The hills are alive with the taste of rosé

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A few years ago, Austrian rosé was little known, just mean acidic Schilchers from Styria (related to the schillers of Germany), or heavier styles, a by-product of bigger red wines. In the past ten years, rosé production has grown, with peak consumption in the summer, often drunk with soda water. The most common variety is Zweigelt (a St Laurent x Blaufränkisch blend), alone or in a blend, as well as Blaufränkisch and Cabernet, also found in Hungarian, Slovakian and Czech rosés.

While Austrian rosé sales may have grown a little slower than surrounding countries, both quality and creativity have leapt ahead. Their good acidity, ripe fruit, ageing potential, and overall quality, results in some very serious wines. Austrian MW, Andreas Wickhoff explains that the rise of biodynamics and the “slow wine” movement in Austria has led to rosés with a touch more colour, extract, tannin structure, low/no SO2 levels, with more diverse styles, and creativity in wine making, contributing to some exciting and innovative rosés.

I tasted 80 rosés, which, unless otherwise stated, were from 2018. As I tasted, I divided them into the following groups.

Pale pink to blanc de noir

This style made up the biggest category, reflecting the current international trend for very pale rosé. Closer to white wine in style with creamy, white peach fruit and fresh berry acidity. Good examples were from Anton Waldschütz’s‘Hof’; Geyerhof (2017); Durnberg’s ‘Cool Climate’ Falkenstein; Jurtschitsch Langenlois (all Zweigelt) and, Stift Göttweig’s Messwein all from Niederösterreich. Artisan WinesMerlot Reserve (2017) Burgenland, is a classic blanc de noir with black fruit and a hint of salinity.

Taking this style a little further, were some more intense, complex and weighty rosés, presented in dark bottles (paleness evidently not their selling feature). Petershof from Weingut Christ, Wien has wild berry acidity, firm mineral, structure finishing with zippy freshness and a long saline finish; Johannes Gebeshuber’s Querfeldein, Thermenregion has elegant sour and sweet cherry fruit with salt and white almonds, fresh minerality and long saline acidity and Theresa Haider’s Pink, a serious, powerful wine with white nuts, wild berries, firm structure and long mouth-watering finish.

Red berry, mineral and saline

Similar in style, but with more red fruit, these rosés formed another group. Bernhard Ott’s Rosalie from Wagram, full of ripe, red berries tempered by a dry, saline finish, steely, almost mouth-puckering acidity and a mineral austerity. Johannes Trapl, Niederösterreich has two rosés in this section. His classic has vibrant sour redcurrants and cherries, firm minerality and mouth-watering, crunchy acidity. His No added nonsense is smooth and silky with intense sweet and sour cherry fruit, with hints of almonds backed by a long fresh mineral core and vibrant acidity.

Johannes Zillinger has three rosés, two here, and one more full-bodied. Velue Cabernet, a serious rosé for red wine lovers with red berry fruit, hints of leather and savoury spice, high acidity, austere, mineral structure and a hint of almond tannin on the finish. His Revolution Pink Solera, with whole berries fermented in amphora, has ripe strawberries, cherries and wild hedgerow fruit with smooth, creamy texture balanced by a mineral core and chewy acidity.

Domäne Wachau Rosé Federspiel (Zweigelt) Wachau, is fragrant with ripe red berries and blue flowers, creamy, silky texture, a hint of savoury spice, long blue mineral structure and crisp red berry acidity. Schödl Loidesthal‘s Rosengarten (Pinot Noir) has sun-kissed silky cherry fruit, a vibrant acidity and saline finish. Rabl’s, Rosé Celestia (Zweigelt) has opulent cherry, raspberry and redcurrant fruit forming a weighty, structured intensity, lifted by piercing acidity and fine-boned minerality.

Full-bodied fruit

The next group has less saline minerality, more obvious fruit fullness and is interesting because they also share some vinification techniques such as spontaneous fermentation.

These first three, from Burgenland, share an intense ripe berry fruit. Umathum’s Rosa has opulent, weighty full-bodied fruit perfectly balanced by fresh acidity and a saline mineral restraint.

Franz Weninger’s Rózsa Petsovits, on the Austro-Hungarian border, has intense full-bodied, ripe sour red cherries, redcurrants, spice, with hints of blue flower minerality. Mouth-watering with refreshingly sour fruit. Heidi Schröck’s Biscaya (9 varieties aged in acacia) was full of ripe juicy cranberries and dried fruit, with dry, savoury notes, vibrating acidity and a long saline finish.

With great balance of ripeness and acidity, Domaine Wachau’s 1805 Reserve (Pinot Noir and Zweigelt) uses spontaneous fermentation in 500l barrels. Pretty vanillin oak aromas emphasise the slightly floral character; the beautifully integrated oak gives extra weight to the ripe berry and cherry fruit, with mouth-watering acidity and a saline mineral finish. Zillinger’s Numen (St Laurent unfiltered), is a pale ruby red with dark rich fruit, black cherries, red berries, leather, Christmas spice and fresh acidity. This may not be everyone’s definition of a rosé, but I love it.

Summer drinking

Fresh and fruity summer rosés included some of the few from the 2019 vintage. From Burgenland, Tinhof’s Blaufränkisch is a fruit bowl of blackberry, mulberry and creamy peach fruit with fresh, zippy acidity and a restrained dry finish; Höpler’s Rosé Celestia is delicate and creamy, with fresh cherry fruit, floral notes, hints of spice and fresh acidity and Prieler’s Rosé vom Stein has soft ripe cherry and red berry fruit, delicate minerality and long fresh acidity.

From Niederösterreich, Ingrid Groiss’s Cuvée Rot is quite joyous with intense red berry fruit, crunchy acidity and a whisper of minerality; Gottfried Mittelbach’s Klassik Zweigelt has cherry and raspberry jam and sour red berries and vibrant acidity and Winzer Krems’s Sandgrube 13 (Zweigelt 2019) is full of cherries, redcurrants and fresh crisp acidity.

Sparkling rosés

Diversity continues in the sparkling rosés, from the gentle, creamy cherry fruit of Felsner’s Frizzanteto more serious traditional method fizz. Feiler-Artinger’s Sekt has crisp red fruit, floral notes, fine mineral acidity and a saline finish. Bründelmayer’s Brut shows age with evident autolysis, wild red berries, tart, crisp acidity and minerality. Kracher’s Brut has pretty creamy ripe black cherries and fresh redcurrants with slightly leafy acidity, while Erich & Walter Polz’s 2012 Brut has elegant creamy cherry fruit, some autolysis and a long austere mineral finish.

This diversity means there is no single Austrian Rosé style, which for me makes them so exciting.

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Based on an article first published by The Buyer 2 February 2020, iIn a tasting organised for me by Austrian Wine.

Authentic Wines of Slovakia

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First published in The Buyer in March 2020

Very little is known of Slovakian wine in the West, although that looks set to change, argues Elizabeth Gabay MW, who describes it as one of the most exciting wine regions she is working with. The once-marginal climate led to a whole slew of crossed grape varieties including Alibernet, Dunaj, Devín and Svojsen being developed by vine breeders who have since achieved cult status for their work. Many of the wines are ‘on-trend’ featuring skin contact, high acidity, purity of fruit and experimentation with fermentation and ageing vessels. In this insightful piece Gabay looks at the producers of ‘authentic’ Slovakian wine, the varieties they are working with and highlights the wines that she thinks are worth seeking out.

“‘Authentic’ wines from Slovakia with diverse fruit character and vibrant acidity, serve as ambassadors of quality, regional character and a blend of modernity and historic traditions,” writes Gabay.

A surge in new estates and young winemakers, creating wines which are uniquely Slovakian, with both international varieties and a large range of crossed varieties, is a breath of fresh air in a market looking for something new, and makes Slovakia one of the most exciting regions I work with. Reductive winemaking with purity of fruit and high acidity are a hallmark of modern Slovakian wine, with some experimentation, harking back to pre-Communist traditions, including spontaneous fermentation, skin contact, different fermentation and ageing vessels.

Slovakia lies in the heart of Central Europe, bordered by Hungary to the south, Austria and the Czech Republic to the west, Poland to the north and Ukraine to the east. Until recent climate changes, its southern vineyards around 48N were regarded as the northernmost limit for winemaking in Europe with the northern Tatra mountain ranges being too cold. This northerly climate has resulted in strong German influences, such as the expression of potential alcohol levels in “fermentable sugar” and labels indicating a wine’s sweetness. Vintage variation, especially for reds is important.

This marginal climate led to a number of crossed varieties being developed throughout central and eastern Europe. Red crosses used include Alibernet (Alicante Bouchet x Cabernet Sauvignon), Dunaj ((Muscat Bouschet x Oporto) x St. Laurent); Hron and Nitra (both crossings of Abouriou Noir x Castets) and André (Frankovka Modrá x St Laurent). Amongst the whites, Devín (Red Traminer x red-white Veltliner), Svojsen ((Pinot Gris x FeteascăAlbă) x Riesling), Milia (Müller Thurgau x Traminer), Breslava ((Traminer x Chasselas) x Santa Maria d’Alcantara), and Noria (Ezerjó x Traminer). Vine breeders, in particular Dorota Pospíšilová in Slovakia, has hallowed status.

International varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir (particularly successful), Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, and Central European varieties such as Frankovka Modrá (Blaufränkisch), Svätovavrinecké (St Laurent), Modrý Portugal (Portugieser), Grüner Veltliner (Veltlínské zelené), Welschriesling, Furmint, Lipovina (Hárslevelü), and Traminer.

The Small Carpathians Wine Region (blue); the South Slovak Wine Region (pink); the Nitra Wine Region (green); the Central Slovak Wine Region (brown); the East Slovak Wine Region (yellow) and Tokaj (red).

The country is divided into six regions, although these are administrative rather than terroir-based and, outside of Tokaj, grapes from all regions can be blended together. Regional character is developing.

The Small Carpathian hills, running south-east to north-west north of Bratislava, are based on granite with outcrops of decomposed schist and phyllite, resulting in greater minerality, zesty acidity and a floral note to the wines. Karpatska Perla, one of the largest estates, has almost forty different labels. Single vineyard wines show diversity with Grüner Veltliner (Ingle: zesty lime and white fruit and Noviny: rich cream, honey and nuts), Rieslings and Pinot Noir.

Neighbouring estate, the family owned Terra Parna works with similar varieties. Its elegant Portugieser, a variety present in the region since the 17thcentury, has structural inky black fruit and saline finish. Vladimir Magula’s new estate makes natural wines, including an apple-crumble rich Olaszrizling with zesty acidity; a spontaneous ferment Portugieser and Frankovka Modrá and Unplugged Frankovka Modrá (cranberry, spice, blue flower minerality and silky tannins). Martin Pomfya new, rapidly growing estate has a mix of varieties, with whites sourced in the Small Carpathians (including a delicious creamy Chardonnay) and reds from the south. Local variety wines include Breslava (fragrant floral fruit and long citrus acidity) and Red Traminer (intriguing Christmas spice, crystallised ginger and Seville marmalade).

Oenologist Edita Ďurčová works with several different wineries to make a classic Pinot Noir red, Pinot Theresian, an aromatic white from Devín and a fruity Nitria-based rosé in her Vinifera range.

Slobodne, on the border between the Small Carpathians and Nitra, currently converting to biodynamic, has a large range of wines: Eggstasy of the Alpinist, a skin-contact Riesling in amphora (long and fresh with an orange tang); Cutis Deviner, an orange wine of Devín and Traminer (aromatic with saline texture) and Pyramid, a Gewürztraminer in qveri, (citrus-fresh, creamy ginger.)

The gentle hills of South Slovakia (level with Burgenland) slope down to the Danube, on largely calcareous clay, loess and alluvial soils, producing riper, rounder fruit. Winemaker Miroslav Petrech at Chateau Béla, (owned by Egon Müller), makes elegant lime and floral dry Riesling, reminiscent of Mosel and rich late-harvest wines.

Nearby Chateau Rúbaň produces similar Rieslings, aromatic wines from Svojsen (fresh citrus and herbal freshness); Noria (off-dry, violets and peaches) and Milia (honeysuckle and lemon). Brothers Lukás and Matús Berta of Vinárstvo Berta have a floral Moravian Muscat (Muscat Ottonel x Prachtraube); a tropical rich Pinot Gris and Rúbaňand Berta both have leafy floral Alibernet’s with cassis fruit and bitter chocolate tannins. Tomáš Sládeček at Velkeer, has an intense Riesling (peach and lime cordial) and an orange wine made with Pálava (Czech crossing: Red Traminer x Müller-Thurgau) and Traminer full of orange flower perfume, Seville marmalade and saline finish. The Kasnyik brothers have skin-contact Riesling and Welschriesling (honeyed rich dried fruit), a concentrated floral, peach and cream Grüner Veltliner, an orange Riesling and a stylish Pinot Noir. Bott Frigyes, an established biodynamic producer, has a wide range of varieties including a lime and mineral Riesling and an intense black cherry Pinot Noir.

The Central region includes the south-facing slopes of the extinct volcano, Sitno, with the old gold-mining city of Banská Štiavnicain its crater. Brano Nichta produces Dunaj from some of the oldest plantings in the country. On volcanic soils, the minerality and structure carry Dunaj’s floral notes and show ability to age. Natural winemaker Marek Uhnák of Čajkov makes a pink skin-contact Pinot Gris (creamy red fruit and complex notes of orange and spice) and a partial skin-contact Devín which retains the variety’s aromatics with extra mineral structure.

Tokaj in south eastern Slovakia is a geological extension of the Hungarian region, using the same varieties Furmint, Lipovina and Yellow Muscat, and measures the botrytis berries with puttonyos. Ostrozovic and Tokaj & Co produce dark gold, rich marmalade and Christmas pudding style wines. Macik has moved towards more reductive style Tokaj with fresh fruit.

In the context of the wider, more commercial Slovakian production, these ‘authentic’ wines, with diverse fruit character and vibrant acidity, (only available in relatively small quantities, RRP ranging €8 to €30), serve as ambassadors of quality, regional character and a blend of modernity and historic traditions.