February Wine and Food

Written by Giles MacDonogh

February Wine and Food

Posted: 5th March 2023

Like des Esseintes in J K Huysman’s dystopian novel A Rebours (Against Nature), I travel largely in my head these days. In January I was enjoying some refreshing Hunter Semillon on a hot Bondi Beach, and in the first half of February at least, I was drinking luscious Ausbruch in Austria-Hungary. In reality I never left London. The big tasting of Austrian wines was back in the calendar at its new location above the Science Museum following a Covid break. You look out of the window at the neo-baroque finials of the Exhibition Quarter built on the proceeds of the Great Exhibition of 1851, and realise just how badly the view has been desecrated by the slab blocks in the distance. It was sunny that day, and the tasting was also a social occasion meaning handshakes here and there and catching up with old friends.

It is now over thirty years since my first book on Austrian wines was published and most of the time I see the children and grandchildren of the people I met then. There are still a few veterans about whom I knew in the nineties, Thomas Klinger at Bründlmayer, is one. Thomas was full of the power and finesse of the 2021 vintage in Austria, which he said was up there with the greats, and proved it with a playful and promising Heiligenstein Riesling.

Alphart from Traiskirchen in the torrid Thermenregion is always one of my first ports of call. All the wines were stunning, but two 2021s outshone the others: a citrusy Zierfandler Ried Otzler and a spicy Rotgipfler from Ried Pressweingarten. I dropped in on Walter Skoff, who was a big man in Styria in the old days and enjoyed a lovely 2020 dry Gewürztraminer from Ried Kranach. Georg Prieler was flying the flag for Weißburgunder/Pinot Blanc in the Leitha Hills, of which the best was the 2020 Steinweingarten. For the reds he had brought three 2019 Blaufränkisch wines. The Johanneshöhe pleased me most. Prieler has always been a ‘class act’.

So too Roland Velich at Moric with his ancient Blaufränkisch vines on steep sites in the villages of Neckenmarkt and Lutzmannsburg. They are wines that repay study, the 2019s in particular: a Reserve ‘Moric’ and a Blaufränkisch Lutzmannsburg ‘Alte Reben’ with a whiff of raspberry fruit coupled with intense peppiness and a striking acidity.

It was a huge pleasure to see Pepi Umathum in London. Pepi was riding the new wave of Austrian wines on the Neusiedlersee even before the Wine Scandal broke out in 1985. As such he was pretty well everyone’s go-to winemaker in the later eighties and nineties. His wines have lost none of their edge particularly since he has added land in Jois at the top of the lake to his original collection in Frauenkirchen.

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Giles MacDonogh

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