A glimpse of varieties not easily available in India

An invitation to an evening of Austrian wines is an unusual one.

So when Chinmaya Raja, who runs Tasting Pleasures, a membership-based foodie venture, asked me to attend one, I cancelled other engagements and made sure I was present.

If you discount a few bottles of Gruner Veltliner (and the odd sip from Riedel wine glasses), my experience of Austria and its wines were almost zero. I went hoping there would be more to the evening than the country’s signature white wine, marked by the characteristics that other wines have one or two of — boldness, fruitiness, spiciness, ‘slatiness’, minerality, etcetera. Austria, after all, has unique grape varietals, and much more to offer than Gruner Veltliner.

We start, not surprisingly, with a Gruner called Imperatrice Elizabeth created in association with Wine Estate Hintemeyer and Vini Cultura Austria, the sweet fruitiness of which was compensated by a nice spicy undertone of white pepper. Next up was a Riesling, which seemed to defy the convention that all Austrian wines, if you discount the dessert wines, are dry (trocken). Unlike neighbouring Germany, Austria doesn’t have classifications for such things as off-dry and medium-sweet wines, and this one seemed far removed from super-crisp crystal clear Rieslings that the country is famous for.

We follow this up with an oaked Gruner Veltliner, another unusual departure for a country that believes — like Germany — in respecting the grape and not manipulating its inherent flavours in the winemaking process. Everybody in the group would have mistaken this one, which came from Burgenland, one of the country’s four wine-growing regions, for a typical soft buttery Chardonnay if they hadn’t known.

It was the next two wines that I looked forward to with the most interest. I had only read about Zweigelt, an intriguing varietal, being cloned by a man of the same name from two other Austrian red varietals — St. Laurent and Blaufrankisch. From the Carnuntum wine region, it has the easy drinking appeal of a Gamay and the cherry and cassis notes of a Pinot Noir. We moved on to a single varietal St. Laurent, which had dark Shiraz-like notes, before ending with a Gerwurztraminer, which seemed, quite oddly, as if it couldn’t make up its mind whether it was a semi-sweet or dessert wine.

All in all, an evening that afforded a glimpse and some knowledge of wines from a country not easily available in India.

(mukund.p@thehindu.co.in)

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