Wine Notes – The Freak of Austria

Steven Goddu on September 16th, 2019

It’s never easy to step out of your comfort zone. We find something we like, or dislike, and stick with our opinion. If you are truly interested in expanding your knowledge of wine, you must be open-minded and try everything. Sometimes I make it a point to taste wines that I am sure I won’t like, if only to confirm my prejudices. So my wife and I regularly attend as many free wine tastings as we can. To be honest, these aren’t free, because we always find something we like and then the wallet opens.

We were at the Wine Connextion in North Andover and the owner, Sam, said to me, “You gotta come out back and try this new wine I’m bringing in from Austria.” Austria? I’ve tasted very little wine from Austria, so his suggestion piqued my interest. The wine turned out to be bold and spicy with a great aromatic finish. I examined the oddly shaped bottle, staring at it for a minute or so in confusion. Wine labels are often difficult to understand, especially when you aren’t familiar with the language. I had to ask which word on the bottle indicated the grape variety: blaufränkisch. I’d never heard of it and didn’t know how to pronounce it.

My wine journey just took a new direction. I now needed to learn about, and start drinking, wine from Austria. Next stop was Andover Classic Wines to ask the owner, Andrea, what she had in Austrian wines. She introduced me to a dry white called grüner veltliner and a zweigelt rosé. Both were excellent. Crisp, not overprocessed. These were light wines, perfect for warm weather. But I was after a big, bold red.

Next, I attended a tasting presented by Austrian winemaker Christof Höpler. He offered his grüner veltliner, a white varietal and the most planted grape in Austria, along with selections of riesling, zweigelt and pinot noir. The last was my favorite, and it was a bargain at $20. Höpler described his pinot as an Old World wine made in a modern style, and noted, “We have very modern cellars and don’t have fungus in our cellars.” I asked, “Do you think Austrian wineries are cleaner than wineries in France?” He answered, “If you were to look at 100 wineries in Austria and 100 wineries in France, yes.”

To understand why he is so adamant about high standards, it helps to know that Austria revamped its wine laws after a 1985 scandal in which several wineries illegally added diethylene glycol, which is often used as a primary ingredient in antifreeze, to sweeten their products. The news went international, and the Austrian wine industry went into a free fall. In the aftermath, Austrian winemakers turned away from their previous specialization of sweet wines.

I asked Höpler about his favorite wine. His answer? Blaufränkisch. “I think it has a lot of future potential,” he said, but he didn’t have any available to taste. I began to think I was on a fool’s errand, trying to find this elusive freak of Austria.

Still, I continued searching. I looked for blaufränkisch in the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets search engine — don’t use the umlaut over the “a” or you’ll get no results. I found two blaufränkisch wines — Una and Hillinger — on sale at the Hooksett, N.H., location. The Una was a great choice at only $15, but the Hillinger seemed flawed to me, as though it had been overheated during transport or storage. I guess I had begun at the top because neither was as impressive as the backroom beauty I’d tasted at the Wine Connextion.

My journey ended where it began. Sam deserves credit for introducing me to the 2015 Groszer Wein blaufränkisch, a single vineyard wine. It is grown in Szapary Vineyard, located on the steepest south-facing hillside of Eisenberg Mountain. The vines are 40 years old and grow in 100% slate soil. This contributes to the beautiful minerality the wine delivers. All of the grapes are hand harvested and selected, aged in large oak casks, and bottled unfiltered.

Blaufränkisch needs to be decanted for at least two hours before drinking to realize its full expression. Try tasting a little out of the bottle first to experience the transformation. When we let some rest in a decanter overnight, it was even better the next day. The Groszer Wein blaufränkisch is available at the Wine Connextion for $35, along with a lower-priced version for only $17.

I’m thinking Greek wine is on my horizon and expect the Euclidean alphabet will be quite a challenge. The hobby of exploring wine is endless, so don’t get stuck in a rut. Salute!

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Click here to learn more about Höpler

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