In August and September 2015, Charlie and I visited Austria and Hungary, visiting the wine regions of the Wachau, Kremstal and Burgenland in Austria, and the Tokaj, Sopron, Etyek and Pannonhalma in Hungary. This post covers our stay in Austria; click here to read about our stay in Hungary.
We flew into Vienna, and spent a few days there walking around the city. Vienna is a beautiful city with many amazing palaces and museums. For the first full day in Vienna, we had a private tour guide (http://www.my-vienna-guides.at/start.html?L=4), and using Bettina Mandl to introduce us to Vienna proved to be an excellent way to get a good overview of the city.
After Vienna, we rented a car and drove to the wine regions of the Wachau and Kremstal to spend the next five days. The Wachau is a beautiful part of the world!
Prior to traveling, I had made appointments at several weinguts (wineries), and we enjoyed every visit and tasting. Everyone gave us a warm welcome, and everyone was generous with his or her time and their wines. Charlie and I had only limited experience with the wines from the Wachau and Kremstal, but we found the Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings to be exceptional. We will certainly be drinking more Austrian wines in the future!
After our stay in the Wachau, we drove back to Vienna where I had arranged with Taste Hungary (http://tastehungary.com/) to pick us up and drive us to Budapest, stopping in the Burgenland (Austria) and Sopron (Hungary) along the way. Our two visits in Burgenland are described below.
If you have read my prior blogs, you know that I am not the best describer of wines. So, I have provided you with my overall impression, and whether I would buy the wine – my best recommendation. Additionally, if a comment about the wine is in quotes, the comment is from the person pouring the wine (winemaker, family member, etc.). More importantly, my notes should give you a good idea of what to expect if you visit. Further, for those of you not familiar with Austrian wines, white wines from the “Wachau Winegrowing Area” can be designated by members of the Vinea Wachau as a Steinfeder (the lightest style, with no more than 11.5% alcohol), Federspiel (alcohol level between 11.5% and 12.5%) or Smaragd (wines with at least 12.5% alcohol). A good description of the differences between these wine designations can be found here: http://austrianwineusa.com/2012/01/31/austrian-wine-words-steinfeder-federspiel-smaragd/.
Finally, most non-German speaking wine drinkers would hesitate to ask for Austrian wines in a wine store or restaurant because of the difficulty in pronouncing the names. But, do yourself a favor – try these wines!
Now on to our visits –
In the Kremstal –
Weingut Geyerhof located in Oberfucha (http://www.geyerhof.at/) – visit and tasting with Maria Maier. The Maier family owns Geyerhof, and Maria is married to Josef Maier, the current winemaker and the son of Ilse and Josef Maier. Maria is heavily involved in managing Geyerhof’s organic vineyards and the Wildwux project (a joint venture with Burgenland winemaker Brigit Braunstein) (http://www.wildwux.at/). Maria was very personable and informative, and she was generous with the wines. Charlie and I really enjoyed our visit to Geyerhof, and Maria set a high bar for the remainder of our visits!
Wines tasted were:
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Rosensteig (cellar price of 7,80 €) – crisp, easy drinking, good acidity
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Hocher Rain (cellar price of 8,80 €) – green apple, spicy, per Maria, a “typical grüner veltliner”
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Wildwux (cellar price of 12,70 €) – delicate minerality, rich, good acidity; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2013 Gaisberg (cellar price of 16,50 €) – this wine is designated as an erste lage (from one of the designated first growth vineyards in the Kremstal, Kamptal, Traisental and Wagram wine regions) apricots, good acidity, long mineral finish, creamy; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2007 Gutsreserve (cellar price of 28 €) – elegant, good structure and finish
Riesling 2014 Sprinzenberg (cellar price of 10,50 €) – crisp, good acidity, fresh, easy drinking; buy
Riesling 2014 Johannisberg (cellar price of 13,50 €) – crisp, good acidity, more feminine/elegant than the Sprinzenberg, balanced; buy
Riesling 2011 Kirchensteig (cellar price of 20,50 €) – an erste lage wine, crisp, good acidity, apricots, some honey
Riesling 2012 Goldberg (cellar price of 22 €) – an erste lage wine, more complex, good acidity, would pair very well with food; buy
Weisser Burgunder 2013 Ried Zasen (cellar price of 11,50 €) – the weisser burgunder grape is a pinot blanc, just a neutral taste
Weisser Burgunder 2009 Ried Zasen Süß (cellar price of 16 €) – this is a sweet pinot blanc with good acidity; buy
Rosé Zweigelt 2012 (cellar price of 7,60 €) – a very nice dry rosé; buy
Zweigelt 2012 Ried Richtern (cellar price of 9,50 €) – a solid red wine
In the Wachau –
Domäne Wachau in Dürnstein (http://www.domaene-wachau.at/en/start/) – we did not have an appointment, but just dropped in to the Vinothek one afternoon. Wines tasted:
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Terrassen Federspiel (cellar price of 8,60 €) – fruity, easy drinking, a good pool wine
Riesling 2014 Loibenberg Federspiel (cellar price of 10,90 €) – fresh, fruity, easy drinking; buy
Zweigelt Rosé 2014 Himmelstiege Federspiel (cellar price of 8,90 €) – light pink, crisp, good fruit, strawberries, easy drinking; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Kellenberg Smaragd (cellar price of 23 €) – good minerality, Charlie liked; I didn’t
Riesling 2014 Achleiten Smaragd (cellar price of 23 €) – more body, a nice wine that would stand up to food; buy
We also tasted the Marillen-Nektar, a non-alcoholic apricot nectar (cellar price of 7,40 €) – this was really good. Throughout our stay in the Wachau, a common aperitif was apricot nectar mixed with an Austrian sparkling wine, or with sparkling water, or with a grüner veltliner. Highly recommended!
Weingut Franz Hirtzberger in Spitz (http://www.hirtzberger.com/) – visit and tasting with Franz Hofbauer; a very nice visit and tasting. Like most all of the weinguts we visited, Franz Hirtzberger is a family run winery that have been winemakers for generations. The current family members are Franz Hirtzberger (I’m not sure what number) and his son, also a Franz. Franz Hofbauer is the third Franz working in the winery, and he is often described as the “non-family member Franz.” Wines tasted:
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Donaugarten Steinfelder (cellar price of 12 €) – this is their entry level grüner, easy drinking, refreshing; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Rotes Tor (cellar price of 16 €) – a little more body; per Franz (and others throughout our trip), 2014 was a difficult vintage especially with the enduring rains from the first of August through mid-September; per Franz, because of the rain, the grapes did not fully ripen, and as a result, this wine was chaptalized (sugar was added)
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Honivogl Smaragd (cellar price of 50 €) – more minerality, concentrated nose
Steinporz-Weissburgunder 2014 Smaragd (cellar price of 25 €) – weissburgunder is the pinot blanc grape, easy drinking
Steinporz-Weissburgunder 2011 Smaragd – very different than the 2014 in both smell and taste
Riesling 2014 Steinterrassen Federspiel (cellar price of 16 €) – this is their entry level riesling, crisp, nice
Riesling 2014 Hochrain Smaragd (cellar price of 34 €) – creamy, concentrated; per Franz, all of the 2014 Rieslings are “shy at the moment” and need some age
Riesling 2013 Hochrain Smaragd– softer, better than the 2014
Riesling 2002 Singerreidel Smaragd – more mineral than fruit, a long finish, a very nice wine; buy
Riesling 2009 Beerenauslese (cellar price of 43 €) – raisin, orange, a very nice sweet wine; buy
The youngest son of Franz (the older Franz) – Mathias – has started his own wine label (since his older brother, Franz (the younger Franz) will take over Weingut Franz Hirtzberger when the older Franz retires, which according to Franz Hofbauer, will be in the near term. So, if you followed all of that, we also tasted Mathias’ wines:
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Treu Federspeil (cellar price of 14 €) – just ok
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Kollmütz Smaragd (cellar price of 30 €) – just ok
Riesling 2014 Zier Federspiel (cellar price of 14 €) – the best of the three; according to Franz Hofbauer, Mathias’ style is leaner, more modern
Johann told us that his parents had originally started out as a heuriger (wine tavern), but with over 200 people drinking and eating each weekend day, and his mother doing all of the cooking, it became too much and they scaled back. With 1996 being his first vintage, Johann took over the winemaking and operations from his father, Johann (there is a definite trend in this region of naming the first born son after the father!), and he started taking the weingut to new heights, catching the eyes and tastes of the likes of Jancis Robinson. Johann said his break out years were 1999/2000. Now, he sells between 50,000-80,000 bottles per year, and there is a small B&B on the property that his mother runs. This was a very enjoyable visit and tasting. Wines tasted:
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Johann Federspiel (cellar price of 8,40 €) – fresh with good acidity
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Point Federspiel (cellar price of 10 €) – more body than the Johann, nice fruit on the nose, could stand up to food
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Spitzer Point Smaragd (cellar price of 24 €) – a creamy taste, good acidity, a nice wine; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Kirchweg Smaragd (cellar price of 21 €) – honey on the nose, then grassy
Riesling 2014 Bergterrassen Federspiel (cellar price of 11,40 €) – I thought this wine was dull and flat
Riesling 2013 Offenberg Smaragd (cellar price of 21,50 €) – floral on the nose, good acidity, a very nice wine; buy
Riesling 2014 Setzberg Smaragd (cellar price of 25,50 €) – floral nose, acidic, but after it warmed up, much better
Tegernseerhof in Unterloiben (http://www.tegernseerhof.at/) – owned by the Mittelbach family for five generations, and Martin Mittelbach is the current winemaker. Unfortunately (for us, not Martin!), Martin was vacationing in Umbria, so we did not get to meet him. So, our visit and tasting was with Eva Scharnagl. Eva manages the business side of Tegernseerhof, and she was a wonderful host for our tasting. As an interesting side note, Eva’s sister is a sommelier at Le Bernardin in New York. Eva generously gifted us a bottle of the 2014 Grüner Veltliner Loibenberg Smaragd when we left. A really enjoyable visit and tasting! Wines tasted:
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Durnsteiner Steinfeder (cellar price of 9 €) – crisp, refreshing, good acidity; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Kreutles (T-26) Federspiel – creamy with minerality, some saltiness
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Loibenberg Federspiel – good body, tannins and structure, a very nice wine; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2012 Höhereck Smaragd – lots of minerality
Riesling 2014 Terrassen Federspiel – floral nose, but bone dry, peaches, apricots; buy
Riesling 2013 Steiner Pfaffenberg – flinty mineral, peaches, opened up as it good warmer
Riesling2013 Steinertal Smaragd – flinty, smooth, a nice wine; buy
Riesling 2013 Loibenberg Smaragd – pineapple, spice, a very nice wine; buy; per Eva, 2013 was one of the best vintages in 20 years, but “buy and forget for 10 years”
Riesling 2013 Kellerberg Smaragd – full bodied, intense, peaches, apricots, spicy; buy
Weissenkirchner 2013 Zwerithaler Smaragd – a field blend of Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, almonds, floral; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2007 Loibenberg – this was a “late release” from the winery, having just been released in March 2015, grassy on the nose, more developed and nuanced, mellow; buy
Pinot Noir 2012 – cherries and pepper, a nice pinot
Blauer Zweigelt 2012 – deep purple, fruit driven, a really nice wine; buy
Weingut Rudi Pichler in Wösendorf (http://www.rudipichler.at/en/home/) – visit and tasting with Rudi and his daughter, Theresa. Rudi is an articulate and passionate winemaker, although he prefers the term “wine caretaker.” He emphasized that the “basis for our wines are our stones.” Charlie and I very much enjoyed the time we spent with Rudi and Theresa, and the wines we tasted were excellent.
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Federspiel – the most basic wine from this weingut, fresh, good acidity, spicy, good for every day drinking; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Kollmütz Smaragd – from 1000 year old terraces, these “terraces have a deep impact of minerality,” almost smoky
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Hochrain Smaragd – minerality, “wet stones”
Weissenkirchner 2014 Achleiten – “most delicate minerality”
Grüner Veltliner 2012 Kollmütz Smaragd – “positive tannins”
Grüner Veltliner 2008 Hochrain Smaragd – Rudi thought this was just now opening up, rich, good acidity, a very nice wine; buy
Weissburgunder 2014 Kollmütz Smaragd – pinot blanc made from old vines, good fruit and acidity, would pair well with food; buy
Riesling 2014 Kirchweg Smaragd – “charming,” elegant, good minerality, some lemon on the nose, a very nice wine; buy
Riesling 2014 Hochrain Smaragd – flinty, salty
Riesling 2014 Achleiten Smaragd – some lemon and orange, “again, charming”
Riesling 2009 Kirchweg Smaragd – from magnum, good mineral and fruit flavors, a very nice wine; buy
Riesling 2012 Hochrain Smaragd – from magnum, good minerality, a very nice wine; buy
Riesling 2011 Achleiten Smaragd – from magnum, “this is a mineral-pure Riesling,” a very nice wine; buy
Note that all of the wines were served in Zalto “Rudi Pichler” glasses (http://www.rudipichler.at/en/rudi-pichler/wine-glass/). Rudi designed these glasses for Zalto, and in addition to using these wine glasses to serve Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, Rudi thought they were great to use for Champagne. So, of course, we had to find them in a wine store in Spitz, and buy 6 of them!
Nikolaihof in Mautern (http://www.nikolaihof.at/en) – owned by the Saahs family, and Christine Saahs is the sister of Ilse Maier of Weingut Geyerhof. Nikolaihof has been practicing biodynamics since 1971, and became certified as biodynamic in 1998.
This visit started off strangely. I had arranged for a tour and tasting, followed by dinner at the Wine Tavern. However, when we arrived at the designated time, we were told the reservations were for dinner only, but that we could buy wines “by the glass” at half price for a tasting. The very nice waiter suggested Charlie and I each try four
different wines, so collectively 8 different wines. We did so, started tasting, and then ordered dinner consisting of a charcuterie plate and farm-fresh fried zucchini to accompany the wines. Of the 8 wines tasted, my favorite was the 2013 ElizabethTradition (a blend of Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and Weissburgunder), while Charlie’s favorite was the 2012 Steiner Hurd Riesling. During the meal, Mrs. Saahs came by and talked with us awhile about her wines and biodynamics. As it turned out, our visit to Nikolaihof was very nice.
Pichler-Krutzler in Oberloiben (http://www.pichler-krutzler.at/) – this weingut was started in 2006 by the husband and wife team of Elisabeth Pichler-Krutzler and Erich Krutzler. Elisabeth is the daughter of F.X. Pichler, and Erich is from a winemaking family in Burgenland (which is why a Blaufränkisch makes its way into their wine portfolio). Pichler-Krutzler doesn’t designate their wines as Seinfelder, Federspiel or Smaragd, because Erich believes the vineyard, or terroir, is more important than the alcohol level (which can fluctuate from year to year because of the weather). Our tasting was with Erich in their home’s backyard garden (the home is also the home of F.X. Pichler and his wife). This visit and tasting was one of Charlie’s and my favorites, and the Pichler-Krutzler wines were among the best we tasted.
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Klostersatz – easy drinking, refreshing, “not too fancy,” a very nice wine; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Supperin – from 50-80 year old vines, more minerality and body, spicy with some saltiness; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Kellerberg – the taste and aroma of wet stones, good body, complex; buy
Riesling 2014 Pfafffenberg – “one of the best sites for Riesling,” “very transparent, very distinguished,” refreshing, some citrus on the back palate, a very good wine; buy
Riesling 2014 In der Wand – yellow fruit, juicy good acidity; buy
Riesling 2013 Loibenberg – good acidity and ripeness, “juicy tasting Riesling,” buy
Riesling 2013 Kellerberg – a later harvest from this single vineyard, so a little more sweet, balanced, “much too young, in 10 years will be great;” buy
Grüner Veltliner 2012 Fab No.43 – named after the cask number, grapes from Kellerberg, unfliltered, oak on the nose, nice
Blaufränkisch 2012 Weinberg – from 30 year old vines in the Burgenland, “can age 10 to 15 years,” good tannins and structure; buy
Weingut Emmerich Knoll in Unterloiben (http://www.loibnerhof.at/weingut/) – Knoll wines are easily recognized by their distinct label that depicts an ornate image of St. Urban, the patron saint of wine growing. This label has been on the Knoll wines since 1962. A very nice visit and tasting with Emmerich III, the current winemaker.
We tasted several wines, but I didn’t write all of them down. I do have notes on the following wines:
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Ried Kreutles Federspiel – good acidity, juicy, young
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Ried Loibenberg Smaragd – good acidity; fresh, a very nice wine; buy
Loibner 2014 Traminer Auslese – a sweet wine with good acidity; buy
Now on to the Burgenland –
Esterházy in Trausdorf (http://esterhazy.at/en/wine/index.do) – this visit was a recommendation from Taste Hungary, and the visit and tasting (with food produced from the Esterházy farms) was very nice. Plus, they have two of the best labels I have ever seen (see them below)! Esterházy recently completed a large, modern winery (the most modern winery we saw during our stay), and its current production is over 500,000 bottles. We tasted several wines, the best of which were:
2013 Zweigelt (cellar price of 8 €) – a light red wine with cherries on the nose and palate, a very nice wine for the price; buy
2011 Tesoro (cellar price of 45 €) – this is the winery’s flagship wine, smooth, good tannins, a nice wine; buy
Kracher in Illmitz (http://www.kracher.at/en/) – Charlie and I had never tasted Kracher’s wines, but I had read a great deal about them. So, I asked Gábor with Taste Hungary to try to set up a tasting with Gerhard Kracher. Gábor was successful in setting up a really great visit and tasting. Gerhard is a personable and, from my impression, fun-loving guy. The tasting room had an almost party like atmosphere, and I think that was in large part because Gerhard was there pouring his wines. The tasting included bleu cheese with wine jellies, and “little, spicy sausages” that Gerhard said we had to try. They were great with the sweet wines!
Also, for those of you who are not familiar with Kracher wines, the trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) wines are numbered (e.g., No. 3, No. 7, No. 12). The higher the number, the sweeter the wine. Also, the TBA wines can be fermented and matured in either stainless steel (Zwischen den Seen) or new oak barrels (Nouvelle Vague). So, look at the top of the front labels for these words. Wines tasted:
Brut Rosé – an Austrian sekt (sparkling wine) made from chardonnay, pinot blanc and zweigelt, light pink, a good sipping sparkling wine made in the méthode champenoise
Cuveé Auslese 2012 – a blend of chardonnay and welschriesling, sweet with good acidity
Cuveé Beerenauslese 2012 – a blend of welschriesling and chardonnay, sweet, orange marmalade, papaya
Zweigelt Beerenauslese 2012 – a very nice wine, “nice for chocolate desserts;” buy
2012 Scheurebe No. 3 (Zwischen den Seen) – more fruity, sweet, but good acidity, a very nice wine; buy
2005 Traminer No. 3 (Nouvelle Vague) – caramel on the nose and palate, a wonderful wine; buy
2000 Scheurebe No. 5 (Zwischen den Seen) – a beautiful golden color, dried apricots; buy
2012 Welschriesling No. 7 (Zwischen den Seen) – more dried apricots; buy
2010 Auslese No. 11 – nearly 400 g/L of sugar, one of the thickest wines I have ever seen, but it had good acidity and was quite good; buy
Notable lodging and restaurants during our stay in Austria –
While in Vienna, we stayed at Hotel Sans Souci (http://www.sanssouci-wien.com/en/index.html). We stayed at the Hotel Richard Löwenherz in Dürnstein (http://www.richardloewenherz.at/en/) while in the Wachau. I would highly recommend both of these hotels.
While in Vienna, we ate dinner at Steirereck (https://www.steirereck.at/en/restaurant/). Charlie and I both selected the 7 course tasting menu with wine pairings (although we selected different items for some of the courses).
Steirereck is considered one of the top restaurants in the world, and while we enjoyed the meal, and the wine pairings were excellent, neither of us thought our dinner was outstanding. And, despite what the Michelin guide says, Steirereck is not air conditioned!
On the other hand, while we were in the Wachau, we did have one of the best dinners we have ever eaten in the world at Landhaus Bacher in Mautern (http://www.landhaus-bacher.at/home/). Charlie and I both had the 6 course tasting menu with wine pairings, and the meal was outstanding!
We also had some nice lunches while in the Wachau. The best lunch (a great duck dish) was at Loibnerhof in Unterloiben (http://www.loibnerhof.at/). This restaurant is owned by the Knoll family, and serves a wide selection of (only) Knoll wines. We also had a very nice lunch at Hofmeisterei in Wösendorf. This restaurant is affiliated with Weingut Franz Hirtzberger, so it serves a wide selection of (only) Franz Hirtzberger wines. Finally, we had a nice lunch at Restaurant Jamek in Joching (http://www.weingut-jamek.at/restaurant.php?id=13). This restaurant is owned by Weingut Jamek, and we had a really nice bottle of their 2007 Zweigelt (the JJJ 90).
We rented our car in Vienna from Sixt, a German car rental agency. We were originally going to take the high-speed train from Vienna to Budapest and back. But, we changed our plans after reading the Taste Hungary web site, and our choice proved to be a good one. Not only because the drive with Virág and Tibor (guide and driver from Taste Hungary) was most enjoyable, but also because of the problems at the Budapest train station during our stay.
You should be aware that there is a speed trap outside of Wösendorf (on the Dürnstein side). We had never encountered a true speed trap in Europe before this trip, but this was about an obvious of a trap as you will ever see. So, don’t exceed 50 km/h in this area!
Heurigers (wine taverns) are plentiful in the Wachau. If you see a straw wreath (or what looked to us like a straw ship’s wheel), it means the heuriger is open.
I have seen several American web sites that state that “Wachau” is pronounced VOC aw. However, throughout our stay, the emphasis was on the second syllable, or va COW. Similarly, I always pronounced Grüner Veltliner as GREW ner VELT lee ner. However, when I said this grape/wine for the first time to an Austrian, she didn’t know what I was saying. Say [GREW ner] va LEEN ah, or vet LEEN er (but always with the emphasis on the second syllable).
While you are in Austria, try an Almdudler, a non-alcoholic drink that is really good and refreshing (especially on those hot days in Vienna)!
To continue reading about Charlie’s and my trip, and it’s conclusion in Hungary, click here