The Austrian dinner table, both in terms of what’s drunk as well as what’s eaten, for me has been the source of more than a few very pleasant surprises, and this evening’s repast turned out to be yet another one. When considering the stuff that goes into the stemmed glasses that emanate from this beautiful country in the heart of Europe, most of what gets the attention in terms of press and money spent is white: Austria’s signature white variety Gruner Veltliner, the noble Riesling (that is typically very different from the ones made in Germany), as well lesser known varieties like Welschriesling (no relation), and downright rarities like Zierfandler.
And then there are Austria’s reds…Though names like Blaufrankisch and Zweigelt and Rotgipfler are not the handles you’d choose if you were in charge of education and marketing for the Austrian Wine Commission, these and other native red grapes are distinctive and a produce wine of often world-class stature. And what is deemed by many an oenophile to be Austria’s noblest grape – Sankt Laurent, AKA St. Laurent – was the wine we drank this evening, and might I also say reputation well confirmed (once again).
Considering Sankt Laurent’s lineage, it’s no wonder. It seems very likely, after lots of genetic testing done on it over quite a few years, that Sankt Laurent is a long-separated, but nonetheless direct descendent of Burgundy’s king cultivar, Pinot Noir. Cuttings most probably brought to Austria in the Middle Ages by those great vine propagators of the past – Catholic monks – planted them in the stony, ex-volcanic soils of eastern Austria, which over the centuries produced a darker, sturdier, less ethereal, but nevertheless kindred grape…
Anticipating that this wine would likely call for a special menu, I began picking around, and then it hit me – tafelspitz! Originating from the area around Vienna, tafelspitz is a very specific thing, with equally specific nearly unvarying accompaniments: A beef bottom round boiled with leeks, turnips, parsnips, parsley root, carrots, celery, and marrow bones (some of these same veggies are held back raw, and then boiled in the stock after the meat is completely cooked and removed, and served as another dish in the final array of plates), served with Austrian-style potato/onion/parsley “hash browns”, creamed spinach, and two sauces: a “white” sauce made with eggs, oil, bread, vinegar, chives, etc., and an apple/horseradish puree`. WHEW!
This thing was a lot of work but when it’s all done, it’s an elegant, sophisticated platter of food, and well worth the work…Like I said at the start, the Austrian kitchen and cellar are full of great surprises.
Rosi Schuster Burgenland Sankt Laurent 2008
Lightly browned, but still bright dusty ruby color. Layered and complex nose of dried cranberries, strawberry preserves, piney, woodsy aromas, muskmelon, sandalwood, smoke, and wet clay. The medium weight body is fairly rich and plump, but still very lively and clean, with flavors of wild raspberries, farmer’s cheese, cherry cola, and marjoram, wrapped in fine, satiny-textured tannins. Long, minerally, and complex bitter almond finish.