Gregory Alonzo: “Waltzing with Austrian Wines”

The sheer elegance of Vienna’s Restaurant Imperial is awe inspiring. Peering around my opulent surroundings, I half anticipated a full orchestra playing a variety of popular waltzes. After all, Vienna is acclaimed as the “city of music.”

Today I am once again joined by my friends and fellow sommeliers, Annelle Koller and Clara Haas. Our last tasting we explored the Champagnes of James Bond. Today we will be sampling some of Austria’s renown and most delectable wines.

“Ladies, what surprises do you have in store for us today,” I asked with anticipation.

We have three lovely wines from our indigenous grapes to share with our readers,” Annelle’s tone was almost whimsical.
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The average wine consumer is most likely not aware that Austria produces brilliant, world class dry white wines. They are often made from Riesling and the hardy Gruner Veltliner grape which dominates the country’s viticultural regions.The wines produced have a reputation of being food-friendly and intended to be drunk young. Another reason that the average consumer may not yet be aware of Austrian wines is the country simply does not produce that much. Rest assured that Austria’s viticultural history dates back some 4,000 years.

Our first selection was a Geyerhof Gaisberg 1ste Lage 2010.

This wine is produced by the Geyerhof Winery of the Kremstal region. This area, south of the Danube, is one of Austria’s lesser known yet lush viticultural regions. This is definitely not your typical Gruner Vetliner. Although it is a dry wine, its richness gives it a pleasant sensation. Master wine maker, Ilse Maier has brought to life a delightful wine filled with white spices, honey, and fruit flavors. An overall intense wine at 13.5% alcohol.

“Mmm, I agree,” Clara said as she smacked her lips. “I especially like the crisp finish.
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“Very nice pineapple and ripe apricot fruit,” Annelle’s expression softened into a smile. “Nicely balanced.”

“A very poised wine indeed,” Clara was quick to add. “The way this wine is laced with minerals, I would pair our Gruner Veltliner with most white fish and pastas with white sauce.”

“Gregory,” Annelle called for my attention. You know Ilse Meir, yes?”

“We’ve met and I’ve visited the winery, but I do not know her as well either you or Clara. Perhaps my next trip we can travel to Kremstal and visit some of the local wineries.”

“I’d also like that very much,” Annelle gave me a reassuring smile. I know your proclivity for organic wines, so it would be well worth the trip,” Annelle said flatly.

Our next group of wines were equally as interesting and impressive. Two very popular Ice Wines, “Eiswein” in German. Ice Wine is a type of dessert wine.
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What makes Ice Wine unique, the wine has been produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. Since the sugars do not freeze, this allows for a more concerted and delightfully sweet wine. It is important to note that unlike Sauternes and Tokaji, Ice Wine grapes should not be affected by “Botrytis cinerea” the “noble rot.”

“Gregory,” Clara beckoned for my attention. “I have selected an excellent Eiswein to be tasted next. A Rosenhof Orion 2009. It is also of the Gruner Veltliner variety.”

This wine hails from Illmitz, Austria’s sweet wine paradise. It is crafted from grapes of the Burgenland, one of Rosenhof’s premier appellations. What is interesting about this wine is that the grapes have been picked at night. That is correct, under the stars, hence the name “Orion.”

“I like that our Orion features exceptionally complex fruit flavors,” Clara said with delight.

“This wine also pairs nicely with an assortment of cheeses,” Annelle smiled as she nibbled daintily at piece of Gouda cheese.

“Let’s not forget nuts,” I laughed heartily as I scooped up a good portion of macadamia nuts. “They bring out the wine’s apricot flavors.”

Our next wine was a Rosenhof Blaufrankisch Eiswein 2005.

This is a very special wine and an absolute rarity. The flavors of this rose wine made from Blaufrankisch grapes, is on the exotic side. Our 2005 had an intense fragrance and a flavor that awakens the senses.

“I also feel that the high level of acidity refreshes the palate and stimulates the appetite,” Clara paused to collect her thoughts as she swilled her wine. “If you serve it with toasted salty nuts, anchovies or black olives, the wine’s fruit flavors are enhanced by the salt.”

“I agree,” Annelle’s eyes crinkled into a smile. “I should think that an antipasto plate would go nicely.”

“Or even cold soup,” I said with a grin.

“Cold soup?” Both Clara and Annelle erupted euphorically.

“Since when do Americans eat cold soup,” Annelle struggled to contain herself.

“We don’t,” I struggled to keep my composure. “And you Europeans say we Americans do not understand irony.”

Austria is rapidly becoming a popular wine country and one of my favorites. Gruner Veltliner is gaining more of the attention it deserves. I love the fact that it produces expressive white wines which often have a distinct peppery character along with a subtle hint of honey and fruit.
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Wines that are food friendly and a capacity to age. As for the Ice Wines, very versatile. These wines can be served as an aperitif, during the main course, and as a dessert wine.

“Gregory,” Are you up for a new experience?” Annelle said with a wink.

“Surprise me,” I replied with anticipation.

“Heuriger,” Annelle playfully replied.

Sensing my bewilderment, Clara explained. “Heuriger is a tavern where wine-growers serve the most recent year’s wine and we are allowed to drink.”

“We can then experience Gemutlichkeit,” Annelle laughed softly.

“Gemutlichkeit?” I queried.

“This is a cheerful and complacent mood brought on by a most pleasant situation,” Annelle gently stroked the back of my hand.

“Gemutlichkeit it is,” My tone was now quite jovial. “But that my friends is another story …”