Discover the Natty Side of Austria
Our correspondent in Vienna recommends some great natural wines, along with three skin contact picks from Jason.
Part 1: Unexpected Varieties
By Daniela Dejnega, reporting from Vienna
In Austria, it all started in the early 2000s with a few pioneers who were seen as weirdos at the time. Twenty years later, the situation is completely different and the Austrian natural wine scene is very lively and diverse. More and more winemakers are working organically or biodynamically in the vineyard, tending their vines with great dedication. Their approach to vinification in the cellar is also different and low-intervention. Natural wines usually remain unfiltered and are often cloudy; sulfur is used to a very limited extent. The four wines below from different regions and grape varieties represent the diversity of Austrian natural wines today.
Cabernet franc from Austria? Yes, it does exist, albeit very rarely. You can find it in Burgenland, in the region of Lake Neusiedl, where Christian Tschida does great things with the variety. Kapitel I is a wonderfully elegant red wine of cabernet franc with a dash of Blaufränkisch — a wonderful introduction to Tschida's natural wines. From the beginning Tschida rarely followed rules. Over the years, he has perfected his style emphasizing finesse and delicacy. This is also the case with Kapitel I. Tschida works very hard in the vineyard; this is where he creates quality. In the cellar, his intention is to reduce interventions. Kapitel I, vinified in large barrels, is a flavorful red wine from cabernet franc with only 12 percent alcohol. “With higher alcohol,” Tschida says, “it's easy to create fullness and mouthfeel; it's much harder to make light reds with depth and complexity.” With spicy, redberry-peppery notes, juicy texture, fine length and elegance Kapitel I seems to be dancing in your mouth. With about 90 percent going into export, Tschida’s wines are scarce in Austria. Be sure to listen to our interview with Christian Tschida in Episode 2 of our podcast!
Fred Loimer has been running his winery in Kamptal biodynamically for almost 15 years. Known for outstanding grüner veltliner and riesling, Loimer also vinifies a fine series of skin-contact whites (orange wines) that he calls Mit Achtung – wines “with attention.” Among these we find his delicious Gemischter Satz Mit Achtung. Gemischter satz is a traditionally a field blend in Austria, and this wine comes from an old vineyard on the Zöbinger Eichelberg, planted with grüner geltliner, roter riesling, roter veltliner, traminer, weisser riesling and welschriesling. Maceration on the skins lasts four weeks, then the wine is aged in barrels. Loimer first began experimenting with fermentation on the skins back in 2003, and by now these wine show amazingly fine-grained tannins, high complexity and wonderful balance. “When you leave out technical aids in the cellar, you have to bring something else in — and that's the time factor,” Loimer says of his approach. The current release is the 2015 vintage, and these few years of bottle aging suit the wine perfectly.
You can love or hate the aromatic gelber muskateller. Sepp Muster's Muskateller “Vom Opok” is also suitable for people who usually don’t like gelber muskateller, because it doesn’t scream at you with loud aromatics, but rather is characterized by its fresh spiciness and its salty minerality. This elegant and vibrant wine, that encourages every next sip, is so very different. (Opok, by the way, is the name of the lime marl soil so typical of the region. Muster uses grapes from younger vines, up to 20 years old, for his Opok wines. Muster learned about biodynamics back in the late nineties and is one of the true pioneers of biodynamic viticulture, Demeter certified since 2003. A better soil life, more balance in the vineyard and the increase of the resilience of the vines are his main goals. And in the cellar, it goes without saying: no cultured yeasts, no additives, no fining, no filtration and low amounts of sulfur. Wine lovers who are looking for individuality and authenticity in wine will find it here. To try this wine with almost decade of age, we also found the 2011 vintage available at Chambers Street Wines ($33).
Claus Preisinger has been making wine since 2000 and from the start his elegant pinot noir quickly ranked among the best in Austria. Yet over the years, as he converted his winery to biodynamic farming, a change in wine style has taken place. Preisinger’s pinot noir has become increasingly light-footed, fresh and vibrant. Today, the wine has just 11.5 or 12 percent alcohol. It’s a lightness that’s not typical for Burgenland, where plenty of sun and warmth allow the grapes to ripen quickly, and where pinot noir wines can easily turn out a bit too voluminous, too round, too lush. But there is another way. Preisinger is not only a committed biodynamicist, but also a quality fanatic who takes a purist approach in the cellar. His pinot noir vines grow on the elevated but flat Parndorfer Platte with gravelly soils, where it is particularly windy and a touch cooler than in the gentle slopes of the Neusiedlersee area. Early harvesting ensures fresh acidity and the light-footedness of a dancer. With fine red berry and an abundance of structure and minerality, Preisinger’s pinot noir is still one of the best in Austria. For a more recent vintage, Also be sure to check out our tasting notes on Preisinger’s Kalkundkiesel white blend.
Part 2: The Joys of Skin Contact (aka “Orange Wines”)
3 Bottle Picks by Jason Wilson
A free spirit, a delicious experiment in structure from one of the most exciting Kamptal producers of the moment. It’s super peppery, with lots of layers, and a precise finish.
“Skin contact is something that’s beautiful,” said Kremstal producer Christoph Hoch. “Usually it’s a good thing. With Covid, it’s been something forbidden.” This is a unique blend of three vintages. Lightly golden and just a touch of haze. Lots of spice and a tiny bit of funk/animal on the nose. On the palate it’s dense, with notes of grilled lemon, quirky tannins, and lots of saltiness that carries through the finish.
Classic orange wine, whether Tschida wants to use the term or not. “It took me five years of trial and error until I was so happy with the vintage of 2010,” Tschida said. “But in 2010, the world was not ready for wine I made in this way.” This is a wine that’s fun and serious at the same time. Wild peppery edge, full of power and density, balanced by lightness and extraordinary freshness. Be sure to listen to our interview with Christian Tschida in Episode 2 of our podcast!