Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Meeting with Leif Sundstrom of Michael Skurnik Wines

Recently I had the opportunity to meet with Leif Sundstrom of Michael Skurnik wines who is the National Portfolio Manager for Terry Theise Selections.

Things have been crazy since October when I started with BAT so there hasn't been a lot of time to sit down with the importers and really get an in-depth education on each portfolio. Terry Theise wines were some of the first Austrian wines to be imported into the United States and hosts some of the most prominent and well known producers.

At the Winebow tasting in February, I attended a seminar that displayed the stylistic variation between Grüner Veltliner and Riesling from the Wachau to the Kremstal, but haven't had the opportunity to taste all the regions against each other.

Leif explained to me that the green apple, green pea and white pepper flavors are very common in Grüner, but they certainly aren't the beginning and the end of what Grüner can be and is despite what a lot of Americans believe.

Austria is a break-out wine region so naturally the focus is on the most popular, versatile exported grape of the country. Unfortunately, we expect our grape's flavor profiles to be basically universal between regions. For anyone that knows anything about wine, it's obvious this can't be further from the truth for many grape varieties.

Anyway, Leif printed out sheets about each region and had me taste a wine from each of the main areas.

We started with a wine from Carnumtum, which is a region primarily known for red wines. We tasted the Weingut Glatzer Grüner Veltliner ($12-$13) which was a delightful value for its price point. The wine had a bit of fruity complexity to it, slightly creamy and with enough white pepper that you knew it was Grüner.

The next was from the Kremstal. We tried a very popular wine for the region: the Nigl Grüner Veltliner Freiheit. This particular wine comes from the lower lying slopes of the region that is full of loess soils and volcanic rock. Like others from the region, this wine is less spicy and much softer with rounded stone fruit character. I have a preference toward Grüner from the Kremstal because of its approachability. Although all Grüners are great food wines, I think the softer style does necessarily require it.

We then moved to the Kamptal where we tasted the Weingut Brundlmayer Grüner Veltliner "Kamptaler Terrassen." This wine was much spicier with less fruit and a bit of a smoke character. It was full of acid and minerality and was really an excellent academic example of what Grüner Veltliner has become known to be. Leif said this wine is grown at higher levels and on older vines and is fermented on its skins- all of which contribute to the structure of the wine.

The final wine was the Wachau from Nikolaihof-Wachau vineyard. This wine, the 2008 Grüner Veltliner "Hefeabzug," is the one I chose to take home with me to enjoy later despite my normal bias. Nikolaihof-Wachau was the first biodynamic vineyard in all of Austria and takes a very minimalistic approach to winemaking. The vines in the vineyard are very healthy and are given all the nutrients they need despite the common belief that a vine should suffer to produce better grapes. The winemakers also allow the wine to sit on it's lees without stirring in large neutral barrels that reflects the concept of the "wine grows together." At first sip it was evident this wine was unlike any other Grüner I've had before.

Leif and I met at Blaue Gans in NYC, part of the KG NY group, which is a great little Austrian restaurant located in Tribeca Duane Street. The menu is relatively small, but accurately reflects the cuisine options of the country. Leif snacked on a corned beef sandwich that looked and smelt delectable - I was disappointed I wasn't hungry!

This was a great learning experience and I'd forgotten how much I truly enjoy sitting and being taught about wine by someone I really trust as a valuable source of information. I can't wait to get these wines out to others!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sun, Seafood and Prager Grüner Veltliner

In the recent months, I've become a big fan or Sunday seafood dinners - mixing it up from my general routine and pairing them with some good company.

In celebration of the fabulous New England weather this past weekend (up to the 70s!) a couple of good friends, Dan and Casey, and I decided that yesterday was a perfect night for one of these dinners.

The three of us went to the local store and purchased a bag of steamer clams, two ahi tuna steaks, some jumbo shrimp and a bunch of asparagus for steaming. Because I always have wine handy, we opted for the Prager Ried Hinter der Burg Grüner Veltliner Federspiel 2007 to both add to our cooking water for the steamers and enjoy alongside. In the pot we also added some lemon wedges and cracked pepper - nothing too fancy, just simple, good food.

We opted to grill the tuna and the shrimp, searing only the outside of the tuna lightly, leaving the center raw. The shrimp was marinated in a combination of Grüner, lemon and black pepper, just like the steamers. The asparagus was steamed plain.

The three of us gathered around the table and feasted. The Grüner really went well with our choices and definitely added some flavor to the shrimp and steamers that would not otherwise been there - we didn't even use butter to dip it in! Asparagus and Grüner has easily become my favorite food and wine pairing so this was a great choice!

The wine: I've really come to appreciate the stylistic differences of Grüner Veltliner, which was truly first introduced to me at the Boston tasting a few weeks back. The Wachau style is much more tart and peppery, which is what our meal needed. This wine stayed true to form and although my companions are not regular wine drinkers, they opted for the wine over the beers they had been sipping on prior.

Pale lemon in coloring, citrus nose and palate with white pepper spice and a hint of lemon-lime flavor.

Truly was the best meal I've had in a long time.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

And the Winner Is.... The Grü V Olympics!

The winner of the Grü V Olympics has been announced!

The Contestants:

Pffafl Austrian Pepper 2008
: Self described as an aromatic wine, lively and fruit-forward on the palate with a hint of black pepper and a spicy finish

Lois Grüner Veltliner 2008: Considers herself to have lovely aromas of fresh apples, and surprises the drinker on the palate with great spice components as well as exotic fruit and a refreshing

Wieninger Vienna Hills 2008
: Believes herself to be fresh and lively fruit driven nose with plenty of apricot and green apple aromas; the palate displays an appealing acidity with refreshing citrus fruit flavors - quite easy drinking!

Stadt Krems Kremstal 2007: Says she is fresh and fruity with an aroma of white currant, citrus fruits and a typical Veltiner profile. Her aromas are stay true on the palate time and again.

The Judges:

Joe Herrig, CSW of Suburban Wino: "A wine nerd who resides in Woodstock, GA, a lovely little corner of the world just outside Atlanta."

Ed Thralls, CSW of Wine Tonite: "
Livin’ la vino loco in Atlanta, GA sharing [his] wine experiences from a personal perspective."

Jason Petuck of Corked Wineblog: A wordly wine traveler residing in Southern, CT who has enjoyed many trips to Italy, Austria and Switzerland. "A trip is never complete without trying new wines."

Sonadora of Wannabe Wino: Living in DC, she chronicles her wine tasting adventures a she drinks her way through our ever growing collection of wine.

Kori Vorhees, CSW of Wine Peeps: Where she collaborates to share with her readers the most important things she have learned about selecting, tasting, and enjoying wine.

Robert Dwyer of the Wellesley Wine Press: Awine enthusiast living in the western suburbs of Boston who writes his blog to help people enjoy wine more while spending less money.

Jill & Andy Freeman of Wined & Dined: A Manhattan based couple who are passionate about all things food and wine (scored separately.)

Josh Wade of Drink Nectar: Who believes, "Life is meant to be shared together. There is no better way than to share a cup of perfectly brewed coffee and carefully crafted wine."

Joe Roberts, CSW of 1 Wine Dude: A wine consultant in the greater Philadelphia area who writes his blog to help others get to know wine better inside and out.

Randy Watson of The Wine Whore: Who resides in Tampa, FL who has a thirsty palate for great wine and chronicles his adventures for his readers daily (scores not included.)

The Results:

It was a tough call - reviewing the judge's scores, there was some definite variation in opinion which is to be expected. Gruner Veltliner is an incredibly versatile grape that can show it's "true colors" in several different expressions. While some believed a given wine deserved an 8, others believed the same wine deserved a 17.5. This is one of the beauty's of wine!

Some judges, such as Wade, Herrig and Thralls paired the wines with food, others did not. Just another example of how personal rating styles can differ.

Anyway here's how it all panned out:

HONORABLE MENTION: Lois Grüner Veltliner

BRONZE: Pffafl Austrian Pepper

SILVER: Stadt Krems

And the winner is...
GOLD: Wieninger Vienna Hills

We'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate that Wieninger Vienna Hills Grü V and thank our esteemed panel of judges for their help in deliberating this difficult matter!

SO what are YOU waiting for? go out and grab yourself a glass of Grü V and let us know your favorites!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Every one's Irish on St. Patrick's Day - Austrian Wines & Irish Cuisine

Sommelliers agree, Grüner Veltliner is a wonderfully versatile grape that pairs perfectly with a variety of hard-to-match foods - even corned beef and cabbage!

Okay, okay I know you probably have already stocked up on Guiness, Irish whiskey and Baileys and have your green attire all picked out by now, but just hear me out.

For the past few months you've seen me rave about the array of food pairing possibilities Grüner has to offer - why should this holiday be any different?

I'm not Irish, but my mother brought us up celebrating every other culture's holiday through the dinners she cooked (Chinese New Year = Chinese food, St. Patrick's Day = Irish food) so, naturally, I grew up eating corned beef and cabbage at least once a year.

Corned beef is traditionally a very stringy, fatty meat with a lot of salty flavoring and a delectable (if I do say so myself) greasy flavoring and interesting texture. The potatoes and cabbage on the side often take on a similar character as they're generally prepared in the same pot- this combination needs something acidic and spicy enough to cut through these intense flavors.

White's not your thing? Why not try Blaufrankisch? It's spicy notes and earth tones can also compliment a meal like this quite delectably!

Vegetarian or just not in to the whole stringy meat thing? Try out the soda bread (another favorite thing for my mother to buy us at this time.) This simple bread is a mixture of flour, baking soda, buttermilk and salt - the kind we had also was dotted with raisins. For this pairing, try something a little weightier such as Riesling or even the floral Traminer. For red, I recommend the robust, velvety texture of St. Laurent.

So try it out and let us know your thoughts! Personally, I'll be testing out the corned beef and cabbage pairings ... saving the Irish Coffee for dessert!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Save the Date: May 5th Austria Uncorked


NYC’s best restaurants are teaming up to benefit GrowNYC’s “Learn It, Grow It, Eat It” with an upcoming event, Austria Uncorked - A Date with the Wines of Austria and the Foods of the World.

The Austrian Wine Marketing Board is sponsoring Austria Uncorked, featuring top Austrian wines paired with cuisine from some of NYC’s most famous restaurants including Kurt Gutenbrunner's Wallsé; Gordon Ramsey's Maze; Wolfgang Ban and Eduard Frauneder's Seasonal Restaurant; George Mendes's Aldea Restaurant; Daniel Angerer's KLEE; Laurent Tourondel's BLT Prime; Jason Neroni's 10 Downing Food & Wine; Cesare Casella's Salumeria Rosi, and Bill Telepan's Telepan NY.

Proceeds from the event will benefit GrowNYC’s “Learn It, Grow It, Eat It” program, a local education program which empowers teens to take control of their health through hands-on gardening, nutrition education, outreach, and managing a community farm-stand.

Austria Uncorked will take place on the Tribeca Rooftop, a spectacular 15,000 square foot penthouse featuring panoramic views of the Hudson, Empire State Building, SOHO and Tribeca.

EVENT: Austria Uncorked

WHO: Hosted by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board

WHEN: Wednesday, May 5th from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

WHERE: Tribeca Roof Top, 2 Desbrosses Street, New York, NY 10013

WHY: Try Austrian Wine paired with NYC cuisine. Proceeds to benefit GrowNYC’s “Learn It, Grow It, Eat It” program

COST: $55 in advance; $70 at the door.



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Circo Vino: Jumping in to the Austrian Wine Scene

Yesterday, both IPO Wine and Clo Wine Bar in Manhattan hosted one of Austrian wines newest importers, Circo Wino, and their cast of winemakers. Currently, the Circo Vino portfolio containts six Austrian wine makers and one Hungarian. The importers are, Emmerich Knoll, Fred Loimer's Schell Mann line (though his estate wines are hosted by Winebow), Peter Malberg, Michael Reinisch, Claus Prelsinger and Franz Reinhard Weninger.

Circo Vino is run by two women who are veterans of the Austrian wine industry having originally worked for Vin Divino imports. It is evident they both have a passion for the industry and the winemakers they represent. Monday marked their first portfolio tasting in Chicago.

Each wine in the portfolio was hand selected to represent some of the best Austria has to offer. National distribution varies by distributor, but if you can find 'em, they're definitely worth a taste!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hirsh Veltliner #1

After Gary V's less-than-raving review of this wine last week on Wine Library TV, we decided to give the Hirsch Veltliner #1 GruV a try.

We went into this tasting knowing the wine retails about about $18/bottle which elevates it from the inexpensive liter category and at 11.5%abv we were certain it would not be offensive. However, our description was, "very much an every day Grüner, while packed with flavo and eminent complexities it is still very much a wine intended to be drunk young and on that's easy drinking." We were also told the wine is made from a combination of biodynamic estate grown and sourced fruit

So from there we took a swirl, a sniff and a sip and we came to just that conclusion: it's an every day Gruner. Bright nose of white pepper, apple and green peas, balanced acidity and a decent finish on the palate with the same characteristic Grüner qualities. To us, it was a good value wine, definitely what we paid (or would have paid for) and good company to light food or just good conversation.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Austrian Wine Tasting in Boston

Wednesday of last week was spent at another Austrian wines tasting, this time in Boston for Winebow featuring all of the Austrian wines in their portfolio with special guests, Paul Achs (Gols), Rudi Pichler (Wachau), both of their namesake wineries, and Fritz Miesbauer of the Stadt Krems winery (Kremtal.)

The tasting began with a seminar for interested wine buyers to help explain the indigenous grapes of Austria, Grüner Veltliner & Blaufränkisch and also the stylistic difference of Riesling.

Each producer brought out what they called a "classic" example of the varietals and introduced each respective region by its soil type, climate and wine making style. Pichler and Miesbauer presented the Riesling and Grüner Veltliner grapes while Achs represented the Blaufränkisch.

It was interesting to taste the stylistic differences against one another - usually we only taste one or two bottles, usually from the Wachau, at a time in the office. I have a personal preference toward the Kremstal wines as they were more fruit forward with a heavier aroma and slightly less tart on the palate.

After the seminar, we gathered in the main room where the entire Austrian portfolio was avaliable for tasting. As usual, I like to note the sparkling wines (not pictured) from Szigeti. While I have had the sparkling Gruner several times, I had never had the opportunity to taste the Rose, made from Zwigelt, or the Cuvee Prestige, a blend of other uncommon white grapes which I, regrettably, did not mark down.

I also must note Weingut Heinrich, which focused on red varietals. While I adore white wine, my first, true love is always with the red. St Laurent is my favorite red grape of Austria and it was showing beautifully. Deep fruits, a hint of spice and a good balance of tannin.

Paul Achs Pinot Noir was also a treat and, to be fair, presented some of the first Blaufränkisch grapes I would purchase on my own.

I had the fortunate opportunity to spend time talking with each winemaker which is what really drives the message of a wine home for me. I can not wait to reconnect with each at Vie Vienum in May in Vienna!

Monday, March 1, 2010

David Bowler Austrian Wine Tasting

Last Tuesday, I had the opportunity to attend a tasting of wines from Vienna hosted by David Bowler and Darcy and Huber Selections.

The wine tasting featured a sampling of wines from producers Weingut Martinshof, Weingut Edlmoser, Weingut Zahel, Weinbau H.P. Goebel, Weingut Christ, Weingut Cobenzel, Weingut Hajszan, Weingut Mayer am Pfarrplatz, Weingut Rotes Haus and Jutta Ambrositsch.

The youngest winemaker of the Zahel winery, Alexander Scoff, nephew of the wineries head winemaker, Richard Zahel, and marketing manager Wolfgang Krininger were there to talk with attendees about the Zahel wines which was a real treat.

As I become more familiar with Austrian wines, it is interesting to see the stylistics variation between regions. Vienna's specialty is a field blend called Gemischter Satz which can contain several white grapes under no specific regulation.

The Zahel winery had a particularly interesting sparkling Gemischter Satz which was a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay - the only sparkling Gemischter Satz in production. Another wine of note from the Zahel table was the Nussberg Gemischter Satz Grand Reserve 2007 which is made up of 9 varietals and changes from year to year. There was a slight hint of botrytis in the nose along with intense integrated white fruits, definitely a great wine to pair with food.

Another table that stoof out was the Weingut Rotes Haus. Though they did not have a winery representative present, they did have my favorite white grape: Traminer (Gewurztraminer in other parts of the world) and they had it in two forms! One in a dry style and one in a dessert wine style. Both were quite elegant the Traminer 2008 was dry filled with elderflower aroma with light peach undertones. The Traminer Edellage 2005 is the dessert wine and was filled with the same nose but with a slight honeyed characteristic, but followed with enough acidity to balance out the sweet flavor.

Overall a great showing.

(pictures to come)