Leithaberg Wines Austria at its best

Leithaberg meant absolutely nothing to me a few months ago. No idea what/where/who it was. Never heard of it.

That was until an email invitation dropped into my inbox courtesy of Dillon Morall PR. Thanks Victoria and Allison!

Here’s what I learned…

Leithaberg is one of Austria’s eight DAC’s (Districtus Austriae Controllatus) basically the equivalent to France’s AOC status.  It’s located in the east of the country getting its name from the “Leithagebirge” or the Laitha mountains that separate Burgenland and Lower Austria.  The soils are considered quite unique (mix of gneiss, mica-slate, shell/limestone, marl and crystalline), and the winemakers feel that it gives their wines that certain je ne sais what.

Austria is famed for their native Grüner Veltliner; a white grape that in the right hands can produce wines of complexity, purity and power that rival the very best Chardonnays and Rieslings. They age well to boot.

To bear the name Leithaberg on the label, the whites (most are bottled as single varietals) must be made from the aforementioned Grüner, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay or Neuberger. Red can only be made from Blaufränkish and must be aged in oak barrels.

Despite the renown of “GV” only one of the Weingut’s (Wine Estate) had one to show, with the rest preferring Chardonnay or Pinot Blanc. Vineyards are quite diverse with other varietals such as: Welschriesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Zweigelt (a spicy red of Austrian extraction), St Laurent, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah.

I recognised the wacky labels of one producer from a visit to Linz last year, but the rest were brand new to me.

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 11.46.33Probably my favorite wines were from Wagentristl, run by the family of the same name since 1888, in the minute village of Grosshöflein. Fifth-generation winemaker Rudi Wagentristl runs every aspect of their ecological 12ha vineyard pretty much by himself. No small feat.

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 11.49.26They had six wines on show all which showed tremendous balance, purity, character and shone with happiness.

Their Leithaberg Chardonnay ’13 had all the hallmarks of good southern white Burgundy; rounded tropical fruit, touch saline, fleshy fresh and clean. Entry level Blaufränkisch ’12 was very generous, fleshy dark fruit, with a spicy finish. Blau Leithaberg ’12 was more of the same but was more muscular, concentrated and flecked with graphite.

Loved Föllikberg ’12; a blend of Blau and Zweigelt. Inky ripe, luscious dark berry, rounded, full with sparks of woody spice. Dyno-Mite!

Was even more impressed with Pinot Noir Kreideberg ’12. If I had tasted it blind I would have said it was Cotes de Nuits or even a Volnay. Beautiful red fruit nose tinged with game. The palate; fresh mineral, grippy tannins, seductive spice with a sublime long and complex finish. A real show stopper.

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 11.48.45They have the right conditions in Leithaberg to produce botrytis or noble rot dessert wines and Wagentristl Trockenbeerenauslese ’13 was a beauty. Piercing pineapple, creamy stone fruit, supremely balanced sugars with a complex feel and texture.

Rudi was a lovely guy as well which makes me all the more sad that they did not have an importer here in the UK.  Hope someone snaps them up!

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 11.47.47The very memorably labelled Weingut Esterházy produce a very solid range. I was particularly fond of Estoras Grüner Veltliner ’12; an exploding melon and lime firecracker of a wine and available here for £11.95. Leithaberg DAC Blaufränkisch ’11 was an iron-rich, sanguine meaty beast.

They have Bourgogne nailed with a flinty buttery smoky Leithaberg DAC Chardonnay ’12 and Pinot Noir Classic ’12 complete with ripe sour cherry and liquorice.

Leithaberg by this tasting is not a region that can produce sub £10 bottles, so Weingut Nehrer should be applauded for a few potentially good value wines. Their Blaufränkisch ’13 was like a Rubenesque showgirl; full of warm plum, cigar, winter spice, fleshy, forward and fun. Leithaberg Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc) ’12; approachable, easy drinking with gentle golden fruit and creamy apple. Rounding out the trio was Leithaberg rot Blaufränkisch ’11. Plummy, inky, yet super fresh and underpinned by that complex mineral cocktail of slate, limestone and co that I had come to expect of Leithaberg “Blau”. At the time of writing Nehrer like Wagentristl, are seeking a UK Importer. Hope they find one.

Anita and Hans Nittnaus is worth a mention for Heideboden Pinot Blanc ’13; good value, bright lemony, rich melon, pure and clean. As well as an intense, focused marmalade beauty of a 60% Chardonnay/40% Pinot Blanc Trockenbeerenauslese 2006 (available @ Lea & Sandeman £19.95).

Now I am pretty sure that I have never highlighted what was served for lunch at a tasting of this sort. So this is a first. But so astonishing delicious and diverse was the spread from head chef Will Robertson that I must mention it. The fact that Will had spent some time living and working in Austria shone through in most certainly the best food I have ever had at a tasting.

I am drooling as I type the following: Slow roast duck with pickled cabbage on rye, pork schnitzel mustard and pickles, potato dumplings, herring with soft boiled egg on pumpernickel, smoked trout and cucumber cream on a buckwheat pancake and finally speck noodle dumpling and sauerkraut. Bravo Will, Vinoteca Soho is lucky to have you. Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 11.47.56Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 11.48.08

The only downside to this being a tasting and not a lunch per say meant that my professionalism kept me from just grabbing a few bottles and plonking myself down at the table. Oh, to have spent the rest of that grey and rainy afternoon gobbling up even more of those heavenly little morsels washed down with numerous glasses of those sublime wines.

It really was a fabulous tasting. Not only did I learn about a new region whose wines are so deserving of a wider audience but I was treated to a smorgasbord of Oesterreich delicacies. For that reason, it will go down as my most memorable tasting of 2014.

If Will ever does an Austrian dinner sign up right away and put my name down too!

Winetraders 20/20 Tasting

Now I attend my share of tastings throughout the year, some more interesting than others. Last Fall I attended 20/20, an all Italian affair hosted by specialist importer Winetraders, with the head honcho and fellow Canuck Michael Palij MW showcasing twenty wineries all working on less than 20 hectares of land. A very intriguing set up and some equally exciting wines.

First to pique my interest were two wines from the tiny 5 hectares of Azienda Agricola Adalia. Located outside Verona, their Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore DOC 2011 smelt invitingly of wet game, liquorice & truffle. On the palate that promised gaminess was there, nicely textured, fine fruit and balanced tannins. Giving AAA’s Amarone della Valpolicella DOC 2009 a good sniff, I got fragrant ripe forest fruit and fudge. In the mouth it was spicy smoky charcoal, sensual yet muscular, with great texture and body.

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 10.30.11My Dad’s favorite number is eleven, and it proved lucky indeed as #11 on the tasting sheet was Lambrusco “Fontana dei Boschi” IGT 2010 made by the eccentric and mysterious Vittorio Graziano at his minute property south of Modena in Emilia Romagna. My nostrils are grabbed, and my brain is instantly engaged with it’s very pleasant earthy funky wild sour fruit aromas. Sip. Bam! Socked in the mouth with zip zing mature red fruit, subtle popping spritz and perfectly grained tannins. This grown up wine sang to me truthfully of it’s terroirs and the loving care with which it is produced. Somehow, in a tumbledown cellar, doing everything by hand, Vittorio managed to take a terribly unfashionable grape variety and transform it into my stand out wine of 2013. I loved it!

Numero 13 is considered a bad omen by some, but superstitions were cast aside with a tremendous Lugana Superiore DOC 2010. Aromas of rich honeyed fruit & hints of butter were followed faithfully with smoky, lush buttery floral fruit on the palate. Winemaker Nunzio Ghiraldi tends his Trebbiano di Lugana grapes with great care, to produce a luxurious, fine white wine with an achingly long and dare I say scrummy finish. IMG_3292

Another white of note, Roero Arneis ‘Camestri’ DOCG 2012 is made from the not terribly well known native Italian grape Arneiswhich loves the hills of Roero in Piedmont (north-west Italy). Produced by Azienda Agricola Marco Porello it draws you in with subtle but fragrant wet stone and lime leaves. Really enjoyed it’s vibrant flavours of passionfruit, grey slate and the long clean lime finish.

I have become a recent convert to good Dolcetto and Mascarello ‘Bricco’ DOC 2011 is most certainly of the aforementioned ilk. The Mascarello family have been making wine in Lange (Piedmont) since 1881 and their Dolcetto D’Alba (Alba refers to the specific area that the Dolcetto comes from) gives off a beautiful bright berry perfume with hints of candy liquorice cigar. Sipping it, first to arrive is gummy bears, followed by juicy bright happy berry fruit. It’s tannins are supple and is an interesting wine indeed.

Barolo, the “grande vino” of Piedmont made from the Nebbiolo grape is an obsession for many. But it can be notoriously complex and difficult to wrap your taste buds around. It often lacks obvious fruit character and its tannins can leave even a seasoned wino like myself gasping for a glass of water. Not the case with Azienda Agricola Bovio’s brilliantly named ‘Rocchettevino’ DOCG 2008. To my nose wild sour meaty fruit beckoned me to taste. Tea tannins, happy acidity merged with ripe aged fruit and a lovely piece of Christmas cake. I liked it very much.

Before moving onto the sweet wines, I scoffed a few delicious bites to keep my energy up. Twas no surprise that said nibbles were of a very high standard, as the tasting was held at Vinoteca Soho, which one of four excellent wine bars/restaurants/shops dotted around London.

IMG_3290Things got off to a groovy start at the pudding wine table with a jazzy, fizzy little number by the name of ‘Birbet’ Vino da Tavola 2012 from our pal Marco Porello, who is obviously a very talented winemaker. Made from Piedmont’s secret weapon Brachetto, this gently sparkling red, with notes of: pink grapefruit candy on the nose, is unctuous, effervescent, berry gummy (forgive me) yummy and supremely drinkable. Coming in at a very civilised 5% AVB it’s no wonder I fell for it.

The next wine was from Liguria, a lovely coastal province just over the border from France and where some years ago was the backdrop to a memorable holiday romance. Giulaini & Pasini’s ‘Cinque Terre Sciacchetrá’ DOC 2008 left me breathless with aromas of apricot, creme caramel and toasted almonds. On the palate I was seduced by voluptuous peach, firm jasmine tea, melting caramel and a rich sensual finish that lingered so long I lost track of time. Using Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino varieties Cinque Terre Sciacchetrá (Cinque Terre refers to the dramatic coastline where the wines come from) is produced in the Passito method, sometimes referred to as Straw Wine, where ripe grapes are left to dry on ventilated racks, thus intensifying their sweetness. This particular amber goddess left me swooning, starry eyed, taking me back  to that small town of Riva Ligure, lo those many moons ago. Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 10.34.56

Despite my lightheaded state I soldiered on and am glad I did because next was the fabulously delicious Azienda Agricola Ferrandes Passito di Pantelleria DOC 2006. Pantelleria (which does sound like a great place to buy Italian undergarments) is a tiny island south of Sicily and is renowned for it’s sweet wines. Winemaker Salvatore and his wife, Dominica produce their superb Passito on just two hectares of land from Muscat of Alexandria but is known locally as Zibibbo (a great name for a 6th Marx brother if you asked me). Lifting it to my stout I’m a bit taken aback, what’s that on the nose? Well I’ll be… it’s inviting warm gingerbread and baked peach, then tasting it, my mouth is coated in luxurious caramel and intense apricot. The finish is long and fine. Bravo!

Goodness, I really enjoyed that. What a treat it was to sample wines made in such small quantities with real dedication, passion and creativity.

The wines are available through various UK merchants, so do drop Winetraders a message for further info.

A special thanks to Emanuele at R&R Teamwork for inviting me along.