Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Esterházy Winery and the Burgenland (Austria) Wine Region

In yesterday's post, I established the historical basis for the prominence of the Esterházy name at the Austro-Hungarian tasting put on by the International Masters of Wine in London on October 12, 2010.  In today's post I will examine the Esterházy wine fundamentals as well as their wines that were exhibited at the tasting.

The Esterházy vineyards extend over 65 hectares, 48 of which are located in Austria between Eisenstadt and Lake Neusiedl, while the remaining 17 hectares are located across the border in Sopron, Hungary.  The vineyards are planted 35% to white varietals (Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Welschreisling) and 65% red (Blaufränkisch, Pinot Noir, Zweigelt, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon).  All of the vineyards on the Austrian side of the border are located in the Neusiedlersee-Hügelland/Leithaberg DAC sub-region of the Burgenland wine-growing region.

The Burgenland region encompasses 14,500 hectares (48,000 acres) and is further sub-divided into four sub-regions: Neusiedlersee (7,700 hectares), Neusiedlersee-Hügelland/Leithaberg DAC (3,650 hectares), Mittelburgenland DAC (2,100 hectares), and Eisenberg DAC/Sudbergenland (500 hectares).  Climatic conditions in Burgenland are unique in Austria and has made the area famous for its red and botrytized sweet wines.  The region averages almost 2000 hours of sunlight per year and this, coupled with the warm winds from the Pannonian Plains during the growing season, provides excellent conditions for varietals such as Blaufränkisch, Zwiegelt, St. Laurent, and Pinot Noir.  The humidity associated with Lake Neusiedel provides the right conditions for botrytized sweet dessert wines from Welschriesling, Chardonnay, and Scheurebe.

Within the Burgenland region, Neusiedlersee-Hügelland can be further sub-divided into three wine-growing zones, two of which are most important for our purposes.  In the north, vineyards are planted on the south-facing slopes of the foothills of the Leithagebirge.  The soil here is limestone with islands of granite and the dry wines from this area register a distinct minerality.  Wines (i) produced within a defined legal zone and (ii) made from Weisburgunder, Chardonnay, Neuberger, Grüner Veltliner, or cuvees of same (whites) or >85% Blaufränkisch (reds) can be marketed under the Leithaberg DAC.  Wines not conforming to the foregoing are marketed under the Burgenland designation.

The area around Rust, a town situated just west of Lake Neusiedl, is well known for its botrytized  Ruster Ausbruch.  The lake acts both as a temperature regulator and a warmth and humidity engine thus providing the conditions necessary for the generation of noble rot.

Prior to 2006, Esterházy wines were still vinified in the basement of the Schloss Esterházy in Eisenstadt. This situation changed in 2006 when the winery invested €6 million in a new, state-of-the-art winery at Trausdorff, which lies southeast of Eisenstadt.  The winery is equipped with such modern conveniences as sorting tables, cold maceration facilities, gravity flow mechanisms and stainless steel or oak fermentation capability depending on the wine style.

The first Esterházy wine at the Austro-Hungarian tasting was the Burgenland Blaufränkisch Föllig 2008.  The grapes for this wine were grown on heavy and deep soils in the Föllig vineyard which is planted with vines averaging 22 years of age.  The grapes were handpicked and fermented in 5,500-liter wooden fermenters, macerated for 18 days, and then aged in 100% new small oak barrels for 14 months before bottling.  The wines are 100% Blaufränkisch, reflecting an industry movement away from Blaufränkisch cuvees.  This was a medium-bodied, young wine with good acidity and medium-high tannins.  Both black and red fruits are very evident on the nose.

The second Esterházy wine was a Burgenland Welschriesling Trockenbeerenauslese "Kulm" 2004.  The Kulm vineyard is located near Lake Neusiedl in Rust, a great location for the development of noble rot.  The grapes are harvested and then gently pressed.  They are fermented in oak barrels using natural yeasts and stored for three months before bottling.  The wine is 100% Welschriesling.  It has 10.5% alcohol by volume and 257.2g/l of residual sugar.  It was very rich on the palate and exhibited quince, pears and exotic fruits on the nose.

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