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Must-Have Wine: Austrian Pinot Noir
If there is any sort of ascendency to my passion for wine, I would say discovery is the pinnacle. This goes hand in hand with the question constantly asked of me, “What is your favorite wine?” To which my standard reply is, “The wine I haven’t tried yet”.
Discovery is at the very heart of why I am so fascinated with wine, its ceaselessly changing nature, from the diversity of terroir to vintage variations and the very fact every bottle is a living thing makes for such an intriguing and compelling diversion from the prosaic.
I know many wine consumers are apprehensive when it comes to trying new wines outside of their knowledge or comfort zone. However, I urge wine novices and enthusiasts alike to explore and discover with an international-mindedness, just as my 8 year-old daughter discovers through the 21st century learning principles of the International Baccalaureate.
Wine IB ideology means don’t get bogged down in memorizing inconsequential wine academia or be dictated by fashion and slave to wine scores, but start discovering and questioning, seeking information and truth by applying the human senses - seeing, touching, smelling and tasting, in conjunction with eating. I could think of worse PYP units of inquiry.
You could say wine writers are in a never-ending state of inquiry, perpetually in discovery mode. Yet even our field of vision and sphere of knowledge can be constrained, especially the way the world of wine writing is going, with country and regional specialists now almost compulsory and realistically the only way to make commercial sense out of wine journalism.
The most enlightening if not challenging method of discovery for wine journalists is blind tastings and in particular those that involve a gaggle of inflated egos and cocksure palates, consequently all blown to humiliating smithereens and reputations torn to shreds by embarrassing revelations in getting a wine completely wrong or being part of an outcome that confounds conventional wisdom.
I participated in one such tasting in Singapore this year, organised by Michael Thurner, our dynamic global Austrian wine marketer based here, who is always stirring the pot when it comes to journalists’ mindset moreover, the set minds or bias in Asia towards French wines.
His mission went something along the lines of; ‘If you think great pinot noir only belongs to the realms of Burgundy, obviously you have not tried Austrian pinot noir.’
There are a lot of pinot noir producers in the New World chasing this Holy Grail and many doing a damn fine job of it in New Zealand, Australia and the US. And the Old World, well no question the Germans are up there (with some help from climate change), but Austria?
Well, Michael certainly did a good job of proving his point, both professionally in organizing a worthy panel of 19 journalists and sommeliers and a line-up of very impressive pinot noirs from producers all over the world, including some serious Burgundy Premier and Grand Crus from great names such as Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, Comte du Vogue, Roumier, Meo Camuzet, Jadot, Drouhin, Auguste Lignier, Comte Armand and Mommesin.
To be correct, in the industry vernacular, the tasting is what is deemed half blind, and that’s not to infer that we are halfway on the way to being intoxicated, rather that we know the parameters are the grape variety is pinot noir and that there are wines from all over the world but obviously a strong representation from Austria and France. As opposed having completely no idea what the wines are.
The results of the tasting was indeed a powerful statement for Austrian pinot noir astounding the group with 6 of the top 10 pinot’s coming from Austria. I personally gave the Markowitsch Reserve 2004 my highest score and it averaged out in the panel scores at number 4 out of 25 wines, and number 3 grouped in its older vintage bracket.
For a summary of the tasting, full list of wines and participants, visit http://www.austriasfinebrands.com/newsletter/archiv/100816.htm
Group ratings and personal scores aside, there were many wines in this tasting that impressed however the enlightenment was Austria’s ability to make such profound pinot noirs. The biggest discovering for me was how incredible the Markowitsch Reserve Pinot Noir 204 was with is silken, creamy texture so hauntingly Burgundy like with deep black cherry and notes of violets, smoky, gamey and looking every bit as complex as – Grand Cru Burgundy – which my notes reflected and that I had declared the wine from Burgundy, France.
So impressed by this wine and subsequent vintages (06, 07, 08) of Markowitsch Reserve Pinot Noir that I have tasted, I decided to include it as one of the five participating wineries in the landmark ‘Domaine de la Romanee Conti vs. the World Blind Tasting’ and ‘A World of Pinot Noir Dinner’, held in Singapore in April this year, as part of the Burghound in Asia event that I organised in conjunction with Hermitage Wine.
To our knowledge this is the first ever structured comparative consumer-driven tasting of this genre to be held in Asia, and perhaps the world, the emphasis being a consumer preference outcome, ultimately the most strategic arbiter on wine.
There were three brackets of five world-benchmark pinot noirs (15 in total) served half-blind – that is we know the variety is pinot noir and one DRC wine was amongst each bracket.
With 108 tasters, an auspicious number of course, there were 12 tables seating 9 participants made up of 8 consumers and one wine professional, to impart their pinot noir wisdom on the consumer.
The wine professionals were a mix of wine writers and winemakers including internationally acclaimed commentators, Andrew Jefford (UK), James Halliday (AUS), Allen Meadows (USA), and Singapore based, Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, Suzanne Brocklehurst and Ying Hsien Tan.
Our esteemed guest vignerons, all veteran pinot noir practitioners, were, Sam Neill – Two Paddocks, Central Otago, New Zealand; Josh Jensen – Calera Wine Co., California, USA; Veronique Boss-Drouhin – Maison Joseph Drouhin, Burgundy, France and Domaine Drouhin, Oregon, USA; and Francois Labet – Chateau de La Tour, Burgundy, France.
The wineries selected for the tasting were: • Felton Road – Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand • Bass Phillip – Leongatha South, Victoria, Australia • Domaine Serene – Oregon, United States of America • Markowitsch – Carnuntum, Austria • Domaine de la Romanee Conti – Burgundy, France
The results: looking at the overall preferences and the most preferred winery by the aggregate was Markowitsch Reserve Pinot Noir from Austria. However, if one was to calculate the most preferred winery by league of the three flights and not the aggregate of tasters preferences, Felton Road would in fact be the most preferred winery, being 1st, 2nd and 4th in the 3 brackets, versus Markowitsch‘s 1st, 3rd and 4th. Clearly Markowitsch and Felton Road impressed our tasters.
For a full review and results of the tasting, visit http://www.thewanderingpalate.com/events/domaine-de-la-romanee-conti-vs-the-world-blind-tasting-results/
I would hope that the result of this tasting should at least engender much interest in Markowitsch (Thurner tells me sales for their wine in Singapore have gone ballistic) or at least stir the curiosity of pinot noir lovers around the world to explore Austrian wines more.
To quote Suzanne Brocklehurst, one of our participating professional wine writers, ‘The highlight of Bracket 2 was definitely wine #3 which was the Markowitsch Reserve 2006. I loved the elegance of this wine with its attractive gentle herbal notes and supple palate.’
I wish I could tell you more about Markowitsch but to be honest; I only have my tasting impressions of the wine, and asking myself with all the Austrian vineyard trips I have partaken in, why I have never been to their region, Carnuntum.
Michael Thurner tells Gerhard Markowitsch, in his mid-forties, is at the contemporary cutting-edge of Austrian winemaking and a pioneer in red wine production. Adding he was greatly influenced by American techniques and style in the beginning however has changed over time and is now completely focused on a sharper ‘Austrian’ style and aiming to achieve great balance and elegance in his wines.
Thurner goes on to say, the Pannonian micro-climate, which is mainly determined by nearby Lake Neusiedl, is a bit cooler than Burgenland, on the other side of the mountain. Also, the limestone soils here are very suited pinot noir, with Markowitsch planted on hillside slopes of brown soils called Scheibner that are extremely rich in limestone, and at the foot-slopes a sandy loess soil known as Kirchthal, also high in limestone content.
Clearly the notion that limestone soils and pinot noir are instrumental to greatness is the driver here.
For more information on the winery, visit www.markowitsch.at
And lovers of Celtic and Roman history will enjoy digging up the chronicles of agent times in Carnuntum, by all accounts one of those fascinating Roman strongholds and crossroads of trading with countless invasions and battles that have much more intrigue than any wine will – or is that part of it... for openers, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnuntum
The Markowitsch Reserve 2004 remains one of the most impressive pinot noir’s I had in 2010, and much of 2011, or was it the 2006, or maybe the 2007... And I’m looking forward to trying the 2008 soon. Bye the way, the regular pinot noir is no slouch either, and great value to which I will be reviewing shortly.
Other Austrian pinot noir producers to explore: Wieninger, JR Reinisch, Schloss Halbturn, Schneider, Paul Achs, Claus Preisinger, Auer and Juris.
So, open your mind and palate, and discover the wines of Austria - www.austrianwine.com
In terms of availability in Asia, Singapore is the only place that you will get the Markowitsch Reserve Pinot Noir, the 2004 at S$89.90, and the 2007 & 08 at S$89.90, through Unique Food and Wine Pte. Ltd., Tel: (65) 9040 4322, Email: email@example.com
The Hong Kong importer has the regular cuvee, contact Bronson and Jacobs (H.K.) Limited Tel: (852) 3793 1216, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In Indonesia, PT. Dimatique International, Tel: 6221 661 8835 ext 302, Email: email@example.com
For all other enquiries, contact Michael Thurner, Austria’s Fine Brands