Seven years is not a biblical age for a bottle serious red wine, but the Austrian wine scene being obsessed with youth and each new vintage, it is not quite so easy to find older bottles of interesting Austrian reds. Except if you manage to navigate this Wine Rambler's tiny cramped cellar. Recently, I got lucky down there, and found this. Upon seeing the label and suddenly remembering having bought it all those years ago, I made the executive decision that its time had come. It had that in common with the goose who had lost her life for Martinmas and was about to be cooked with some apples and red cabbage.
The Leithaberg is a range of low hills northwest of Lake Neusiedl that a few winemakers from Austria's Burgenland region discovered for its cooler, steeper vineyards after they had become bored by the powerfully fruity, but somewhat complacent wines to be made from their lakeside plots.
If the wine world were a fair place, I would not have to draw your attention to what should by rights be an iconic bottle of Austrian red wine. But I'm happy to: Anita and Hans Nittnaus are founding members of the Pannobile group of wine growers - the name is a combination of "Pannonia" (the historical and geographical name of the east Austrian and Hungarian plain) and the Latin word for "noble". When Austria was first working her way out of the hole it had dug herself with the infamous 1985 adulterated wine scandal with a whole new generation of wines, Hans Nittnaus's reds were hailed as revelations. Then, since the late 1990s, they were increasingly eclipsed by bolder, bigger, heavier-hitting bottles.
This gave him some pause, naturally, and eventually made him adjust his style. Not, however, and to his everlasting credit, in the direction that the wind seemed to be blowing, towards more oak that is, more concentration, and all the latest blinking cellar technology. Instead, Nittnaus went back to the future, towards purity of fruit, drinkability and precise varietal character. A case in point - the 2006 Leithaberg:
In theory, this wine would have warranted a long review. First of all a twenty year old wine that is still enjoyable should be worth saying something about. Then it was also a gift from a friend who bought it for peanuts from an English wine shop years ago - since then it has lived in his attic until he donated it to a little wine tasting I hosted in August. The reason that I am not inclined to honour it with a long story is that when I emailed the estate to learn more about the wine they didn't even bother with a one line reply. They are of course not obliged to, but then neither am I to spend more time on it.
Dessert wine. Think Riesling so thick with sugar that you could grease your bicycle with it. Think Sauternes with even more sugar than the Riesling and twice the level of alcohol. Think Château d'Yquem. Think Austrian red wine. Ah, wait, did he just say 'Austrian red wine'? Yes he did, and he wrote that in a perfectly sober state. So let me start with saying that that there is Austrian red wine (in case you did not know) and that it can be outright fantastic. Most of it is dry, so I got very excited when I saw this sweet, half bottle beauty on the shelves at Harrods. So what is a sweet Austrian red wine like?
Intense yellow gold colour. A nose of honey and peach, with a hint of a medicinal smell (that almost completely faded away after a few hours). A thick and creamy sensation in the mouth - according to the producer this baby has 190 gram of residual sugar per liter - and a flavour mix of peach and honey with a decent kick of spice. Initially, the Eisgöttind (ice goddess) reminded me of a Sauternes, but the fresh spice gave a welcome contrast to the sweetness. Still a very heavy wine, the kind of wine that ends the drinking for that day, full stop. Yummy as a desert wine, perhaps a bit too heavy for me to drink on its own - I guess I will just always be a sucker for the light Mosel late harvests.