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Austria

I crossed off a lot of To-Do’s this week, but it was truly exhausting. Friday nights after such weeks are really best spent doing nothing. When as tired as I was this Friday, I prefer dwelling on some singular, perfect sensation. I find that sparkling wine usually fits this bill. However, how many Cavas and how many Proseccos can one man handle? How many Fridays can be spent with the same bubbly? How… ok wait, how the hell is this even a realistic scenario I’m trying to use as a segue? Let’s face it, I don’t drink sparkling wine all that often. But if I was constantly bombarded with Cava, I’m sure it would grow dull. Somehow.

So, when I go looking for something new in bubbly, something completely different and fringe, but delicious, I turn to a country far from the top of my list for that sort of thing. I look to… Austria. Yes, the Republic of Austria. Formerly the Roman province known as Noricum. Home to towering Alps, boasting a population just over 8 million, adorned with the jewel city of Vienna, and the birth place of a shit ton of composers:  Joseph Haydn, Michael Haydn, Schubert, Bruckner, Johann Strauss Sr. and Jr., Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg. Oh, and Mozart.

Austria has two other things I care a great deal about: ridiculously rich cuisine and world-class white wines. To the inquisitive wine aficionado, Austria can provide a unique take on sparkling wine made from the country’s premiere white grape: Grüner Veltliner. Quick aside: Grüner Veltliner has the coolest texture of any white wine except possibly Roussanne: almost creamy, but also occasionally waxy in a good way. The wines have spice, great acidity, and wonderful pear and citrus fruit commanding close attention from the lucky taster. What happens when you produce bubbly from such a sassy green grape?

In this case, you get this bottling by Punkt Genau, a non-vintage (NV) sparkling Grüner Veltliner made in the Weinviertel region of Austria. It is not especially elegant, and it is definitely not complex or mind-blowing. What this wine does is make you grin like a fool. It has phenomenal fruit, rich and opulent. It just tastes like frothy hibiscus foam drizzled down the sides of a fresh-cut Granny Smith apple. Of course, there’s a bead and decent mousse when the wine is poured into a glass. Refreshing and bright, Punkt Genau finishes clean and pure, washing a whole week’s stress away with a sip. $16. Pair this with Saint Andre or another rich creamy cheese if you need to pair it with anything at all.

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Yesterday I went to Jones Beach with some of my most loved friends, and did the right thing. I brought a bottle of chilled white wine. Now, what makes a wine compatible with the beach? It needs snappy acidity, for one; all that brine in the air will overwhelm a wine lacking bite of its own. Defined fruit aromas and flavors are also critical. I am not looking for a supremely well-integrated wine, not with all those ocean scents in the air: salt tang, smoke, motor oil, suntan lotion, hot human – complex wine is wasted in such context.  Better to have something eminently drinkable, something you can share with friends and enjoy without breaking a sweat – not over the wine, at least.

Many wines fit this bill just fine: Albariño, Ugni Blanc, “bare” Chardonnays that have seen no oak, Vinho Verde… but only one has really held my attention this summer of 2011: Grüner Veltliner. The star grape of Austria, Grüner Veltliner produces wines that have a really interesting full texture paired with bright acidity, citrus or pear-driven fruit, and notes of spice. Quenching, ubiquitous, and cheap: the recipe for a good hot weather beverage. Perfect for the sun and sand.

This bottling, the 2009 Franz Etz Grüner, reflects the growing season that year; 2009 was  warmer in Austria, resulting in fuller-bodied wines with more round fruit notes. A nice pale green-yellow in the glass, good clarity, with aromas of lemon zest, dandelion, white pepper, and petrichor – the scent of rain on stone. An exceptional mineral component, which carries through the lush yet focused mid-palate, showing more citrus fruit. Crazy texture, like buttered linen. Bright acidity is well-balanced, and every component just shouts “Drink me! DRINK ME!” Finishes nicely, too. Friends, this is a 1L bottle you can get for $13. Act now.

What’s better than a normal bottle of wine? Yep, a big bottle of wine. Today’s brief review brings us an Austrian red that brings 1 liter of delicious to the table. And like the wine itself, this post is low on depth but extremely dense in fun. Biodynamically made by Gerhard Pittnauer in the Burgenland region of Austria, this wine is a blend of the grape varietals Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, and St. Laurent.

Austrian reds tend to be lighter in style, and this is no exception. Very fruity, but dry, not sweet. Brick red in the glass. Nice dark fruit too, like plum and juicy cherry, with a good earthy note and a distinct umami that complements the fruit, like a slab of smoked bacon, but then this dissipates fast into subtle mineral. On the whole, the 2009 Burgenländer Rot is a light-bodied wine, nothing to take too seriously, but it offers some taut acidity to stay bright, and finishes well enough.

Don’t decant this; I think it gains more from being poured straight into the glass. Pair with pork chops, mashed potatoes steamed vegetables to highlight this wine. $13 for the whole liter. Once again, that’s 1L. Go for it.