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If Instagram is to be believed, spring has arrived! As you daydream about what you'll be drinking al fresco in the coming months, why not ease your way out of the lingering wintertime funk with some red wines from Austria and Germany?
If you haven't already been dabbling, now's a great time to start. More and more winemakers are turning their attention to the inherent advantages of growing international varieties suited for their terroir along with autochthonous varieties that may have been previously pushed aside (read: pulled up) due to passing trends or ill-informed regulations. This coupled with a push for organic/biodynamic farming and thoughtful cellar work with low intervention gives a welcome transparency of terroir and character in the finished wines. For many winemakers, the days of taking cues from the more 'popular' wines and regions are gone; the return to a respect for what makes their respective regions important and compelling makes for inspiring wine in the glass.
This collection of wines represents not only a variety of grapes, but traverses through many regions, climates, soil types, and winemaking styles. Expounding on them all in the body of this email would perhaps be a bit too long-form, so we leave you with the notes below, and of course, encourage emails or calls with questions. We hope you find inspiration to try something new to you, or at least revisit some old favorites if you've enjoyed these wines in the past. Prost! Cari Bernard
After starting to oversee the winemaking in 2006, Markus Altenburger took over the family winery fully in 2012, and has expanded to 30 parcels totaling around 14-odd hectares (currently in the third year of organic conversion). His parents had mostly made white wines with some attention given to international red varieties. Markus shifted the main focus to Blaufränkisch, a grape far more suited to the climate and soils found around the town of Jois and the Leithaberg DAC. Work in the cellar is with native yeasts, élevage is mostly in old wood or cement, with no additions save a judicious amount of sulfur at bottling. Gritschenberg is a southeast-facing parcel on the Leithaberg, planted to Blaufränkisch by Markus' grandfather in the late '60s. The vineyard is rife with the famous 'Leithakalk' or shell limestone, on which the old-vine Blaufränkisch manifests smaller berries, looser bunches, and lends a mineral elegance to the wines. Grapes are hand-harvested, ferment in cask, and the wine ages for two years in 500L used oak barrels. The concentration of plum and raspberry fruit that could have gone too lush and soft in a ripe vintage like 2015 is deftly cut with savory black licorice and salty herbs and earthy structure. Bravo, Markus! Cari Bernard
Sankt Laurent, Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt, and Merlot sourced from higher parcels in the Rosenberg, Altenberg, and Ungerberg vineyards, hand-harvested, the grapes ferment spontaneously and age separately for 18 months in neutral 500L barrels, blended and bottled unfiltered with low sulfur added. Black plums, soy sauce, black pepper, deep savory spice wafts up from the glass, belying the fresh and juicy palate of tart raspberries, plums, violets with well-integrated structure. Cari Bernard
Karl Schnabel worked in Burgundy briefly in the late nineties, and it's no surprise that his love for Pinot Noir and the region was brought back home with him to Austria. The Schnabel family chose to buck the tradition of the region and focus on red varieties instead on the more commonly-planted Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gelber Muskateller, et al. As with all wines at the estate, the quality is developed in the vineyard through biodynamic treatments and grueling manual upkeep. Once the grapes make it to the cellar, they spontaneously ferment in cask with manual pigéage and the wine is transferred by bucket into neutral Burgundy barrels, to age until being bottled without fining, filtration, or sulfur. New roses, candied cherry blossoms, red cherries, orange zest, pine shavings come forth on the nose. Flavors of red currants, strawberries, sage, hibiscus tea, tart cherry compote expand, vibrate, and sustain on the palate with freshness and verve. This would be delightful paired with all sorts of cheeses from triple crème, to washed rind, to Alpine. Cari Bernard
Rotburger is the original name for Zweigelt; this bottling is sourced from one of Karl and Eva Schnabel’s three vineyards, the Kreuzegg vineyard on the Sausal mountain, home to slate soils with silex. As is true with all of the Schnabel red wines, natural fermentation occurs in open tank, with hand-pigéage; the wine is then scooped via bucket into used Burgundy barrels where it ages on the lees until being bottled unfined, unfiltered, and with no sulfur. Deep, dark magenta in color, darker than expected. Scents of ripe purple plums, stewed strawberries, carrot peelings, and just a hint of savory soy sauce, the wine is medium-bodied, juicy and mouthcoating with flavors of blueberries, blackberries, black raspberries, plums, and only the faintest whisper of tannins on the finish. May need another month or so to really knit together, but we look forward to where this wine is heading. (2/2019) Cari Bernard
The Stadlmann family has been making wine since the 1780s in the Thermenregion; sheltered from the northern winds by the Vienna Woods, it is one of Austria's warmest wine growing areas. The 'Classic' line of wines are aged in large, used barrels to showcase the true character of the grape and terroir. 2016 is beautifully balanced and fresh, the palate is smooth and juicy with bright flavors of ripe strawberries, tangy raspberries, tart yet candied red cherries wrapped in a cloak of savory spice. A wonderful wine to have with a wide range of food! Cari Bernard
Julia Bertram has taken on farming her family's best parcels of old-vine Pinot Noir in the Ahr valley. The Dernauer Spätburgunder is sourced from the Hardtberg, Pfarrwingert, and Burggarten vineyards around her hometown of Dernau. Soils in these steep vineyards add up to a mix of Devonian slate, gravel, and greywacke (argillaceous sandstone). Julia's Pinots are bright and mineral in profile, unmarred by oak or over-ripeness. The grapes macerate, ferment, and age in neutral German oak, followed by a settling period in stainless steel tank before bottling. The Dernauer is lightly structured and balanced, showing savory mineral character, and juicy tart red cherries in an alpine forest. Would be delightful with mushroom risotto, roasted chicken (or salmon!). Cari Bernard
Graupert means something akin to 'unkempt', and is in reference to the vines used for this bottling, as they have not been pruned for at least ten years. Walking along the vines you see the energy and chaos in the plants, with multiple settings of fruit and shoots weaving through and dangling over the training wires. This choice to leave the plant alone has made the resulting Zweigelt grapes quite different physiologically: with smaller berries and thicker skins. This makes for a more structured and a savory wine, bold with grippy tannins, raspberry seeds, strawberries, tart red and black plums. Pair with goulash, aged cheeses. Cari Bernard
We love the wines of Gerhard and Brigitte Pittnauer, Biodynamic farmers and winemakers in the town of Gols, Burgenland, Austria. Grapes for the Dorflagen are hand harvested from a mix of vineyards (Salzbergacker, Goldberg, Edelgrund) where there's a decent amount of gravel which provides better drainage through the humus and iron-rich soil. Fermentation and aging occurs in 500L neutral barrels (12 months). Saline minerality, dark violets, black raspberry, black plum skins and earth on the nose and continued on the medium-bodied palate, along with a meaty savoriness, black tea leaves, and structured finish. Cari Bernard
A blend of Rotburger (Zweigelt), Blaufränkisch, and Pinot Noir, the Sausal bottling is an easy-going, lighter-bodied red, sourced from all three vineyards on the Sausal mountain. Mineral freshness and high flying acidity to make your mouth water as a bounty of juicy and ripe wild strawberries, cranberries, raspberries ruby red grapefruit, and tart cherries wash over your palate layered with savory notes of red florals, pollen, and pink peppercorn. No fining, no filtration, no sulfur added. Serve after ten minutes in the fridge and enjoy with friends and loved ones! Cari Bernard
After generations of farming and selling off their grapes, the Beurer family decided to make the change to crafting wines for their own label in 1997, and began to shift to organic farming starting in 2003 (EcoVin certification in 2009), eventually becoming Demeter (biodynamic) certified in 2012. The majority of the vineyards are planted to Riesling, but red grapes take well to the climate in Württemberg. Jochen works with Zweigelt, Trollinger (Schiava), Lemberger (Blaufränkisch), Cabernet Dorio, Dornfelder, Portugieser, and Pinot Noir. His Zweigelt Untere Bunte Mergel (lower colored marl), is grown between the Schilfsandstein and Kieselsansdstein, and skews to the more serious side, with spicy black pepper, herbs, and light tannic structure bolstering juicy dark berries and cherries on the lengthy finish. Cari Bernard
Cabernet Franc from the northern Pfalz? Hell ja! Daniel and Jonas got their hands on a clone with slightly looser bunches, which works well for this hot vineyard site (the vines are now five years old). I was able to try a new bottle and one that had been open for one and a half weeks, and both were stunning. Starting with cherries and salty capers on the nose, black and red plum on the medium-bodied palate, the wine proved to be deeply layered and elegant. The pre-opened bottle was still great, settled and soft, more black currant and plummy. A fascinating look into Pfalzer Cab Franc! Cari Bernard
Formally-known as 'Without All', Andi Knauss's 'Pure' line of wines continue to delight, still with no sulfur added. This vintage of Trollinger is fresh and direct, with loads of red florals and delicately crunchy red fruits, blood orange zest, just a touch of bitter herbs and a focused mineral edge. Tasted over a course of three days, the wine remained sound and delicious. Cari Bernard
Organically farmed, hand harvested, and spontaneously fermented in a mix of stainless steel and concrete tanks, then aged for 9 months in neutral oak; Dornfelder, Sankt Laurent, and Portugieser come together to make for a refreshingly juicy, dry chillable red, with notes of black raspberries, red plums and a undercurrent of soy sauce and meaty, mushroom umami. Delicious with grilled meats, pizza, fried chicken, burgers! Cari Bernard
Pinot Noir grown on volcanic soils with about 30% whole cluster pressed, fermented in open-top wood casks; maturation is one year in neutral wood, followed by six months in stainless, and low sulfur added at bottling. Notes of tart cherries and cherry blossoms mingle with volcanic stone on the nose, the palate is elegant and balanced with mineral structure, red florals and vibrant red cherries, raspberries, and wild strawberries. Luminous! Cari Bernard