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06 April 2006

Austrian Grapes: Seriously St. Laurent*

Braunstenstl_2 *Or: "I can't believe it's not Burgundy"

I am loathe to compare one wine to a classic (e.g. "This New Zealand Pinot Noir is positively Burgundian."). It's trite; and it isn't fair to either the wine in question or the original.  Yet, when I poured myself a glass of Braunstein 2003 St. Laurent, It was as if I I had suddenly become Buck Rogers' Twiki: "a-b, a-b, a-b, Burgundy."

Now how would this grape, which I thought was more akin to a spicy-fruity Rhône grape, play the part of classic Pinot Noir?  I must have been wrong.  I took another sip.  Yup, Burgundy-like, indeed.  I detected earthy/mushroom notes coupled to lightly peppered strawberry jam.  The in-mouth experience with this wine is outside the realm of flavor.  Rather, it's all about feelings (whoa, oh, oh).  Braunstein's St. L feels broad and dense in the mouth.  It's a three-dimensional wine, framed by soft, barrel-mellowed tannins.  I dug it.  But would it hold up to lamb chops?

I took it out for a spin with this chop recipe: Rosemary lamb chops with Swiss chard and balsamic syrup.  Luckily I didn't drizzle the balsamic syrup over the chops, as its scent seemed to dominate the kitchen.  This serious St. Laurent was the perfect compliment to the broiled chops.  It did everything a good food wine should do - the wine enhanced the dish, but didn't steal the show.  Big props to winemaker Birgit Braunstein.

The Skinny
Braunstein Goldberg St.Laurent 2003 ($22)

  • 100% St. Laurent from Austria's Neusiedlersee appellation
  • Aged 9 months in oak
  • Black cherry in color with a broad rootbeer-colored rim
  • Notes of earth and mushroom, along with pepper and strawberry jam scents
  • A 'wide' mouthfeel - rich flavor, soft tannins and a long, pleasant finish.  Very appealing
  • This wine seems to have aged quickly, but beautifully

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According to the invaluable tool Wine Searcher Pro, the only place I can buy this wine (online, which would be about the only likely place I'll find it) is Wine Monger. They want to charge $20 to ship a bottle to New York...! (the value somewhat "improves" with each bottle purchased, granted), claiming it has to do with the NY shipping laws.

Not sure what that's about - I buy wines online, including from CA (where Wine Monger is based), and have never seen such extraordinary pricing for shipping charges (their explanation notwithstanding).


Ahoy Steve-o! Long time, no comment.

I feel your pain w/r/t s&h charges. I suppose one alleviates those charges with the purchase of an entire case - but then I find it hard to commit to an entire case, let alone two bottles.

I think this is a good ? for the folks @ Winemonger. Perhaps they'll enlighten us.

Alternatively, you could jet over to Austria sometime during May-June and meet me at the Braunstein winery!


Hi Steve-o and Beau-
Emily from Winemonger here.

So here's the deal: in order to be able to legally (and that is an important distinction) ship wine into certain states, we work with a compliance company that runs the necessary paperwork through a third party. What we charge as a shipping and handling fee in each state is exactly what we have to pay to get the bottles there. Not a penny more. You are right- that's small consolation when you're looking at an outrageous shipping fee. We could have worked more "wiggle room" into our bottle prices, so that we could subsidize the s&h fees and they wouldn't look so ridiculous in these 3-tier states, but that went against our idea of importing wine and trying to get it to consumers as directly as possible.

In the past we have run "shipping rate specials" in a bid to gain customers. I can tell you that we took a loss anytime a customer in one of these 3-tier states took advantage of the deal. I'd love to be able to run that kind of special more often, but, obviously, that wouldn't work out too well for the bottom line.

We question quite often if we should even bother trying to offer the wines in some of these states. I don't know what the right answer is.

As far as other online wine retailers being able to ship the wines at a better rate, I have a few reasons why this is probably the case. The first is that if they are not the importer, they are working with a traditional margin on the bottle price which allows for that wiggle room I mentioned above, so they are likely subsidizing the shipping rates that way. If they are a larger company, they may have warehouse "hubs" in key states so that they can ship in and out of that state without needing to engage a third party for compliance. And then some online shops specifically state that as soon as you buy the wine, the title of it passes to you and they are merely engaging a common courier to ship the wine to you and make no claim as to whether it is legal to do so or not.

We could have gone that third route, but we didn't. We went the legal way, and it costs a lot of money. Hopefully, with some laws changing in certain states, the tide is shifting and easier (cheaper) commerce routes are on the horizon.

Until then...well, I don't really know what to offer here. Find 11 friends who all want to try the St.Laurent, and split the shipping? Sorry, that's not very helpful. Tell you what- the next time I'm traveling out to NYC, I'll bring you a bottle myself. Drop me a line so I'll know how to reach you.

Wish I had better news.


Thanks for the explanation, Emily. Sounds like the differential I've found in shipping rates has to do almost exclusively with the legal grey area you describe. I just find it unusual that so many online retailers would engage in such a practice...

Beau - yup, I've been off the radar; wedding and honeymoon took me out of the loop for much of the first part of the year... and now we've sacrificed wine for Lent (argh! how did I get talked into that!!??). And it probably comes as no surprise to hear that visiting wine blogs when abstaining is torturous. I poke around from time to time to live a little vicariously... but really I'm counting the days (a cork pops in 9!).

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