Wine Wonderings – The Hills Are Alive…With Austrian Wine

What could be better than a wine dinner?  Just thinking about it makes me smile.  So when one of my favorite restaurants announced that they were planning a wine dinner, my fingers couldn’t dial the number fast enough to make that reservation.

The restaurant?  The Bavarian Inn, in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  A beautiful inn with an exceptional menu and wine cellar (one of the best in the region), that overlooks the Potomac River.  Their formal dining room is perfect for a romantic dinner, and the Rathskeller offers a more casual environment for friends to gather.  The service at the Bavarian Inn is exceptional, and I can honestly say every visit has been absolutely enjoyable.

The wines?  All things Austrian.

Klaus Austrian?  Really?

Oh, yes.  And if you haven’t had the chance to experience Austrian wines, you may just want to head to your local wine shop and explore their selection.

Our tour guide for the event?  Klaus Wittauer.  Klaus is a native Austrian who truly loves sharing his wine journey.  Klaus developed his knowledge of wine throughout his years working with some of the world’s top restaurants.  He also spent many years traveling throughout Europe’s finest wine regions, learning all he could in each.  You can learn more about Klaus at www.kwselection.com .

This wine dinner began with a variety of hors d’oeuvres, paired with 2011 Leo Hillinger First Hill White.  This crisp, dry wine is 70% Sauvignon Blanc, with 20% Welschriesling and 10% Gruner Veltliner.  The notes of passion fruit and pear on the nose were prominent, and the fruit melded with a slight spiciness on the tongue.  Nicely leesy with persistent acidity, it paired wonderfully with the selection of earthy bites, including mushroom strudel, vegetable crostini, scallops on endive, and duck confit with chestnut puree.

Next up, 2012 Tegernseerhof T 26 Gruner Veltliner Federspiel.  Think kabinett when you think about this wine.  The aromas of passion fruit and guava were stunning, and set off with just a hint of stone fruit.  The acidity was really nice, and set off by a slight pepperiness.  The finish was lovely, with a hint of minerality.  The pairing selection was fish duo that included West Virginia trout mousse on a rosti potato blini with horseradish cream.  Perfection.

BVPairOur next wine was a 2011 Tegernseerhof Gruner Veltliner Bergdistel Smaradg.  The lovely aroma of stone fruit and elegant florals was matched by flavors of pineapple and apricot swirled with spice.  The rich, clean finish offered a nice balance.  This wine paired so very well with grilled lobster atop lobster wild rice risotto with tropical fruit chutney.

And now, the reds.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, and admittedly, was just a little skeptical about the potential of Austrian reds.  But I happily pressed on.

The first red was a 2010 Leo Hillinger Pinot Noir Eveline.  The aroma was very jammy – mostly raspberry – with a slight smokiness.  A hint of herb lingered on the nose.  Not bad at all.  This medium to light bodied wine had dark berry flavors and was notably herby.  Juicy and peppery, I enjoyed this wine with a petite wienerschnitzel a la Holstein.  I would hold this wine for just a while longer to let the tannins soften, but all in all, very enjoyable.

The next red was a 2011 Leo Hillinger HILLSide Syrah blend.  This is a wine from Austria’s Burgenland, and is 60% Syrah, 30% Merlot, and 10% Zweigelt.  I found the aromas here to be just beautiful.  The plum and berry was a lovely backdrop to the tobacco and vanilla aromas that enveloped my senses.  The long finish was smooth and velvety.  This paired well with a braised short rib in a a syrah reduction.

The last wine on the menu was Leo Hillinger Secco Sparkling Pinot Noir.  Fun and enjoyable, this sparkling rose offered bright berries on the nose, including strawberry.  The flavors were delicate and balanced,  with a crisp, dry finish.  It was the perfect accompaniment to a dessert of Austrian fruit tart with raspberry flan.

BVFlightThe evening would have been a total success if it ended there.  Six lovely wines, six delicious courses.  Who could have asked for more?  But my evening was about to have an unexpected surprise.  Klaus came over to my table and we struck up a little lively wine conversation.  The next thing I knew I was being treated to yet one more wine.

This was a 2010 Hillinger Blaufrankisch Leithaberg.  One good whiff and I was pulled in.  The intense dark fruit aroma was heavenly.  The flavors of dark berries and black cherry were topped off with a light spiciness that hit my palate just right.  The finish was long and smooth, and just beautiful.

What a perfect end to a fabulous evening.

Evans & Tate – 2009 Metricup Road Margaret River Shiraz

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This wine is a surprisingly fruit forward shiraz.  Juicy ripe cherry, plum and berry aromas delightfully waft from the deep ruby wine.  Those aromas carry through nicely to the flavor.  The flavor also hints of very light spice and a slight touch of cedar.  Perhaps the biggest surprise is the absence of alcohol heat, which almost invariably comes with a 14.5.% alcohol level.    The acidity is well-balanced with the nicely structured tannins.  This medium-bodied beauty has a fairly long, pleasant finish.  A good value that pairs well with a seared, peppered steak.

Gerard Bertrand – 2007 Tautavel Reserve Côtes du Roussillon-Villages Grand Terroir

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What could be better on a blustery winter evening than a deep, rich Rhone.  The dark, ruby hue drew me into this lovely wine, and the aromas of black fruit, leather and just the slightest hint of olive were enticing.  The flavors of dark currant and black plum were intermingled with coffee, spices and even a little chocolate.  This was a nicely balanced wine, with a bold backbone that was so very satisfying.  This wine paired so very well with spicy red beans and rice, and a crusty sourdough boule.  Hearty, rustic perfection.

Domaine du Bois de Saint Jean – 2010 L’Intrepide Cotes du Rhone

This Rhone red is bold and strong, in every respect – a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre and Cinsault.  With a deep garnet hue, the intense aromas wafted up from the glass as I swirled, rich with smoke, leather, cassis, and a faint earthiness.  The taste matched its aromas, filling my mouth with black currant, spice and smoldering graphite.  There was a nice acidity to it that layered with the assertive tannins.  The finish was pleasantly long, with spice and mineral.  I thoroughly enjoyed this wine with a rich beef stew and peppered bread, in front of a crackling fire – it paired with the food and ambiance perfectly.