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28 March 2006

Muscat Ottonel Gets a Bad Rap

WmlogoRecently, Basic Juice received some Austrian wine samples from Winemonger. Since I’m a lover of all things sweet, I was ecstatic to find several dessert wines in my goodie box. I was instantly drawn to the two Muscat Ottonels in the bunch; while I’ve never met a muscat I haven’t liked, I couldn’t recall drinking a solo Ottonel, or at least one that was openly labeled as such. I needed a refresher on its place in the muscat family, so I heaved out the textbooks and looked it up.

Ottonel is apparently the most planted muscat variety in Austria and Alsace. It’s the palest in color of all the muscat varieties, it ripens the earliest, and has the least intense aroma. Jancis Robinson sure isn’t shy, calling the grape vapid and a relative parvenu. A parve-who? I looked that up too. It’s not a compliment.

Given Ottonel’s less-than-stellar reputation, I wondered if these wines could be any good. Both were late harvest: one a Beerenauslese, and one a Trockenbeerenauslese. Could there be enough acidity in these extra ripe grapes to support the sugar, or enough fruit and aromatics to make them interesting? I had to find out. Both wines were from Burgenland, and both listed at $29.99 (for 375 ml):

PaslertbaPasler Muscat Ottonel Trockenbeerenauslese 2002 - I jumped to this right away because I’m a big TBA fan. Light to medium gold color, with a moderately-intense fruity, floral nose of apricot and honeysuckle. A good amount of acidity kept the sweetness in check. But while the palate was pleasant like the nose, it dropped away to a dried fruit finish that ended quickly, almost with a bitter citrus pith character. Overall, a decent wine for the price (a TBA for $30?!), but not my top pick.

VelichbaVelich Muscat Ottonel Beerenauslese 2001 - This wine rocks. Amber gold color (a bit darker than the Pasler TBA). Intense, complex nose of caramel, honeysuckle, smoky apricot and tangerine. Velich's M.O. was aged 18 months in oak, and you sense it right away. The sweet, succulent palate matches the nose, with fresh acidity, and a looooong nutty, fruit-filled finish. Did I say I loved this wine? Hands down winner of the two. And for $30? You’ve got to be kidding.

Okay, if you know Austrian wines, you know that Burgenland is world-renowned for its amazing botrytized wines year after year. Muscat Ottonel need not feel bad for itself, because it's clearly a star in this region. Hard to justify spending hundreds of dollars on a bottle of d’Yquem or a German TBA when you can get treats like these for a fraction of the price!

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John McGregor

Hello...just thought that I'd mention that there are a few vineyards in the Finger Lakes Region of NY producing Muscat Ottonel...currently my family's winery is the only producer of a vintage Muscat Ottonel...we usually produce a semi-dry styled wine from the grapes...very much in the Alsace tradition...we've done some late harvest/bunch select might want to give them a taste sometime!
Take care,
John McGregor


Hi John,
I had no idea there was Muscat-O in the Finger Lakes. We'll have to get Lenn on the case!

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