Austria – fascinating wines


I have recently had some experiences of Austrian wines and they were so good I thought that I would share them with you.

I was invited to a lunch and tasting at Merry Widows Wine. This is the brainchild of Canadian born musician Linn Rothstein. Basically her idea was to offer really good wines in smaller sizes for when drinking alone, so they offer a range of wines in 25cl and 50cl as well as full bottles.

Interestingly her career in music took Linn to Austria, where she was invited to a wedding and found herself sitting next to a winemaker. They were drinking his wines and Linn enjoyed them, took a case home to London where everyone she tasted them with thought they were something special.

Bernd Heiling and Cora

This was Bernd Heiling from the Neusiedlersee in Burgenland right on the Hungarian border. This is a warm region that can produce some of the country’s finest reds and dessert wines, however Bernd is something of a white wine specialist and currently the range focuses on these.

Heinrich Hartl

In search of some red wines, a little research, and luck, took them to another unknown – Heinrich Hartl from the Thermenregion near Vienna. This area is most famous for its fine white wines, but Linn was very taken by Heinrich’s reds; Pinot Noir, Zweigelt and St Laurent in particular.

Austria’s wine regions – click for a larger view

When I remarked that their red wines came from a region more famous for whites and their whites from an area more famous for reds, Linn told me, ‘we have winemakers with very different talents – in the end it is the man behind the gun!’

So, now Linn imports wine from two impressive winemakers, both young, both come from families that have been growing grapes and making wines for generations. Interestingly both are passionate about their land and use sustainable agricultural techniques.

Incidentally Linn presents most of her wines under her own Merry Widows label, which is a deliberate attempt to get around many UK wine drinkers prejudice against the long and complicated names of Austrian and German wines. It also has the benefit of giving the wines a very modern look.

The 25cl bottles come in a dinky little 2 bottle pack as well – just in case one is not enough, or if you need a different colour:

The wines

Merry Widows Muskat Ottonel 2008
Weingut Bernd Heiling
Neusiedersee region

Normally I keep away from dry Muscat, but on this showing perhaps I shouldn’t.
The nose was fragrant and fresh with mixed light fruit notes.
The palate was soft and lively with gentle acidity keeping the whole thing clean and really fresh feeling.

This really was a lovely aperitif, delicious, classy and stylish easy-drinking, everything people want from a Pinot Grigio, but never get – 88/100 points.

750ml – £9.45 from www.merrywidowswine.com

Merry Widows Cuvée 11 2007
Weingut Bernd Heiling
Neusiedersee region

I like an interesting blend and this is certainly unusual being Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, Welschriesling & Chardonnay.
Again freshness is the hallmark and it was very enjoyable with much more weight and mouthfeel as well as some real dashes of complexity.

Above all it is clean, fresh, but weighty and delicious –  88/100 points.

750ml – £8.95, 500ml – £6.75, 250ml – £3.15 from www.merrywidowswine.com

Merry Widows Samling 88 Spätlese 2007
Weingut Bernd Heiling
Neusiedersee region

I like this grape and have written about it before, this is the Scheurebe, which is known in Austria as Seedling, Samling, 88, which is how Georg Scheu referred to it in his notes. It is a cross between Riesling and Sylvaner and really does retain the finesse of Riesling – when handled properly.
This is a late harvest, spätlese wine, so not dry – in fact pretty sweet for such a humble prädikat, but it is beautifully balanced.
The nose was quite floral, with wafts of crystalised fruit and a mineral quality.
The palate was quite full, richly honeyed and textured, then pure and clean with a cut of acidity that swept the sweetness away, just leaving the minerality and the freshness.

A lovely wine with great vitality and length – 91/100 points.
Interestingly this was very good with smoked salmon, which is not my favourite food, but I had to try the combination!

750ml – £8.95, 500ml – £8.20 from www.merrywidowswine.com

Merry Widows Pinot Noir Rosé Spätlese 2007
Weingut Bernd Heiling
Neusiedersee region

This was a good experience too, a stylish and refined sweetish rosé. The late harvest sweetness makes the wine soft and easy to drink and just, well very pleasurable.

The lovely red fruit and rose hip character is enhanced by the sweetness and balanced by the acidity. A lovely picnic, buffet, summer’s day kind of wine – 88/100 points.

750ml – £8.95, 500ml – £6.75, 250ml – £3.15 from www.merrywidowswine.com

Merry Widows Zweigelt 2006
Weingut Heinrich Hartl
Thermenregion

I have long had a soft spot for these Germanic red grapes and Zweigelt is a classic of the type. Like Scheurebe, created in 1916, it is a recent cross, having been created by Fritz Zweigelt in 1922 when he crossed Blaufränkisch with St. Laurent.

The colour was a deep purple black cherry.
The nose too was black cherry with a touch of spice and fragrance.
The palate was rich and earthy in a very soft attractive way with rich, black fruit and some gentle spice.
It was rich in flavour and reasonably light in body with a soft, smooth texture and structure with soft tannins on the earthy finish.

Lovely, tasty and balanced wine – 89/100 points.

750ml – £8.95, 500ml – £6.75, 250ml – £3.15 from www.merrywidowswine.com

St Laurent Classic 2007
Weingut Heinrich Hartl
Thermenregion

St Laurent is one of the aristocrat grapes of Austria, its history is lost in the mists of time, but it is possibly a near relative of Pinot Noir that ripens a little earlier, making it perfect for Austria.
This wine was fabulous, like the Beaujolais of my dreams that I never find.
The nose was rich and floral with red fruit notes.
The palate was soft and silky with a refined, elegant feel and a certain understated presence.
Lovely red fruit with touches of earthiness and a delicate dusting of spice leading to a smooth palate with soft tannins and a touch of acidity.

Great wine – try it with charcuterie for a little glimpse of heaven – 91/100 points.

750ml – £14.50 www.merrywidowswine.com & from Waitrose

As luck would have it I was presenting a tasting of fine Rieslings the other day and I could not resist including an Austrian example:

Riesling Federspiel Weissenkirchen 2008
Domäne Wacha
u, Wachau

I would very much to write up this producer and indeed the Wachau region soon, so will limit myself to this wine for now.
It is from one of the great Austrian regions and the only one that really specialises in Riesling.
The nose was rich and stony and mineral as well as fragrant.
The palate was quite full and concentrated with a rich mineral character and lees character adding to the texture and complexity. It was bone dry and really lovely with some good citrus and appley fruit – much richer and more full than most people imagine Riesling to be.

Would be superb with a wide array of cheeses as well as a nice trout – 90/100 points.

750ml – £9.99 from Majestic

On these showings Austrian wines certainly deserve to be more widely known and better appreciated, these were all lovely wines that were very enjoyable and all very different as well.

10 thoughts on “Austria – fascinating wines

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  3. Well that certainly was a wine tasting to remember it almost coincided with high tea!
    Linn has always been a wonderful pianist(she is my oldest friend having met her at Dartington in 1970) and now she has put her quite considerable talents to Austrian Wine……..a real winner as you can see from Quentin Sadler’s Wine page …I live in Italy and there is very little to compare with these very livable with wines from Austria…..I too am a widower so lets get merry together!!!!!

  4. Excellent post, Quentin. Good small producers not only from Austria but most other winemaking regions need the help, support and enthusiasm of people like Linn and Charlotte. The wines are fine and the idea of smaller bottles is inspiring.

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