Austrian wines have exploded on to the wine scene in the past few years which can often leave unfamiliar consumers confused and overwhelmed by the plethora of Grüner Veltiner and Blaufränkisch wines – many organic, most from small, single vineyard plantings. One of the best resources Austrian wine consumers can turn to are those that import the wines – the ones that really know them inside and out, know the market and know the potential each has to become your new favorite wine.
This month we sat down with Paul Darcy of Darcy & Huber Selections. Here’s what he had to say:
1.) What makes Austrian wine so unique? What makes it stand out from other regions?
Like other great winemaking areas around the world, when winemakers stick to their own national identities, the wines can be wonderful.
Austrian varietals invariably make high acid, lighter alcohol wines that are particularly reflective of the soils they come from. This makes them very food friendly.
2.) What influenced your decision to work with Austrian wines?
Simply, Austria is where we are from. Both Carlo and I grew up in Vienna and were missing the wonderful wines from home.
The wines we had been drinking from Austria were, for the most part, disappointing. They were either very good and very expensive, or very affordable but undrinkable.
So we decided to look for them ourselves. Although neither of us had any ‘wine business’ background, we had grown up amongst some really terrific wineries. And so we wanted to introduce them to the places we liked to eat in New York.
It was purely selfish, really.
3.) Which producers do you import? Highlights?
From the Weinviertel: Weingut Martinshof (owners of the famous Viennese tavern ‘Zum Martin Sepp’)
From Vienna’s Bisamberg district: Weingut Christ, T.P. Offner, and Weinbau H.P.Goebel. From Mauer, in the south of Vienna: Weingut Zahel and Weingut Edlmoser. And from the chalky hillsides of the Nussberg district: Weingut Cobenzl (owned by the city itself), Mayer am Pfarrplatz and Rotes Haus, Weinbau Hajzsan, Jutta Ambrositsch.
Current highlights are the addition of another member of the “Orchideen Winzer” (Orchid Winemakers) Weingaertnerei Peter Uhler. From Burgenland, we are introducing Weingut Tinhof. And an old friend from Mayer am Pfarrplatz, winemaker Willi Balanjuk’s new project in the Thermenregion, Freigut Thallern.
4.) Which states are you distributed in?
At this point, our wines are distributed in ME, VT, MA, RI, CT, NY, NJ, PA, DE, NC, SC, FL, CA, MT. But we also expect UT, VA, DC and TX to be following soon, so stay tuned for updates.
5.) What’s your favorite Austrian varietal? Region? Why?
I think when Austrian winemakers stay authentic to Austrian varietals they can all be great. I remain very passionate about Wiener Gemischter Satz (multi- varietal Viennese field blends) It’s difficult to find a wine that reflects more of it’s terroir. Also, some lesser-known varietals that are always exciting, Neuburger, Rotgipfler and Blauburger (another Dr. Zweigelt creation).
6.) What’s your favorite food & wine pairing for the season?
All summer, I’ve been drinking Gelber Muskateller, which really pairs best with a deckchair; but as the weather gets a little cooler, I find myself reaching for comfort food.
At home, ham & cheese Panini with local farm pickles and relishes just scream for richer whites. A weissburgunder from Christ in Vienna, or Tinhof in Burgenland would be great. My new favorite is Freigut Thallern’s Rotgipfler Selektion ’09.
From the grill, a recent Steak Frites paired wonderfully with a Blauburger ’06 from H.P.Goebel.
And out on the town, it’s hard to beat a bottle of Riesling Rosengartl ’08 from Jutta Ambrositsch when served with sweetbreads at Seasonal Restaurant and Weinbar.
7.) Where do you see the future of Austrian wine heading?
I’m thrilled that the younger generation of Austrian winemakers appears to be embracing their own heritage and shying away from “international” varietals and winemaking trends. I also expect to see more winemakers make the stretch across to organic and biodynamic production. The majority of Austrian wineries follow the K.I.P method (controlled integrated production or certified sustainability) As wine consumers become more environmentally savvy, the demand for more ‘natural’ wines will increase. It’s such a short step from K.I.P to organic; I think we will be seeing a great deal more of it.
8.) Anything else you’d like to add?
Austrians have been making wine for over 3000 years. That should have given them enough time to figure out what works best in their soils and cellars. Where their parents had adopted practices from around the world, the “new guard” seems to be embracing a new found Austrian-ness. They seem a little more secure in their own national identity. Hopefully, high alcohol Gruener Veltliners aged in French barrique will be a thing of the past.