Whilst enjoying my tour of the beautiful Austrian wine lands the other week I was thrilled to discover a grape variety that was entirely new to me.
I relish discovering new wines and grape varieties as they provide me with the new experiences that expand my knowledge and keep my delight in wine alive. It saddens me that so many wine consumers seem to be happy with drinking a very narrow range of grape varieties and wine styles, so I see it as my duty to highlight wonderful more obscure wines.
Well with only 0.2% of Austria’s plantings, Rotgipfler is pretty obscure. It seems that once upon a time the grape was grown further afield with historical mentions of it in Würrtemberg, Baden and Alsace, but now is only known in Thermenregion to the south of Vienna. As far as I can make out it is indigenous to Thermenregion too, but some evidence suggests that it might have originated in Styria further south.
What we can be certain of though is that it was created by a spontaneous crossing between Traminer and Roter Veltliner. This might well lead you to imagine that it is related to Austria’s great Grüner Veltliner, especially as Gru-Vee used to be called Weißgipfler / Weissgipfler.
Actually it would appear that there there is no link at all between Grüner Veltliner and Roter Veltliner and just the one parent in common for Grüner Veltliner and Rotgipfler.
Rotgipfler, again despite its name, is a white grape. The rot – red in German – part of its name comes from the red shoots, or the red leaf tips or even leaf veins the plant has at harvest time. Reports vary as to which of these is the actual reason for the red name.
Reading about Rotgipfler sine I got back I am somewhat surprised by the lack of respect it seems to have. Jancis Robinson is pretty damning when she calls it ‘ponderous’ in my ancient copy of Vines, Grapes and Vines, whilst she describes it as ‘the marginally less noble of the two white wine grapes’ (associated with Thermenregion).
Personally that is not how I found it, perhaps things have moved on? I also have no time for the concept of ‘noble’ grapes anymore – after all I was taught that Sauvignon Blanc and Tempranillo were not noble!
Historically Rotgipfler is most famously used as one half of the blend in the local Thermenregion speciality wine of Gumpoldskirchen. The other half is the equally obscure Zierfandler and the wine originates in the beautiful village of Gumpoldskirchen – I have yet to taste one, but am looking at a bottle of it on my desk as I write this and will let you know what it’s like soon.
I was able to taste some wonderful examples of Zierfandler though and would highly recommend trying one of those- the one from Johanneshof Reinisch was delicious as was Biegler’s and the wonderfully exotic and mandarin-like 1969 Zierfandler from the local co-operative.
Interestingly Zierfandler may be the inadvertent origin of the Zinfandel name as both grapes originate in Croatia and a linguistic mix up may have occurred over the grape’s name.
2012 Johanneshof Reinisch Rotgipfler
This impressive estate has been organic since 2004, but will only be certified so from the 2013 harvest onwards.
The wine has an enticing pale peach skin colour and is wonderfully aromatic and scented without being over the top in any way. There are delicate peach skin and honey notes together with pear and the merest hint of red fruits and spice.
The palate is quite textured and creamy, it is fermented using wild yeasts in stainless steel tank and in large neutral wooden vats, which do not give wood flavour, but can enrich the mouthfeel. This will be further enhanced by the 4 months on the lees. It is medium bodied with a nice feeling of weight, but not heavy. The succulence dominates while a clean cut of apricot and citrus acidity cleans it off and makes it refreshing. There is also a lovely taut seam of something mineral flowing right through it to the long finish. This is delicious, beautifully made and very drinkable and is very user friendly being delicious with almost any food – even spicy – or on its own – 90/100 points.
2012 Heinrich Hartl Rotgipfler
Heinrich comes from a long line of vignerons and is a terrific winemaker and although I did not taste this in Austria I have had it since – I did try his superb Saint Laurent though and can highly recommend that richly fruity and Burgundy-like wine.
Again the nose is scented and exotic with pear, some light asian spice and honey. The palate is quite creamy – 5 months on the lees here – and peppery with a dash of ginger and cleansing acidity giving a citrus twist and yes it still has that minerality that makes the wine more complex, taut and fine. Another delicious food friendly wine with a delicate touch of the exotic about it – 90/100 points.
I really have come to like Rotgipfler very much indeed. It seems to be delicious and very drinkable and to go perfectly with all manner of foods – or none. I really think it is a grape variety that many of you would enjoy very much if you get the chance to try it, so keep a look out and do give Rotgipfler a go if you can.