Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

A TASTE OF VIENNA – TWENTY FIVE YEARS AFTER

February 2016A quarter-century ago, in 1990, I visited the Wieninger winery in Vienna and tasted some wines. I was then the wine correspondent of “The European”.

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Twenty-five vintages later, in late 2015, I went back to taste some more. The wines were good all those years ago; now they’re not only better but there are a lot more of them.

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The winery is still run by Fritz Wieninger. When I first met him he had 10.5 hectares of vines. He’d only been in charge for three years at that time, having taken over the reins just after a stint as assistant wine maker in the Napa Valley. That experience, and his first intense three years at the family winery, led him to be named Winemaker of the Year in 1990 – the very year in which I first met him.

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Now he has 50 hectares. And the estate is now biodynamic. He has two separate and distinct estates, separated by the Danube. Bisamberg has a light, sandy loess with calcareous subsoil. It has more sun and wind and 20 per cent less rain. By contrast, Nussberg is made up of shell limestone with fossils and weathered limestone with a subsoil of limestone rocks, some of which protrude above the surface. There’s more clay too. Because of its heavier soil its wines “have a creamy texture, darker fruit tones, moderate acidity, and pronounced minerality.” In toto, Wieninger produces 30 different wines.

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Fritz Wieninger : 25 years after.

Fritz Wieninger : 25 years after.

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Fritz Wieninger has filled out, but remains dynamic, assertive, and very positive. Bursting with energy, he’s the picture of rude good health. His eyes sparkle when he talks. “I’m really proud that my dreams have been fulfilled: a winery with wines that are full of character and with an international reputation. And I’m proud, too, that my wines have pronounced Viennese typicity.” He also expresses satisfaction at having brought about the rebirth of the Wiener Gemischter Satz denomination which, he says, represents Viennese wines at the highest quality level.

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After a race around the winery, with a quick look at the ancient cellars (once owned by a monastery, which used to let them out to local winemakers), and a look at some fermenting Pinot Noir, we adjourn to the tasting room.

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2014 HERRENHOLZ GRÜNER VELTLINER

(Single vineyard, sandy loess, 45-year vines)

Crisp and vital nose, yellow plum and apricot, leading into a lively flavour with good fresh fruit. Trails off a bit but should fill out a little and drink well, in an uncomplicated way, up to 2018 or so.

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2014 NUSSBERG GRÜNER VELTLINER

(Clay, limestone, fossils)

With its richer look, and a greenish nuance, this has a fuller, weightier nose of crab apple and granny Smith. The flavour is fuller, with a gentle bitterness on the finish. This could improve for up to 7-8 years and would be a good partner to crab.

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(2014 seems to be a lighter year. The weather was turbulent, I’m told, with a lot of rain. There was no summer but – fortunately – September was very hot.)

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2013 KAASGRABEN GRÜNER VELTLINER

Still richer in appearance, and a crucial year older, this has the sort of golden lustre I associate with older vines (which give more concentrated juice). The nose is completely different too, being fuller and grapier, with suggestions of orange peel, apricot, and flowers and a hint of rapeseed. The flavour is fullish and fat, honeyed, with a touch of rhubarb on the finish. Good orangey acidity. Should age well and could work well with a gratin of shellfish.

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2012 PREUSSEN GRÜNER VELTLINER

(one year in used French oak – “Austrian oak is not very good for wines. It grows too fast and there’s too much rain.”)

This has the unmistakeable yellowish tinge of a white that’s been matured in oak. The nose is voluminous and grapy, suggesting mirabelle plums, white peach, and oak vanillin. It’s all of a piece on the palate, fleshy and round, with a hint of melon and pulverized rock on the finish. A wine with real presence, though closed up at the moment, which will develop well for a good 8-10 years.

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2014 GEMISCHTER SATZ DAC

(blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Chardonnay)
Bright and limpid in appearance, this unoaked wine has a fresh, flowery aroma of melon, grapefruit, and elderflower, with a touch of honey. The rich flavour evokes those same elements and leads into a gentle terroir-marked aftertaste with the sort of fresh acidity found in ripe peaches. Should peak in 3-4 years.

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2014 ROSENGARTL WINER GEMISCHTER SATZ DAC

(Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Traminer, Pinot Blanc)

The lustrous green-gold colour signals greater richness and complexity. The noble aroma, suggestive of greengage, lime, and yellow rose, is poised and refined (the Riesling shows its innate finesse), with a gush of acacia honey. Not surprisingly, given its youth, it’s closed on the palate but one can discern depth and complexity on a marrowy middle flavour that leads into an intense finish of physalis. A pleasant bitterness may well derive from the Grüner Veltliner component. Good for 10 years at least.

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2013 NUSSBERG WIENER GEMISCHTER SATZ DAC

(9 varieties, incl. PB, GV, Sylvaner, Traminer)

On the far side of the Danube from the winery complex, this vineyard came into the hands of Fritz in 1998. Some of the vines were half a century old. The subsoil contains extremely old marine fossils.

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The richest wine so far, it has a full, honeyerd aroma suggestive of fig, treacle, orange blossom, melon, and fennel. The flavour really fills the mouth with fruit – melon, honey, orange juice – and is very forceful. The finish exhibits that very special, mineral character typical of subsoil flecked with marine fossils. A highly viscous wine of great presence, not unlike a blend of white Hermitage and white Châteauneuf du Pape. Should be splendid around 2020-2025.

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I now taste a wine blind.

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The colour is a rich, evolved yellow- gold, with that special nuance I associate with noble rot. It looks about 10 years old. The nose is very rich, with Grüner Veltliner traits, and conjures up fennel, melon, and honey. The flavour is rich and plush, and makes me think of butterscotch and Brazil nut. There’s a pleasant mild bitterness on the finish. I make my guess as to its age aloud: “About ten years old?”. It proves to be: 2006 NUSSBERG GRÜNER VELTLINER

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2014 CHARDONNAY CLASSIC
This has a subtle, nuanced look, with a full, flowery scent that’s gently aromatic. It shifts to grapefruit on the palate, which is balanced and elegant but without pronounced Chardonnay character (to me it’s more like Pinot Blanc). A pleasant wine in the light mode, for early drinking.

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2013 CHARDONNAY SELECT

(Matured in oak, of which 20% new. 80% stored in barrels, 20% in foudres).

Brilliant yellow-gold (new oak deepens and intensifies colour) with a green tinge. The nose is full and lush, suggestive of apricot, honey, lime, and tangerine. You can also smell some new wood. The flavour takes on a hint of pistachio (typical of oak-aged Chardonnay) and chlorophyll and there’s a fleck of pineapple on the finish. A very good wine with recognizable varietal character, that should improve for at least 4-5 years.

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2012 GRAND SELECT CHARDONNAY

(50/50 new oak casks and one-year casks)

Rich oaky yellow gold with a full, distinctly mineral aroma of orange and lightly charred oak with hints of toasted almond. It’s a buoyant nose, pure and very fruity, and with true Chardonnay character. On the palate, weighty, a bit exotic, a shade blowsy. With plenty of substance, if a bit heavy, it will improve for 7-8 years at least. Impressive in its way, if more Napa in style than Puligny.

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2013 PINOT NOIR SELECT

Typical Pinot Noir purple-scarlet with faint blueish tinge. Delicate spicy Pinot Noir nose with that typically Austrian hint of Campari-like spice. New aromas emerge: cinnamon, purple cherry, blackcurrant. Good varietal character, not unlike a good Chorey les Beaune. Toasty oak imparts a delicate spiciness. The finish veers towards plum, damson, and cinnamon. About two-thirds concentrated, it should be enjoyed around 2017-20.

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2012 PINOT NOIR GRAND SELECT

An altogether deeper black-purple, this smells enticingly like a meld of rose petals, carnation, black cherry, damson, and liquorice wood. Has some of the force you can find in, say, a good Gevrey. The excellent flavour, if a bit too oaky, has a velvety texture and plenty of fine Pinot Noir fruit with just the right sort of fruity acidity. Elegant and svelte, with pronounced varietal character it’s a bit short on complexity. To enjoy it at its best, set it aside for 3-4 years and drink it 2019-24.

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2011 DANUBIS GRAND SELECT

(50% CS, 40% M, 10% Zweigelt)

The colour is a dense black-purple and the full, vigorous nose exhales roast chestnut, damson jam, smoke, and the kind of spice conferred by high-toast oak. The flavour exhibits typical Austrian vitality and power, with a reprise of damson jam reinforced with chocolate and sweet prunes. The finish of this assertive, vigorous wine is distinctly gritty. Needs at least 3 years to round out. Drink with game and stews.

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2012 ST LAURENT GRAND SELECT

Similarly dark, with a blue tinge, this has a fine, buoyant aroma of damson, cinnamon, and blackcurrant. A fresh shake of the glass brings out a scent of violet – always a promising sign in reds. The flavour opens out to include black cherry, liquorice, and blackcurrant, leading into a sustained aftertaste that’s nicely balanced and expressive. A very good wine to enjoy between around 2017-22.

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2011 MERLOT SELECT

Another dark wine with a buoyant, vital smell of damson, ripe plum, carnation, sweet prunes, and chocolate. It shows real Merlot character, to which the soil is clearly well suited. The excellent flavour has a lovely mouth-feel, with plenty of concentrated, succulent Merlot fruit. Black cherry, chocolate, and blackberry present themselves in sequence and then fuse together in a most satisfactory way. This wine is, both literally and metaphorically, the fruit of Fritz Wieninger’s many years of unceasing effort.

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My impression is that the noble Merlot has a great future here on the vine-covered edge of Vienna, one of Europe’s loveliest cities. And my impression of Fritz Wieninger and his wines is a very positive one. A quarter-century of unremitting effort has borne impressive fruit.

 

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© Frank Ward 2016

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