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06.14.2014

You Bet Your Blauburgunder: Exploring Austrian Pinot Noir

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Hello from Vienna, Austria, where I am spending a few days wandering around what has to be the greatest indoor wine tasting venue on the planet, the Hofburg Palace, where the bi-annual VieVinum wine festival is underway.

Every two years, pretty much everyone who is anyone in the Austrian wine industry, and those who love their wines, show up for a couple of immersive days of tasting, drinking, and partying.

This year's event kicked off for us attending journalists with a tasting of 2011 and 2012 red wines, two widely acclaimed vintages in the country.

I began my morning tasting the assembled Austrian Pinot Noirs. Few people think of Pinot Noir when they think of Austrian wine. Frankly trying to get anyone to think of a red wine when it comes to Austria can be difficult, but many wine lovers have at least heard of Blaufrankisch and Zweigelt, thanks to some emerging superstar producers whose wines pinot_noir.jpghave finally gained the attention of mainstream critics.

Pinot Noir, though? Not your usual suspect.

But Pinot Noir ended up in Austria for the same reason it ended up in Burgundy. Cistercian monks traveled far and wide, but settled heavily in what is now Austria's Thermenregion and planted plenty of Pinot Noir, which is known locally as either Blauburgunder, or Blauer Spätburgunder.

Interest in the grape has been growing rapidly in Austria, and as a result, plantings have increased 58.6% between 1999 and 2009. Still, the grape makes up a mere 1.4% of Austria's vineyard acreage, with a mere 1603 acres planted at last count.

The 28 Pinots I tasted yesterday had an interesting story to tell, the punchline for which should be understood to be simply that good Pinot Noir can be made in Austria. The grape may remain on the margins of Austrian winemaking and production, but several producers are making versions of it that are not only credible, but excellent. As with any "emerging" variety, there are, of course, many producers who haven't figured out how to grow it well.

My notes below reveal a number of examples in which winemakers have clearly either picked too late, planted in the wrong place, manhandled the wine in the cellar, or some combination of all three. But look past those wines to some of the highlights, such as Birgid Braunstein's rendition from Burgenland, or Fritz Wieninger's polished version from within the city limits of Vienna and the promise begins to show.

Asking questions such as "will Austrian Pinot Noir ever be as good as Burgundy or California?" always proves tempting, but these rhetorical inquiries always direct attention away from the real story. Austria has been making Pinot Noir for a couple of decades, and continues to do so with increasing frequency, as both winemakers and wine drinkers begin to appreciate its potential. Austrian Pinot will no doubt continue to improve, and it will be fun to watch where it goes from here.

For those who care about such things, I tasted these wines largely blind, since I had hidden the producer information to make space for me to take notes. The wines are listed in the order tasted.

TASTING NOTES:

2011 Weingut Ebner-Ebenauer "Black Edition" Pinot Noir, Niederösterreich, Austria
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and cranberry. In the mouth it has a wonderful berry and mineral quality that leans towards the crystalline. Not horribly complex but utterly pleasurable. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

2011 Weingut Schloss Gobelsburg "Alte Haide" Pinot Noir, Niederösterreich, Austria
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine has a light, briary funk to its nose with brambly raspberry fruit. In the mouth, tangy raspberry and wet earth flavors have a light, tacky tannic structure. Great acidity. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9.

2011 Weingut Birgit Braunstein "Reserve" Pinot Noir, Burgenland, Austria
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of forest floor and raspberry, with bits of green raspberry leaf. In the mouth, bright and juicy raspberry fruit has a green herbal quality that is quite admirable. Light tannins wrap the fruit and excellent acidity keeps things juicy. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.

2011 Weingut Pittnauer Ried Baumgarten Pinot Noir, Burgenland, Austria
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of wet earth, a bit of roofing tar, and sweat. In the mouth raspberry fruit and funk mix in equal proportions. A bit on the rustic side. Good acidity. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5.

2011 Weingut Claus Preisinger Pinot Noir, Burgenland, Austria
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of mulberry and cherry. In the mouth, richer cherry and vanilla flavors have a nice powdery texture and a dark fruit bass note. Good acidity, but perhaps a bit dark.13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5.

2011 Weingut Malat "Reserve" Pinot Noir, Niederösterreich, Austria
Medium to dark garnet in hue, this wine smells of mulberry and floral notes. In the mouth, powdery, muscular tannins wrap around flavors of mulberry and cherry. Deep and dark with an earthy underbelly. Good acidity with a citrus zest finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

2011 Weingut Kollwentz "Ried Dürr" Pinot Noir, Burgenland, Austria
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of raspberries and roasted nuts. In the mouth, juicy raspberry cherry and forest floor notes have some nice floral overtones and a wonderfully earthy underbelly. Balanced and delicious and easily mistaken for a good village Burgundy. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5.

2011 Weingut Fred Loimer "Langenlois Ried Dechant" Pinot Noir, Niederösterreich, Austria
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry, forest floor, and new oak. In the mouth, tacky, slightly drying tannins grip raspberry and forest floor flavors tinged with floral overtones. This will likely age well, but for now there's a touch too much oak. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

2011 Weingut Cobenzl Reserve "Bellevue" Pinot Noir, Wien, Austria
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of roasted nuts and crushed berries. In the mouth bright raspberry and cherry notes mix with pine duff and some green herbal notes. A deeper intense wine, with what seems like a touch of new oak. Nutty finish, good acidity. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.

2011 Winzerhof Landauer-Gisperg "Best of" Pinot Noir, Thermenregion, Austria
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of forest floor, raspberry and green herbs. In the mouth, slightly rustic flavors of forest berries, green herbs, and pine duff have a nice tannic musculature and a long finish. Excellent acidity. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.

2011 Weingut Schneider "Reserve" Pinot Noir, Thermenregion, Austria
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells remarkably like a combination of sweaty gym socks, menthol, and wet dirt. In the mouth, that minty pungency continues along with the funky almost animal quality. Wild but not in the greatest sense. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5 .

2011 Weingut Familie Auer "Reserve" Pinot Noir, Thermenregion, Austria
Medium ruby in hue, and fading a bit towards orange at the rim, this wine smells of cedar and raspberry and orange peel. In the mouth what starts as very pretty raspberry and orange peel flavors are quickly overwhelmed with new oak, leaving the mouth coated with vanilla toast and with drying tannins. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5 .

2011 Weingut Christian Fischer "Premium" Pinot Noir, Thermenregion, Austria
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry cordials and liniment. In the mouth minty raspberry and cherry flavors have a high-toned pungency to them that is unusual. Good acidity and length, but an odd flavor profile. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5 . Cost: $20. click to buy.

2011 Weingut Johanneshof Reinisch "Holzspur" Pinot Noir, Thermenregion, Austria
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet raspberry and new oak. In the mouth, bright and pure raspberry fruit has a wonderful light sweetness to it, but that is quickly obscured by the sweet vanilla of new oak. Too much wood for my taste. Good acidity and length. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $16. click to buy.

2011 Weingut Feiler-Artinger Ried Gertberg Pinot Noir, Burgenland, Austria
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of briary raspberry and cherry notes with a hint of wet felt. In the mouth, juicy raspberry and cranberry fruit flavors have a nice herbal tone to them. Minty notes linger in the finish along with forest floor. Excellent. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.

2011 Weingut Gesellmann "Ried Siglos" Pinot Noir, Burgenland, Austria
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and raspberry fruit and oak. In the mouth drying tannins envelop flavors of cherry that are overwhelmed by oak, which lingers sweet and spicy in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5.

2011 Weingut Juris Reserve Pinot Noir, Burgenland, Austria
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and candied cherry. In the mouth, cherry and raspberry fruit is tinged with oak and surrounded by lightly drying tannins. The oak is better integrated than some other examples tasted alongside this wine, but it still ends up being too much. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2011 Weingut Gerhard Markowitsch Reserve Pinot Noir, Niederösterreich, Austria
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and cherry. In the mouth, cherry and raspberry flavors have a bright simplicity, and seem lightly kissed with new oak. Not particularly complex, but pretty. Good acidity and length. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2011 Weingut Kurt Angerer Pinot Noir, Niederösterreich, Austria
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of bright mulberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth, flavors of raspberry and cherry have a caramel and brown sugar flavor to them with drying tannins. Some what terse in the mouth. Good acidity. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5.

2011 Weingut Wieninger "Grand Select" Pinot Noir, Wien, Austria
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of forest berries and forest floor. In the mouth the wine has a wonderful crystalline quality, with delicate flavors of raspberry and floral notes draped over an athletic musculature of tannins. Beautifully balanced and lean, but with great length and perfume. Outstanding. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2011 Weingut Zahel "Dolomit" Pinot Noir, Wien, Austria
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of forest floor and potpourri. In the mouth, that potpourri flavor continues strongly with cherry and cranberry cocktail flavors mixed in. Sweet oak lingers intensely in the finish. Overdone. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5.

2011 Weingut Leopold Aumann "Reserve" Pinot Noir, Thermenregion, Austria
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of bright raspberry fruit and vanilla caramel. In the mouth, rich raspberry fruit is tinged with the vanilla of new oak and a bit of brown sugar. The wood is reasonably well integrated but still too strong for my taste. Good acidity and length. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

2011 Weingut Schloss Halbturn Pinot Noir, Burgenland, Austria
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of struck match and cherry. In the mouth the smoky sulfury flavor persists, with cherry and forest floor notes mixed in. Intense and not that tasty. 14% alcohol. Score: around 8.

2011 Weingut Pöckl Pinot Noir, Burgenland, Austria
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of bright forest berries and forest floor. In the mouth, bright and pure raspberry fruit is unfortunately laced with too much new oak to delight as much as it could. Drying tannins take away from the long finish. Excellent acidity. 14% alcohol. Score: around 8.5.

2011 Weingut Wagentristl Ried Kreideberg Pinot Noir, Burgenland, Austria
Medium garnet in hue, this wine smells of raspberries, cedar, and a hint of mint. In the mouth raspberry and green herbs mix with a juicy brightness thanks to excellent acidity. The oak, while present is fairly well integrated and never outshines the fruit. Excellent length. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9.

2011 Weingut Anton Bauer "Reserve Limited Edition" Pinot Noir, Niederösterreich, Austria
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of primarily new oak over the top of mixed berries. In the mouth forest berries mix with new oak and caramel with hints of cedar on the finish. Good acidity, but fairly confectionary. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5 .

2011 Weingut Heinrich Hartl "Graf Weingartl" Pinot Noir, Thermenregion, Austria
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherries and a hint of roofing tar. In the mouth smoky black cherry flavors mix with earth and forest floor. Good acidity, but way too dark for my taste. A hint of sweetness lingers in the finish. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5 .

2011 Weinbau Karl Fritsch "P" Pinot Noir, Niederösterreich, Austria
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of dried cherries and brown sugar, in the mouth the wine has a sweet raisined quality that is not particularly flattering. Cherry cough syrup lingers in the finish. Unsuccessful. 15% alcohol. Score: around 7. Cost: $35.

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