The Renaissance of Wagramer Wines
Through the Grapevine: Oct. 2012
The rolling hills of Weingut Leth | Photo: Echhof-Weingut Leth(below)
The Ecker/Eckhof family incorporates the landscape and soil of the region into their agricultural planning | Photo: Weingut Ecker
Map of the Wagram wine region | Image: Austrian Wine Marketing Board
Like the sandy loess soils that blew in from primordial oceans and that now cover the many terraced vineyards of Wagram, you can sense a shift in momentum amongst the small, mainly family led Weingüter of this region.
Two lesser-known whites are creating a stir and point of difference in Wagram, both offering high quality expressions of vineyard site, without the price tag of the market leaders wines that dictate the Austrian wine scene.
Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and the peculiar Roter Veltliner are perfectly suited to the climate here, slightly warmer than the Wachau. But it is the influence of these deep loess soils, with their finely crushed shells and crustaceans, that allows for the vine roots to search deep into the bedrock to extract necessary moisture, minerals and nutrients.
Both varieties face viticultural challenges. Thin-skinned, and prolific, only the strong-willed, patient grower who has perfect terroir and strict vineyard management practices can coax the extended ripening necessary to feather out the delicate characters and complexities these varieties offer.
Weißburgunder is one of my favourite Austrian wines. It is delicate and shy on the surface, but can handle judicious experiments such as oak maturation, to create layers of exotic fruits and texture. The reputation of these wines was further enhanced at this year’s VieVinum, where 11 of the best Austrian Weißburgunders went head to head with their German equivalent. Seven of the top 11 wines were Austrian, and most of these were from the Wagram region, featured here in my tastings.
Roter Veltliner is a little-known variety from a genetic breadbasket, replete with a slightly pale red skin colour, that featured heavily as a mainstream wine in Wagram before Grüner Veltliner became the prized catch. When grown to full maturity, it exhibits an unmistakable wild berry character, orchard of flavours, and fresh, zippy acidity.
The following producers featured well in the VieVinum competition, all presenting exceptional and superbly valued wines from both varieties.
Weingut Leth – Fels am Wagram
Three generations of winemaking, with Franz Leth at the helm, have focused on a philosophy of purity and expression throughout their wines. The Sheiben vineyard is the source of their oldest vines and produce full-bodied wines of immense depth and character.
Weißburgunder “Sheiben” 2011 (€12.00) – Lanoline and lemons with white flowers lead to a rounded creamy palate. No oak fermentation, but rich in texture from time on yeast cells making a wine that is graceful, exotic and full of interest.
Roter Veltliner “Sheiben” 2011 (€14.40) – Offers a hint of wild strawberry and mandarin blossom on the nose, with plenty of apples, pears and a clean, driven acidity. It makes for a perfect summer wine to accompany plates of sushi. www.weingut-leth.at
Familie Bauer – Großriedenthal
One of the unsung heroes in the region, this family producer is creating wines of such quality and character, that when you finally look across the page to the pricelist, the only challenge will be how to fit as much wine into your car as possible.
Weißburgunder “Großriedenthal” 2011 (€5.80) – Explodes on the palate with tropical fruits of pineapple, guava and juicy mango. The sherbet like acidity maintains a level of freshness long into the finish inspiring a thirst for a second glass.
Roter Veltliner “Hinternberg” 2011 (€5.80) – Red apples and ripe pears abound with specks of cranberry. Fermented in stainless steel, it retains this freshness in the glass with a clean citrus acidity. www.familiebauer.at
Weingut Ecker/Eckhof – Mitterstockstall
With links to wine for 400 years, the family’s latest reincarnation in Bernhard Ecker has a focused approach to the business, using 30 individual plots in the best locations through-out the region and a nature-oriented philosophy in the growing and making of his wines.
Weißburgunder “Schlossberg” 2011 (€8.50) – A wine with layers of complexity and interest. Bright notes of pears and mango, surrounded by a delicate lift of nutty smokiness and honeysuckle flower from ageing in large Accacia barrels. The texture is seamless, refined and generous.
Roter Veltliner “Steinberg” 2011 (€9.00) – A real highlight for me! Lemon thyme and citrus flower bouquet giving way to a beautifully balanced palate of mineral sands, ripe orchard fruits and a softly rounded texture. A wine that will age very well, but is equally enjoyable when young and fresh. www.eckhof.at
There is something happening in Wagram. The buzz about town is led, in some part, by unsung heroes in the varietal spectrum, but all the more important in maintaining interest and demand when competing against other, higher profile appellations.