Proctor : June 2017
61 PROCTOR | June 2017 A recent visit to the alpine countries of Switzerland and Austria revealed a come-from-behind success story of cool-climate wines. There is a new song in central Europe and new fine wines to be discovered. The Alps are majestic, imperial, breathtaking like no other, and form the backbone of these two countries. However, for many years the protection of the mountains, cold climates, over-cropping and a fashion for sweetness before quality has led to cameo quantities of wine best left in the hills. Things have changed. Today both Switzerland and Austria have vibrant wine cultures and are chasing down quality product that deserves to be far more widely exported than it is. The turning point on the road to winemaking Damascus, in Austria at least, was the so- called anti-freeze scandal of the mid-’80s. Some unscrupulous figures had been adding sugar illegally to thin, under-ripe Austrian wine to sell it on the German market. This fraud was easily detectable, so the fraudsters cleverly added diethylene glycol to the wine to mask the addition of sugar and beat the testers. The press broke the news but confused the additive used with the similarly named ethylene glycol (anti-freeze) and both a poisoning scandal and fraud was born. A good story ran its course and shame was visited on central European wine. The good thing about the scandal was that it acted as a clarion call and the industry was reassessed, over-production addressed, and there followed an acceptance that quality needed to be raised. Sweet wines of yore gave way to new trocken, or dry wines. The most famous Austrian wine to make the long crossing to the Antipodes is the gruner veltliner, a unique white wine described as pure, mineral and capable of long aging. It is often grown with riesling as a stablemate along terraces on very steep slopes in the better places, such as Wachau. The virtues of the whites of Austria are well known, but a recent visit revealed a vibrant and engaging red wine culture and some very handsome examples of a variety they call blaufrankisch – with body and fruit reminiscent of a cooler climate Australian shiraz. The better regions for the blaufrankisch appeared to be the easterly Burgenland. Sadly, it seems that little of this gem is imported into Australia. This is a pity, as once ‘discovered’ it could be a big thing. It seems only one Australian winery, Handorf Hill in the Adelaide Hills, is making a wine with this variety. Stay tuned as I warrant there will be more in this space. Swiss wine has for very many years been made by the Swiss for the Swiss, and precious little has escaped their borders for the pleasure of the rest of the world, and even less has made it to our shores. This is unfortunate as there are strong links between Australian winemaking and the Swiss – the wine industry in Victoria was largely founded by Swiss winemakers drawn to the new southern land as connections of first Governor La Trobe’s Swiss wife. As in Austria, the Swiss are now ramping up their wines and investing in pinot noir as the red wine de jour. After sampling some of these, we can expect the cool-climate, German-speaking regions to bring us smooth and beguiling offerings – if only some kindly soul can get them to Queensland! The first was the Swiss Weinbau Ottiger Luzern AOC Pinot Noir 2016, which was the colour of red currants and had a nose of summer raspberry and cherry. The palate was akin to a Tasmanian pinot in weight with a heady mix of blackberry, raspberry and cherry with a little forest floor notes. A delightful example. The second was the Austrian Domäne Wachau Terrassen Federspiel Riesling 2015, which was pale yellow parchment in colour and was a mix of fresh lime and granite mineral on the nose. The palate was medium in body with a pleasing mineral base on a trill of sweet fruit flavours which cut back to dryness as the acid came in from the mid palate to the end. The last was the Austrian Nigl Gartling Gruner Veltliner 2013, which was a very vibrant yellow lemon straw colour with a nose somewhat akin to an oak chardonnay. The palate had a little spritz on the tongue and then came on strong with gooseberry, herbs and a dry almost lemon finish. The flavours drew comparisons with sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and riesling in different parts of the journey. Most intriguing. Verdict: The most regarded of the package was the pinot, with a strong line and length, and some significant promise for more good things to come in reds from central Europe. The tasting Matthew Dunn is Queensland Law Society acting CEO and government relations principal advisor. Wine The hills are alive... with the taste of winemaking with Matthew Dunn Three wines were examined in the spirit of international relations.