Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Alois Kracher Dead at 48

Austria’s dynamic wine community is mourning the loss of one of its most
consistently successful producers with the death of Alois Kracher on December
5th from complications due to cancer.
In 1986, "Luis" Kracher, who was educated as a chemical engineer, went
to work at his father’s winery. Kracher was already known for its sweet wines
and the young chemist quickly added to the winery’s reputation. His timing was
as good as his winemaking skill: he became a leader of the Austrian wine renaissance
as well as its most recognizeable spokesman. Alois Kracher was named Winemaker
of the Year" by Wine Magazine in London six times. In addition to the national and international awards, his wines received high praise from some of the world's
most influential wine critics. All of this success and appreciation had turned Alois Kracher into Austrian wine's most globally-renowned luxury brand name.

Alois Kracher had worked tirelessly, not only for his own winery, but
for the reputation of Austrian wine overall. He opened the door to the
international markets for many of his fellow winemakers. His son,
Gerhard, with the support of the Kracher family, will carry on the work
of the great wine pioneer from Illmitz.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Notes from Saudi America

In Utah earlier this month, Liquor control commissioner Bobbie Coray asked her colleagues to rule that bottles of liquor displayed at restaurants be covered because the sight of them might offend some diners.
Current rules require a glass partition between bartenders and customers, but that may not be enough according to Coray.
The walls don't obscure the alcohol, Coray said, which makes the "atmosphere in a restaurant to more of a bar."(sic) She singled out a chain restaurant that opened on Nov. 1, because alcohol bottles are in plain view.
"We have a dual responsibility," the commissioner said. "We are to make alcohol available for those who want to consume it and at the same time not make anyone uncomfortable."
Of course, there are opportunities here. Enterprising Utahans will certainly come up with Bottle Burkhas in attractive designs that meet the requirements of the new regulation.
There is no word as yet on what other offensive matters may be subject to obligatiory covering in the state of Utah, but a delegation from Iran is expected to arrive in Salt Lake City shortly to begin consultation. Watch this site for further news.

(By the way, it’s also worth noting that, in spite of what your cardiologist and millions of grandmothers say, Utah law provides that publicity about wine “may not imply …..that consumption of the product will benefit the consumer's health…”)

--Lynn Hoffman, author of THE NEW SHORT COURSE IN WINE and
the novel bang BANG which appears in Utah wearing a conservative blue book cover.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Austrian Wine is All Sold Out!

Hmmm. Maybe I didn't get that headline right. What's sold out is the Austrian Wine Event on November 14th at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York. If you're one of the lucky ones who has a ticket, you'll get to taste the wines of Weininger including the luscious Gemischte Satz. There's still lots of Austrian wine around, but if you don't hurry up and buy some, that may soon be all sold out too.

Lynn Hoffman--author of The New Short Course in Wine

Friday, September 14, 2007

Austrian Wine Goes Backward

Gemischte Satz- Necessity Becomes Delightful

For hundreds of years, Viennese have enjoyed the fruits of a special relationship between their city and the vineyards that surround it. Since tk the government has collected no taxes on smallholdings and has allowed suburban winegrowers to sell the current crop of wine in little house-based taverns called heurigen (HOY-rig-ghen). The practical consequence of this peculiar failure to tax has been that people in the city can jump on a tram and, in a few minuters, find themselves at a delightfully tacky country inn where the wine is local and very cheap.
These little spots have never been sophisticated. In fact, an overly sensitive outsider might add that they’ve never been very good either. The food was usually heavy and dull; the wines tended to have a lot of rough edges and not much center. They were, however, a great deal of fun.

But in the last few years, things have changed. Wines from the rest of Austria keep getting better and the Viennese learned to be more demanding. The heurigen faced stiff competition as wine bars in town served more polished wine from other parts of the country.. A bottle of tasty wine from Burgenland was often only a few blocks away and a few Euro more than the sour ball at the end of the tram line. Some wine bars, like the notable Unger & Klein or the sleek and friendly Wein&Co. outlets, offered an atmosphere that was more in tune with the young, urban crowd.

But in the last few years, the heurigen have struck back. With a few simple moves the wine has gotten better, the premises have become a little easier on the modern eye and even the food is showing signs of improvement.

One of the most interesting new products is one of the oldest. Most Vienna wineries have a bottom-end wine called simply ‘Gemischter Satz’. In English, we would probably call it
simply a ‘field blend’. All the vines from a particular holding are harvested together and fermented. Since a smart peasant winemaker would always plant many different varieties and clones as insurance against unlucky weather, the resultant wine always had an inherently mixed ancestry.
What used to be a necessity has become a virtue. Mixed varieties mean that every harvest has some grapes that are very ripe and others that retain a lot of acidity. The winegrower’s traditional worry about when to harvest becomes a lot less vexing. Wine making techniques have been cleaned up, but not overly modernized. Gravity and scrupulous cleanliness do what pumps and chemicals do elsewhere. Right now, all the wines labelled ‘Gemischter Satz’ are white and sell for about six Euro. Some wineries are offering an additional, premium old vines bottling.

How good are they? In the best wineries, they are making delicious, crisp, well-balanced whites. Recent tastings at Weinguts Christ and Wieninger and at the formidable Wein & Co left the tasters impressed with Vienna’s field blends and absolutely floored by the value they represent.
The sad news is that the wines are in short supply in the U.S. The good news is that you’ll have to travel to Vienna to learn all about them. Lucky you.

--Lynn Hoffman, author of THE NEW SHORT COURSE IN WINE and
the refreshingly crisp novel bang BANG. ISBN 9781601640005

Friday, September 07, 2007

Austrian Wine Bargains (pre-harvest 2007)

In spite of the growing number-and apparent profitability-of high-end wines from Austria, there are still genuine bargains to be found. At a pre-harvest tasting at Wein&Co in Vienna, a Viennese Grüner Veltliner from Phillip Zoll blew the crowd away.
Old Austrian wine hands probably think of Viennese wines as the lightly flavored little sourballs that make the summer days go by or the hearty heurigen food go down. They are bargains in the sense of not costing very much. But real bargains start when more refined qualities come in.
The Grüner from Zoll costs a mere 9.55 Euro. The nose is an intriguing blend of white pepper and herbs with a subtle floral hint. The lightly fruity flavors open up on the palate along with a bright and refreshing acidity and medium body. The finish is surpringly long and leaves a clean, appetizing sensation behind.
So what's going on here? Is this a fluke? Were the winemakers in Vienna's Weinviertel needlessly floundering? Is there a catch?
The short answer is that I don't know if this lovely wine signals a trend or if it's just a one-off.
Stay tuned.

-Lynn Hoffman, author of The New Short Course in Wine
and the refreshing new novel, bang BANG

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Wine and Cheese:Good Vouvray, Bargain Price

Back in the 1950's, the very few wine-lowers in the US could always rely on Barton & Guestier, a negociant who mostly bottled and labeled wines from Bordeaux. B&G Sauternes was a staple at my family's holiday dinners, their Graves popped out of the refrigerator whenever Mom put fish was on the table. Later, as more wines were available at the local wineshop, B&G had a reputation of being 'always good, never great' and I only bought their wines if I was stranded someplace.
So it's with a certain pleasant nostalgia (nostalgia is just a longing for home) that I tell you that a bottle of Vouvray from B&G snapped a lot of people's heads back at a recent tasting. It's even more fun to report that a cheese-Moliterno from Sardinia-went so well with it that even people who were new to this whole wine-and-cheese business were gabbing about it. The Moliterno has all the complications of a good Pecorino and a moist and tangy presence in the mouth.

B&G Vouvray, about $7 in New Jersey at Canal's Marlton
Moliterno is $14.99/lb. at DiBruno Brothers.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Toward Greater Wine Literacy

The Vintner’s Art by Hugh Johnson and James Halliday

There are four main sources of flavor in wine.
• The grape variety.
• The place where it is grown.
• The way in which it is grown
• The winemaking techniques used.

This valuable book is mostly about the last of these sources, although there is a brief nod to vineyard management at the beginning.

You could argue for any of these sources as the primary source of wine’s flavor and could easily produce pairs of wines that support your claim. Grape varieties, like apple varieties, have different flavors. These differences become accentuated when grape juice ferments into wine and produces or reveals its unique set of acids, esters, and other flavor chemicals.

Vineyards have their own flavors, too. Apart from obvious considerations like sun exposure and soil structure, we know depressingly little about how this works. People who own the vineyards that produce the best wines often make a great deal of the unique contribution of their particular patch of ground, and we can hardly blame them. ”Them” in this case is mostly the French, who use the word “terroir” to express this influence. Many of these winemakers consider their mission to be allowing their wine to ‘”express the nature of the terroir” Incidentally, all the possible jokes about “terroirists” have already been made.

The management of grape vines in order to optimize flavor has been a realm of extreme conservativism until recently. Peasant farmers are understandably reluctant to undertake experiments when tradition is recognizeably safe.

Winemaking techniques expand, contract, or radically alter the taste of wine. Some of these alterations – like prolonged contact between the freshly crushed juice and the grape skins or the choice of yeast – are in deliberate service to the flavors they produce. Others, like filtration and pasteurization, are driven by economic considerations and have secondary-and sometimes unfortunate-flavor consequences.

It's the discussion of this last area-a matter often hinted at in other publications-that this book does so well. Taking each of eight categories of wine, the book discusses the winemaking choices that go into producing the characteristic taste of that category. So we have chapters on:

Light-bodied Whites
Wooded and Full-bodied Whites
Light-bodied Reds
Medium-bodied Reds
Full-bodied Reds
Fortified Wines

There is a brief section on the rôle of barrel storage,
but it's far from complete.

The description of winemakers' choices in this book
is clear, extensive and beautifully presented. Delightful
reading for anyone who wants to know where all those
great tastes come from.

--Lynn Hoffman, author of THE NEW SHORT COURSE IN WINE and
the forthcoming novel bang BANG from Kunati Books.ISBN 9781601640005