Austrian Wines

It seems everyone is looking for the next new to the market wine producer, and Austria is definitely one of my favorites.  Though they seem new to the world market, they have a history that can be traced by four thousand years.  They were popular in past centuries and were the third largest producer in the world as recently as post World War I.  Unfortunatley, they produced mainly diluted bulk wine, but that changed with government regulations calling for smaller yields, technological advancement and more dry and red wine production.

Austria mainly grows Grüner Veltliner (36%), a white grape varietal with mineral, peach and pepper characteristics renowned for its food-friendly character.  They also produce Riesling and Müller-Thurgau, which is known to be light-bodied and full of green apple and mineral notes.  They are starting to be known for reds, which account for 30% of total production.  Zweigelt accounts for most of it and makes long lasting wines with jammy, cherry flavor along with pepper and soft tannins.  Blaufränkisch (also known as Lemberger) is another serious red making wines higher in tannins with dark fruit and spice notes.  Also made is Pinot Noir, known as Blauerburgunder.

I recently received a couple of samples, and here's how they scored:

2008 Forstreiter Gruner Veltliner Schiefer Kremstal DAC Reserve ($21).  This is a serious white with medium plus acidity, meyer lemon and tropical fruit flavor along with a touch of white pepper, slatey minerality and lemongrass.  Long flavor length and is surprisingly creamy on the palate.  (91 WG)

2007 Tinhof Blaufrankisch Bergenland ($20).  A light-bodied wine full of ripe dark cherry, red peppercorn, and cinnamon along with herbs and minerality.  (86 WG)

A few of my favorites also include Domäne Wachau Riesling Smaragd "Terrassen", Prager Riesling Federspiel, Paul Achs Zweigelt Langer Acker, Heinrich Blaufrankisch and Szigeti Sekt sparkling wines.  I highly recommend trying Austrian wines as I have found them to be, on the average, the highest quality wines in the world.  Ein Prosit!

New Year's Eve Sparkling Bargains

So the New Year is just around the corner and you still haven't gotten around to picking that special beverage for your midnight toast.  Not a problem!  There are many very good, affordable choices out there to be had and sure not to disappoint.  Now you can always drop the plastic and pick up a bottle of Champagne, most of which cost over $30 per bottle.  But there's so many bottles of sparkling wine to grab that taste great and cost around $20 or less.  Let's get down to some of these choices:

There is always value to be found in Italy and for this occasion, grab the Prosecco.  It's a light, fresh sparkling wine made from a grape with the same name.  It typically has fairly intense primary flavors like pear, peach and apple.  I recommend Mionetto ($9.99) or Bisol ($12.99).

Cava has been a hot item, made in Spain from typically three different local varietals: Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada.  It's made in the traditional method, where fermentation takes place in bottle, giving it extra complexity as the wine ages on the lees.  My favorite producer is Gran Sarao ($8.99) as they add a touch of Chardonnay to the blend giving it more body.

Next stop we have Methode Cap Classique, or sparkling wines from South Africa fermented in the bottle.  Many of these are made with Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc, but Chardonnay and Pinot Noir use is growing.  Go for the Graham Beck Brut ($14.99), a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with nice weight and lemon custard pie flavor.

In central Europe, the Germans and Austrians also are involved in excellent sparkling wine production, known as sekt.  The Germans normally (90%) use imported juice to make their sparkling wines, while the Austrians use local varietals and the traditional method to make theirs.  I'm a big fan of Szigeti Austrian sparkling Gruner Veltliner ($18.99) for it's clean apple flavor and light pepper spice.

We are, of course, no slouches to making sparkling wines in the United States.  California has great producers like Domaine Chandon, Iron Horse, Schramsberg and Domaine CarnerosSoter and Argyle are some of the best from Oregon, while Domaine Ste. Michelle holds the reigns in Washington state.  Chandon's Riche ($14.99), Schramsberg Mirabelle ($21.99) and Ste. Michelle's Blanc de Blanc ($7.99) provide a good range of weight, fruit, and style at inexpensive pricing.  I also really like Gruet Rose ($13.99) from New Mexico, as it provides a sparkling wine with excellent red fruit taste.

Now before we bypass France altogether, it's important to remember that there are alot more sparkling wines than just those that come from the Champagne region, mostly known as Cremant.  Examples can be seen all over the country, but I highly recommend one from Alsace by Gustave Lorentz ($14.99) made mostly of Pinot Blanc.  It has excellent citrus and apple with bright floral aromatics.

Whatever you choose, I'm sure that you will enjoy your New Year.  But just remember: be responsible and ask the Windy City Wine Guy for any further recommendations you may need.

(image courtesy of flickr)