Austrian Wine Dinner at Café Venezia

Austrian Wine Dinner at Café Venezia
Café Venezia’s main dining area

Last Thursday on November 8th, Blue Danube Wines supplied the wines for an Austrian Wine dinner at Café Venezia in Berkeley. It was a great opportunity for those not yet familiar with Austrian cuisine, to taste it while sipping some of the finest wines of that country.

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Cooking in action.

Café Venezia is a nice, spacious restaurant on University Avenue that sits pleasantly far enough away from the student buzz of UC Berkeley, yet close enough to the town center to be very much a part of Berkeley. With high windows that look out to the street, you’re beckoned in to a warm interior that is held up by a wonderfully friendly wait staff. The interior picks up on the restaurant’s namesake with kitsch murals and a clothesline of laundry, while at the same time allows one to sit down, have a good meal, and feel pleasantly at home.

The four course dinner started with a tasty charcuterie plate of typical Austrian meats and cheese, paired with a new release of Grüner Veltliner from Schmelz winery. Grüner Veltliner, which accounts for over a third of Austria’s vineyards, is one of the country’s most famous varietals, having beaten world-class Chardonnays from the likes of Mondavi and Louis Latour in blind tastings organized by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board. The fresh, crisp, Grüner Veltliner Steinwand Federspiel from 2006 that we had matched perfectly the strong flavors of the smoked pork meat and Austrian paté.

The second course was definitely our favorite, with an expertly cooked Viennese schnitzel and a side of surprisingly delicious giblet gravy.

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Schnitzel makes a meal.

The crispiness of the breading and the tenderness of the meat were just perfect. The wine paired with it was another one of our new releases from Schmelz winery, a Riesling Wachauer Weingebirge Federspiel from 2006, which was a bit drier than the Grüner Veltliner with a long finish that had a hint of white pepper. Riesling is the second most produced grape varietal in Austria. So with these two wines, we covered the most typical and well-known whites of the country.

Then came the reds with the slow-roasted goose cooked in the traditional St. Martin’s Day style, stuffed with apple, orange, pear and marjoram. The wines we chose for such a full-flavoured dish were the the Zweigelt Siglos 2005 from the Heinrich winery, and the Cardinal Cuvée 1999 from Giefing. We started with the Zweigelt, the most widely-grown red grape variety in Austria, made from the famous Siglos vineyard of the Heinrich family.

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The goose.

This light wine, somewhat similar to a Gamay, combines the bite and fruity character of the Blaufränkisch grape with the body of the St. Laurent, and so it is a very good pairing with poultry.

The Cardinal Cuvée, a blend of 60% Blaufränkisch, 25% Zweigelt and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, had a much deeper, full body. This wine has a harmonious taste of sweet wood and spicy, chocolate aromas with a hint of dry plums. Made of grapes from the oldest vines on the Giefing estate (40-50 years old), and aged for 26 months, the Cardinal Cuvée is not surprisingly the flagship wine of the winery.

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Enjoying the Austrian wine tasting while watching the kitchen.

But after all these delights we still one last thing in the menu: dessert. And it was, of course, a good old apple strudel paired with a late harvest sweet wine, the Welschriesling from 2001 by Rosenhof. This fragrant, lively wine, with its fruity finish and a hint of almonds and autumn leaves, was the perfect ending for a perfect dinner.

All in all it was a surprisingly well-balanced and harmonious meal considering. And although Café Venezia is obviously an Italian restaurant, it has a very creative chef that every so often likes to immerse herself in the cuisines of other countries. Thus, after extensive research, chef Cindy Deetz manage to recreate the flavors of a few classics of Austrian cuisine as if she was used to cooking them like her famous Sicilian spaghetti with meatballs that are a house favorite.