In my very first post for the World of Wine Review I reviewed an inexpensive Grüner Veltliner that I purchased up at Trader Joes. I don’t have very much experience with this grape and those that I have tasted have had a simple citrus profile with white pepper in the back ground. Consequently when I hear the words “Grüner Veltliner” that is what I expect to find and when tasting blind and considering the possibility that the wine may be a GV, those are the aromas and fruit profile I am looking for. But forming such a profile in one’s mind from such little experience with a wine can be a huge mistake. What is really needed to have an accurate perception of a grape is to experience at least 50 or so wines of a particular grape varietal from a multitude of vintages and from multiple diverse regions. Only then can a person have an accurate memory profile of a wine.
On Day 6 of the ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training program we tasted 7 wines, the second was a Grüner Veltliner of higher quality than any I had ever experienced and it didn’t quite fit the profile I had in my mind. So, now I have to re-think this grape and taste a lot more of them to expand my perception of this wine and I am hoping the 2012 Biohof Pratsch Grüner Veltliner will be a valuable addition to my understanding of Grüner Veltliner.
Austrian Wine Classifications
Austrian wines are mostly dry white wines, the most well-known being made from the Grüner Veltliner grape. But they also produce sweeter white wines around Lake Neusiedl (German: Neusiedler See). About 30% of Austrian wines are red with the primary grapes being Blaufränkisch (also known as Lemberger or Kékfrankos in Hungary), Pinot Noir and native varieties such as Zweigelt.
The two top classifications for Austrian wine are Qualitätswein (“Quality wine”) and Prädikatswein. The bottom classifications are the same as in Germany - Landwein and Tafelwein which contain under ripe grapes that need to be chaptalized (sugar added).
The Prädikatswein classification for Austrian wine is also very similar to that in Germany in that it uses the same terms for designating various levels of ripeness (Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein, Trockenbeerenauslese) with the additional categories of Schilfwein and Ausbruch. Schilfwein, also known as Strohwein, is a method of making dessert wines. The grapes are harvested late and then air dried on straw or reed mats for at least three months to concentrate their flavor. Ausbruch refers to a method of making dessert wine from grapes affected by noble rot which is identical to the Hungarian method for making Tokaji.
In Wachau, a wine region in northeastern Austria, they have a unique classification with 3 categories: Steinfeder (the lowest), Federspiel and Smaragd (the highest). The terms relate to the level of ripeness as they are picked at different points in harvest to create a different style of wine. Steinfeder tends to be fairly low in alcohol due to the lower level of ripeness, around 11.5%. Federspiel are comparable to those termed “Kabinett” quality in Germany with alcohol levels between 11.5% and 12.5%. The term Smaragd means “emerald” (named after green lizards in the vineyards) and it is used to designate wines with the highest alcohol content. The grapes are picked at least a week after the main harvesting begins so it has more sugar (a minimum of 19° KMW.) This does not mean it is a sweet wine; in fact, a wine with over 9 g/l of residual sugar cannot be labeled Smaragd. Following an old tradition, Smaragd wines are fermented until fermentation comes to a natural standstill and they must have longer corks (minimum of 49mm) and cannot be released until after May 1 of the year following the harvest.
A new classification system is being given a trial run in Austria that regulates wine production under Districtus Ausriae Controllatus (DAC) which is Latin for “controlled district of Austria.” This system is similar to the AOC laws of France.
The Climates and Soils of Austria
In general, Austria is a cool climate country but there are many regional differences, such as diversity in soil structure and varied microclimate conditions. There are 4 major wine growing regions in Austria are Niederösterreich (27,128 ha / 67,034 acres), Burgenland (13,840 ha / 34,200 acres) and Steiermark (4,240 ha / 10,477 acres) and Wien (Viena) (612 ha / 1,512 acres). There are also 4 major climate zones, three of which intersect in Vienna: Danube Area, Weinviertel, Pannonian Area and the Steiermark.
The Niederösterreich (Lower Region) is Austria’s largest quality-wine-growing area. There are eight specific wine growing sub-regions in Niederösterreich, stretching from the Wachau in the west to Carnuntum in the east. Although there is a wide range of wine making styles and international and indigenous grape varieties grown in the region, 44% of it is dedicated to Grüner Veltliner.
The Weinviertel DAC, Austria´s northern-most wine-growing region, is home to the “peppery” Grüner Veltliner. Because of its dimensions and clear boundaries - the Manhartsberg in the west; the Danube to the south and the Austrian border, extending from the north to the east - the Weinviertel with its numerous microclimatic and geological differences is its own wide-open area. The typical character of the Weinviertel’s classic Grüner Veltliner is peppery with citrus notes.
Biohof Pratsch Winery
Biohof Pratsch is an organically certified winery in the appellation of Niederösterreich. The family business is now run by Stefan Pratsch and he is supported by his parents Wilhelm and Anneliese. The background of the family business goes back about 8 generations. Their ancestors had always lived in Hohenruppersdorf, a town in the district of Gänserndorf in the Austrian state of Lower Austria. Their domain consisted of livestock, wheat and barley and a few hectares of vines. Wilhelm Pratsch, Stefan’s father, then took over in the early 1980s and sold the livestock in 1983.
In the early 1990s, after a few years of experimenting, Wilhelm converted the vineyards to fully certified organics. In 2000, after Stefan had turned 15 years old, he took over the wine making and persuaded his father to go more into the production of high end quality. Stefan went through wine school for a few years, doing various interns and at the same working at home to develop the wines. During that time his parents, Wilhelm and Anneliese, were taking care of the vineyards and the farm. Today Biohof Pratsch Winery’s wine production includes Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Sankt Laurent, Zweigelt, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir.
The 2012 Biohof Pratsch Grüner Veltliner is 100% Gruner Veltliner. The wine is clear, day-bright and straw-yellow of medium concentration and medium viscosity. On the nose it has very subtle aromas of apples, white flowers, lemon-lime, with minor notes of ginger, radishes and chive with only a hint of white pepper in the background – far less pepper than GV’s I have tasted in the past! On the palate the wine is crisp with medium to medium+ acidity, it is medium bodied with medium alcohol (12.5%) and medium complexity with a medium+ length finish. This wine sells for $13-$18 retail.