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

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Hahndorf Hill Winery
  Adelaide Hills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack (left) with Gerhard Pittnauer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hahndorf Hill Winery
  Adelaide Hills

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

The Wachau wine region of Austria

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hahndorf Hill Gruner Veltliner seminar

Jack Simmonds presenting his seminar to the Gruner Growers Group

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

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

Wines presented at Jack Simmonds’ seminar

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

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

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

Gruner Veltliner vineyard in the Adelaide Hills

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Hahndorf Hill Winery
  Adelaide Hills

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

Hahndorf Hill Adelaide Hills Wine

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

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

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

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

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

Two tasty Austrians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The learning curve of Gruner Veltliner – by Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

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Hahndorf Hill Winery
  Adelaide Hills

It can be easy in an industry like ours to wake one day and find yourself living in a fish bowl; a million little cogs turn slightly larger cogs which in turn form a business. In such an all-consuming operation it is very important to keep some perspective, to occasionally rise to periscope depth and take a look at what is going on around you.

At Hahndorf Hill we think that, for us to speak with credibility and confidence about our flagship variety Gruner Veltliner, it is critical that we keep abreast of Gruner’s evolving trends and styles. Hence, we regularly conduct internal staff training sessions where we blind taste through flights of Gruner Veltliner from premium Austrian producers as well as from our friends and neighbours here in the Adelaide Hills.

Hahndorf Hill Gruner

Doing the Anaconda – line-up of 30 Gruner Veltliners for the Hahndorf Hill staff tasting in May 2018

Our most recent training session featured 30 Gruners in a range of styles, spanning five vintages and from several regions. It never ceases to amaze me how versatile and flexible this variety is; the wines ranged from pretty and delicate to powerful Alphas. There were some shy wallflowers, some supernovas and everything in between. I have never claimed to be unbiased so I type this with a straight face and a clear conscience: Gruner Veltliner is the most expressive conduit for terroir of any variety I have tasted. I really felt I could almost hear the shifting loess of Langenlois crunching underfoot from 15,000kms away.

Hahndorf Hill Gruner Australia

A selection of Smaragd and Reserve Gruner Veltliners

Of the 30 wines we tasted I would like to draw your attention to a few bottles that really stood out for me. I have written previously of Weingut Knoll from the village of Unterloiben in the Wachau, and I am over the moon to do so again. A family winery now run by its third generation, Knoll sources its fruit from some of the most acclaimed and exclusive vineyards in all of Austria.

The famous Loibenberg vineyard is south facing and is one of the most easterly vineyards of the Wachau; it is also one of the largest and steepest. Its exposed position and steepness give each vine a taste of the warm sun and breeze; this vineyard is famous for producing wines of power and richness and the 2015 Knoll Loibenberg Smaragd is no exception. This wine leads with warm ripe stone fruit and delicate pear, an opulent palate of melon and nectarine is beautifully balanced by a cleansing acidity. This wine is the complete package; it has class, sophistication and weight.

Franz Hirtzberger, situated upstream at the other end of the valley in the village of Spitz, is another multi-generational family business famous for producing some of Austria’s most acclaimed wines. A founding father of the Vinea Wachau, the organization responsible for the Wachau Codex, Franz has been instrumental in Austria resuming its place amongst the world’s great wine producing countries.

Sourcing its fruits from some of the coolest sites in the DAC has given the wines of Hirtzberger a reputation for spice and finesse. The site now named “Axpoint” was first documented in 1243 AD and is located on the valley floor giving it a predominantly loess composition. The 2015 Axpoint Smaragd is rich and full bodied; the ripe peach and orchard fruits have been expertly lassoed by a crisp and refreshing acid. The fruit from sites higher up the terraced slope is well known for is slightly salty minerality, whereas this wine from the flatter base is more generous in its fruit whilst keeping the region’s signature savoury, peppery finish.

Hahndorf Hill Gruner Adelaide Hills

The emerald green lizard of the Wachau that gives the Smaragd wines their name

Weingut Brundlmayer is a destination for wine lovers and foodies alike; their cellar door and restaurant in the Kamptal village of Langenlois is the embodiment of the family’s philosophy of embracing the nature of their environment. The Gruners of Langenlois have a distinct style; they tend to be leaner and more floral than the other premier Austrian regions and as a result they are excelling in the “Sekt” (sparkling) category, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep a very close eye on the fuller-bodied Reserve wines.

The 2015 Brundlmayer Kammerner Lamm was produced from fruit picked from the uber-exclusive Lamm block which has been recognized by the Österreichische Traditionsweingüter (Association of Austrian Traditional Wine Estates) as consistently producing fruit of the “utmost finesse, the richest character, the longest life”. This south facing block occupies the warmest spot on the edge of the valley and has for generations produced wines described as plump and ripe.

The blend of Austrian acacia and local oak has built a broad and well-lit stage for the actors playing ripe stone fruit and savoury vegetals to sing at the top of their lungs. This is a big wine. I distinctly remember the moment Larry and I got to this wine in the flight because I could feel his eyes boring into me, waiting for me to make up my mind so we could discuss it. Brundlmayer say on their website: “While ‘Lamm’ is the quintessence of a monumental Gruner Veltliner, it abandons the lightness and prickle that Gruner Veltliner usually stands for.” I know what they mean, this wine is no push over. The 2015 Kammerner Lamm shares a common ancestor with the delicate “sushi friendly” wines of its neighbours, but I suspect it was made with steak in mind.

Finally, I would like to give a special mention to a wine in the tasting that really got us talking: The 2017 Groiss Gruner Veltliner is a delight. Soaring aromatics of pear and white blossom complement a full and pure palate. It was not only its obvious excellence that drew Larry and I to this wine but also its place of birth; the Weinviertel is a region most commonly associated with mass produced cheap wines (similar to our Riverland), but Ingrid Groiss has deliberately set her sights on a quality over quantity direction and we are all the richer for it.

Gruner Australia

See, sniff, spit – Larry and Jack working through 30 Gruner Veltliners.

 

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

A Story of Four Stickies – by Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

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Hahndorf Hill Winery
  Adelaide Hills

Hahndorf Hill Adelaide Hills

Hahndorf Hill Adelaide Hills

Autumn has poked her nose in here at Hahndorf Hill, and this last month or so, Larry and I have often remarked upon how much warmer and drier things are this year.

A student of the classics will recognise the turning of the leaves and cooler nights to be the first signs that the Goddess Demeter has begun to neglect her duties and instead, mourn the annual loss of her daughter Persephone as she once again prepares to resume her place at Hades side on the throne of the Underworld. That being said, this need not be a gloomy time; there are delights to be found in an early evening, particularly for those with a sweet tooth.

Sweet or dessert style wines have been sealing off a meal for centuries and with the first recorded example dated to 1526, it was once again the Austrians in the vanguard of wine evolution. The area around Lake Neusiedl in the region of Burgenland served as the crucible for dessert wines almost 100 years before the first Sauternes stickies and over 200 years before the first fortified Ports.

The Austrian wine industry is heavily regulated, and the dessert wine category is no exception. Unlike most sweet wine producing countries, the areas which once made up the Austro-Hungarian empire work to a unique system where the category your wine falls into depends on the sugar level of the fruit at the time of picking, rather than the residual sugar of the finished wine.

Gruner Veltliner Adelaide Hills

Some top examples of Gruner Veltliner dessert wines

I have written and rewritten this passage several times because it is very easy to fall into a technical quagmire that bores the pants off even the most enthusiastic detail-phile, so I will endeavour to simplify as best I can. The main categories are as follows:

Spatlese: Fully ripe fruit with a minimum Baume of 12.4 degrees.

Auslese: Fully ripe, carefully selected fruit with a minimum Baume of 13.7 degrees.

Beerenauslese “Selected Berries”: Overripe fruit, this is the first tier affected by the Botrytis mould or “Noble Rot”. Minimum Baume 16.3 degrees.

Ausbruch: Overripe fruit that has naturally shrivelled and been affected by Noble Rot; a wine may only be labelled Ausbruch if it has come from the town of Rust. Minimum Baume 17.6 degrees.

Trockenbeerenauslese “Dry Selected Berries”: Overripe fruit, naturally shrivelled and affected by Noble Rot. Minimum Baume 19.6 degrees.

Eiswein: These wines are made from grapes left on the vine until the frosts arrive. They must be picked at night to ensure that the temperature remains below freezing while the grapes are harvested and pressed. As the water in the grapes is frozen only the most concentrated flavours comes out.

Now that is out of the way, let’s have a look at some wine!

Grüner Veltliner Australia Hahndorf Hill

Nigl is a producer based in the village of Senftenberg in Kremstal, a region made famous by Gruner Veltliner and Riesling. Their terraced vineyards stretch along the valley to the limits of the local capital Krems and consist of very rocky soils which give the wines of Nigl their signature minerality and spice.

Handcrafted wines made to the highest standards are what you will find here, with a focus on finesse and elegance. 90% of Nigl’s production is white wine with Gruner Veltliner leading the way.

Their 2014 Beerenauslese is intense yet sophisticated; yellow fruits and honeyed, dark toasted bread greet you at the door then guide you to a comfy chair of earthy, roasted nuts.
The 2012 Eiswein is tighter and lighter than most of its compatriots. Tropical notes of passionfruit and pineapple lead a band featuring the finest honeycomb, pepper spice and apple. It was the acid that most surprised me about this wine, in a good way. Not nearly as treacly sweet as other examples.

Grüner Veltliner Adelaide Hills, Hahndorf Hill

Grüner Veltliner dessert wines are über food-friendly

This time last year I was in Austria and very much looking forward to visiting a producer I have admired for a long time in the region of Kamptal. Since 1750 Weingut Rabl has been making wines specifically designed to be drunk for fun, and while this may sound a little glib, I can tell you from first hand experience they mean it because they live it.
Their fruit is picked from some of the most prestigious vineyards in Austria and you can tell from the second the wine hits the glass. I have written previously of their steely, peppery dry whites but this article is all about stickies so let’s take a look at their 2009 Trockenbeerenauslese.

This wine is Gruner Veltliner with the Caps Lock on! The nose is intense but clean. Honeyed stone fruit and spice dance across the palate like a double helix coursing through a vein. The finish is long with roasted, nutty notes. It would be easy to lose all finesse and structure in a wine this sweet but Gruner’s signature acid has kept this wine in check like the firm but steady voice of a wizened old cowboy calming a young horse.
These are not everyday wines so let’s get some perspective from something more familiar.

Grüner Veltliner Australia Hahndorf Hill

Gruner Veltliner dessert wine heaven

For years now we have been saying Hahndorf Hill is a house of spice-driven, dry wines; well now we need to add a little asterix to that.

Like 2018, the autumn of 2016 was long, mild and dry; these conditions provided us with the perfect opportunity to try our hand at a new style and reaffirm our commitment to staying at the cutting edge of Australian Gruner Veltliner.

From our inception we have made a commitment to stay true to the wine styles and structures pioneered by the Austrians whilst always embracing and respecting our own terroir. This means we don’t always fit into the strict Austrian classification system but our priority has always been to make the very best wine we can for you, our customers.

This attitude is no more apparent than in our 2016 ‘Green Angel’ Late Harvest Gruner Veltliner. With a picking Baume of 18 degrees and a residual sugar of 170gms, we are at the drier end of the spectrum, and as the name suggests it is a “Late Harvest” not a Botrytis affected wine. In short, this is the driest member of a sweet family (not unlike myself!).

Lemon zest and poached pear leap from the rim well before the glass itself can even make it to the same postcode as your mouth. The wine glides down the palate showing off with notes of fresh citrus, custard apple and subtle, peppery spice.

I made a point of inviting some friends over to enjoy these wines with me and paired up some dishes the textbooks will say work, but as is my custom, I snuck in a few pairings designed to provoke and titillate. Crumbly blue cheese and Austria’s signature apple strudel were a delight, but so too were the Black Pig Iberico Jamon and pickled jalapenos.
I suppose the moral of the story is these are wines made with fun in mind, and this need not be a time to lament the loss of the warm summer days.

Follow this link https://www.hahndorfhillwinery.com.au/Buy-Online to order your own ‘Green Angel’, invite the friends that you can rely on for good conversation and embrace the slip into winter.

Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill’s Brand Ambassador and roving palate

 

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Gruner’s love affair with pork – by Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

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Hahndorf Hill Winery
  Adelaide Hills

There is an old expression in food and wine pairing: “What grows together goes together”, and in addition to a passion for Gruner Veltliner, both Australians and Austrians share a love of pork.

 

Australian pork consumption has been growing steadily for the last two decades, recently overtaking beef to be our second most consumed meat behind chicken at approximately 28kgs per person annually. But just as Austria leads the world in Gruner Veltliner production they also top the charts as the world’s biggest fans of pork, consuming a whopping 71kgs per person!

So, in the spirit of Australian-Austrian relations, I have decided to focus this article on how pork and Gruner make such great bedfellows, which leads me to our own 2016 ‘Gru’ and to an excellent wine from the Kremstal.

 

Everything about Kremstal is old, even by European standards. The undulating highlands and eastward facing slopes referred to as the Bohemian Massif are amongst the oldest geological formations on earth. Closer to the region’s capital, Krems, on the south and south-eastern slopes are rich deposits of loess, exposed after the last ice-age 300 000 years ago, contributing to perfect spicy and structured Gruner Veltliner.

The civic hospital of Krems was founded in 1210 by Duke Leopold IV between already thriving vineyards and as successive rulers came and went Krems underwent many changes, but it has always focused on wine production for its survival. Now boasting 306 wineries and 2368 hectares (5851 acres) under vine, the region has become a must-visit destination for all serious wine and history buffs.

At over 550 years old Weingut Stadt Krems is amongst the oldest wineries in Europe and in addition to making exquisite wines they are a member of the “Traditionsweingüter Österreich” – an association committed to protecting the region’s heritage. All of Stadt Krems 30 hectares are within the Krems’ city limits and their wines are pressed in a cellar under the moat of the ancient Old Town!

Freshness, spice, finesse and complexity is the mantra which Weingut Stadt Krems lives by and their 2016 Domane Krems Gruner Veltliner snuggles in nicely with its more expensive brothers and sisters. Made in a slightly more fruit forward style than most wines from this region, it sizzles with grapefruit, pineapple and pear. Beautifully balanced acidity and a long but clean and peppery finish make this wine from one of the Austria’s oldest producers a delicious accompaniment to the crispy, crackly spit-roasted pork.

 

 

Australia, of course, now grows its own Gruner Veltliner, especially in the Adelaide Hills wine region of South Australia, where this pork-loving variety has put down deep roots. There are now approximately 30 Gruner labels in the Adelaide Hills, including Hahndorf Hill which pioneered this variety in South Australia.

I remember quite early in the 2016 vintage Larry and I quietly whispering to each other “this will be a good one” as we tasted the unbottled ‘Gru’ – and we haven’t been alone in this opinion. I have written previously that I feel our 2016 ‘Gru’ shows the most varietal typicity of all our Gruners to date, and during my trip to Austria I tasted dozens of wines that only reinforced the sense of kinship in our wines that we have been striving for.
Leading with pear, apple and zippy grapefruit, this wine waltzes across the palate. Crispy acid tickles whilst Gruner Veltliner’ signature chalky texture caresses. It is with a strange melancholic pride that I sip away the last of the 2016 ‘Gru’.

While it didn’t take a crystal ball to see these wines would be a treat with pork, I won’t have it said that I wasn’t thorough in my research!

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Two regions, two superstars – By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

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Hahndorf Hill Winery
  Adelaide Hills

Jack Simmonds

Like all wine producing countries, Austria has over the centuries drawn lines on a map to indicate regions of quality and (although they would never say it out loud), regions which should just stick to servicing the “entry level” market.

The Wachau is the most famous of Austria’s prestige regions and names like Pichler, Knoll, Hirtzberger, Prager and Domaine Wachau are often the first that come to mind of journalists and the Gruner initiated all over the world. Texture is what the producers from this region will tell you sets them apart.

The Weinviertel DAC is the region responsible for the bulk of Austria’s Gruner production, in every sense of the word. The largest of Austria’s wine producing regions has for decades provided fruit for the budget end of the market, mostly simple and fruit-driven styles with little texture. An analogy I could draw would be the Weinviertel DAC has the style and reputation similar to that of Australia’s Riverland.

That being said, there are a few renegades who are shaking things up, putting quality above quantity.

Swimming against the current are a handful of maverick producers using more modern viticulture and vinification techniques to make wines of finesse, texture and spice that have many other regions and Gruner fans taking notice.

Ingrid Groiss is one such maverick. Since taking over winemaking duties from her father in 2010, she has steered the family business towards the top shelf. The 2016 Groiss Gruner Veltliner sparkles bright and clear in the glass while aromas of nectarine and white blossom ripple over the rim. Where more traditional Weinviertel wines can show little minerality or complexity, time on skins and working the lees has given the Groiss a depth and richness that I really enjoyed. This wine is full-bodied but crisp with a delightfully long finish.
The 2016 Groiss Gruner Veltliner can hold its head high amongst the best of her countrymen, so let’s do just that.

 

Prager is a house with immense respect for the history of the Wachau; chief winemaker Dr Toni Bodenstein is a man obsessed with terroir and the mesoclimates of his region and this is reflected in his wines. His range is made up of single vineyard wines that see no oak so as to give each site a clear voice and personality.

The terraced Hinter Der Burg (“behind the mountain”) vineyard is rich in primary rock and overlooks the Danube. This 2016 Gruner Veltliner has spice and citrus in perfect union; the signature minerality of the Wachau is harmonising beautifully in the background and the chalky mouthfeel balances the whole package right to the end.

The wines I tasted today represent two very different places but share a common vision. For decades the Weinviertel DAC deserved its reputation for lightweight, easy-drinking wines but there are rumblings. I think the days of writing off a whole region are numbered as more and more brave and inspired producers from the Weinviertel work hard to put their respective names on wines of quality, finesse and sophistication. And if producers like Toni Bodenstein keep releasing wines like the 2016, the Wachau’s global reputation is in safe hands.

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Austrian Immersion, Part 3 – by Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

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Hahndorf Hill Winery
  Adelaide Hills

Days 5 & 6 – Wachau and Kremstal

The city of Krems is a university town on the banks of the Danube, 20 minutes by train from Langenlois and will be my base for exploring the Wachau and Kremstal wine regions. The ruling Babenbergs selected the site and established Krems as their seat of power in 1120 AD. Today it consists of its famous Altstadt (old town), virtually unchanged since the 1700s with its renaissance Rathaus (town hall) and a parish church that is one of the oldest in Lower Austria, and the more modern universities, museums and entertainment districts of the new town.
Only a short bus ride from Krems is the medieval village of Durnstein in the Wachau, which sits on a steep mountainside bend in the Danube; its huge fortification walls are up to 40m high and in some parts as thick as 20m. Perched high above sits the ruins of an ancient castle, for a brief time (and against his will) home to Richard the Lionheart. Large vaulted archways elevate covered walkways and dwellings above the concentric streets, and narrow laneways provide short cuts around the city for locals and the more observant of visitors.
Built into the gatehouse structure at the main entrance to the walled city is the Durnstein Vinothek; typical of shops in ancient cities, it is cosy and dim with thick walls and low roof. The Vinothek is a great ambassador for wines of the Wachau; owner Veronika is passionate about their signature varietals Gruner Veltliner and Riesling, charging only two euros to sample half a dozen of her best.

Jack at the Domaine Wachau cellar door

Domaine Wachau is the largest and most famous of the local producers. A co-op of 250 growers, Domaine Wachau now has global distribution and for many this is their first taste of Gruner Veltliner. They have a very impressive and modern cellar door and are only too happy to guide you through what makes their region special. A unique variety of soil types, climate and a quality classification system called the Wachau Codex all combine to make these wines some of the most desirable in the world.

Hahndorf Hill Austria Gruner Veltliner

A dazzling line-up at Domaine Wachau

Word got out that a Gruner Veltliner producer from Australia was visiting, so winery director Roman Horvath MW invited me to taste some very special and not publicly available mature vintages and as yet not-released, experimental wines. A delicious and enlightening few hours.
With time on my hands I decided to take a stroll along the Danube (I feel like I’ve heard that before) and just see what I could see. On the far side of the swollen and swiftly flowing river rose almost sheer cliffs that reluctantly broke off into thickly forested hills marching off into the distance. Nearby snuggled the three villages of Durnstein, Oberloiben and Unterloiben on a narrow strip of flat land that rose almost as steeply in a series of terraced and individually named vineyards.
The wines of the Wachau seem to come out of either large global brands or very small family operators whose wines rarely make it beyond the district; one such is Brustbauer. Karl Brustbauer is a former mayor of Durnstein, local historian and the current custodian of his great-great-grandfather’s winery. “My son and I do everything,” declares Karl, “but this is not mine, nor his. We belong to the land, not the other way around!” Karl invited me into his home chuffed beyond measure that a wine fan from what might as well have been another planet had taken an interest in his babies; he opened several bottles and humbly talked me through what I can honestly say are some of the best Gruner Veltliners I have tasted.
Karen Fink of Fink Wines is a lady my grandmother would have described as “salt of the earth”. An entirely missable sign posted high on the corner of her 500-year old house was the only clue as to what might be found inside. Her wines are priced in the entry to mid range but are honest, clean and well made. I found Fink by chance and with luck like this I think I might buy my first ever lottery ticket as soon as possible.
2006 is when Hahndorf Hill imported our first three Gruner Veltliner clones from Austria, but the research began long before that. For us thorough investigation into the different styles and terroirs of Gruner was – and still is – crucial to making educated decisions about our path forward, and it is for this reason we have kept a respectful eye on the Knoll winery – a master of the Wachau’s Federspiel and Smaragd-classified Gruners. Producing excellent single vineyard and “village” wines, Knoll’s range is perfectly tuned to the region.

Powerful Knoll line-up

The current 2016 and previous 2015 vintages both show crisp acid and zippy minerality, while less primary fruit than the Kamptal and Kremstal regions gives the Knoll Federspiel wines their signature “pfefferl” and savoury notes. I was given a very warm welcome by the winemaker Emmerich Knoll and his wife, but their big four legged and not at all intimidating security guard extracted a toll before letting me past the front door: a solid ten minutes of belly scratches.
Since arriving in the Wachau I have tried a dozen or so examples of Federspiel category of wines, each with fruit from the same block but vinified by different producers, and all share a characteristic I have not found anywhere else in Austria but which is prominent in the Hahndorf Hill Gru – and that is a delicate chalky mouthfeel on the roof of my mouth. It is thrilling to know that our wines are already growing up to resemble their illustrious and ancient cousins.

Bert Salomon and Jack at the Salomon cellar door in Krems

The newer quarters of Krems occupy the flatter ground between the Danube and the base of the terraced vineyards and old town which climbs the north-eastern slopes. Right on the seam between the two sits the Salomon Estate; Bert Salomon has a very high profile in both Austria and Australia (he currently produces vintages in South Australia). Topping well over six feet and with a handshake like a Kodiak bear, he welcomed me into his cellar door and pummelled me with questions on our 2017 vintage and if we suffered the rains he did.

Stylish line-up at Salomon

Selected Salomon wines are available in Australia and I would encourage you to try them. The 2016 vintage was good to the Kamptal, the wines are crisp but delicate, aromatic and flavoursome. The crew at Salomon share the Hahndorf Hill passion for food and wine pairing; we spent more time than I could really afford waxing lyrical about what we would serve with each wine when next we met.
Also in the city is Winzer Krems, a co-operative of around 1000 growers who together form Austria’s largest producer. They offer a range of varieties but Gruner Veltliner is their priority, making up 60% of their volume. The cellar door is perched atop a hill providing an awesome view of the lower Wachau opening into the central Austrian plain and the famous Gottweig Abbey, and all that is very nice but what draws the 1.5 million visitors a year is their “World of Wine” experience.
The World of Wine experience is a fully immersive tour where you are first guided to an original stone hut constructed to provide shelter for the vineyard guardians whose role it was to scare off grape thieves be they on foot or wing. Here you enjoy a glass of their premium Gruner Veltliner whilst your guide, in my case the lovely Terresa, gives a brief history of the company and region.

The giant map-room at Winzer Krems

Next we move into a giant map room measuring 8m x 8m where the entire floor is an illuminated map detailing the region and highlights specific points of interest such as the home of Winzer Krems and some of their highest rated vineyards. Looking back now it may have been a little immature but my headstone will now read:
Here lies Jack
“I moonwalked the Danube”
A walk through the underground cellar brings you to a large concrete vault where you can sip on a glass of red and look yet further down into the winery’s massive fermentation tank area. What happened next was something every winemaker, writer, seller and drinker should experience: a 4D film devoted to the geology, vineyard cultivation and maintenance, resident flora and fauna, weather and production methods that have propelled Winzer Krems to world fame.
Now if like me you just whispered “What is 4D?”, then hopefully my explanation can do it justice. You are handed a pair of 3D glasses as you walk into a very smart theatre, then the film opens to close-up shots of life blooming in a vineyard and sweeping views of the valley. Then comes the fourth dimension; as the film describes the winter weather a gale of glacial wind roars over you; a farmer mows between his vines and the fragrance of cut summer grass fills your nostrils. Fragrance plays a significant role in the experience, just as it does in wine. Next, aromatic components of both their reds and whites are wafted past you as the film describes what makes Kremstal wine the “most food friendly in Austria”. I make my living trying to evoke a sense of passion and sensory excitement in my customers, so believe me when I say that this film is a must see/feel/smell/taste experience.
The next station on the tour is a long tunnel where conceptual artist Georgia Creimer has constructed six projected light installations showing how wines should be enjoyed, with food, without food, with people or alone, for fun or serious debate. It’s almost as if she secretly spied on my house for a week! Then we arrive back where we started in the Vinothek; most of the Winzer Krems wines are available to taste and a large retail space means you can load the car up nice and easy.
Krems, Durnstein and all the charming little Wachau villages in between have offered up some of the finest wines of my trip. The views are spectacular and the people are warm and friendly. I lament spending only a few days here as a week or more could be lost very easily, but all good things must come to an end.

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Austrian Immersion, Part 2 – By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

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Hahndorf Hill Winery
  Adelaide Hills

Days 4 & 5 – Langenlois, Kamptal

The adjoining regions of Kamptal, Kremstal and Wachau in north-western Austria are to white wines what Burgenland is to reds. Langenlois, the capital of Kamptal, sits in a junction of the three main wine producing valleys and was my first stop in a region specializing in a variety close to the hearts of all HHW fans: Gruner Veltliner.
Two trains, one first class and very high speed then another a relic from the Soviet occupation, brought me from the open rolling plains of Burgenland into a landscape of valleys, streams and steeply terraced vineyards. Unlike Burgenland, this region grows very little of anything that doesn’t eventually end up in a bottle; the view zipping past my window is a beautiful patchwork of criss-crossing vineyards, small villages and swathes of ancient forest.

Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador in the Jurtschitsch cellar

This region had been cultivated since the Bronze Age but we can point to two significant moments in its history that has transformed the land from mostly wild forest into the Gruner and Riesling powerhouse it is today. When under Roman control the local governor recognised the awesome potential of the rich but well-draining soils, allowing the “natives” to plant vines for wine production for the first time. Then in 1171 the monks of the Cistercian Zwettl Monastery were granted land and vineyards by the then ruling Earl of Kuenring. The Cistercians were a relatively progressive order and instituted a more methodical and scientific approach to wine production.
Langenlois is a jewel; the village itself is a blend of baroque and pastel renaissance buildings, narrow hand-paved streets and open squares. Encircling the village are vineyards that radiate up the hillsides and ridges to greet their kin at the summit that forms the border with the Kamptal and Wachau valleys.
For accommodation we chose the famous Loisium Wine and Spa Resort; of ultra-modern and open design the Loisium is the perfect place from which to explore Langenlois. On my first night I decided to dine in the restaurant and was greeted at the door by the sommelier who I had passed earlier; she had recognised the Hahndorf Hill logo on my jacket and after a chat about my mission and in collusion with the chef, put together an off-menu degustation designed to highlight how exquisitely the local Gruner Veltliners pair with food.
There are four main soil types that make up these valleys and having tasted many single vineyard wines from each type, I can say they are all distinctly different. Each soil type can be easily observed and understood when you walk the “Wein Weg” or Wine Way, a trail that loops through several vineyards, up to the top of the northern ridge then back through the village. Along the walk are dozens of information points describing what is happening at the spot on which you are standing, beautiful sculptures and excellently positioned observation decks that detail points of interest in the valley below. There are even stashes of wine to taste hidden along the way, made from grapes grown in that exact spot! I could not have been more impressed with the care, attention and passion that went into making what is in my opinion one of the great wine attractions of the world.
The stunning vista from the ridgeline contains a secret: The predominant soil type here is loess, a light glacial sand and soil mix that is very easy to tunnel into, and the Langenlois folk have been doing just that, for over 900 years. Underneath the village lies the Catacombs, a sprawling and interconnected network of tunnels and cellars dug out by generations of winemakers.

Hahndorf Hill Gruner Veltliner tour of Austrai

The descent into the 900 year-old Steininger cellar

The Loisium World of Wine experience is unique in all the world, a breathtaking complex marrying the old and new. The museum’s modern cube-like design blends into the sky by day and is brilliantly lit up at night. Here you collect a portable audio player and saunter down through a vineyard to a door into the underground cellars; I have seen subterranean cellars before but not like this. First you become part of an active ferment in a colossal steel tank; your audio guide talks you through the chemical process of fermentation and gives a quick history lesson on why the god of wine, Bacchus, is so important to winemakers and drinkers, all to a spectacular water and laser show. From there you descend into a section of the Labyrinth below the village; after fermentation comes maturation and here you are guided through the barrel cellars. Interactive light, audio and video shows demonstrate how the people of Langenlois lived and work here for centuries. One exhibit I found particularly exciting was a table laid out with earthen jars that each contained the individual aroma components of Gruner Veltliner.
I had the honour of meeting with several pre-eminent local producers and in addition to tasting many of their wines, they also toured me through their cellars. During the Soviet occupation of the 40’s and 50’s the cellars were completely stripped of wine but the huge ancient barrels and other artefacts remain. Rabl is an old house that is enjoying a significant rise in demand; in the last 15 years they have had to add extra capacity and are adding new tunnels to their existing network that was last expanded 300 years ago. Rabl winemaker Martin Schmidt described his cellars as “young” in Langenlois terms.

Hahndorf Hill Zweigelt and Gruner Veltliner

Stunning wines from Steininger

Lisa Steininger is the youngest of the three daughters of Langenlois Sekt (sparkling wine) pioneer Karl Steininger and was my host during my visit to their incredible estate. I tasted through a portfolio that is home to some of the very best Gruner Veltliners and Zweigelts I have ever tried. They have vineyards peppered throughout the region and offer site-specific wines that really do embody the concept of “people meets place” that we value so much at home. Lisa justifiably takes tremendous pride in her family’s network of ancient but expanding cellars and facilities.

Ursin Haus is a vinothek right in the heart of town. Well trained staff with very good English guided me through a selection of wines that they thought best represented the region. Tasters can choose from two options, either self service through a range of mostly entry and mid-level wines or hand themselves over to the staff to guide you through the whole lot including their Traditionsweinguter Osterreich or “Grand Cru” tier. No guesses as to which option I went for!
The Austrian word for palace is schloss and although the current façade of Schloss Gobelsburg reflects sixteenth century tastes, there have been nobles in residence on this site for considerably longer. It was in the magnificent state room that a tasting of local sekt wines was put on for the finalists in the World Sommelier Challenge and I was invited to join in. The Kamptal does not have a long history of producing sparkling wine but the Gruner Veltliner and Pinot Noir on the slopes visible through the huge hand-blown windows can do just about anything they want. I was pleasantly surprised at the variation and quality shown; I tasted Pet Nats through to bone-dry Nature styles and all were balanced and true to their variety.

Hahndorf Hill Adelaide Hills wine

The underground cellars at Schloss Gobelsburg.

The producers here take their sekt so seriously they are in the final stages of locking down a codex system to mandate minimum standards to protect the quality, similar to Champagne’s appellation system.
Once the sommeliers had tasted through the sekt and moved on to their next engagement, I was invited to stay behind for an extra special treat. Schloss Gobelsburg produces one of the finest St Laurents available in Austria and the current manager of the palace and head winemaker, Michael Moosbrugger, opened bottles of the current 2013 vintage back to the 2010 for us to taste. To say I felt honoured is an understatement; Michael does not usually do tastings. The wines were delicate and sophisticated, aromatic but with a firm tannin structure and in Michael’s opinion don’t start to wake up until they are around six years old. St Laurent is a variety HHW is about to invest significant effort into and I am glad we are; a St Laurent of quality can bring even the most militant Francophile or Bordeaux tragic to heel.

Jurtschitsch is one of the Kamptal’s top producers.

Operating since the 16th century, Jurtschitsch is a winery a few minutes’ walk from Steininger and while specialising in Gruner Veltliner, it also has the only Blaufrankisch planting in the valley. The wines were outstanding; the family and crew here are very conscious of their terroir and have broken their wines into three styles: One to represent the Village, one to represent the Vintage and the last to represent the specific Vineyard from which the fruit was sourced. Tastings are by appointment only so call ahead.
Brundlmayer wines and restaurant is in a wonderfully preserved renaissance vintner’s house in the village. I had made my dinner reservation weeks earlier and it was just as well; the restaurant and cellar door is a destination for gourmets from all over the world. Before dinner I sat in the beautiful courtyard and was indulged by the amazing staff who brought me flight after flight of their best Gruners, Zweigelts and St Laurents to taste. Then I was escorted to a table in the restaurant and guided through their degustation options; naturally I chose the big one. Each course was expertly matched to their wines and looked almost too good to eat, but of course I did!
Over two days I tasted too many elite wines and met too many generous and genuinely passionate winemakers to single out just a few to review, so do yourself a favour and get there quick. The tastings I had at Schloss Gobelsburg, Steininger, Rabl, Jurtschitsch and Brundlmayer were unforgettable and I cannot thank them enough.

Next month: Jack’s visit to the Kremstal and Wachau wine regions.

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Austrian Immersion, Part 1 – By Jack Simmonds, Hahndorf Hill Brand Ambassador

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Hahndorf Hill Winery
  Adelaide Hills

Day 1 – Eisenstadt, Burgenland

Austrian varietals take pride of place in the Hahndorf Hill portfolio and the wine racks of many of our customers. My mission was to immerse myself in Austria’s world-famous wines and wine regions to gain a better appreciation of the geography, styles, culture and people that turn out such consistently enchanting wines.
Given the enormity of such an assignment I needed a strategy, so I decided on “divide and conquer”. Unlike almost all Australian wine regions that produce both reds and whites, the Austrians (for the most part) pick a side, so I devoted my first few days to Austria’s red heartland, the region of Burgenland.
The capital of Burgenland is the large picturesque town of Eisenstadt, only a short ride by train from Vienna airport.   It was a beautiful clear and warm afternoon as I stepped off the train to a stunning vista of church spires, museums and stately homes climbing the hill on which Eisenstadt is built.

Hahndorf Hill Blaufrankisch tour Austria

Jack Simmonds, Brand Ambassador for Hahndorf Hill Winery, outside the Selektion Vinothek in Eisenstadt

First stop was the Selektion Vinothek – a very classy wine bar and shop opposite the stunning Esterhazy Palace. (Vinothek is the title given to a wine tasting and retail space, often featuring only local wines arranged into flights or by the glass.)
The very well trained staff were more than happy to pull out all the stops for a true believer in what has made their region famous: Blaufrankisch, Zweigelt, St Laurent and blends. After testing my credentials with a “decoy” wine, they told me to disregard the menu and strap in for the staffs’ favourites arranged into flights.
Three stand-outs were:
Hillinger “Jois” Gruner Veltliner 2013, from the region of Leithaberg. 13.5%. The rich golden straw colour of this wine gave me a hint of what I was in for. Honey and toasted buttery bread from the liberal use of French oak leapt from the glass to tease and provoke the nose. Creamy spiced pear and stewed apple demand your attention at first then the famous white pepper notes and very well balanced acid keep this animal on a tight leash. I am a big fan; this wine would appeal to lovers of big rich Chardonnays and Rhone blends.
Moric “Haus Marke” 2014 Cuvee, from Grosshoflien. 12.5%. A blend of the region’s superstars, Blau 40%, Zwei 40% and St Laurent 20%, this wine had a nose that captivated me straight away. Musky plum, cherry, white pepper and a slight bloody aroma all work together to build a platform for the curiously light palate. White pepper and sage upfront, then delicate oak and woody spices carry you through the long finish. Grazing platters of cured meats, cheese, dried fruits and olives would be the perfect way to enjoy this gem.
Kloster Am Spitz “Muschelkalk” 2014, From Purbach. 14%. Dark crimson and burgundy in colour with a distinct clearing rim, this Blau/Cab Sauv blend has the most perfumed nose yet. Reminiscent of fine pinot with aromatics of heavy, ripe plums and cherries tail off to delicate and slightly medicinal notes. Dry red and black fruits waltz gracefully with woody spices, while the oak/acid balance is spot on. This wine had the highest alcohol so far but was the most composed and very Aussie friendly; I could very easily blow a week’s wages on this one!
Side Note: Eisenstadt’s skyline is dominated by the bell tower of the Domplatz Cathedral, which needs only the flimsiest of excuses to peel out across the town. This combined with the resident population of roughly 17 trillion cuckoo birds (no two of which agree on the time) makes for a background soundtrack of joyous ding dongs versus constant avian objection and dissent.

Day 2 –  Deutschkreutz, Burgenland

The Deutschkreutz Vinatrium

The spiritual centre of Austrian reds is the small village of Deutschkreutz, a town in the region of Mittelburgenland close to the Hungarian border. Deutschkreutz identifies as “red centric” but not in the sense the typical Australian consumer of Barossa or Coonawarra wines would recognise; the wines here run the gamut from delicate and sophisticated rosè through to medium-bodied beauties and titanic oak bombs.
Regardless of variety, style, region or price, balance is the metric by which we must measure quality and there are scores of well balanced and exciting wines from all over Burgenland to be found in the Deutschkreutz Vinatrium.
A self-service co-operative on the high street only a short walk from the train station that has over 100 local reds open to taste at any one time, you can work your way through them all for only 15 euros. Deep underground in a converted cellar a lucky wine fan can move from station to station tasting bottles from all over the region and covering every style and price point.
Blaufrankisch is the dominant variety in Burgenland, with Zweigelt, St Laurent, Cabernet and Merlot also readily available.
I tasted several excellent straight varietals but it was the blends or “cuvee’s” as the Austrians call them that made the biggest impression on me.
Rotweingut Lang, Blaufrankisch Reserve 2013, 14%. Dark as night with just a suggestion of purple at the rim this magnetic red is perfumed with earthy black/blue fruits and violet floral notes. True to form this wine delivers exactly what the nose and colour promised; dark brooding forest fruits, earthy spice and a whisper of fine oak. Clean acid and chalky tannins make for a satisfyingly long finish.
Various Cuvee’s
An exceedingly strong group of blends got me very excited. If I were to peer into a crystal ball I am sure I would spy a Blau-dominant blend in Hahndorf Hill’s future, and if the range I tasted was as typical of Burgenland’s production as I was led to believe, than we will has some very stiff competition.
The stand-out examples all showed delicate spicy and violet aromatic notes on the nose with cured meats, woody spices and dark forest berries complemented by complex and delicate tannins on the palate. All had stamina and would be a very welcome guest at any table.
Bouer-Poltl, Domus Petri 2013, Blaufrankisch/Zweigelt/Merlot, 13%
Artner, Cuvee Falcon 2013, Merlot/Blau/Zweigelt, 14%
Reumann, Equinox, 2015, Zweigelt/Blau/Merlot, 13%
Gesellman, ZB*, 2015, Blaufrankisch/Zweigelt/Blauburgunder, 13%
Hans Igler, AB Ericio 2012, Blaufrankisch/Merlot/Zweigelt 14%
Regional Austria is very observant of their religious traditions, Sundays in particular are very special. So although the excellent Vinatrium was open, very little else was. Deutschkreutz is home to several cellar doors or “weinguts” as they are known in Austria including the world-famous Hans Igler and Gesellemann, but both are open by appointment only, so call ahead.
Side Note: I have been working on an analogy to describe the way Blau works in a blend and I think I have it. Blaufrankisch is the Phil Collins of the wine world, a stellar solo act but an absolute superstar in a band. The Cuvees I tasted today have convinced me that when blended with care Blau, Zwei and St L become greater than the sum of their parts.

 Day 3 – Gols & Rust, Burgenland

A barrel full of fun

A train ride of 40 minutes from Eisenstadt across the open plain to the north/eastern shores of Lake Neusiedl brings me to the penultimate stop on my tour of Austria’s red country.
Gols is a small village that differs from those I have visited so far; it is noticeably greener with wider tree-lined streets and more open spaces. Gols puts me in mind of several Welsh villages I visited as a boy and is home to many wineries, the Weinkulturhaus Vinothek and my new bestie, Gerhard Pittnauer of Pittnauer Wines.
The Weinkulturhaus offers tastings of most of the local producers’ entry level wines and is a good place to start. I tasted around 20 wines for 15 Euros and while the co-op is open to anyone looking to explore local wines, my next experience was not.

 

After calling in every favour Hahndorf Hill has ever earned and deploying no small measure of my own charm, I was granted an appointment with the famous Gerhard Pittnauer.

Jack Simmonds and Gerhard Pittnauer

Since inheriting the winery from his father in 1984 at just eighteen, Gerhard (we are on a first name basis now) along with his wife Brigitte have worked tirelessly to reinvigorate the once crippled local industry.
The Pittnaur commitment to excellence paired with a focus on the “Holy Trinity” of Blaufrankisch, Zweigelt and St Laurent has resurrected not only his own business but along with a few like-minded neighbours, has helped to restore the reputation of a region that has been under vine since Roman times.
I have strolled through hundreds of vineyards, tasted through countless barrels and worked through entire portfolios before, but this was special. Gerhard was incredibly generous with his time, experience and wines. I could not find a wine in his whole range that I would not max out at least one credit card on.

I will not soon forget Gols.  I could have spent all day in Gols but I was told a village named Rust on the opposite side of the lake was a must-see so I made my way over. Arriving in mid afternoon I could tell after only a few minutes that I had done myself a disservice by not allocating a whole week to the most arresting village yet.
Rust was established over 1100 years ago and has elegant, winding streetscapes and architecture. Whilst home to many cellar doors the real icons of the village are 18 nesting pairs of stalks. The stalks make their nests on the chimney stacks of a select few homes and businesses; it is considered very lucky and is a source of tremendous pride by the residents to have their chimney chosen by a pair of stalks. One winery that must be singled out is Giefing; the wines are made with care, passion and are very reasonably priced. They were also happy to stay open after hours, insisting that I taste everything they thought I needed to. Lovely wines, lovely people.

The endless Pannonian plain of Burgenland

Summary: Burgenland is a vast plain of gently rolling hills clad in every shade of green. At its heart is Lake Neusiedl, an immense but very shallow body of water that has a significant effect on the region’s weather, particularly in the hot summer months. There is something universal about small country towns and villages the world over; the pace and rigidity of visiting city folk is anathema to the calm and open-hearted people that make such places their home. I was embraced and welcomed by the locals, particularly the kids who would giggle as they fed me constant questions just to hear me respond in a language they were familiar with but delivered in the most bizarre accent they had ever heard.
Side Note: Almost everyone claims a familial tie to Arnold Schwarzenegger!

Next month: Jack’s visit to the Kamptal wine region.

 

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