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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prost! Jack

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