When I tell people that I make my living buying wine, I am routinely greeted with, “you lucky bugger, you have really landed on your feet there haven’t you?”
I am fortunate, however I do have to tell these people that my job is not quite as romantic as it sounds. I spend the majority of my time looking at spreadsheets, gauging the competition, and whether a wine’s quality matches its price.
The best bit of my job is visiting our producers. Not only does it give you the best possible understanding of the wines but you are often treated so well that you begin to see your friend’s point. I am a lucky bugger.
I recently had the privilege of combining both business and pleasure on a visit to Vienna to see Arnold Holzer, young winemaker at the fantastic Weingut Eschenhof Holzer.
Having taken the earliest possible flight out on Friday, I was greeted by Arnold and his lovely girlfriend Anna, who as well as being a graphic designer, works part-time for the winery. She is responsible for the winsome craft-beer labels which adorn the Eschenhof Holzer bottles.
I was driven out to Krems for some lunch at a brilliant new gourmet burger joint, 2Stein. Think Byron or Honest but with one of the most amazing wine lists (Austrian of course) that I have ever seen.
Afterwards we travelled a few miles farther along the Danube so I could get a view of the famous vineyards of the Wachau ,with the steep Mosel-esque mountains rising from the river’s banks.
All Austria’s wine regions are close together and on our way back to Eschenhof Holzer we drove through Kremstal, Wienviertel and much of Wagram until we reached the village of Groβriedenthal.
Wagram is a relatively new winegrowing region born from the splitting up of the horrendously named Donauland, but vineyards date back here to Roman times so there is plenty of history and knowledge passed down though the generations. The vineyards are characterised by a deep loess soil, which allows the vines to send it’s roots deep underground, meaning that even in hot years irrigation is not necessary. This soil is given as the reason as to why the wines from Wagram are intensely fruit forward, and often incredibly aromatic.
Arnold had only finished harvest on Wednesday. He described it as an incredibly long six weeks of 15-20 hour days, harvesting grapes and working in the cellar and upon arrival we tasted through the current 2015 vintages, some of which were still fermenting, others having just finished. I can safely say that I am looking forward to the 2015 wines enormously.
We moved to the “old cellar”, where Arnold’s father made the wines before they built a new section back in 2008. It was here I expected to find a treasure trove of old vintages, but sadly the cellar is almost free of bottles, with just some 1995 Icewine, a tiny selection of older whites, and an even smaller number of 2006 vintage Goldberg Zweigelt.
Here I was hoping to crack open some back vintages to see how well these wines age and there was none left! I enquired as to whether any remained and I was told Arnold’s father's motto was, “the best wine is sold wine”.
Such a hardship, I had to settle with tasting through current releases. The whites were as fruity and delicious as ever. The reds are packed full of flavour and beautifully rounded. The real show stopper though was Arnold’s Riesling; a grape variety which always reflects the terroir. In this case, the wine was showing stone fruit and pineapple character and a gorgeous rounded and creamy finish, watch this space.
Afterwards we visited Arnold’s neighbour, an old childhood friend. We tasted the wines of Weingut Diwald (stunning incidentally) and went on our merry way to the local tavern for schnitzel and natural wine.
The Saturday was spent in Vienna, being a bit of a tourist as well as eating and drinking. Vienna is a beautiful and sedate city, a stark contrast to London, with its wide streets meaning more space and fewer people.
Come Sunday, Arnold and I braved the Vienna derby, with Austria Vienna (Arnold’s team) triumphing 2-1 over Rapid Vienna. A successful end to a wonderful trip.
After some years in the doldrums, Austrian wines are crying out to be tried, and there is no better place to start then the beautiful, fruity and artisan wines of Weingut Eschenhof Holzer.
by Rob Woodhead