Why Austria? – Part 2

Why Austria? – Part 2

26th Jun 2011

by James Lawrence

My second morning in Austria began with a slight shock. Christian, our ever vigilant group leader was no where to be seen over breakfast. Instead, Barbra Arbeithuber, the AWMB event manager and Scandinavian expert would preside over today's tour. I wondered if Barbra might be slightly more relaxed over the time, but alas no. Her watch was even bigger than Christian's and just as accurate.

At 8:00am SHARP we left our hotel for Schloss Hof, a gorgeous Baroque palace that almost touches the Austrian - Slovakian border. Bought in 1726 by Prince Eugene of Savoy, it later became part of the Imperial estate when Empress Maria Theresa had her sights set on a summer house. I suppose she thought only ten properties just wasn't enough! 


The estate was truly breathtaking. The gardens reminded me of the palace at Versailles - all majestic splendor and goodness knows how many hours of work. A spectacular setting for a lecture about the Wines of Styria from Darrel Joseph, freelance journalist and Austrian Wine expert. Darrel, a resident of Vienna, has spent many years acquainting himself with the wines of this region, so we knew we were in safe hands. 


The home of Styria Wines is the region of Stiermark, which produces some fantastic, aromatic and piercing whites, especially in the appellation of Sudstiermark which lies close to the Slovenia border. Darrel gave us an informative tutored tasting and walkthrough of the region which included a fair smattering of international varieties; Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer all impressed. I was less taken with the oaked examples however, which I found to be to be overdone, just like my aunties roast turkey which is cremated every Boxing day without fail.


We also sampled some good reds from Styria, all displaying that hallmark high acidity and tannic grip that makes Austrian wine so engaging and refreshing to drink. Certainly not wines for the fainthearted, they all leave a lasting impression on your palate, whether you like it or not! Lovers of super-ripe wines with soft, supple tannins can leave now.


Those of us who were health conscious were well catered for, as we took a lengthy tour of the palace that would've put Dawn French into Cardiac arrest. After burning a few million calories we decided to put some back on with a Wiener Schnitzel cooking lesson. Our host was quick to point out that the original, one and only veal fillet in breadcrumbs originated in Vienna. Veal Milanese, a similar dish from Milan came afterward and don't you forget it!


Forget punchbags or other forms of aggression therapy, cooking Wiener Schnitzel is the ideal way to release tension. For perfect results you must use a wooden mallet and bash hell out of the meat until you're left with a thin escalope. Then simply coat in flour, egg, breadcrumbs and shallow fry. Delicious!


Lunch was accompanied by a range of whites from Weinviertel DAC, the largest wine region in Austria, which sits north of Vienna and produces vast quantities of Gruner Veltiner. The quality spectrum displays everything from the utterly sublime to the downright undrinkable. One or two Wachau wine growers told me off the record that there was little excitement to be found in the appellation and the wine rarely rose above average. My own experience suggested that some producers were making good wines, but the indifferent far exceeded the exciting.


Just time for a quick browse at the Schloss shop at Schloss Hof before we left for our hotel in the pretty village of Krems. We were having dinner later that evening at quite a formal restaurant so naturally, many members of the group wanted to iron shirts, etc. However, the hotel had only one iron! Time was limited and people were getting impatient and agitated. I had never seen such a mad panic over creased shirts in my life, I was even accused of hoarding the iron for myself, an accusation I still vehemently deny. 


Our evening began with a visit to the Monastery Goettweig for a tasting of the three great terroirs of the Danube, Kremstal DAC, Kamptal DAC and Traisental DAC. The view from the monastery was enough, however, to keep us occupied - a gorgeous evening allowed for an incredible sweeping vista of the valley with the Danube gleaming in the distance. 


The tastings served as a great preemptive strike before our trip to the Danube the following morning. Kremstal was the less spellbinding of the three but I tasted some excellent Riesling and Gruner from Kamptal, located in the valley of the Kamp. Kamptal is located away from the Danube but the potential of the vineyards was evident, try the wines of Fred Loimer or Schloss Gobelsburg. Traisental, which is situated on another Danube tributary the Traisen, is one of the youngest recognised wine appellations in Austria, having only officially been awarded its DAC status in 1995. Try the wines of Neumayer for a real treat. The Riesling was exceptional; full, powerful and refreshing.


Over a brillant dinner presented by Austria’s own version of the celebrity chef, I took pause to consider what we had experienced so far and what was to come. The diversity and quality that Austria was offering the group was staggering, far greater than many of us expected. This country that I had never fully taken that seriously as a wine leader was really shining. 


After dinner some members of the group from Hong Kong could not decide what to do with their evening and enquired about the local nightlife. Their decision was made easier by the fact that there was none.


Dinner, coffee and bed :)


Part 3 next week – Wachau, the Danube and staying longer than expected.

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