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26 May 2006

They Call Themselves the Rusters

Rustappellation The town of Rust, near Lake Neusiedl is famous for its nobly rotten dessert wines called Ruster Ausbruch.  In the best sweet wine vintages, Ruster (pron. roos-ter) winemakers are able to select from extraordinarily high amounts of botrytis-affected raisinated grapes.  This is due to the high air humidity, often produced by the lake in the autumn.  Botrytris cinera, in its noble, benevolet form, pierces a grape's skin and drains much of the water from the flesh.  The result is a shriveled grape, which contains highly concentrated sugar.  For connoisseurs of these luxuriously intense wines, Austria is right at the top of the list, in terms of quality and value.  In addition to sweet wines, many winemakers in Rust are also producing interesting dry wines on the gentle slopes further away from the lake where botrytis is less common.  This week I was able to visit three of talented Ruster winemakers.  See the photo gallery here.

Kurt Feiler took some time out of his hectic wedding preparation schedule to give me a tour of the vineyards in the Rust area.  He pointed out that much of the sweet wine is made from lower lying vineyards that are close to the lake.  These vineyards are in the fog belt, which is where botrytis likes to play.  We also toured the 'higher altitude' vineyards that are only a few hundred meters above the lake.  However, this slight height advantage enables him to produce some incredibly intense red wines.

2003 Solitare - This wine is a cuvee of Blaufränkisch, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zweigelt.  It possesses a veritable scaffolding of spice, chewy tannins and slick, lasting finish.  The wine attacks with spice, tannins and cocoa notes.  It then slowly gives way to black cherry and black currant flavors; while evolving a thick smooth mouthfeel during the finish.

2004 Umriss Blaufränkisch - The quintessential expression of Burgenland's flagship grape.  Umriss comes from a rocky vineyard containing chalky soil.  It spends 12 months in small barriques before bottling.  The wood treatment seems to restrain the spicy-fruity character of the BFrank - allowing it to reveal itself slowly in the glass.  Umriss is silky smooth in the mouth with an interesting minty twist on the finish.

Lest we forget the sweet:
2002 Traminer Beerenauslese - While not as intense as the Ausbruch wines, I found this wine to be quite compelling.  It offers lychee Gewurztraminer scents along with honeysuckle and apricot.  In the mouth, I wasn't immediately reminded of syrup, which enabled me to taste complexities and textures often missing in sweet wine.

Feiler Artinger wines are available through Winemonger.

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BarrelsamplesHeidi Schröck
Heidi held out on me - I only found out after my visit that, as a teenager, she had been a "wine princess" from the town of Rust.  From 10 Hectares, Heidi produces some incredibly unique dry and sweet wine.  She took me down to her cellar and allowed me to sample a few new wines maturing in large wooden casks.  Ms. Schröck makes one of the rarer white wines of the wine world - a dry wine from the Furmint (2005 Furmint) grape (also used across the border in Hungary).  Dry Furmint wine is full of tough-to-describe acidity.  I found the acidity reacted with my mouth in a polka-dot fashion - jabs of zest here and there across my tongue; alternated by flavors of pear and chamomile.   Surely a must try wine for those seeking a break from the ocean of blasé white wine awash in wine shops everywhere.  Heidi's wines are imported into the U.S. by Michael Skurnik Wines.

The Wenzel winery is one of the oldest wineries in all of Rust (and that's saying something).  The Wenzel family has preserved the wine cellar and many pieces of antique winemaking equipment, such as the first press from 1793.  The Cellar also holds a historic barrel with the famous Rust "R."  The Wenzel brothers told me that, after Port from Portugal, Rust wine was one of the first to be designated as an appellation wine (wine of specific origin).  In keeping with the family tradition of allowing visitors to scribble grafitti on the cellar and wine press, the contemporary tasting room is covered in well-wishes and compliments in dozens of languages.  The atmosphere is relaxed, and almost pub like.

Winemaker Michael Wenzel is an interesting cat.  He is a proponent of natural fermentation and can, almost savant-like, recite each and every characteristic of all his wines when asked.  Mike is currently throwing his considerable talents towards the challenge of Pinot Noir.  He let me sample two vintages of the Pinot Noir (2003, 2004).  The differences were striking.  Both were complex, Burgundy-like and expressive.  Next to my tasting noes of the 2004 Pinot Noir, I scribbled, "fanfreakintastic!"  Mike says he enjoys the Pinot Noir challenge, as any winemaking mistake is translated to the wine.

The Wenzels allow much of their dry red wine to mature before releasing it to the marketplace.  In fact, the family's flagship red wine, a Blaufränkisch, called Brandkräften, has an interesting release story.  The wine press ballyhooed the vintage of 2003 to such a degree that customers were nearly beating doors down to get their hands on reds from this vintage.  The Wenzels, released Brandkräften 2003 due to this demand.  However, cagily enough, the Wenzel brothers decided to hold back the 2002 vintage.  It is only now being released.  The extra bottle age of this wine has resulted in an incredibly mature complex wine, which echoes fine Pinot Noir.

Mike Wenzel also produces one of the classics in all of Ruster Ausbruch-dom.  It's called, "SAZ."  This wine is a blend of Furmint and Gelber Muskateller, both historic grape varieties of this region.  It is also a single vineyard wine, which is rare for this neck of the Austrian woods.  The Saz vineyard was mentioned as early as the 17th century.  In addition to being incredibly aromatic, this wine sets the sweetness and acidity dials to '11.' Once I took a sip of two vintages of this wine (2001, 2002), my brain was pushed to the brink of sensory overload.  This wine offers more of an experience than a flavor.

Wenzel wines are imported by Winemonger.

See the Ruster winemaker photo gallery here



He is a proponent of natural fermentation and can, almost savant-like, recite each and every characteristic of all his wines when asked. Mike is currently throwing his considerable talents towards the challenge of Pinot Noir.

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