In several editions of this blog I have written of our commitment to ongoing staff training and education. We regularly assemble themed flights of wine designed to highlight one variety or style to snap us out of the everyday and keep us alert to the bigger picture. The latest session in this program focused on the prestige red variety of Eastern Europe and a future darling of the Hahndorf Hill wine portfolio – the rare St Laurent.
Although it flies under the radar of most Australian drinkers, St Laurent has sat at the head of Eastern European tables for generations. Its parentage is unclear and regularly debated but Pinot Noir is recognised as an immediate relative and this is something of a double-edged sword. A well-made St Laurent can raise the work of even the laziest of cooks to haute cuisine, but it has also been called the “heartbreak grape” for its diva-like attitude to any inconvenience whilst still on the vine.
As is often the case with great loves the road to those perfectly transcendent moments is rarely easy. St Laurent can and has broken many viticulturists’ and vintners’ hearts; she can be fickle, callous and even cruel, but when she smiles at you all is forgiven and forgotten in a heartbeat.
Under vine since Roman times, the Thermenregion or “Thermal Springs Region” is just a little south of Vienna and was named for the hot sulphurous springs peppered around the spa town of Baden bei Wien. Deep deposits of famously well-draining loam, sand and clay dominate the north, but it is in the south where the loam gives way to very coarse gravel and fossilised shell that St Laurent has made herself at home.
Weingut Johann Gisperg is a multi-generational family business in the village of Teesdorf. The winery is one of the proven Burgundy specialists in Austria and their commitment to quality over quantity has netted the family a swag of awards. Unsurprisingly, their 2015 Reserve St Laurent made an indelible impression on me in the flight mentioned above.
Swirling the dark crimson wine in the glass put me in mind of a cardinal late for an important meeting, scarlet robes billowing as he hurried down some ancient corridor. Cured meat, white pepper and savoury spice slowly seeped to the nose, while rich dark fruits, woody spice and delicate tannin rooted me to my chair. This wine has presence and authority but wields it with a feather, a glance, a discreet nod. White pepper glides with black fruit, opulent tannin curtsies with delicate acid and the whole pageant had this writer dreaming up joints of roast venison, tomato-based Italian and platters of cured meats, sundried capsicum and mild blue cheese.
The wines served in the training flights are always tasted blind so I was pleasantly surprised when it was revealed that the other sample that stood out for me was from a winery I had already featured in a previous article in this very blog.
We last spoke of Rosi Schuster when I confessed my love for the field blend style, Gemischter Satz. I won’t go over the same ground again except to say that while the white was delicious, their deservedly high profile has actually been built on their reds, particularly St Laurent and Blaufrankisch.
The Burgenland region shares a border and the coarse gravel and shell deposits with the Thermenregion, but has a lower diurnal variation thanks to the massive Lake Neusiedl. The reds of this region are typically more robust and fruit driven than their neighbours and currently enjoy a high international profile.
The 2016 St Laurent featured in the flight spoke to me as if we were old friends; its richer fruit weight and more pronounced oak would be very welcome at the table of any Australian Pinot Noir or Cab Franc drinker. At first tasting it was a little tight and closed, but I was careful to keep one eye on the bottle and made sure it came home with me; I had a suspicion there was a real treat that hadn’t quite woken up yet and I am pleased to report I was right. After another hour or so spring had sprung and this delicate, sophisticated and aromatic wonder unfurled and blossomed.
St Laurent’s signature white pepper, charcuterie and black cherry are all here but I was not expecting the tomato bush, coffee and faint anise. This is a complex and layered wine that will reward the disciplined drinker; come back to it over several days and it will read you more chapters of its home and the obvious care put into it.
Game meat such as duck, kangaroo or lamb with a plate of roasted mushrooms, fennel bulb and purple carrot will pair beautifully.
From the outside looking in it is always difficult to see your friends in a relationship that you don’t think is good for them; when you hear the fights and see the disappointment on their faces you just want to shake them and tell them to snap out of it, and they always say the same thing: “You don’t know them like I do” “he/she loves me, they really do”. I think now having looked into the eyes of the “Heartbreak Grape” she has me as well. I know she won’t be good for me … and I don’t care.