Sunday, January 30, 2011

Kékfrankos versus Blaufränkisch at the Austro-Hungarian Tasting

The Second Flight at the Austro-Hungarian wine tasting was titled Hungarian Kékfrankos and Austrian Blaufränkisch and was designed to illustrate the "differences in terroir, climate and vinification" inherent in the offered wines.  Blaufränkisch and Kékfrankos are the respective names given to the same grape variety in Austria and Hungary, respectively (The same varietal is called Lemberger in Germany).

The wines tasted in this flight were: Heiman Estate - Baranya-völgyi Kékfrankos 2007; Gábor Karner Vitéxföld Kékfrankos 2007, Mátra; Ráspi Esatet - Gneis Kékfrankos 2007; Imre Kaló - Kékfrankos 2002; Weingut Krutzler Blaufränkisch Perwolff 2008, Südburgenland; Weingut Albert Gesselmann Blaufrnkisch Hochberc 2007, Mittelburgenland; Weingut Esterhazy Blaufränkisch Föllig 2008, Burgenland; Weingut Prieler Blaufränkisch Goldberg 1999, Burgenland.

Both Hungary and Austria have continental climates (hot summers, cold winters) and both have areas of the country where this climate is moderated by proximity to Lake Neusiedl.  The wines, with the exception of the 2008 Weingut Kutzler (95% Blaufränkisch, 5% Caberrnet Sauvignon), were all 100% varietal and all were made from grapes sourced from single-vineyard sites.  The Hungarian wines were from older vines (average age 47.5 years) than were the Austrian wines (average age 17 years).  While the soils in both sets of vineyards appear to have substantive limestone content, the soil in the Hungarian vineyards appear to have a high clay content while the Austrian soil seems to have more rock.

Hand picking of grapes was practiced at all of the wineries but there were clear differences in the fermentation and maturation processes both within and between countries.  No specific trends could be pinpointed for fermentation with the process occurring variously in concrete tanks, open vats, closed vats, and temperature-controlled, stainless steel tanks among others.  As regards maturation, the Hungarian wineries utilized Hungarian oak casks of varying sizes while two of the Austrian wineries used small oak barrels and a third split the juice between large oak casks and steel vats.  The wines were aged longer in Hungary (an average of 36 months) than in Austria (an average of 15 months).

2007 was a hot, dry year and the Hungarian grapes ripened fully, as can be seen by the average 14% abv and dark fruit aromas and flavors in the wine.  The Austrian Weingut Albert Gesellman was also from the 2007 vintage and also registered alcohol levels of 14%.   2008 was a late-ripening vintage and, combined with younger vines, resulted in slightly higher acidity in the Austrian wines from that vintage. The presence of oak was more evident in the Esterhazy and Prieler wines from Austria than in any of the other wines.  Those two wines were aged in small oak barrels (100% new in the Esterhazy case) while the others were aged in large oak casks. The relative performance of both the aged Blaufränkisch and Kékfrankos wines attest to the ageability of wines made from this varietal.

This flight was designed to highlight the effect of differences in climate, terroir, and vinification on the same varietal as produced in the two countries.  As far as I know, the climate is broadly similar in Hungary and Austria and, as such, would not be a major differentiating factor.  As a matter of fact, 2007 was a hot year and that fact is reflected in the complete ripening of the varietal in both countries and alcohol levels of 14% in the finished wine. There were no consistently different vinification practices between the estates from the two countries. In the aging of the wines, two of the Austrian producers stand out as using small oak barrels for maturation and aging and those wines do reflect a more tightly wound access to oak.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Austro-Hungarian Tasting and the Wines of Wachau

At the recent Austro-Hungarian wine tasting, held in London at the residence of the Austrian Ambassador, three wines from the Austrian specific wine growing area of Wachau were featured: Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Weissenkirchen 2009; Weingut Knoll Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Loibenberg 2007; and Domäne Wachau Riesling Smaragd Singerriedl 2002.  In this post I will examine both the region and the wines presented at the tasting.

The Wachau specific wine growing area falls within the broader wine growing area of Niederösterreich (Lower Austria) and, at 1350 hectares, is the third smallest of the eight specific wine growing areas that comprise this region.  Wachau is a narrow valley which runs along the Danube River for 20.5 miles from Krems in the north to Melk in the South.  The spectacular views of its steep hillside terraces running away from the banks of the river have earned it designation as a World Heritage site.

The Wachau climate is continental (hot, dry summers and cold winters), moderated somewhat by the Danube, warm Pannonian winds from the east, and cool winds from the Weinviertel (an area located in the northeast of Lower Austria).  The climatic conditions result in a diurnal shift which aids ripening during the daytime hours while allowing for acidity- and flavor-retention during the cooler nighttime hours.

The characteristic Wachau vineyard sits on one of the steep terraced slopes which line the Danube as it wends its way through the valley.  The soil on the slopes are loess (an Aeolian sediment formed by the accumulation of wind-blown silt and sand and clay that are loosely cemented by calcium carbonate) and gneiss (a banded metamorphic rock with the same composition as granite) while the flatlands are comprised of sand, gravel, and loess.

The primary grape varieties in the region are Riesling and Grüner Veltliner.  While the remainder of Austria hews to a German-like quality wine classification scheme, Wachau retains its traditional scheme which is based on grape ripeness and alcohol levels: Steinfelder -- 11% abv (consumed locally); Federspiel -- 11-12.5% abv (exported); and Smaragd -- 12.5% abv (made from the ripest, highest quality grapes).

Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Weissenkircher 2009

According to information provided at the tasting, Domäne Wachau is the largest cooperative in the valley with its 600 members farming slightly less than 500 of the region's 1300 hectares.  The focus in the cooperative is on quality with members being paid against that benchmark rather than on quantity.  The wine presented at the tasting was 100% Grüner Veltliner sourced from a number of villages in the Weissenkirchen parish.  Weissenkirchen wines are generally deep in structure and exhibit both marked minerality and exceptional balance.  This wine has a floral note to accompany its fresh crispness and medium plus acidity.  It is 12.5% abv and has 2.3g/l of residual sugar.

Weingut Knoll Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Loibenberg 2007

The Knoll estate is located in the village of Unterloiben but its vineyards are spread over a number of famous sites to include Loibenberg, the source of the grapes for this wine.  The grapes for this wine were picked later than were the grapes for the preceding wine and that fact is reflected in its designation (Smaragd) and alcohol level (13.5%). Residual sugar is 2.5 g/l.  This wine exhibited a floral note, vegetality, crisp acidity, and a metallic minerality.  This wine will age well.

Domäne Wachau Riesling Smaragd 2002

This was the second of two Domäne Wachau offerings at the tasting.  The grapes for this wine were sourced from Singerriedel, a sheltered vineyard east of the town of Spitz.  The wines from this vineyard are usually concentrated due to the enhanced ripening afforded by heat retained by the rocky terraces.  This wine had 13% abv and 2.1 g/l of residual sugar.  On the nose it had notes of petrol and tropical fruits.  It was very dry on the palate in relation to the promise of the nose.  Medium plus acidity and minerality.  Long, green finish.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mastering the Medoc and Graves: Tasting the White Wines

A total of 10 wines were tasted at the Steven Spurrier Mastering the Medoc and Graves course which was held at Decanter HQ on October 8th, 2010.  I covered the tasting of the reds in a prior post and will cover the whites in this one.  The whites tasted at the course were Vieux Chateau Gaubert, Graves 2008 and Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blnc, Graves 2007

Vieux Chateau Gaubert is a 6-hectrare estate with a dry, pebbly topsoil layered on a clay-gravel subsoil.  The wine is an equal blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon which was fermented in 225 liter oak casks and then aged on its lees with batonnage for 9 months.  According to Steven Spurrier, the tartness of the Sauvignon Blanc coupled wih the roundness of the Semilon generally results in a well-balanced wine.  The wine was lemony-yellow in color and showd medium legs.  The nose was very attractive with lemon-lime citrus and white fruit aromas.  The wine was very crisp on the palate with a metallic minerality and flavors of lemon, lime, and gooseberry.  According to Stephen, this wine could be drunk now or cellared for 3 to 4 years and would pair well with oysters, fish, chicken, or cheese.

The 2007 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc is a blend of 90% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Sauvignon Gris and 5% Semillon sourced from  38-year-old vines and fermented in barriques.  2007 was a good vintage for Bordeaux whites, not so much for reds.  This wine had a rich, lemon-yellow color and richer legs than did the Gaubrt.  On the nose aromas of yellow fruits along with a richness and spiciness.  On the palate a masive richness, hint of sweetness, acidity, a stony mineraity and a pleasant weightiness.

All in all the course and tasting was a great experience: it allowed to me the opportunity to meet and break bread with Steven Spurrier and to take advantage of his expertise in a learning environment; it provided a basis for a deeper exploration into the Medoc and Graves; and it led to what one should expect to cover in a course with the word "Mastering" in the title.