Posted by: tomciocco | July 14, 2013

AN AUSTRIAN FAMILY AFFAIR

You can’t pick your family, and the unpredictable and frequently unfortunate vagaries of human genetics can create anything from the love of your life to your obnoxious loudmouth uncle that regularly ruins family functions, and an almost infinite series of figures in between these two extremes. For good or bad, these rules hold true for grape vines too, even amongst the stickling Austrians.

For whatever reason, when it comes to grapes, scientists and vine-growers north of the Alps have had a real penchant for trying to push nature faster than she might normally want to move. The thousands of wine grapes worldwide typically came to be as a result of a combination of natural mutations arising from the environment and selective breeding in the fields over scores or even hundreds of years. Hardcore selective breeding is done in laboratories to (hopefully) arrive at a combination of the best characteristics of the two parents, and these endeavors in husbandry fall into two basic categories. In one case, the classic Eurasian wine grape species vitis vinifera are bred with a potential stable of American vitis species, and the results of these operations are typically referred to as “hybrids”. One such example is a variety called Chambourcin, but there are hundreds of them. In the second case, two vitis vinifera cultivars are spliced to achieve a third variety that can be substantially different from its parents despite the identical taxonomy, and the Austrian variety Zweigelt is an example of this sort of breeding.

The Zweigelt variety is quite unmysteriously named after one Dr. Zweigelt who, in 1922, developed the cross that is now Austria’s most widely planted red grape variety. Zweigelt’s parents are two other characteristically Austrian varieties Blaufrankisch and Sankt Laurent. Zweigelt (the person) sought to combine the former grape’s hardiness and snappy fruit with the latter’s great elegance with the hope that the former’s intrepid nature would displace the latter’s fussiness and susceptibility to disease. The results? Well, as I alluded to above, the results were mixed. Zweigelt does indeed inherit Blaufrankisch’s stalwart nature, and yields more fruit than either (often too much), but in my opinion, all things being equal, I’d prefer to drink wines from either of the parents than the child.

So here’s a winery that, with this bottling, decided to get the whole family back together, and blend all three varieties together – 50% Zweigelt, 40% Blaufrankisch, and 10% Sankt Laurent – to create a quaffable but not un-serious melange whose varying familial traits combine to make for a wine that would be hard if not impossible to achieve with any one or two of the three. Sometimes those family dinners actually turn out really well…

This super-Austrian blend called to me plaintively for a super-Austrian dinner, so I smeared some rye bread toasts with the classic Austrian cheese, herb, and spice spread Liptauer, and followed them by some double-breaded pork tenderloin schnitzels with a side of smothered red cabbage with pear, onion, red wine, savory, et al.

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Heinrich Burgenland “Red” 2011 

Deep and vivid magenta/garnet color. Clean and direct nose of wild raspberry, candied watermelon, mixed brown spices, roasted chestnuts and coffee, fresh eucalyptus and dried red flowers. In the mouth the wine shows a pulpy-textured, well-balanced, medium-weight body, with a bright, minerally acidity, and a smooth tannic structure that organizes cheerful flavors of strawberry jam, red plums, and cherry, with secondary notes of black tea and cocoa powder. Quite attractive toasted almond flavors on the end.

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