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An Eiswein (Ice wine) themed #winechat on Twitter

The three dessert wines participating

The three dessert wines participating

Disclaimer: The wines were provided by the winery or wine association as samples.

Last week, I participated in a #winechat on Twitter. The theme was Eiswein (and dessert wine). The wines were supplied by Knapp Winery and Boundary Breaks Vineyards of the New York Finger Lakes region, and by the Austrian Wine representatives in the US. At 9pm EST on Wednesday, a group of several bloggers who received samples met with the organizers Protocol Wine Studio, the suppliers, winemakers and others interested folks to discuss the wines as well as ice wine in general.

For those unfamiliar with Eiswein (the German word for Ice wine), I wrote a longer piece about it a while back so please feel free to check it out here. To recap: Eiswein is made from grapes that are frozen on the vine (that’s for purists, like me, some regions, like Quebec, allow freezing off the vine). The grapes freeze, so all the water in the grape becomes ice. When you press these grapes, all you get is minuscule quantities of pure concentrated flavors. Sugar and acidity are extremely present in these wines. They make for some of the rarest wines in the world, and age ridiculously well.

Meats from Biercamp in Ann Arbor

Meats from Biercamp in Ann Arbor

We had a few friends over for trying the wines, because of their intensity, I usually only want a small glass of each wine. It is the perfect wine to share. We paired the wines with mostly cured meats from the wonderful Ann Arbor sausage shop Biercamp (duck bacon, Canadian bacon, and a honey/cracked pepper bacon as well as Andouille sausage), cheese (a creamy Delice de Bourgogne, Manchego, goat Parmiggiano, and Roquefort), as well as homemade (by one of our insanely talented baker friends) sweet macarons. I will write a separate post on what to pair with sweet wines, but for now you should know I prefer salty over sweet pairings.

Macaron made by our friend

Macaron made by our friend

But on to the wines. Up first was the 2012 Boundary Break Late Harvest Riesling (not technically an Ice wine). The wine is made by a young winery whose other Rieslings have gathered quite some praise from The New York Times and others. This wine was made with Riesling grapes from one single clone that come from a single vineyard. The vines were planted in 2010, so they were very, very young when the grapes were harvested for this wine. In Germany, winemakers tend to hold off on producing wine from vines that are under 4 years old. The wine had 127 grams of residual sugar per liter, and 14.2% ABV. The first thing we noticed when pouring was how light in color the wine was. The nose offered aromas of ripe cantaloupe, cream, honey, some vanilla, and something the reminded of gummy bears. On the palate, it was very sweet without much acidity, which was what surprised me the most. Its mouthfeel was light, and there were some orange bitter rinds like in English orange jelly. I struggled with this a bit. There was definitely craft in this wine, but I couldn’t help wondering whether the winemakers should have held off on making a small quantity, high level wine from such young vines. It also didn’t feel like a Riesling to most of us. Trying it with the macarons made the wine a bit more acidic, which was welcome. So this could definitely be paired with sweets. Retail price: $30

Boundary Breaks Riesling Late Harvest

Boundary Breaks Riesling Late Harvest

Next up: Knapp Winery’s 2012 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine. Harvested on January 3, 2012 at 11 degrees Fahrenheit (which by my standards makes it a 2011, because the grapes grew in 2011, not 2012), the wine spent almost a year fermenting slowly until it was bottled on December 20, 2012. 24 cases were produced, the wine has 12% ABV and 140 grams of residual sugar per liter. The wine’s color was more saturated than the Boundary Break Vineyard Riesling. The nose was gorgeous, with ripe aromas of spiced orange, some clove, bergamotte. On the palate, this Vidal Blanc showed good acidity, some smoky aromas, with a wonderful viscose mouthfeel to it. I got citrus aromas, mandarin oranges, and raisins mostly. What I was struggling with was the alcohol. It left an almost cognac feel to the wine on the finish, which I was not looking for in an Eiswein. Others on the table had less of an issue with this, so it might just have been me. When I retried this wine 6 days later, the alcohol had stopped bothering me. All in all, a solid wine with good primary Eiswein aromas. However, texturally it reminded me more of an Auslese or Beerenauslese than an Eiswein. I would probably not have identified it as such in a blind tasting. As for pairings: It worked remarkably well with the creamy delice de Bourgogne, taking off the edge of the alcohol. With the goat parmiggiano, more almondy flavors became present, and the bacons worked as well. While I thought it was also good with the macarons, I got shouted down by the table that that was not the case….Retail price: $25

Knapp Vidal Blanc Ice Wine

Knapp Vidal Blanc Ice Wine

Finally, we tried the Austrian 2009 Höpler Pinot noir Eiswein, an Eiswein made from the red grape Pinot noir. The wine poured in a gorgeous amber color, lush and rich and syrupy in texture. The nose was beautiful, with dried apricots, honey, and rum and raisin aromas. When I tried it, my first note read “ICEWINE”, underlined twice. The richness and flavors worked, the wine felt special, just like an Eiswein should. There was a wonderful smokiness to the wines, with the aromas from the nose persisting. Its finish was great: It became smoky again, with lots of honey, and a wonderful acidity that tickled your throat. The wine was decidedly heavier than the first two, and much more intense in flavors. It also paired the best with salty foods. This was a wonderful expression of how interesting ice wine from a red grape can be. Retail price: $69

Höpler Pinot noir Eiswein

Höpler Pinot noir Eiswein

All in all it was a great experience, and I am grateful for the organizers and hosts for letting me participates. The wines were all interesting and showed the diversity there is. The conversation on Twitter was lively and engaged, and I got into some really interesting side discussions about pairings and occasions to drink these wines.

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“Raindrops on Rotwein” Flight at Crush Wine Bistro in Anchorage

I indicated in my article on the wine bistro Crush in Anchorage, Alaska that we had their Austrian reds flight called “Raindrops on Rotwein”. The flight consisted of three Austrian reds made with typical Austrian red grapes: St. Laurent, Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt. All wineries have garnered some sort of international acclaim, be it in Falstaff magazine or Wine & Spirits. The flight was also really well composed, because the three grapes are connected:

The St. Laurent grape is in the same family as pinot noir. It is described as highly aromatic and is mostly grown in the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany. Blaufränkisch (literally “Blue Frankish”, also known as Lemberger) is a late ripening red grape rich in tannin, that is mostly grown in Central Europe. And finally, Zweigelt is a cross breed of the other two grapes which was created in 1922 by Mr. Zweigelt. It is now the most widely grown red grape in Austria.

I am not familiar at all with Austrian wines, let alone red wines. From what I gathered over the last years, Austria has made a tremendous comeback from its crisis days in the 1980s and a lot of my friends are really excited about Austrian wines. The few wines I have tried were Grüner Veltliner and Rieslings (what else?). My hometown winemaker also produces a St. Laurent that is decent, Nina likes it a lot. So when we saw that flight on the list, Nina and I decided to give it a try: two more grapes to knock off on our Wine Century Club application and the chance to try some reds from a region we knew practically nothing about drew us in.

Let me begin by saying that the tasting really challenged both of us. The wines were quite intense and different in many ways and not necessarily pleasantly so. It might be my underdeveloped palate or maybe I was just not expecting what ride I was in for…but to the wines:

Photo taken from the winery’s website

The first was a 2009 Sattler St. Laurent from Burgenland region. The Weingut Erich Sattler owns vineyards in what it describes as gravelly soil in the hot Burgenland region of Austria, around the village of Tadten. According to the website, the St. Laurent vines are over 40 years old. The winery’s stated goal is to make dense wines, and the St. Laurent ripened in steel tanks, staying on the lees for six months. It had 13% ABV.

In the glass, the St. Laurent was of a lighter red color, similar to a pinot noir. In the nose it was quite alcoholic, with plum and strawberry aromas. It smelled a bit unripe. In the beginning, this lighter bodied wine had a smooth mouthfeel to it, but soon peppery and bitter aromas came in that were increased by a significant amount of acidity. Add to that some burnt notes and the wine seemed quite unbalanced to me. When re-tasted later, the wine showed a bit more fruit (berries) and had a decent finish, but also seemed rather thin.

Photo Wine-Searcher

The second wine was a 2008 Prieler Johanneshöhe Blaufränkisch, also from the Burgenland region. Weingut Prieler is located in Schützen am Gebirge and its history goes back over 150 years. Prieler owns 20 hectares (around 50 acres) of vineyards. This particular vineyard is described as having brown loam soil with red pebbles, high in iron content. It also had 13% ABV.

In the glass, the wine had a ruby red color and showed beautiful viscosity. On the nose, I got earthy aromas of mushrooms and plum. The wine had a good, velvety texture but rather harsh tannins. The aromas we got were quite confusing: I thought I tasted salami (I swear to God!) and there seemed to be a cheesy note to it, too. Really weird. The finish was very short and quite bitter. All in all, this was a pretty harsh wine to me. It just did not work. Nina thought it was overripe overall.

Photo: CellarTracker

The third and last wine in the flight was a 2009 Glatzer Zweigelt Riedencuvée from the Carnuntum region. Weingut Glatzer is located in Göttlesbrunn in this Roman settled area of Southern Austria. Glatzer owns 54 hectares (133 acres) in a number of different vineyards. It focuses on red wines, with the largest crop being Zweigelt (20 hectares). This particular wine was grown on sandy loam soils and had between 12.5 and 13% ABV. It was aged for 9 months in 2000 liter casks.

In the glass, we got a darker ruby red wine. The nose was quite pungent, with aromas of sauerkraut, damp earth and burnt rubber. On the palate, this one had more weight to it than the other two. It had a velvety texture, but I could not get over the taste of burnt rubber that reminded me of everything that can go wrong in a pinotage; Nina remarked that she tasted ash. There were aromas of sour cherries and herbs, but the racing acidity in the end did not help it either. After 45 minutes I did get some strawberries, but the wine was just too sour for my taste.

I am not sure I went away from this tasting with a favorable view on the three wines we tried (re-reading my notes, I am pretty certain I did not). In hindsight, the first of the three was the most pleasant for me. Too bad that I thought it could only get better from there. Naturally, I was quite disappointed. I am now eager to try more Austrian wines, because these definitely did not cut it for me and I am sure there are some out there that are better suited for me. Having no real experience with Austrian reds, and also knowing a number of German reds that I find sub par, it is hard to know whether it is me or the wines…it was puzzling.

Has anyone tried Austrian reds and can point me to some I should try?

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