away from the traditionally embraced Germanic model of classification which classifies a finished wine based on its style, residual sugar, alcohol content and perceived quality, to a system that recognises the intrinsic value of specific sites which are capable of consistent excellence and which can be classified within a three tiered pyramid-like structure.

This seismic shift in priority away from the Germanic system with all its deeply held cultural connections towards a provenance-based appellation system which firmly establishes origin and typicity as its guiding principles, demonstrates Austria’s commitment to a tireless evolution of its wine laws.

The first step to assembling the pyramid is to clearly define the wine-producing region itself; then the varieties that best represent the character and signature style of that place must be identified and used exclusively. Once these factors have been agreed upon, the wines will be labelled according to where in the region the fruit was sourced. If the fruit came from a range of sites within the defined region and was blended together it will form the base of the pyramid and be called ‘Gebietswein’ (regional wine). If the fruit was grown entirely within the boundary of a recognised wine-centric village it will be labelled ‘Ortswein’ (village wine), thus forming the middle strata of the pyramid. The apex of the new structure is reserved for wines that were made using the fruit raised in single vineyards of particular acclaim; this top shelf tier is called ‘Riedenwein’ or single-vineyard wine.

Since its formal inception in 2003, the DAC system has evolved to become more inclusive, further fulfilling its mission of letting each of its new or prospective signatories shine in their own particular way. Examples of this dynamism can be seen in the list of regions which have recently achieved DAC status. In the last three years the regions of Styria and Carnuntum have signed up and even the famously independent producers of the Wachau have now entered the fold.

The state of Styria is located in the south-west of Austria on the border with Slovenia; parts of it can be characterized as a series of ‘wine islands’ atop the peaks which crown the slopes of a chain of extinct volcanoes. This combination of particularly rich soil and a climate influenced by several alpine ranges has created the perfect conditions for growing crystalline whites and piquant rosés.

In 2018 Styria and its three recognised sub-regions famed for their Welschriesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay (which they call Morillon) embraced the updated DAC structure and gave it their own twist by mandating firm dates at which their classified wines can be released.  The dates set for the release of each style are the result of many generations’ accumulated experience. These traditional dates have been formally recognised as the points from which each wine style has had sufficient time to develop enough to honestly express the region’s signature qualities.

There have been prized vineyards in the Carnuntum wine region since Roman times. Pic by Klaus Egle, courtesy of Austrian Wine Marketing

The producers of Carnuntum are by nature a very patient bunch; they saw the benefits their compatriots in the DAC-recognised regions were receiving but were reluctant to sign up just for the sake of it. For more than a decade they carefully and deliberately built up the skeleton of a system that would best reflect their exceptionally varied terroir, culture and regionally typical style. In 2019 the officially defined wine-growing region of Carnuntum was awarded formal DAC status. It takes into account their six distinct geological features which they believe have a profound effect on their wines and contribute significantly to their signature palate, whilst still conforming to the evolving Region, Village, Vineyard classification structure.  

Regular readers of this blog will be no strangers to the work of the Vinea Wachau and their seminal Wachau Codex. This document written in the 1980s laid out six rules that defined the region and cemented this already respected area onto the most exclusive wine lists in the world. The region’s winemakers of today recognise the tremendous debt of gratitude they owe their visionary forebears but they also became aware of the limitations of their Codex which was based on the traditional Germanic classification model.

In 2020 the Wachau officially joined the DAC family, customising the modern location-focused template to work alongside and complement their existing Codex with its older-style principles. One charming detail in the new Wachau DAC agreement is that all wines, regardless of tier, must still be harvested entirely by hand. Here we see another case of evolution over revolution and a region’s cultural and historical priorities still being valued.

So far, we have seen a journey of eager early adoption of the DAC system which then facilitates gradual and incremental adjustments; other bodies such as the Vinea Wachau went their own way until the different entities-values and priorities overlapped to the point where teaming up was the obvious and logical next step.

Michael-Moosbrugger of the fabled Schloss Gobelsburg. Pic by Regina-Huegli

Another valuable initiative that strives to differentiate the ‘Monday night’ wine from the magnificent and the ‘everyday’ from the elite is that spearheaded by the Österreichische Traditionsweingüter (Austrian Traditional Wineries) association (ÖTW). This group, led by Michael Moosbrugger of the iconic Schloss Gobelsburg in the Kamptal, has sought since 1992 to create a hierarchy of Austrian wine inspired by the Cru system made famous by regions such as Burgundy and Bordeaux.

The ÖTW started as a small group of producers along the Danube who shared a common vision: they believed Austria’ss best vineyards should be classified according to their significance, which in this context refers to their consistent reputation for excellence, their historical influence, the site’s economic value and its geological make up. The ÖTW has spent almost three decades exhaustively exploring the geology of high-profile single sites, examining varietal selection and conducting vertical tastings – all in an effort to identify and rank consistently over-achieving single vineyards in order to establish an Erste Lagen or ‘First Location’ labelling system.

This system of specific site acknowledgment and stratification is, as I mentioned previously, strongly influenced by the French ‘Cru’ platform. Parallels can be drawn between the Erste Lagen and the Premier Cru tier; the top step of Grand Cru and the association’s ambitions of a ‘Grosse Lagen’ class for the very finest sites, is still under construction.

The ÖTW hopes in time to persuade the Austrian Wine Marketing Board to enshrine their classification into law and while this still may be some time away given the amount of work involved, there are already examples of over-lapping philosophies being officially adopted. The Austrian Wine Marketing Board allows the ‘Ried’ designation to highlight if a wine is from a single, culturally significant named vineyard. (Further information on the history and implementation of the Ried system can be found in my Gru Files article titled ‘The revered fruits of Altenberg’ published on April 22 of this year.)

With these changes we once again see a further evolution and while there are a number of shared values between the official DAC program and those of the ÖTW , the two bodies are yet to consummate a formal agreement. It is my belief that the ongoing process of incremental change and development of the two systems will eventually lead to a harmonizing of visions.

While the producers of Austria are proud and delighted that the varieties so dear to them are now also breaking hearts in many other parts of the world, they also recognise the need for cementing the connection between their indigenous varieties and the significant vineyards that have traditionally grown them. The Austrians have chosen a path that cycles through systemic assessment – flexible adaptation, disciplined implementation and regular revision – and it is this commitment to constant improvement through considered evolution that is proving to be a winning formula for their wine industry.

The Heiligenstein mountain looms over the renowned Kamptal wine region. Pic by Marcus Wiesner, courtesy of Austrian Wine Marketing
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