Austrian Wine Adventures – Part 6; the diversity of Leithaberg



I’m at my second Himmelreich. Vineyard visit that is. However, the Donnerskirchen site is not as well-known as the German counterpart in Mosel. At least not yet.

It’s a beautiful morning. Hot already. Leaving Rust and the liquid gold, the primary goal is now what I’ve mostly looked forward to; Blaufränkisch. The Himmelreich site is a part of the Leithagebirge, a region on the west shore of Lake Neusiedl. I’ve already had a sneak preview of the region’s sweet wines, the Ruster Ausbruch’s, but now it’s time for a thorough tasting of the Leithaberg DAC.

End of May and this hot already in the morning. I can’t help to give it a thought and wonder how Himmelreich is like in August. I’ve heard that Blaufränkisch, just like Syrah, can handle heat exceptionally well, actually needing it. Still, if it’s gonna get hot during the summer time I need to understand what makes the wines so cool and elegant, having my experience of the fabulous Eisner in mind.

Reaching the top is worth the effort. Not only is the view magnificent, with the lake in the horizon and the surrounding cherry trees with almost ripe berries. I’m also picking up a few, for me, well-known scents from the environment. For example, the dusty summer road I’m walking.

The vines are only a day or two from flowering. The Blaufränkisch that is. But Leithaberg DAC is not only about Blaufränkisch. For the white wines Weissburgunder, Chardonnay, Neuburger and Grüner Veltliner are used. As blends or on their own as single varietals. The red Leithaberg DAC are all about Blaufränkisch but it should be noted that the producers are allowed to blend up to 15 per cent with either Zweigelt, St Laurent or Pinot Noir. Don’t want to produce a Leithaberg DAC? Then the wines are generally labelled as Burgenland wines.

Districtus Austriae Controllatus – or just DAC if you so prefer, perhaps needs an explanation. Basically it is all about the region and wines typical for the very same. The wines of a certain DAC should, especially in the taste reflect their origin. Which grapes that are allowed is stated in every DAC.  Currently there’s seven of them; Weinviertel, Mittelburgenland, Traisental, Kremstal, Kamptal, Leithaberg and Eisenberg. My Blaufränkisch adventures took me to three of them. Time for some Leithaberg!

The white wines

What strikes me when tasting through a bunch of Leithaberg weiss is the mineral driven style. Almost all, even those which I find a bit  too generous with the oak, shares the common denominator of minerals. The quality is generally high with few failures and there’s something for all palates. I could be mean and say they don’t really have that certain extra, but then I would not be honest to my taste buds. These wines aren’t aiming for top class but offers lots of character and most of all, great pairings with food.

The 2009 Neuburger and Weissburgunder blend from Erwin Tinhof is a real charmer. So clean. Lots of wet rocks and green apples. And the slightly funky Pinot Blanc feel. I’m also enjoying the 2009 Weissburgunder from Hofbauer. Classic appetizing stuff simply. When it comes to Chardonnay the styles differ quite a lot. The 2009 Chardonnay from Pasler signals Chablis resemblance, while the 2009 Chardonnay from Mariell reminds me of the Macon wines. Then there’s the more tropical and generous 2009 Chardonnay and Weissburgunder from Wagentristl – and the simple but delicious Chardonnay from Hans Moser. Clean, crisp and mineral driven. Worth seeking are also Gmeiner’s Chardonnay.

Even though I’m charmed by the mineral richness of the Chardonnay wines, it is the Grüner Veltliners I find the most typical. I guess this has to do with personal expectations having in mind I’m just discovering Leithaberg Chardonnay and learning a new terroir. By the way; is there any grape with the same adaptability as Chardonnay? The Leithaberg soil, with layers of granite rock, chalk and lime, produces quite generous Grüner Veltliner. The classic grape scents are still present in most of the wines though. Try the Leo Sommer or the Georg Tschank for example.

The red wines

Better to say it right away; the Blaufränkisch wines from Leithaberg impressed a lot. Again there is a common denominator in the wines although styles are differing. The DAC organisation of Leithaberg are trying to work in the direction of less oak is more, convincing the producers that the grape materiel shouldn’t be hidden in a veil of new barriques. On a general they do succeed in getting the message out; many of the wines tasted in Leithaberg shows excellent balance between the components. Worth keeping in mind is the fact that Blaufränkisch can have all the prerequisites to age for a long time – if built in that direction.

One for the cellar is the beautiful 2008 Blaufränkisch Alte Reben from Hans and Anita Nittnaus. Simply delicious with its mineral character, careful oak and fine dark cherries. The acidity balances the sweet fruit and the end result is of the elegant kind. Perhaps not as age worthy as a 2007 or 2009 but still a fine, fine glass. A bit similar but in my world a step up in quality, is the 2008 from Prieler. A more restrained Blaufränkisch with some green, in a positive way, scents. Needs age but will reward the patient one. It’s all there already.

2008 in Leithaberg produced many delightfully shaped Blaufränkisch wines but it does differ from 2007 and 2009. The style is leaning towards the elegant kind of wines and it has a cooler appearance. If you’re into more generosity then perhaps be a bit careful before buying the 08’s. Blaufränkisch by the way, goes under the name of Lemberger in Germany and Kékfrankos in Hungary. It stands for around seven per cent of the vine growing area in Austria making it number two. Zweigelt leads the way with almost the double percentage.

Blaufränkisch gives the impression of being something of an insider’s grape. Typically you will find notes of cherries, herbs and I often find a spiciness as well. It expresses the terroir very well and the often high acidity in the taste, is somewhat of a trademark for Blaufränkisch. I guess this is where it puts a stop for its possibility to gain even more recognition amongst the everyday wine drinkers. Many will simply say ‘Man, what a sour wine’. To some extent this is true, when had young. Blaufränkisch can often be perceived as astringent wines but give it some age and it will soften surprisingly well. In cooler years, the green notes and sage brush can easily scare consumers off. Sadly. They’re perhaps even better than as food companions.

Back to the Leithaberg producers. One that is more than capable of handling new oak is the biodynamic Toni Hartl. I have a weak spot for the wines of Toni, especially after some truly amazing bottles of the top wine, Eisner. The 2008 Leithaberg Rot impresses as well. Toasted oak yes, but with elegant notes of herbs, sour cherries, lead pencil and hay. Slightly green but finely balanced taste with ripe fruit backing up the mineral driven acidity. Long clean finish. One for the future.

Built a bit similar is the 2008 of Birgit Braunstein. It doesn’t reach up to the same repertoire but then again, that is also reflected in the price. Still a fine cool glass. A contrasting style is provided by Welkowits. Their 2008 has a floral appearance with darker cherries, leather and humus. Ripe dark berries backed up by oak and more gentle acidity. New to Blaufränkisch? Have the Welkowits. Similar in style is the Leo Hillinger from 2008, the Grenzhof Fiedler, Sandhofer and the Lichtscheidl. And yes, can’t forget the delicious wine from Nehrer. Love the elegant style of their 2008.

If you like the sour cherries style, with the herbal and sage brush feel to it, then go for the wines of Leeb Herrmann, Die Winzerei Ringhofer/Pairits, Altenburger, Hahnekamp Sailer, Rainprecht, Kloster am Spitz, Schumich or the Eberherr.

Summing it all up, Leithaberg is a region that deserves serious attention. Passionate growers, an active regional DAC, potentially even higher quality than seen today and a great grape to work with. Blaufränkisch rocks!

Next post on Austria; off to Blaufränkischland – or Mittelburgenland.

PS. By the way; why so cool wines when the heat is on? It’s spelled hot days and cool nights. A lot thanks to Lake Neusiedl.

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