For pure and elegant white wines think of Austria
- Credit: WSNA
Were words and wine not my profession, I'd be suffering from writer's block now: how to do justice to the wines I've recently been privileged to taste?
Like this, for a start: quality and purity, consistency and elegance, reflection of grape and place, individuality, aromatics and
fine flavour, long-lingering pleasure... Thank you, Austria.
This year's UK tasting of the nation's wine was online. That meant no face-to-face contact with the growers and makers, but individual chat sessions were a decent substitute. And the format allowed slower, more reflective sampling that the wines so definitely merited.
Regrettably, Austria is unfamiliar to many drinkers, partly because it is so small among wine-producing nations – it only narrowly scrapes into the world top 20, its bottle count just a twentieth of leader Italy's. There are supermarket-scale wines, but many of the best
bottles are harder to seek out, from independent specialists.
It's worth the effort. Prices reflect production costs, but the quality/cost ratio is impressive. The wine regions are to the east, where Alpine foothills subside into the massive plain that stretches on through Hungary.
Picture gently sloping vineyards, some steep terraces, and a varied geology giving growers a broad palette of soils. There's enthusiasm for organic and biodynamic vineyards, and an increasing number of bottles now carry the sustainable certification that allows a green-and-white striped logo in addition to the red-and-white striped capsule which is a give-away for Austrian wines in a blind tasting.
White wines predominate, almost 70 per cent, with grüner veltliner and riesling the leading grapes. The red offering centres on blaufränkisch, zweigelt and saint-laurent, off-the-piste varieties with plenty of character and that same pure appeal of the whites.
Look out for single vineyard – "ried" – wines, which express the best of place and can age with exceptional grace.
Until I met a 50-year-old grüner veltliner, I had never imagined the grape's extraordinary potential. There's no way I can list here the 60 wines I tasted, from individual growers in a fascinating blaufränkisch masterclass. There wasn't a single dud among them, simply
good, very good and superb. But without the growers' support for Austrian Wine's massive sample send-out, I wouldn't be able to sing the praises of Bründlmayer, Christ, Dorli Muhr, Huber, Johanneshof Reinisch, Jurtschitsch, K+K Kirnbauer. Polz, Prieler, Sepp Moser,
Stadt Krems and Domäne Wachau.
Wines from all these, and many similar quality colleagues, almost all family operations, are available here. At London specialist Newcomer Wines in Dalston (newcomerwines.com), you can sip as well as buy. Alpine Wines has 150-plus Austrian wines on its website
(alpinewines.co.uk) – I love the description of one as "licking diamonds" – and Clark Foyster (clarkfoysterwines.co.uk) imports some of the very best and will sell to individuals.
Drink less but better is today's trend: Austria is perfect for that.
Nine Bottles to Toast International Chardonnay Day on May 26
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What's the world's best-loved white wine grape – and also the one most hated? Chardonnay, of course: the grape of fine white burgundy and of over-sweet, over-oaked, Aussie fruit bombs that exploded into massive popular distaste.
How things have changed, with time, taste and climate. Australia has refined its offering, to today's balanced, fresh and altogether more drinkable wines. In Burgundy, much less has changed, though chablis has ripened to offer fewer challengingly acidic styles.
And there are plenty of excellent alternative players offering fine chardonnay – the chameleon grape, taking character from place and winemaker. Think England, or Washington State, or Jura in eastern France.
Here are some to enjoy. Classics first: subtle, complex Domaine Jean Cartron Montmorin 2020 is from value-led Rully in Burgundy's Côte Chalonnaise (£22, £20 mix-12, laithwaites.co.uk); compare brighter, more mineral left-bank chablis with richer right bank wine in Simonnet-Febvre's premier crus Montmains (left bank, £39.50, whitebridgewines.co.uk) and Fourchaume (right, £29, vinatis.co.uk). Or simply enjoy the organic purity of Julien Brocard Chablis Boissonneuse 2020 (£20, thewinesociety.com). Australia's modern elegant styles are led by cooler climate areas, as in Margaret River where there's freshness and flavour with minimal intervention from heritage vines at Vasse Felix (£25-£30, laithwaites.co.uk, harveynichols.com, fortnumandmason.com, other
Mornington Peninsula is similarly sea girt: Moorooduc Estate Chardonnay (£24-£26, henningswine.co.uk, woodwinters.com) adds a saline edge to its intense fruit. No flowery descriptions for this too-brief list of challengers, just take my word that they're all delicious examples of modern chardonnay: Sleight of Hand Cellars The Enchantress (£34.10, theatreofwine.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org, free delivery) is a chablis style take from very different soils in Washington State; from a cool part of Chile comes classy Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa (£17, etonvintners.com); Kit's Coty is the smart pinnacle of Chapel Down's English still wine range (£180 6-bottle case, chapeldown.com); fabulous and different complexity shows in Domaine Baud Côtes du Jura Les Prémices (£18, laithwaites.co.uk).