Austrian Wine Masterclass with Magandeep Singh

IMG-20140413-WA0003Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling, Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, heavy sounding Germanic names which are a bit of tongue twisters. Don’t get deterred just by the sound. These are the names of wines from Austria, a segment relatively unexplored in the Indian market. So has the time come for the Indian wine lovers to look beyond Bordeaux, Burgundy and Tuscany and should Wachau, Kremstal, Kamptal, Burgenland become  a part of the Indian wine lexicon?

IMG-20140413-WA0002To familiarize people with Austrian wines and to talk about their great potential, India’s top Sommelier Magandeep Singh conducted the first Austrian Wine Master Class, on 11th April 2014, which was organised by the Austrian Trade Commission in collaboration with the Institute of Wine and Beverage Studies.  It was attended by people in the wine trade and hotel industry and some aficionados. We got to taste a variety of Austrian wines from different regions of Austria and by different producers. The Austrian Wineries which were represented were Alphart, Interroir, Weingut PayR, Scheiblhoffer, Urbanihof, Höpler, Lenz Moser, Münzenrieder, Salomon Undof, Strehn, Tement, Rainer Wess and Zantho.

IMG-20140413-WA0001Most of us know Austria for its white wines, which comprise nearly 65% of all the wines produced in the country. The most well known among these is the Grüner Veltliner, the ambassador grape of Austria. GrüVe, as it is called, is a crisp, fruity white wine with a lot of acidity, flavour and spicy white pepper undertones. It has the ability to pair well even with “wine hostile” foods like the Indian cuisine and is often touted as an exotic alternative to the more familiar Chardonnay. At the wine event, among the Veltliners on offer, I found the Urbanihof Grüner Veltliner Wagram Classic 2013 to be particularly good with lots of fruit and minerality, very typical of the loess soil.

IMG-20140413-WA0000Riesing and the Welschriesling are the other two important Austrian whites. Riesling is a grape which has a pronounced fruity character which is expressed in its wines wherever the grape is grown and whatever the style  (dry , medium , sweet) It has the ability to express the nuances of individual vineyard sites. The Riesling wines of Wachau , according to Robert Parker, are some of the finest white wines made. Magandeep Singh, during the course of the Master class, explained how the Austrian Rieslings differed from the German ones, in so far as they were less alcoholic, crispier, and fruitier with softer acidity. They could go from bone dry to sweet and had distinct stone fruit notes and are very terroir driven. Wines labelled Smaragd , named after a local green lizard , are the best ones , full bodied with an alcohol level above 12.5%. At the event we tried the Wess Wachuer Riesling 2013 and also a lighter Zantho Welschriesling 2013.

Steiermark (Styria) in South Austria is known for its intense Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay which also goes by the name of Morillon. The wine which we tasted from this region was the Tement Grassnitizberg Sauvignon 2012. Magandeep spoke of the distinct strong aromas of a Sauvignon Blanc which are gooseberry and green bell pepper, which one could get in this wine.

Two interesting wines that one came across were the sweet wines. Austria, incidentally, is regarded as the historic centre of the world of sweet dessert wines. The first was the Salomon Gelber Muskateller 2013, refreshingly acidic and delightfully aromatic, which would make a good aperitif. The second was a dessert wine Münzenrieder Siddharta Trockenbeerenauslese which had a raisin honeyed character derived from the Botrytis Fungus. The sweet wines of Austria are classified according to the sweetness of the grape and in ascending order they are Auslese, Beernauslese, and Trockenbeernauslese.  Magandeep explained that while trying out a sweet wine the quality that one should be looking for is acidity in the wine.

Now coming to the category of red wines for which Austria is slowly getting recognition and which can be defined as “easy drinking”. Most of these come from the Burgenland region of Austria, which is south of Vienna and runs along the Hungarian border.  Zweigelt is currently the most planted red grape of Austria followed by Blaufränkisch which is also known as Lemberger.  We tasted a couple of Zweigelts from different producers.  I found that the wine had a fruity, floral and spicy character and the freshness would combine well with a variety of foods. The Payr Zweigelt Rubin Carnuntum 2012 was particularly good. It is done in a lightly oaked style which Magandeep described as” hidden” and “subtle “and the intense fruit character was not lost. The other red that we tasted, the Höpler Blaufränkisch Julia 2012, was quite racy and juicy too.

So have I become a fan of Austrian wines? The Austrian Wine Master Class certainly helped to familiarise us with the nuances and subtleties of wines from this beautiful country. One is looking forward to their introduction in the Indian market and to more such wine lessons.

Lavina Kharkwal