Remembering the epic Gruner VS Chardonnay challenge – by Marc Dobson, Hahndorf Hill co-owner

This week, while sorting through some hidden vinous treasures in our cellar, Larry and I found several bottles of the Mulderbosch Chardonnay 1997 – Mulderbosch being the winery in South Africa’s Stellenbosch wine region which Larry created and built up, prior to our emigration to Australia in 1997.

After 26 years in the bottle, this Mulderbosch Chardonnay is still glorious – a golden beauty with an inviting nose of caramelised citrus and a palate full and yet still taut, its rich citrus flavours integrated with truffle and marzipan and framed by the excellent acidity.

Munich-based fine wine expert, Jan-Erik Paulson

Tasting this wine made me recall that blind wine-tasting event organised by respected UK wine journalists Jancis Robinson MW and Tim Atkin MW at the Groucho Club in London in October 2002. This tasting had been inspired by a similar event a few months earlier in June, organised by fine wine expert Jan-Erik Paulson under the aegis of the VieVinum wine fair in Vienna, at which he’d pitted some of the most famous Chardonnays of France against the very best Gruner Veltliners from Austria.

His tasting panel had consisted of 39 wine journalists and other experienced tasters from 13 different countries. Astonishingly and sensationally, the result of his tasting saw the Gruner Veltliners vastly outshine the Chardonnays, an outcome that so fascinated and intrigued Ms Robinson that she determined to replicate the tasting in London, in order to “experience the proof of the pudding ourselves”.

An exemplary palate … Jancis Robinson

Her tasting panel at the Groucho Club in October 2002 comprised 17 people with enviable palates from “London’s great and the good in wine writing, wine selling and wine serving”.

As Ms Robinson described it: “When we saw the Chardonnays proposed by Jan Paulson we were rather underwhelmed, so tinkered quite substantially with the list in order, as we saw it, to beef up Chardonnay’s chances against the mild and extremely obscure Austrian grape Gruner Veltliner.”

However, as Ms Robinson reported: “… despite the inclusion of appellations such as Montrachet and Corton Charlemagne, vintages such as 1996 and 1992 and producers such as Domaines Leflaive and Ramonet, Gruner Veltliner triumphed magnificently.”

Popular British wine writer, Tim Atkin

To everyone’s surprise, the London taste-off upheld Gruner’s supremacy over Chardonnay as had been demonstrated by the earlier Jan-Erik Paulson taste-off in Vienna.

Ms Robinson observed: “The older the wine, the more difficult it was to tell the Gruner Veltliners from the Chardonnays, but if anything the older Austrian wines were in fact more lively and youthful than their counterparts from Burgundy .…”

Years later, Ms Robinson would comment: “Before this London tasting back in 2002, I could not imagine it would be anything other than a walkover for Chardonnay in general and white burgundy in particular.”

One of the Chardonnays selected by Ms Robinson for her London tasting event was none other than the Mulderbosch Chardonnay 1999, which acquitted itself extremely well, coming 9th in the line-up of 35 top wines.  (After tasting the Mulderbosch 1997 Chardonnay this week, I imagine the 1999 vintage will be holding up just as well.)

It is interesting to examine the results of this London event. During the actual tasting, 11 Gruner Veltliners were sprinkled amongst 24 Chardonnays. Of the Chardonnays, seven were from France, six from Austria, one from Italy, one from Switzerland, three from California, two from South Africa (including the 1999 Mulderbosch), one from New Zealand, and three from Australia (the 1997 Penfolds Yattarna, the 1999 Eileen Hardy and the 1999 Petaluma Tiers).

The illustrious Knoll winery is situated in the Wachau wine region in the village of Unterloiben alongside the Danube

Nevertheless, the top-scoring wine was a 1990 Gruner Veltliner ‘Vinothekfulling’ Smaragd from renowned Wachau producer, Emmerich Knoll. Taking second place was a 1997 Gruner Veltliner ‘Ried Lamm’ from the Kamptal’s most celebrated producer, Brundlmayer. Coming in at third place was the 1997 Chardonnay Tiglat from Austrian producer, Velich. Fourth on the list was the 1990 Gruner Veltliner Steinriegl Smaragd from Prager, another top Wachau producer. And rated at number five was the 1998 Byron Chardonnay Nielson Vineyards from Californian producer, Mondavi.

The full results of the wines tasted can be found here:

This London blind tasting was much discussed afterwards by the wine media and to this day it is still referenced as an extraordinary wine event.

For lovers of Gruner Veltliner, it will come as no surprise that most of the GV wines in this event were all made in the Smaragd/ Reserve style. While the most popular style of Gruner Veltliner amongst everyday drinking punters is the fresh and lively Classic style of Gruner (otherwise known as the Federspiel style in the Wachau), it is the Reserve style (as it is called in the Kamptal and Kremstal wine regions of Austria) and the Smaragd style (as it is known in the Wachau region) that most closely emulate the classiest chardonnays from France and the New World.

These Smaragd/ Reserve styles of Gruner Veltliner are nearly always the most acclaimed and most expensive Gruner Veltliner wines to be found across the prestigious white wine regions of Austria. These wines are powerful and concentrated, with spice and great length, and they possess a lifespan of up to several decades.

Compared to the Classic/ Federspiel style of Gruner, which is usually picked from mid-September, the grapes for the Reserve/ Smaragd style of Gruner are harvested much later, continuing even into November, when they are lusciously rich and ripe.

Domaine Wachau, one of the best-known wineries from the Wachau region, is emphatic about what constitutes a Smaragd/ Reserve style of Gruner. The winery explains: “A highly textured palate, full body and good concentration typically characterise Grüner Veltliner in the Reserve or Smaragd range. The aromas are versatile and often convey an intense smoky minerality that can be associated with tobacco, graphite and wet stone. Ripe, tropical aromas of pomegranate, mango, pineapple, papaya, litchi, and passion fruit are also often present. The aromas are rounded off by subtly sweet, candied notes of hazelnut, orange, dried fig and apple, chamomile tea, honey, and beeswax.”

At Hahndorf Hill, we make four different styles of Gruner – Classic, Reserve, New World and Dessert. While four styles are both interesting and demanding to navigate from vineyard and through the fermentation processes in the winery, perhaps the most exciting wine to work with is the Hahndorf Hill Reserve Gruner Veltliner. This is because all effort put in along the wine’s journey from grape to bottle is generally rewarded with compound interest. 

The fruit for the Reserve Gruner is harvested at a riper level than the Classic and New World styles, and the juice embarks on a journey that endeavours to walk a tightrope between retaining much of the vibrancy that this variety is known for, while also gradually building up mouthfeel, texture, savoury elements and body.  The end results are invariable rewarding, producing wines that are complex and delicious to drink.

Perhaps my favourite vintage of the Hahndorf Hill Reserve Gruner Veltliner to date is the 2019.  This wine is a joy to drink, and should continue to be so for another decade to come. It has been honoured along the way with four gold medals, including at the AWC Vienna International Wine Challenge in Austria, the London Wine Competition, and the Berlin Wine Trophy in Germany, plus a trophy award at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show.

Posted in Adelaide Hills, Adelaide Hills best Cellar door, Adelaide Hills Gruner Veltliner, Adelaide Hills wine, Adelaide Hills wine region, Blaufrankisch, Brother Nature Field Blend Gemischter Satz, cool climate wine, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

It Was A Dark and Stormy Night – By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

In the past, foundlings were often left on convent or monastery steps by unwed mothers to be taken in and adopted

Some of my favourite myths and folk tales open upon a scene of a mysterious hooded figure straining against whipping wind and lashing rain as they struggle up a dark path towards a large and brooding castle or monastery. Giant forks of lightning tear up the sky and give this huddled figure its only reliable glimpse of the steep and slippery path. They reach the peak and pause for breath in the lee of two giant oak doors, as the thunder roars straight through all those unfortunate enough to be out in such a hellish night.

The figure straightens and draws a deep fortifying breath; out of the wind and rain we can for the first time take in the details of what we can now clearly see is a woman and while soaked and shivering, a woman of obvious elegance and grace. From beneath the folds of her once courtly overcoat she draws forth a bundle which, in the poor and intermittent light, seems to move. The lady clutches the bundle to her breast, lays one final tender kiss upon its forehead and, with all the care in the world, kneels to gently rest it upon the stone step before the immense doors. She balls her fists and pounds on the doors, before dashing back down the path into the night.

Whilst heavily romanticised, this tale is not a million miles away from how we like to imagine the premium red grape varietal Saint Laurent arriving in Austria, and in particular arriving at the Klosterneuburg Monastery – the cradle of Austrian viticulture and the world’s first viticultural school. The monastery would go on to specialise in St Laurent, becoming the custodian of the largest St Laurent vineyard in the world.

Klosterneuburg monastery is located outside Vienna and is the country’s oldest and most venerable wine estate

And the real story? It is thought that St Laurent was originally grown in Alsace but it was almost completely wiped out during the great Phylloxera outbreak in Europe in the mid to late 19th century. Somehow, some cuttings of this unusual grape survived and found their way from France via Germany to Austria, where they did indeed land on the stone step of the monastery and were ‘adopted’ by the vigneron monks of Klosterneuburg.

St Laurent is grown in many wine regions in Austria, including in the Kamptal where fine examples come from Schloss Gobelsburg

In the subsequent years, as the monks at Klosterneuburg worked with St Laurent, speculation must have mounted regarding its heritage, as the leaves and bunches bore an uncanny resemblance to Pinot Noir, and the wines produced were stylistically familiar to a regal Burgundian. However, it is only within recent years that Saint Laurent has officially been anointed via genetic research as the daughter of Pinot Noir.

This genetic analysis, led by Dr. Ferdinand Regner of Klosterneuburg viticultural school, concluded that the birth of Saint Laurent is either as a result of a natural hybridisation between Pinot Noir and an as yet unidentified second parent (the mother being Pinot Noir and the father unknown), OR St Laurent is in fact a direct seedling of Pinot Noir. So, did the noble Pinot Noir have an illicit liaison with an as yet unidentified lover? I, for one, fervently hope the answer is yes, because what a delicious story!

St Laurent’s uncertain parentage aside, it has now been fully embraced and provided with a new home at Hahndorf Hill vineyard in the Adelaide Hills, alongside several of its fellow compatriots such as Gruner Veltliner, Blaufrankisch and Zweigelt. Our St Laurent cuttings were brought over from Austria in 2014 before spending the mandatory two years in quarantine. Once released into our care, the painstaking process of propagating them into the vineyard began, and we eventually harvested our first vintage in 2020.  The wine was bottled in 2021 and Australia’s first St Laurent slumbered in our cellar until late 2022, when we released it to our Loyalty Program customers.

The mystery and intrigue surrounding this grape variety may have caught our initial attention, but it is the wine she is capable of making that has kept us enthralled ever since. In Austria, St Laurent is enjoyed on a spectrum: some regions release wines that lovers of Syrah or Côtes du Rhône will swoon over, whilst others produce wines with the elegance and subtlety that will force Burgundian devotees to bend the knee. At Hahndorf Hill, we feel our St Laurent will reach its full potential if we allow her to openly embrace her birthright and reflect the more pinot-esque elements of her nature.

Gerhard Pittnauer from Burgenland, who is a great lover of St Laurent, drawing a sample of his own version from the barrel in his winery

Premium examples of St Laurent made in this style are intensely aromatic but never overpoweringly so; deep black and cardinal bramble berries are reliably accompanied by woody spice such as anise and cardamom. The truly elite wines draw from their skins, stalks and subtle oak a governing tannin structure that is refined and on point. That being said, it is not uncommon for the ‘unscheduled’ offspring of the aristocracy to have something of a wild or bohemian side. St Laurent has inherited a spice and zing that she did not get from her noble mother and once again, I delight in the mystery of her unknown pedigree.  

For our 2020 St Laurent vintage, we drew upon all the experience gained from our other Austrian reds as well as wines we enjoyed from regions such as Thermenregion, Kamptal, Burgenland, Burgundy and even the Rhone Valley. All of these regions had an influence not just on us but most importantly, on the wine we made. We worked to provide the wine with everything it needed to bring forth all its inherent raspberry and blackberry primary fruits, its signature savoury spices, and the tannin/acid balance that has propelled the variety to its rightful place on wine lists.

The first impression on the nose is of berries born to the types of bushes that fight back, the twisting brambles that will only yield their precious fruit to the brave who chance its thorns. Aromas of black and the deepest ruby garnet berries greet the senses and whisper of the pleasures yet to come. Anise, cardamom and a subtle pepper are the first spices represented and they are complemented by savoury elements such fine leather, cigar box and something else I can’t quite put my finger on … could it be… a hint of sous bois

The debut Hahndorf Hill ‘The Foundling’ St Laurent being paired by Jack with his cooked roast lamb shoulder in an anise and pomegranate jus

I am very much looking forward to enjoying this wine with game meats, especially duck, and I think it will break hearts with roast leg of lamb. Salmon baked in a black pepper crust would make for a great pairing too, but I think my favourite way to enjoy this wine will be with the door locked, the phone off and a big wedge of a fine blue cheese.

At our core, we at Hahndorf Hill are romantics and suckers for a good story. The dramatized scene I set at the beginning of this article naturally never happened, but in times like these could we not suspend belief for a minute and lean into the fantasy? A vulnerable infant, abandoned on the steps of a monastery where she is taken in, loved and supported. I expect that years later, once word got out of the beautiful young lady cloistered behind the monastery walls, there were no end of noble suiters, but this foundling had grown strong and independent, and she didn’t need them to conquer the world. She could and would do it all on her own.

It was in this spirit that we named our St Laurent, ‘The Foundling’. A recognition of her humble beginnings and a hint towards our hopes for her great future.

Prost, Jack

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Wines shine at the GGG (Gruner Growers Group) Tasting

In late 2022, Hahndorf Hill held a tasting of Austrian-variety wines for the Adelaide Hills Gruner Growers Group at our Hahndorf cellar door. They say a picture is worth 1000 words, so here are several pictures to illustrate the wonderful wines that were on display.

The table of white wines was laden with delicious Gruner Veltliners from Austria, the Adelaide Hills, and from other cool-climate regions such as Tasmania, the Canberra District, Tumbarumba and the Franklin River region in Western Australia. There were also some wonderful examples of Gemischter Satz wines – the authentic field blends which Vienna made famous.

The table of red wines showcased Austria’s trinity of perfumed, supple reds – Zweigelt, Blaufrankisch and Saint Laurent – with Australia’s own versions of these same reds also available to enjoy.

The Adelaide Hills is the epicentre for Gruner Veltliner production in Australia, and on display was a selection of the diverse range of Gruner Veltliner wines that can be found in the Adelaide Hills. Hahndorf Hill makes four styles of Gruner Veltliner – Classic, Reserve, New World and Dessert-style.

Gruner Veltliners from the other cool-climate wine regions of Australia.

Some of Austria’s most respected wine brands were represented in the Gruner Veltliners from the Wachau, Kamptal and Wagram wine regions.

A line-up of refreshing Gemischter Satz (field blend) wines from Austria, plus Hahndorf Hill’s own field blend, ‘Brother Nature’, featuring the grapes from 12 white varieties interplanted in one block in our vineyard and all co-harvested and co-fermented together.

Zweigelt is Austria’s most widely-planted and most popular red grape variety, where it is grown in many wine regions. Currently, there are three Australian wine producers of Zweigelt.

Blaufrankisch is Austria’s prestige red grape variety and is widely grown in Burgenland. The tasting featured two Blaufrankisch wines from Australia and the rest hailing from Austria.

Saint Laurent is Austria’s best-kept red wine secret. DNA analysis has confirmed that Saint Laurent is the genetic daughter of Pinot Noir. At this stage, Hahndorf Hill is the sole producer of Saint Laurent in Australia. The tasting included some top-notch Austrian producers of Saint Laurent.

Posted in Adelaide Hills, Adelaide Hills best Cellar door, Adelaide Hills Gruner Veltliner, Adelaide Hills wine, Adelaide Hills wine region, Blaufrankisch, Brother Nature Field Blend Gemischter Satz, cool climate wine, dessert wine Aelaide Hills, Diurnal variation temperature, Field Blend Australia, Foundling Saint Laurent, Foundling St Laurent, Gemischter Satz, Gruner Veltliner, Gruner Veltliner Australia, Saint Laurent, St Laurent, Uncategorized, wine, Zweigelt, Zweigelt Australia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Uncovering the why’s and what’s of our new Field Blend – By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

For some time now, we at Hahndorf Hill have been hinting at and teasing you with snippets of some secret projects we have been working on. Until now we have been content to indulge our mischievous sides by posting the odd no-context picture on Facebook or a cryptic tweet; but as we believe one of these projects will be the perfect wine to enjoy during Spring and Summer, I am writing today to lift the veil of secrecy and introduce you to the latest addition to the Hahndorf Hill portfolio – the 2022 Brother Nature Field Blend.  

The term ‘Field Blend’ is not unknown to the Australian market but over the years there have been some … liberties … taken with the style. The whole thing is actually a bit of a trigger for me so let us focus this conversation on what we have done and why.

I have drafted and redrafted this article more times than any of my previous pieces because there is just so much to detail, and because wines of quality made in this style are all about the details. When I find myself in moments of journalistic indecision, I often rediscover my narrative and confidence by focusing on the fundamentals: Who, What, Why, Where and When.

The Who

Regular readers of this blog may remember my articles on the traditional Austrian wine style labelled Gemischter Satz, which translates as ‘Mixed Set’. This field-blend style is produced in a handful of Austria’s white-wine dominant regions but is especially prized by the houses of the Vienna winegrowing region, so much so that their premium wines made in this style were elevated to DAC status as of the 2013 vintage.

Hahndorf Hill Adelaide Hill wine
The vineyards of Vienna produce some of the most exciting Gemischter Satz wines in Austria

After years of diligent research and first-hand experience with our other Austrian hero varietals, we were confident that with the proper respect paid to the myriad of variables we could also produce a field blend that would both honour the style and our particular place in the world. I have written previously of the curious terroir kinship between the Adelaide Hills and the cool-climate wine regions in Austria, and this unique relationship has played a huge role in many of the stylistic and strategic decisions that have shaped our house.

‘Terroir’ is an umbrella term for all of the variables that affect a specific place: temperature, rainfall, geology and aspect are all recognised elements of this philosophy; less well known but just as critical to the overall concept is the human or cultural influence. What we plant where and why is always crucial but is especially fundamental to a field blend, and because of the tremendous influence these decisions have on a finished wine of this style, they must be made with confidence and in the absence of absolute confidence … chutzpah.

Hahndorf Hill Gruner Veltliner Blaufrankisch
Austrian grape varieties dominate the vineyard plantings at Hahndorf Hill. Pic by Cheryl Smith

A true and authentic field blend made in the spirit of a traditional Gemischter Satz is above all a celebration of place. And before you roll your eyes and say “Oh Jack, now you are just being glib or hyperbolic”, please know that I mean that in the most literal possible sense. An authentic field blend is blended in the field; multiple varieties randomly planted side by side in one single block, grown together, picked together, fermented together and matured together. It is only by stepping back from our desire to nurture and influence can the true nature of a place really be heard.

I know I said I wasn’t going to harp on about it but I would just like to make one distinction very clear. As I mentioned above, a ‘Field Blend’ is made entirely in the field; a ‘Cuvée’ is a wine made from separate parcels of fruit which are married up (or blended) in the winery. I feel a rant coming on so I will move along …

The Why & The Where

The why and the where are perhaps two of the most important factors in a proper field blend and they are inextricably linked. Planting multiple varieties within the one block was historically something of an insurance policy against disaster; this ancestral method helped to ensure that winemakers had something to sell should disease affect their early ripening fruit or poor weather affect the later ripening varieties. For most of our history large mono-varietal vineyards were not the norm, and it wasn’t until Europe’s phylloxera outbreaks in the 19th century that they became common.

By planting multiple varieties within the one block, we take the focus off of one single variety; this allows the land to express itself with much more depth and complexity, in the same way as a grand piano with 88 keys is capable of melodies and harmonies far beyond the range of less sophisticated instruments. The 2022 Hahndorf Hill Brother Nature Field Blend is the child born of a block with 12 carefully selected Old World varieties that will each ripen at different stages of a cool-climate Adelaide Hills vintage.  Brother Nature includes many of the standard white varieties found in any Gemischter Satz in Austria, such as Pinot Blanc, Welschriesling, Gruner Veltliner, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Gewurtztraminer, Traminer (Savagnin) and Muscat Blanc, but our wine also contains some other interesting varieties such as Harslevelu, Chenin Blanc and Muscadelle.  

Filed Blend Australia Authentic Filed Blend Australia
Hahndorf Hill’s debut 2022 Brother Nature is an authentic field blend made from 12 white grape varieties that are grown, harvested and fermented together

Our loamy, slate-rich topsoils and cold nights will provide the perfect foundation for this assembly to bring forth the holy grail of characteristics: natural, juicy acidity. It is widely thought that there is some form of ‘communication’ and influence between the root systems of a vineyard planted with multiple varieties; but ripening is unlikely to ever synchronise completely, and we wouldn’t want it to. It is only by co-harvesting and co-fermenting that we can fully appreciate the full spectrum of acid, fruit and textural breadth achieved by varying levels of physiological development and ripeness. An honest field blend is the sum of many voices all raised up together; some high, others low, but all with common purpose and a singular objective.

The When

For an authentic field blend the When is the million-dollar question. When to harvest is the only real influence we have on the wine; knowing when to hand pick to get what you want from each of the 12 varieties is much more of an art than science. We have read, tasted, travelled, quizzed and queried, but it is Larry’s ‘gut feel’ that will ultimately determine the day each year the Brother Nature block will be harvested and this day will most likely vary significantly each vintage.

The goal for any cool-climate field blend is to find the ‘goldilocks’ zone between the natural acidity, fruit and texture because they are ultimately judged on their balance. There are more variables at play here than just about any other style and the envelope for getting it right is extremely narrow. A week during vintage is a lifetime and even a day or two can have a profound effect on the finished wine.

Hahndorf Hill Gemischter Satz Australia Field Blend
Our Brother Nature label depicts the vineyard block at Hahndorf Hill in which all 12 grape varieties are interplanted

I have been dancing around it for a while and it’s only fair I stop teasing and get into the wine properly. First things first, the packaging is striking. The Brother Nature block is depicted in the centre of the label, the intimately chaotic nature of the block is reminiscent of a stylised Gustav Klimt painting. As for the wine itself, aromas of lime and grapefruit have partnered with green apple and nectarine and the palate is a study in natural yet juicy acidity. Flavours of baked apple, passionfruit and guava are all represented but it is the finish that grips me; the texture is gentle yet commands attention and there is a subtle white spice that keeps me coming back for more.

I am confident this wine will beguile Riesling freaks, romance Arneis lovers, enthral Savvy tragics and captivate all the lost and wandering souls who haven’t yet found a home within Gruner Veltliner’s warm embrace.

I have enjoyed this wine several times now and it is an asset at the table. Brother Nature matched perfectly with crispy roast pork belly, is delicious with fresh seafood and is a no-brainer with South-East Asian cuisine. Our vegan friends can also join us at the table with confidence, as not only are all the 2022 Hahndorf Hill wines vegan-friendly, but I have it on good authority that Brother Nature is delightful with baked broccoli fritters in a spiced coconut curry!

Gemischter Satz Brother Nature Hahndorf Hill winery
The Hahndorf Hill Brother Nature Field Blend is the perfect partner for crispy roast pork belly

The 2022 Brother Nature Field Blend was eight years in the making, from conception, research, sourcing the right cuttings, developing the vineyard, and eventually picking the first harvest. But its time has finally arrived. This wine has been a labour of love and we cannot wait to share it with all of you.

Prost! Jack.

Posted in Adelaide Hills, Adelaide Hills best Cellar door, Adelaide Hills Gruner Veltliner, Adelaide Hills wine, Adelaide Hills wine region, Blaufrankisch, Brother Nature Field Blend Gemischter Satz, cool climate wine, dessert wine Aelaide Hills, Diurnal variation temperature, Field Blend Australia, Foundling Saint Laurent, Foundling St Laurent, Gemischter Satz, Gruner Veltliner, Gruner Veltliner Australia, Hahndorf, St Laurent, Zweigelt, Zweigelt Australia | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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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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