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26 June 2006

Baths of the Rich & Famous

Thermenestate Austria's Thermenregion (Thermal Region) is situated just south of Vienna.  As the name suggests, this region is home to numerous natural spring baths.  At one time, the Thermenregion was the summer frolic spot for those with cash in Vienna's societé.  This area, once home to soggy rich folks, is also the birthplace of sparkling wine in Austria, not to mention the home to a mysterious red grape variety.  There is more history here than one can shake a bottle at...

  • In 1770, the Earl of Fries (whom I picture looking something like Mayor McCheese) developed large vineyards in this area for the purpose of selling red wine to customers in Vienna
  • In the 18th century, Emperor Joseph II ruled that most anyone could open wine taverns (called Heuriger in German).  A vibrant wine-tavern culture sprung up in the Thermenregion after this imperial decree
  • Robert Schlumberger, director of Ruinart Champagne, yearned to produce bubbly in Austria.  Why? He fell in love with a Viennese woman, whose mother forbade her to move back to france with bubbly Bob.  Schlumberger settled into Bad Vöslau, a town in the Thermenregion, and began producing Champagne-method-made wine
  • Blauer Portugieser is the 'bulk' red wine grape of the Thermenregion.  It's origins are murky.  Two wine industry people I spoke with in Austria indicated that a Graff (royal) was said to have brought this variety from somewhere in France.  However, neither source knows why it carries the "Portuguese" moniker.  Wine from this grape is best sampled in a Heuriger

  • Two unique white wine varieites, Zierfandler (spicy, lively) and Rotgipfler (sort of Gewurz-like, slightly flabby) are grown here

Thermenregion Today, The Thermenregion is struggling to overcome its image as, "a nice place to visit and to drink wine in a Heuriger," (read: the wine is average).  Fortunately there are a number of quality-minded producers working to win over wine lovers.  Some wine writers have observed that this region is similar from soil and geological standpoint to Burgundy's Côte d'Or.  Yeah, there's no pressure in that comparison.  Perhaps because of this, perhaps coincidentally, many winemakers now produce Pinot Noir.  Two Thermenregion wines to try:

Weingut Fischer Gradenthal 2004 ( A blend of Zweigelt [85%], Cabernet Sauvignon [10%] and Merlot [5%].  Imported by Vignaioli Selections) - Scents of black raspberry and blackcurrant; along with hints of mint.  Intense cherry and berry fruit flavors predominate in the mouth, and may cause one to overlook the subtle, yet velvety-smooth tannins.  This wine is great with hard/salty cheeses such as Parmesean.

Schlumberger Cuvee Klimt NV (a sparkling wine made from Welschriesling. Imported by Vin diVino) - Schlumberger is actually based in Vienna, however this sparkling wine producer, owns vineyards here; and cellars much of its produce in the Thermenregion.  I've been smitten by Welschriesling-based bubbly.  This grape, no relation to Riesling, is often thought of as a 'lesser varietal.'  Indeed, it might not have the capacity for complexity and longevity that Riesling possesses.  However, in bubbly form, this grape shines.  Cuvee Klimt offers light, very delicate scents of golden apple and red raspberry.  In the mouth, it is creamy and pleasant, with a faintly honeyed finish.  Try this wine with crusty bread and softened butter..really!  More Thermenregion photos here.

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