I’ve been visiting the Department of Economics at the Johannes Kepler Universität in Linz, Austria this week. I have known Rudolf Winter-Ebmer and René Böheim for a long time it’s been great to spend a little time in Linz.
And of course there is great wine in Austria! More on that later and next week…
I asked René if he’d want to do a Friday Night Flights with me and he organized an amazing evening of wine with Linz friends and colleagues. We’d been through three flights of two Austrian wines each (see below) before we got to the “Friday Night Flights” comparison. As you can imagine, we were warmed up and in a good mood! René was great about drinking everything blind and so the usual FNF conditions apply. Let’s get to it!
Our first wine (well, technically our 7th wine of the night, but…) has a beautiful deep ruby color. On the nose it’s got a mix of green pepper, tobacco, chocolate, plum, and spices. It’s really great.
The palate has pronounced but well-integrated tannins and it’s clear that this is a wine that built for aging. There’s tobacco, a bit of plum, some eucalyptus, perhaps some white pepper. The acid is in balance, but restrained. Between the fruit and tannins, the wine has pronounced body. There a lot of great things going on in the glass, and the finish is long and pleasant.
Our second wine is also ruby, but a little lighter than the first wine. On the nose it offers more vanilla than the tobacco of the first wine with spicy notes. There are definite black fruit notes as well. The nose here is great, but perhaps a bit less complex than Wine A.
On the palate, I get black cherries, blackberries, plums and again vanilla. There’s very nice fruit here as well as decent acidity. The tannins are a bit silkier than Wine A, but definitely present — another wine built for the bottle. It’s full bodied and round in the month. The finish is not quite as long as Wine A, but still great.
Since I brought these two wines (but don’t know which is which), I’m glad. René has been so generous sharing his own wines both at this grandiose tasting, but also at dinner on Tuesday, and he’s been so enthusiastic about my new wine ventures, that I didn’t want these wines to disappoint. They definitely didn’t and our group of five definitely enjoyed them.
So which of these is from Germany and which from elsewhere?
Wine A is a 2009 Châteaux Brane-Cantenac (Margaux), 13.5% alcohol. The technical data on the wine from the vintner is here: at 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, aged 18 months in 70% new oak, among other things.
Brane-Cantenac is a deuxième-crus (second growth) in the 1855 classification of Bordeaux wines. I’m not a huge fan of “points,” but this particular vintage scored an average of about 94 points from various Wine Advocate authors, including Robert Parker over the a few different tastings. In 2012, Parker described the wine as “…a spectacular effort from this estate rivaling their 2005, but more flashy/flamboyant, this dark ruby/purple wine has a strikingly intense nose of licorice, flowers, plums and dark berries. Medium to full-bodied, very approachable and silky, this suave, very sexy wine can be drunk early on as well as aged for 20+ years.” So I don’t think we did any harm in opening it in 2018 (but according to the vineyard, this is just about the earliest one would want to drink it).
Price: EUR 82 (about USD 95/GBP 72 at current exchange rates).
Wine B is a 2009 Friedrich Becker “Verbotene Früchte” (Pfalz), 13.5% alcohol. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot. Aged 36 months in barrique, mostly mostly also made in the Pfalz. Becker is a member of the VDP and renowned for Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir). They are located Schweigen, on the German-French border, about 70 km (43 miles) from Strassbourg.
“Verbotene Früchte” means “forbidden fruit” in Germany, and therein lies a tale. In 1991, when Becker first planted Cabernet, he planted it in France because it was not permitted to be planted in Germany. Since 1997 it’s been possible to sell Cabernet in Germany (to an American, these kinds of wine laws seem a bit crazy). The wine was originally call “Verbotene Frucht” because it was pure Cabernet, but since 2003 it’s also included Merlot. According to Ruth Thome at Becker, who was very nice in answering my questions, “Verbotene Früchte” is not made any more. They have ripped out the Cabernet vines because the only occasionally gave an acceptable harvest. There are still some 2008s available for purchase from Becker, and some stray 2009s around in the Internet.
Price: EUR 39 (about USD 45/GBP 34 at current exchange rates).
There was a strong consensus in our group of five that the Brane-Cantenac was just a tick better in terms of complexity. But all of my Austrian colleagues were quite impressed with the Becker. Taking price into account (usually I try to match price levels so that this isn’t an issue, but it was impossible to find a 2009 left bank Bordeaux that I could purchase in 2018 in Germany for around EUR 39), the impression was that the Preisleistungsverhältnis (i.e. quality for price) was better with the Becker. That is, it ceded a very small amount in quantity, but cost half as much.
Personally, I really enjoyed both of these wines. The Brane-Cantenac was a bit more complex, but I found the fruit in the Becker to be a bit more pronounced. The oak was more pronounced in the Becker as well (or maybe not quite as well integrated), but it was quite pleasant.
For me, the takeaway is that an excellent (Becker is one of the premier producers in Germany) Bordeaux-style blend from Germany could hold its own (and when price is taken into account, perhaps exceed), a second-growth Margaux. It’s a shame the Cabernet has been ripped out at Becker, because the “Verbotene Früchte” was a very good wine indeed. But if it yields an acceptable harvest only every few years, I can understand why.
Other Wines — My Accompanied Weinreise through Austria
As I mentioned René was an amazing host and provided us with several great (blind) flights of Austrian wines before we got to my Franco-German comparison.
First up were two Grüner Veltliners (pardon the apostasy for talking about white wine on rotweinjaeger!), a 2017 “Messwein” from Schloss Gobelsburg and a 2017 “Wechselberg” from Birgit Eichinger. Both very good, but the Eichinger was for me truly great — a delicious combination of bright acidity and fruit.
Second, we had a 2015 Pinot Noir (“Blauen Burgunder” in Austria) from Peter Scandal and a 2015 St. Laurent “vom Stein” from Umathum. I’ve not had much, if any, St. Laurent, but this is a great, well-structured wine. The Pinot was fragrant, with very nice acid and delicate and delightful red fruits.
The third flight were two Bläufrankisch (Lemberger in Germany). Blaufränkisch has such a great blue color to it. Both were produced in Burgenland and remarkably both had extremely similar descriptions from the vintners, Ernst Triebaumer (2014 Obererwald/Mariental) and Heinrich(2014 Leithaberg). Located not more than 40 miles from one another, these wines had quite different characters (despite the similar descriptions). Both fantastic wines, I found the vanilla notes in the Triebaumer to be a bit more pronounced and quite pleasing.
As if we hadn’t had enough wine, there were two “bonus” wines after all was said and done. René served up a 2015 Weingut Böheim “Stuhlwerker” — a cuveé of Zweigelt, Merlot, Syrah, and Blaufränkisch — that I absolutely love. Wow, what a big, bold delicious wine.
To round up the evening… a 2017 Kracher Zweigelt Beerenauslese. That’s right, a sweet red wine, but with great acid and delicate red berry notes.
Needless to say, it was quite the evening. I’m not even sure the Brane-Canteanac and the Becker cuveés were the highlights.
René — Thanks for an outstanding evening! I love having friends who are knowledgeable about wine and who are willing to share that knowledge (and their wine).
More from Linz next week! Thanks for reading…