In May 2022 Tim ran a tour to Austria, based in Vienna. We convened at the Penta Hotel in Vienna on Wednesday night, and strolled out for first night dinner at Gasthaus Woracziczky, which set the scene fabulously, with lovely wines and delicious food.
On each full day of our tour we visited a key Austrian wine-growing area.
In the middle of the flat lands east of Vienna is a very ‘flat’ lake – Neusiedl. The surrounding 40 mini salt lakes, just centimetres deep impart a mineral character to the wines, and its humidity ensures almost guaranteed conditions for the production of botrytised wines every year.
Our first visit was to Salzl, a family winery on the outskirts of Illmitz. Christoph, grandson of the founder, took us through a slide show that was really useful to explain to us the local area. This is a land of surprisingly low rainfall, sheltered by the hills of Leithaberg to the West, and has 2,000 sunshine hours a year – comparable to sunny Marlborough in New Zealand! The light sandy gravelly soils are ideal for Bordeaux varieties, and more importantly the Austrian variety Zweigelt (a cross between Blaufränkisch and Sankt Laurent), and these red wines were excellent, although our tasting showed they also produced excellent Grüner Veltliner whites and a beautiful sweet wine made from Scheurebe.
From Illmitz we skirted the lake to the western shores, and the City State of Rust. A tiny town of just 1800 inhabitants (inflated by tourists during the summer) it was exquisitely pretty, with storks nesting above the chimney pots (on thoughtfully provided platforms), medieval and romance architecture, and traditional wineries leading off the town square.
We had lunch in one such building, taken over by the Hofgassl restaurant. In the balmy temperatures and under blue skies, it was glorious to sit outside and enjoy a three course meal.
As we finished, we were joined by Heidi Schröck, one of the most famous winemakers in Austria. Since the 1980s she has produced superb wines from the 10 hectares of land that has been in her family for three centuries. Now working with her twin sons Johannes and Georg, she continues to promote the wines of Rust, and her own personal passion for the Furmint variety (of Tokay fame).
In the entrance hallway of their winery we sat at a long table, and tasted a lovely flight of wines, from dry to sweet, all showing distinctive flavours (Pinot Blanc, Muskateller, Furmint, Welschriesling) and great fresh acidity. Heidi and Johannes described the challenges of winemaking in the area, particularly for the late harvested botrytised grapes, which might not be harvested until November, and require a high level of selection in the vineyard.
A couple of hours south of Vienna is Steiermark or Styria, the eastern reaches of the Alps. A combination of altitude, breezes from the Adriatic and steep slopes with fantastic sunshine allow the production of very high quality wines and the region has developed a reputation for top class Sauvignon Blanc – at both visits we tasted wines that demonstrated what quality there at all price points, from fresh ‘Village’ wines to more complex (some oaked) ‘Ried’ (vineyard) wines.
At Sattlerhof, in the village of Gamlitz, we were greeted by Alexander, son of Maria and Willi Sattler. With his parents and brother Andreas they have taken their family farm on a journey to become a top organic and biodynamic wine producer. Alexander’s passion and practicality shone as he took us into the vineyard and explained that the grass (and 59 species of herbs) between the rows of vines would be mowed twice a year, reducing erosion and enhancing soil health.
Following the tasting we had lunch on the terrace of their restaurant, overlooking the hills interspersed with vineyards and forests. It was a glorious afternoon, and a joy to be eating outside – a fish tartare, pork belly and an apricot sorbet, accompanied by a 2017 Sauvignon Blanc in double magnum.
Our afternoon visit was to Lackner Tinnacher, where we were greeted by Katharina Tinnacher. The estate combines vineyards of her parents’ families. She has developed the estate in a similar approach to the Sattlers – organic vineyards interspersed with forests, and a focus on reducing yield to achieve greater concentration and quality, using native yeasts in order to express the terroir rather than to hit international expectations of what a wine should taste like.
Our tastings showed the Lackner Tinnacher wines to be more austere (in a good way – very elegant and with lovely minerality), while the Sattlerhof wines had more overt fruit character, and different people preferred one or other estate. But all agreed they were of phenomenal quality and brought a new aspect to Sauvignon Blanc that we had not tasted in wines from other regions. Despite knowing we had a long coach journey back, we were very reluctant to leave this beautiful place, and lovely people.
Kamptal in Niederösterreich
An hour or so from Vienna and just north of the Danube is famous wine country. Kamptal, along with neighbours Kremstal and Wachau, is home to the best Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings in Austria.
Our first visit was to Schloss Gobelsburg. A Cistercian abbey built on the site of a fortified castle, this historic site has made wine since the the Middle Ages. Peter Schuhberger greeted us in courtyard. His daughter Eva married Christian Moosbrugger who in 1996 took on a long term lease on the Schloss along with the renowned Bründlmayer family.
The estate owns plots in some of the region’s most prestigious vineyards, and after we had toured the winery and extensive cellars we looked out to the slopes of Heiligenstein and Grub.
We looked at the view from a grassy terrace under which we had walked through the cellars, which seemed to go on for miles. The stainless steel tanks had been adapted to fit the ancient arches, there were some incredibly old barrels, and bottles from impressively old vintages.
Our tasting, in the exquisitely restored stucco ‘court room’ showed that the quality of our surroundings was equalled by the wines. We tasted three Rieslings of increasing richness and complexity, two sparklings and a stunning Grüner Veltiner.
Our next visit could not have had a bigger contrast. The Nastl family have 12ha of vineyards, buying in grapes of equally high quality to supplement their own. Christian Nastl is the youthful winemaker, and he led us up the hill past the traditional houses each of which has a cellar ‘tube’ (as Christian described it) going deep into the loess soil, where wine barrels were stored. The Nastls are the only commercial winery remaining on the road.
We descended the hill, enjoying the warm sunshine, and inside the family’s heuriger (an Austrian ‘wine bar’) we first tasted a selection of their wines: three Grüner Veltliners (another progression of complexity ending in a 1999 from Ried Steinmassl, with tropical fruit and wonderful peppery freshness), two Rieslings and a Zweigelt Merlot blend . These were followed by an authentic heuriger lunch of cold meats, cheese and salads, with more wine for those who wanted it.
Luckily we still had room for our final night dinner was at the traditional Waldviertlerhof Restaurant, a short walk from the hotel, culminating in a crème brûlée of such richness that a sneaky ice cream on the way home was out of the question. As is usual Tim did a summing up address, and some kind words of thanks were given – this was a tour that celebrated the quality of Austrian wine and gastronomy, and revealed the generosity and geniality of our hosts.
What my clients said about this tour
“Just a quick thank you for a really great few days In Austria – you picked six fabulous contrasting wineries. Makes us look forward to the Douro in September.” – Colin and Sheila, Kingston
“This tour was first booked for 2020, then again for 2021 and cancelled due to Covid, but when we finally made it this May, it was well worth the wait! Once again Tim took us to a wide range of wineries all with their own unique wines and differing methods of production. They varied very much in size and location but most of them had been in their family for decades, one for more than 300 years, and were being run by the young generations with immense enthusiasm. As always on a Tim’s Tour there were wonderful extras , breathtaking scenery, superb food at the wineries, and visiting a magnificent schlloss built on the site of 1,000 year old castle. Whatever tour I have been on with Tim the reception at all the wineries were always very warm and welcoming. We are never treated as just another tour group, and the respect they have for Tim and his knowledge of wines is palpable. The other great pleasure has always been the people on the tours, they start out as strangers and end up friends. Few people do just one tour, many of us are regulars, secure in the knowledge that we will have a fabulous holiday and learn a lot about wine!”– Margaret Squire, Teddington