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« The Beehive & The 'Eggs | Main | Styrian Animals »

19 May 2006

The Disciples of Glass

OpenglasSattlerhof (see photos here)
Over a tasty gulash, I spoke with brothers Willi and Hannes Sattler about everything under the sun.  They shared a hearty laugh as I told them the tale about how I became lost the day before and stopped to ask an older gentleman for directions.  This senior Styrian had an incredibly thick accent.  Thus his response, as I heard it, to my question about the whereabouts of a particular street sounded like, "Geh ay o ah 'nd ett oosi oofi da-o."  They made me feel a bit better about my language incompetence by admitting that even native German speakers often have trouble with some Austrian dialects.  In fact, they told me that many an Austrian becomes confused when speaking to the inhabitants of Voralberg - a province in Austria's remote western alpine region.

After lunch, the conversation turned to wine and the hot topic of closure alternatives to natural cork.  During the days before, I had spoken with several winemakers who swore by Stelvin's aluminum screwcap closure.  They praised its relatively low cost, 20-year-plus track record and the sameness it imparts to specific bottlings of wine.  On the other hand, these pro-screwcap folk had very negative attitudes about the new glass closure called, "VinoLok"  (produced by Alcoa) The arguments against it were price ($0.40/glass closure vs. < $0.10/screwcap), the fact that at present there is no machine which reliably automates the process of securing glass closures, and that the VinLok's seal is made out of poly-vinyl-something-or-other.  When I broached this topic with Willi (the winemaker) and Hannes (the family's restaurant manager/chef) they both agreed that they have no problem with screwcaps.  However, they are of the opinion that screwcaps cheapen the appearance of wine.  For them this is important, as the Sattlerhof Restaurant boasts a high quality international wine cellar containing a number of prized Bordeaux bottles.  Of course they want guests to sample Sattlerhof wines, which are also top quality.  However, were these wines bottled under screwcaps, customers may judge them to be of lesser quality.  Thus, Willi is willing to spend 4x/bottle to improve the appearance of his wine; and also to overcome the well established problems that natural cork closures present.  The Sattlers understand the problems of natural cork all too well.  A few years ago, they lost several thousand bottles of wine to tainted cork.  This smarts particularly sharp to a small, family-run operation like Sattlerhof.

The Sattler family wines are not yet exported to North America.  In fact, as with most Styrian vino, most Sattlerhof wine is consumed within Austria.  They have recently begun exporting wine to Germany and Switzerland.  Willi is interested in exporting to the U.S.  However, at present time, his wines are in such demand that he really has no extra wine to export.  I asked him if he would consider increasing production.  He responded that he feared quality may suffer, were he to crank up production.    One wine which grabbed my attention immediately was Sattlerhof's 2005 Sauvignon Blanc "Klassik."  The nose was an intense duo of honeydew melon and lime.  In the mouth, the wine was completely different - it was pure minerality, but with fullish body and rich texture.  I felt it finished something like a Chablis-Burgundy hybrid.

FritztinnacherLackner-Tinnacher (see photos here)
Fritz Tinnacher is also convinced that glass closures are the way to go.  For his winery, Lackner-Tinnacher, it's about cost and appearance.  He maintains that the costs of natural cork and VinoLok are comparable.  I also got the impression that he and his wife weren't big fans of the screwcap look.  If cork were more reliable, this would be his preference.  However, his delicate white wine, which is 90% of the total production, is incredibly susceptible to even the slightest cork taint.  He mentioned that cork taint might not be as noticeable in hefty red wines such as those from Bordeaux or Italy's Piedmont.  Thus, the percentage of tainted corks may actually be underestimated.  Fritz hopes that cork producers feel pressured enough to put more effort into researching cork taint and developing better quality control measures.  Were this to happen, he would gladly switch back to cork.  For now, he is headed in the glass closure direction.  However, his USA importer still insists on natural cork-stopped bottles.  Why that is; I have no idea.  He would happily send glass-stopped vino our way.  What say you Domaine Select?

From A to Z, Lackner-Tinnacher wines are high quality.  The difference in vintages was crystal clear in all of Fritz's wines.  However, I was most struck by the variation in three vintages of his Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc).  2003 was a very warm year in southern Styria.  It is reflected in the '03 bottling with a round, mango-cream scent.  In contrast, the 2002 (a slightly cooler year) Weissburgunder possesses a nifty pear-apple puree with nougaty notes.  My favorite was the 2001 (cooler still) vintage, because of its honeydew melon-earth combo and eternal finish, thanks to its persevering acidity.

The most unique wine of the day was Fritz Tinnacher's Ried Türken Roter Traminer - a mutant Traminer clone.  No Lychee in this Traminer.  It's the oddest combination of butterscotch, cherry and nutmeg.  In the mouth the wine salutes its Traminer heritage with viscosity and heft.  Ried Türken is a vineyard name.  Actually, the term Ried refers to the homogeneous portion of a hill (i.e. same soil, aspect and slope).  In other words, This wine is from a very small, precisely delineated subset of a hillside.  Now that's what I call terroir on a very small scale.

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Ariel Steam Shower

Im not a fan of screw top bottles it does seem very cheap to me.

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