Carnuntum – When (Almost) in Rome
Through the Grapevine: Jul/Aug. 2012
References abound in this idyllic wine region east of Vienna to its Roman cultural history. When standing on the region’s central plains, undulations cascading down from the nearby hills, leaving vineyards lapping seemingly to your toes, it is hard not to be romanced by a time when those clay pots of fermenting juice were carted to local symposia.
The 910 hectares of vineyards are spread over three principal hilltops south of the Danube; the Leithagebirge, the Arbesthaler Hügelland and the Hundsheimer Berge, each reflecting a perspective of viticultural specificity, and consequently a focus on variety and style.
It is this continental, Pannonian climate with its trademark warm dry winds swept up from the south, that sets the tone. On its journey, the wind rolls over the Neusiedlersee picking up moisture, and in turn cooling its breath to softly nestle amongst the vines. It is the influence of the Danube to the north, however, that dictates all variables. Cool breezes meander over the banks and flats of the shore, picking their way through the shady forests before rolling over the crest into the southern vineyards, bringing with them a wisp of freshness and respite from the day’s sun.
Tastings on this trip focused on the two main red grape varieties of the region, Zweigelt, and its manifestation into the premium Rubin Carnuntum Reserve wines, and Blaufränkisch, with its heart centred in the vineyards of Spitzerberg.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the association of Rubin Carnuntum vintners is the driving force of the region’s prolific march into the local and international wine scene.
Quality parameters in the growing and production of select Zweigelt (a cross of Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent) vineyards are set by the association, with each submitted wine having to pass the annual jury tasting panel before they can be authenticated with the Rubin Carnuntum seal of approval, distinguished by the imprint of the Heidentor (Heathen’s Gate) on the label.
The wines tasted were mainly from the current release 2010 vintage, where the association awarded 42 wines with the required classification. The following were my top picks:
Weingut Franz Netzl 2010 R.C. (€10): Franz Netzl abounds with energy and vision, and it shows in his wines. Flushed with ruby red fruits, cranberries, plum skin and maraschino cherries, this one is balanced with a juicy mineral acidity and a firm yet inviting structure. www.netzl.com
Weingut Robert Payr 2010 R.C. (€10): Robert Payr’s endless energy and character is seamlessly woven through the fabric of his R.C. Bright cherries leap from the glass followed with a lip-smacking lick of pepper, clove and cinnamon. The wine will be guaranteed to not stay long in the bottle. www.weingut-payr.at
Weingut Artner 2010 R.C. (€10): Their organic approach to viticulture and subtle integrated winemaking produces an R.C. that blooms with an elegant rose petal/violet bouquet, leading to blueberry, cherry, a hint of anise and all spice, with a clean acidity that dances on the tongue. www.artner.co.at
Weingut Nadler 2009 R.C. (€10): A chance to try the previous vintage revealed a wine with more structure and dense fruit. Currants, black cherries, a slate minerality and well-positioned cedary oak from 50% new barriques, presents an R.C. as one to mature well into the decade. www.weingut-nadler.at
With vineyards planted from Stixneusiedl across to Höflein, the majestic Spitzerberg wine region on the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains on the Slovak border, with its granitic chalky soils and lesser rainfall, which offers wines of immense concentration and youthful ruggedness. They redefine the Blaufränkisch’s potential and ability to represent its place of origin.
Weingut Böheim 2009 Stix Reserve (€14): What a gem. Pepper, cedar box, paprika and allspice wrapped in layers of generous plum/black fruits and a confident structure. www.gut-boeheim.at
Weingut Artner 2009 Reserve Kirchweingarten (€22): Sourced from Höflein, black plums and cherries, earth and spice, liquorice and hints of dark chocolate make this wine an all-around classic and one to maintain the momentum of the region’s progression. www.artner.co.at
Weingut Martin und Hans Netzl 2009 Spitzerberg (€25): This wine is all Fred Astaire elegance. Lifted floral notes of violets, thyme and mint, the centred blueberry fruit is refined along with silky tannins, resulting in a wine that is exuberant and generous in its gesture. www.netzl.net
Weingut Robert Payr 2009 Reserve Spitzerberg (€27): A no-holds-barred, deep penetrating wine of cassis, ripe black cherry and fruitcake spices. Its silky texture and clear defined ripe tannins reveals a wine pushing the boundaries of the variety and one that will age into an expressive interpretation of terroir. www.weingut-payr.at
Weingut Trapl 2004 Spitzerberg (€32): Can Blaufränkisch age? Considering that this wine, already into its eighth year, is still stretching its limbs, we have cause for celebration. Beautifully balanced with a mixture of black forest fruits, this superb vintage speaks well for potential evolution. www.trapl.com
My sense of Carnuntum is of a region whose voice and vision is far greater than the boundaries of its vineyards. Through co-ordinated stewardship, and the boldness and vivid characters of its wines, it speaks loudly and
For more on Carnuntum and Lower Austrian wines, see “Uncorking the Inner Critic” in Mar 2012 TVR.