Article written for Chambers Street Wines, view it here
The city limits of a major European city are not the usual haunts for winemakers, but the northwest corner of Vienna is a notable exception. It was here that the ancient Pannonian Sea halted, leaving a wide assortment of mineral and fossil deposits on sites like the Nussberg hill, which starts at the Danube and climbs to 1,000 feet. Though the wine culture of Vienna has been a significant part of the city since the Romans, winemakers like Jutta Ambrositsch and Rainer Christ are helping to turn the world's attention to the ancient tradition of the field blends that are unique to Vienna, helping to reinvigorate and preserve the vineyards of the city, which now occupy highly desirable real estate. Ambrositsch left a job as a graphic designer at age 28, and since 2003 all of her farming has been done according to organic and biodynamic principles, with fermentations occurring spontaneously and no other intervention in the cellar save for minimal sulfur at bottling. She makes tiny quanities, maybe 500 cases total, mostly from parcels on the Nussberg, and demand for her wines has been steadily increasing. Rainer Christ, a 5th-generation Viennese winemaker, farms organically on the Bisamberg hill, across the Danube and to the northeast of the Nussberg. His basic Gemischter Satz is a perfect introduction to this revitalized facet of Vienna's historic cultural identity.
An hour's drive upriver from Vienna, the Wachau is home to Nikolaihof, an estate dating to 470 A.D. that has never used chemicals, and has practiced biodynamics since 1971. Their wines can be inscrutable in their youth, only to blossom magically years later. Such is the case with their 2006 Riesling Federspiel Vom Stein. Not a particularly heralded vintage and not one of their top bottlings, this is nevertheless having a moment right now after being kept in 2,000L cask until being bottled last year. On the other hand, their recently released 2013 Hefeabzug Grüner Veltliner is in spectacular shape right out of the gate.
In neighboring Kamptal, Alwin Jurtschitsch and Stefanie Hasselbach recently took over Alwin’s family’s centuries-old estate, converting to organic viticulture while reducing their holdings to a size more manageable by hand. The work shows in their focused, precise wines. Just minutes from Jurstschitsch, also in the town of Langenlois, is Weingut Weszeli, a partnership between Rupert Summerer and Davis Weszeli that focuses on single-vineyard Kamptal Grüner Veltliner and Riesling grown organically and made without manipulation. Theirs are rich, heady, but keenly balanced wines.
In the south of Austria near Hungary, despite an abundance of modern winemaking and fruity, reductive reds, Uwe Schiefer and Christoph Wachter are among a small but increasing number who are now raising the bar for Austrian red wines. Both produce serious Blaufränkisch from the iron, slate, and schist-laden soils of Südburgenland’s Eisenberg, farming organically and fermenting the wines with traditional methods including some whole clusters and using large, neutral oak barrels.
Efforts to minimize chemicals in the vineyards and craft wines that passionately express their unique origins are always welcome, so we’re excited to offer this collection of new vintages from old favorites and new entries from an inspiring group of up-and-coming Austrians.
A deeply delicious, satiating field blend from Vienna that includes Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder, Gelber Muskateller, and Sauvignon Blanc. From younger vines grown on the Bisamberg and done entirely in steel tank. Minimal use of sulphur. Rich, giving, plush, and delightfully fresh. Hints of peach nectar, pineapple, and plenty of acidity to provide balance to the touch of remaining sugar (just 8-10 g/l). A must-try with spicy Asian food, vegetable gratins, or simply on its own in the park.
Very pure, bracing, and direct, with a spectacular dose of minerals. Refreshing, with stone fruit flesh and lime. A very pretty and thrilling field blend (Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Welschriesling, Weissburgunder, and more) in a liter bottle! Crisper and more focused than the 2012 bottling. Jutta Ambrositsch has been at the forefront of the natural wine movement and revitalizing the historic vineyards inside Vienna's city limits, especially those of the Nussberg. Highly recommended.
Teeming with a freshness that is deeply soulful, and remunerative. Fermentation stopped with some residual sugar, but this only adds to the wild, thirst-quenching powers of the wine and reinforces the feeling of warm, healing sunshine. A field blend from a small parcel in the 19th District near Grinzing planted in 1972 that includes Grüner Veltliner, Neuberger, and the rare Grüner Sylvaner with some more recent plantings of Grüner Veltliner and Rieslings by Jutta.
One of the oldest cellars and wineries in the Kamptal, Alwin Jurtschitsch and Stefanie Hasselbach took over the family estate and have scaled back their holdings, planted fruit trees and garlic between rows, and converted to organic and biodynamic practices. The Stein Grüner Veltliner is from the Loisenberg and Steinmassl vineyards and shows off a remarkably focused style with excellent acidity and terrific dose of salty, mineral elements. This is a young winemaking couple to keep an eye on.
Very pretty tension between the acid and fruit. Ripe, fleshy, and giving, with a touch of residual sugar but terrific overall balance. Finishes dry with a delicious salinity. An immensely giving, versatile Kamptal Riesling.
This remained on fine lees in 2,000L cask until being bottled in 2013. All from clean fruit with no botrytis, this is an absolute breath of fresh air. Lovely, alluring, and soft, teeming with chamomile and mountain flowers. Some texture on the finish. Exceptionally beautiful.
Always an affordable treat from an historic estate, this basic Grüner aged on the lees is simply transcendent in 2013. Heady, soft, fresh aromas of mountain meadow and autumn leaves. The lees add some body to crisp but moderate acid, reminiscent of ripe apples. Strikingly pure, ethereal.
Plush blueberry and cherry complemented by a dark, chewy structure that is the result of 15% whole clusters and 18 months in 500-1000L neutral barrel. From a 5-hectare parcel on the Eisenberg, this is serious Blaufränkisch that will continue to develop and improve in the bottle. Focused, stony, and a little tight right now but still excellent. Drink now with some air beforehand, or enjoy over the next 10 years.