Monday, February 23, 2009

Austria Part IV

We have an early start at Hillinger with a strudel brunch and obligatory wine. The day starts right off the bus and into the vineyards where it is unholy cold again. There are ice crystals forming on the vines which look like water was misting at some point last night. One of Leo’s vineyards is pure chalk and one is pure shale. Walking the earth we see bits of both under foot. Inside we warm up with a little of Leo’s sparkling Secco which is a dry Pinot Noir Sekt (sparkling wine). The color is a dreamy pink and this is one we have sold back home in Durham very well. The good news? The price is going down and we will now be able to sell this for $15.99 per bottle. A steal when it arrives in March.

Leo regales us with the story of his beginnings and how he eventually built the winery into the hillside. His logo is all caps with the “L” letters backwards in his surname. Apparently this caused quite a stir among his peers at the time. For Leo it’s all about his hills and the play on the name. He makes red wines with the names Small Hill 1, Small Hill 2, and Small Hill 3. When asked why those names he simply replies, “well, I grow the grapes each on their own small hill and I couldn’t come up with a better name than Hill 1, 2 and 3.” Sometimes things are too obvious. I consider a second bowl of goulash, but no one like a goulash glutton.

We have a leisurely morning and then we are off to Wagram to meet Mr. Anton “Tony” Bauer, man of mystery. The winery is a short walk from the main road and we come to a rather subtle cellar as compared to the high fashion wineries we visited so far. The cellar walls have a thick black mold like shag carpet. Visitors have pressed euro coins into the walls for “good luck.” But if you ask me, Tony is saving the Euros to build a new 
winery.  Turns out I was half correct, later at the tasting room, Klaus and Tony roll out architectural drawings for the all new Anton Bauer estate. Needless to say it is grand! We spend some time in the cellars talking and tasting barrel samples of his 2008 vintage wines still working away. It’s dark, shadowy, cold and damp. A
 perfect cellar. Primed and ready, we have a short trip to the Bauer tasting room complete with food of course. We start with a sparkling and work through seventeen wines this afternoon, and that’s after the barrel samples. It’s tough work.  The wines are outstanding and Tony’s work is quickly rising to the top of 
the trip thus far. His wines maintain traditional flavors at times and in others I taste the future. I am completely blindsided by a sample of 2007 Grüner Veltliner, Grande Reserve simply because he has used oak barrel aging! But Tony, you can’t do that! Gruner Veltliner doesn’t come from oak barrels. Are you nuts? That’s like making oaky riesling, or grilling an egg or peanut butter on chopped liver. You just don’t do that. Tony explains that he wants to have a white wine that is “age-able for up to twenty years for his children” and this is how he thinks it should be done. Perhaps it was the twelve wines before it or even the “vineyard effect” of loving every wine because you are standing there,
 but the Grand Reserve was a show stopper. I sat at the table quietly mulling it over and trying to come to terms with a wood aged Gruner Veltliner. If I can like this, I guess I can come to terms with my daughter dating one day. (One day many, many years from now.) We are told the 2007 Grande Reserve was picked as one of the Top Ten wines in all of Austria last year. Tony continues on with the tasting leading us to odd grapes like Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet from Austria! At this point I have to remain open minded and as we taste vintages of his Wagram Cuvée 12 (Zweigelt/Blaufrankish/Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend) as it’s the twelfth vintage of course, and the Wagram Reserve (Cab/Syrah/Merlot/Zweigelt blend) I find myself with the same stunned feeling. I am quiet and smiling inside. If anyone asks, I’ll say my glow is the alcohol’s affect. The real test of these wines is yet to come as Tony is taking all of us to Toni Mörwold’s restaurant for dinner. Chef Toni is the “Emeril Lagasse” of Austria, complete with his own TV show and fine dining restaurant. His is a real celebrity and this Sunday night dinner is a special treat just for this group.

As we arrive, we are treated to an Amuse Bouche of baby greens with Foie Gras. And it’s a good thing because my Foie intake on this trip was getting low. Tony Bauer arrives with his beautiful golden retriever named Sammy after his favorite actor Samuel L. Jackson. Sammy even joins us on the floor during dinner. The first course is a foamy Gruner Veltliner cream soup with a cracker thin slice of fried bread floating in the middle. As I finish my bowl I quickly scanned the table to see if anyone was not finishing theirs. No luck. I seriously tried to order 10 gallons to take back to the US, but I am told it won’t make it through customs. This is absolutely one of the best soups I have ever tried and as much as I love soup, rarely do I rave about the dish. The 2004, 2005 and 2006 vintages of the Gruner Veltliner Grande Reserve are served beside the soup. Yes, they are still oaky, and yes the wines are a perfect match for this dish. I am in awe. Not only are they great, but the 2004 (the oldest vintage) is the perfect wine at this moment. I still can’t believe it. [I have ordered some Grande Reserve to arrive in March. I think Craig thought I was crazy for ordering an expensive, oak-aged Gruner. We’ll see what he says when he tastes it this spring. I could be in big trouble. Please be sure to try this one out, there will be very little available.] We are told the meal is halting for a special break and asked to leave the room. As we file into the adjoining banquet room, we see it is a makeshift movie theater. Tony Bauer debuts his newest short film called “Private Selection.” Tony made the film just for fun and to show off his rarest of all wines. You can watch the movie here.

The film was a blast and we return to the dining room where they are treating us to magnums of the legendary Private Selection at the table. I didn’t actually think we would get to taste it. The entrée arrives and we dig into Venison ragout with bread dumpling and lingonberry sauce. 
It’s like an Austrian Thanksgiving. The Wagram Reserve is served in multi vintage as well and all of them were drinking beautifully. I am a newcomer to Tony Bauer’s wines but now I have seen the future and this guy is going to help put Austrian wine on the tips of wine drinker’s tongues around the world one day. (photo above shows Tony Bauer, Toni Morwold and Klaus Wittauer after dinner)

Next stop, the Loisium hotel. - Salamanzar

(thanks to Doug D. and Karen M. for letting me use a photo or two)