Thursday 16 October 2014

Austria’s Winning Ways – A Tasting with Loimer and Heinrich

Among the winners at this year’s Business Times Wine Challenge was a wine that stood out in terms of obscurity not just in grape variety but also in country of origin. The Loimer Grüner Veltliner Kamptal DAC 2012 hails from Austria, a country so often confused with Australia that at a previous seminar on cool climate wines the speaker took pains to highlight the differences (no kangaroos in Austria for one). The wines were chosen by a panel of Singapore CEOs and yielded an insight into the palate of top decision makers. Boon Heng, owner of Wein & Vin which distributes wines from Loimer, commented that “This tells people that though they think Austrian wines and Grüner Veltliner are both non-mainstream, yet the CEOs picked it as one of the two dry whites in the top 10.”

Earlier in October Wein & Vin held a lunch featuring new vintages from Loimer and Heinrich at Luke Mangan’s Salt Grill & Sky Bar at ION Orchard. The wines were split into two flights with the whites from Loimer served in the first flight followed by the reds from Heinrich. Adding a slight twist to the usual format of these tastings, all wines were served blind and it was up to the guests to determine which wine was in which glass. It wasn’t too difficult to pick out the two Rieslings from the first flight, as the grape has such a strong personality and flavour profile, but the reds were far more challenging. If Grüner Veltliner is considered obscure, then tasting wines made from black grapes such as Zweigelt, St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch is akin to spotting a unicorn trotting down Orchard Road.

Unicorn sightings may become less rare as Austria sticks to its strategy of focusing on exports and pursuing quality over yield. Export revenues for 2013 were at an all-time high of 139 million euros despite a smaller harvest, according to the Austrian Wine Marketing Board. Loimer has made a name as a high quality, if somewhat irreverent producer. Look closely at the logo (based on a fertility symbol) and you will notice a third leg on the dancing man. Winemaker Fred Loimer and his team espouse the principles of a healthy, biodiverse environment and are members of Respekt, an association of wineries that aims to align biodynamics with contemporary developments. The winery is located in the Kamptal region and the majority of its production is based on Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, the leading varieties of that region.

Weingut Gernot and Heike Heinrich, based in Neusiedlersee, is also a member of the Respekt association, but here the warmer climate lends itself more to the production of bright, fruity red wines. Guest speaker and owner of Taberna Wine Academy Tan Ying Hsien likened Blaufränkisch to Gamay, saying that it displays redcurrant aromas with a lifted note similar to crushed ants. St. Laurent, like Blaufränkisch, is an old Austrian grape variety that resembles Pinot Noir with its red fruit and cherry flavours and fairly soft tannins, although Ying opined that it never hits the heights of Pinot Noir in terms of intensity and texture. Zweigelt, a cross between Blaufränkisch and St-Laurent, is Austria’s most planted red grape variety and is often given some oak treatment. It tends to have soft tannins and notes of morello cherry.

The wines were paired with signature dishes from Salt Grill including the sashimi of kingfish, ginger, eschallot & goats’ feta and NSW Rangers Valley 300 days grain-fed beef with Moroccan spice. These went sublimely with the wines, revealing another facet of Austrian wines – that they are very food friendly.

Tasting notes:

Loimer Spiegel Grüner Veltliner DAC Reserve 2012
– A wine showing great depth of flavour with notes of guava, ripe honeydew and accents of green salad. Medium alcohol and body with a persistent length. Finishes quite dry. Best served chilled as it loses its edge at room temperature.

Loimer Riesling Kamptal DAC 2012 – Very pale lemon appearance. Fine boned structure with sharp definition and rapier acidity. Classic Riesling with limey notes.

Loimer Grüner Veltliner Kamptal DAC 2012 - Herbal and just-mown lawn on the nose with hints of pear. Very delicate, almost amorphous, with citrussy fruit and bright acids on the palate. Long finish.

Loimer Lois Grüner Veltliner 2013 – Floral, honeyed aromas with hints of chrysanthemum petals. Lemon and citrus on the palate expanding to honeydew and papaya on the finish. Medium bodied but with lots of fruit concentration and minerality, complexity and tension. Medium length. A well-made and very good value wine.

Loimer Lenz Riesling 2013 – Sharp, tangy acidity with notes of Chinese pear finishing with lemon sherbet. Long and focused with a feather-light body. Refreshing.

Loimer Terrassen Grüner Veltliner Kamptal DAC Reserve 2012 – Pleasantly round body with a fat texture and notes of melon. Approachable, easy drinking.

Heinrich Blaufränkisch Leithaberg 2011 – Deep inky purple. Dense and meaty with juicy blackberry and dark cherry notes. Savoury and long.

Heinrich Gabarinza 2011
– A blend of Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and Merlot, aged in 500 litre oak vats for 20 months before release. Deep ruby colour, with flavours of blackcurrant gummies and black tea. Mid-weight, fresh and fruity. Hint of milk chocolate on the finish, which is a tad short. Broadly appealing.

Heinrich Pannobile 2011 – Heinrich is part of the Pannobile association, each member of which produces a single red and white wine from indigenous grapes annually. This wine is a blend of 70% Zweigelt and 30% Blaufränkisch. Gentle and light with barely perceptible tannins, soft redcurrant fruit and a silky texture.

Heinrich Blaufränkisch 2012 – Mid ruby appearance, a little stemmy on the palate with stalky notes.

Heinrich Zweigelt 2011 – A convincing testament to the popularity of Zweigelt. Fine and balanced with a soft and supple texture. Palate shows red fruits with a hint of oak and clay earth. Very accessible.

Heinrich St. Laurent 2011 – Marred by brett, which contributed a barnyard aroma. Unfortunate, as the wine showed potential with earthy black fruit and soft tannins.

Saturday 4 October 2014

A Different Side of Sauvignon

Sauvignon Blanc often suffers from “Middle Child Syndrome”. While Chardonnay gets all the expensive oak treatment, and Riesling is fawned upon by winemakers and journalists, Sauvignon Blanc tends to be pretty overlooked. It is a hardy and vigorous vine, adaptable to many soils and prone to producing abundant foliage and fruit. Yet just like a child whose growth has not been nurtured, a vine that is ignored will fail to develop its full potential. Overcropped Sauvignon Blanc is bland and watery, lacking focus and complexity. Ong YiXin, founder of KOT Selections, states that even Sancerre, the spiritual home of Sauvignon Blanc, is a “sea of mediocrity”. “Badly farmed, made for the Parisian market,” he tut-tuts.

YiXin should know. KOT Selections is Singapore’s foremost importer of Loire wines, ranging from texturally rich Chenin Blancs from Anjou to the herbal examples of Touraine Sauvignon Blancs. YiXin works with around 30 vignerons from the Loire, and in the past three years has only managed to find one grower from Sancerre who meets his expectations. “What makes Sancerre special is minerality,” says YiXin, “and you need proper terroir to get that.” On their selection criteria, YiXin explains that “Quality is our benchmark, then we look at the price. Very few producers meet our standards of quality, and unfortunately even fewer are able to offer the wines at reasonable prices.”

KOT Selections holds a monthly wine tasting on the last weekend of each month. Dubbed the Weekend Wine Bar, each session has a different theme. These tend to be lively, well-attended affairs, but YiXin wanted to add another offering in the form of tutored masterclasses for sommeliers and trade professionals.  KOT’s Marketing and Sales Executive Fernanda Koprowski says, “It is important that people working in the trade know about the wine so that they can sell it.” The support of this group is especially important for KOT Selections because 80% of their business is with restaurants.

Their second masterclass was held in September and focused on the Sauvignon Blanc grape. My last visit to the Loire revealed some toothsome, well-priced wines, and I jumped at the chance to reacquaint myself with this region. Yet YiXin still managed to surprise by pulling out some wines which showed the diversity of Sauvignon Blanc. We had oaked, and even aged examples, with the flavour spectrum running the whole gamut from fruity to minerally, and even vegetal. Some of the wines were extremely pungent and my guess is that consumers will either love or hate them (durian lovers may tend towards the former).

Tasting notes:

Francois Cazin Cheverny Blanc “Le Petit Chambord” 2013 - The Cheverny AOC is a relatively new one, having been created in 1993. To gain the AOC designation the wines must be a blend, and this example is made primarily of Sauvignon Blanc with a minor proportion of Chardonnay. The nose is rather faint with hints of lime and passionfruit. The palate shows more concentration, with tangy freshness and smoky notes leading to a grassy finish. 

Domaine du Clos de L'Elu “Terre!” 2013 – Fermented using wild yeasts. Doesn’t really taste like a Sauvignon. Toffee and earthy notes, hints of apple cider and a bit savage.

Clos Roche Blanche Touraine 2011 – The nose is pungent, grassy and a little earthy. Palate shows green salad and hints of nuttiness. Rather short on the finish.

Clos Roche Blanche Touraine 2010 – A step up from the 2011, this was a little richer in fruit concentration, but still had those pungent and earthy notes with mushy peas. Light bodied and could be a bit fresher.

Domaine Vincent Gaudry Sancerre Blanc “Melodie de Vielles Vignes” 2013 – Biodynamic producer.  The vineyards for this wine are planted on chalk soils. Light nose, more fruity than herbal. High extract and rich in texture, showing complex notes of chalk, honey, yoghurt, and lemon fruit with a mineral tension. Vibrant and fresh. A wine that, like its name, truly sings.

Domaine Vincent Gaudry Sancerre Blanc “Constellation du Scorpion” 2013 – An interesting side-by-side comparison against the Melodie, with the only difference being that this wine came from vineyards planted on silex soils. Delicate aromas of lime, straw and honey. Prickly acidity with delightful purity of fruit and a zesty, lime-filled finish. A tad lighter than the Melodie but no less complex.

Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Sauvignon “No. 5” 2010 – Aged in large oak fuders and bottled after a year and a half. A selection of the best grapes from the Clos Roche Blanche vineyards. Pronounced aromas of herbs, sweet pea, ginseng and pine. Supercharged intensity and incredible depth, but not an easily understood wine; more of an intellectual challenge. Slight warmth on the finish.

Domaine Vincent Gaudry “Pour Vous” 2010 – Limited production of only 600 bottles annually. Intense aromas recalling smoke, baked/stewed apples, cashew nuts and overripe lemons. Medium+ acidity with vanilla, smoke and cinnamon spice on the full-bodied palate. There is a lot going on here but it will take a few years for the components to integrate.