A Visit in Vienna…
First things first: this is the city whose very name means wine. In the native tongue they say Wien, which is short for the Latin name Vindobona, which means the place where the good wine grows. Indigenous Celtic peoples had been cultivating the vine and producing wine for nearly one thousand years before the ancient Romans arrived, roaming up from their nearby military installation at Carnuntum… The Römer had a longstanding affinity for the vine and its most noble product, thus had always been hip to recognising local talent whenever it crossed their paths of conquest.
Second, Austria is a wine culture, more similar to France than Germany. In the early 1980’s, the great French wine-making specialist Emil Peynaud asserted that the only other wine culture in Europe like France was Austria.
A little country, the remains of an extensive polycultural empire, Austria is a tourist paradise featuring wine on one end, winter sport on the other end, and Mozart in the middle. Leaving poor Mister Mozart in Salzburg and the skis in Tirol, we shall concentrate on the capital city…
There are nearly fifteen hundred acres of vines within the city limits. Vienna (once officially characterised as imperial and royal) is the only national capital where one can ride a trolley car to the wine country (and better still take a trolley car home from the wine country at the end of a long and delicious day of tasting, sipping and eventually guzzling the local product). In some instances, the wine in a Viennese tavern will deliver a case of heartburn that is second to none; it makes sense to carefully choose a quality address when planning an expedition into the local colour.
So, arriving in Vienna midmorning on a Saturday in the middle of Advent, I ditched my rental car, checked into my favourite flea-trap, and got on public transit out to the 21st district, the suburban environs of Jedlersdorf and the Heuriger (a wine tavern, typically serving wine from the proprietor’s own vines) of winegrower Peter Bernreiter.
I resisted temptation to tuck in to the cornucopia of culinary delights on display at the buffet (all of a local, somewhat rustic nature) and collared the man himself; we sat down to taste tank-samples of the coming 2015 vintage, which Bernreiter brought up three-at-a-time from the depths of his cellar.
Of particular interest from this eleven-hectare estate was a wine that Peter calls Heuriger. This is the word for a tavern, but also defines a wine of the current vintage (heuer is an Austrian word meaning ‘this year’). In this case it is a vibrant and inviting blend of many different grape varieties, based on a Gemischter Satz (see below) but ultimately blended as a cuvée. This is a wine that offers the most for the least in a litre bottle; the 2014 vintage is about handling and verve, while the subsequent vintage offers more in the way of horsepower. Yumm!
Bernreiter wines on the way to you from Jedlersdorf in the ‘15 vintage will also include a fine example of Vienna’s famous local white wine, the Gemischter Satz. The name is tantalisingly inviting to translate, since the rather versatile German noun Satz can mean either a sentence, a leap, one movement from a symphony (thank you Mr Mozart) – or for our purposes a parcel of vines consisting of mixed (gemischt) grape varieties, which are grown together, harvested together, fermented together and bottled thus as well. This practice is a lovely holdover from those days where growers hedged their bets a bit, worried about the weather; the early-ripening grapes would provide body and texture, the medium-term varieties impart a solid structure, while the later-ripening varieties contribute zing and zip. Bernreiter’s Gemischter Satz is composed of Weisser Burgunder (the vastly underrated Austrian Pinot Blanc), Grüner Veltliner and Sauvignon Blanc, which yields splendid and spicy material in the sandy soils of nearby Bisamberg.
Bernreiter himself is a very modest, highly articulate individual whose wines speak well for him, wines that are not made to any template but rather evolve as distinctive individuals, though related via the house style. Peter is also a man well versed in many of the finer things. My comment that favourite opera composer Mozart (can’t get away from him; funny thing…) benefited from having an excellent librettist brought back Bernreiter’s instant response ‘Lorenzo da Ponte…’ Peter’s Heuriger is the scene of many musical performances over the course of a season, and lately he had even ventured to devote an evening to the songs of twentieth century Viennese composers Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg – a very adventuresome venture given the angular nature of their twelve-tone expressionistic melodies, but acknowledging an essential phase in the cultural evolution of the imperial and royal city.