Austria’s Provençal Red Wine Region

steindorfer familyThe father and son team of Ernst and Roland Steindorfer are the best Austrian winemakers that even most Austrian fans don’t know.

That’s because instead of making wine from Austria’s best-known Grüner Veltliner and Riesling grapes, the Steindorfers focus on rich, spicy, red and wildly complex and delicious sweet wines from grapes Americans struggle to pronounce, much less recognize. Part of the problem is Steindorfer’s location in the Burgenland region, about an hour south of Vienna along the eastern border with Hungary. Burgenland was, for years and years, the poorest, most economically isolated, region in all of Austria – electricity didn’t reach most homes until the last quarter of the 20th Century!

BurgenlandIt’s also one of the flattest areas of Austria – a bump 80 feet high is called a “hill” here – and one of the warmest as hot breezes flow westward from the Pannonian Plain to the east. And, while daytime temperatures can soar, the long, shallow (just 3 feet deep!) glacial lake called Neusiedler See both cools the region at night and pumps out autumn fogs that cover vineyards near the lake.

The lake-effect fog makes Burgenland Austria’s best region for producing intense, long-lived, sweet wines based on botrytis – aka Noble Rot. Ernst Steindorfer got his start making wine with the famous master of this wine style, the late Alois Kracher. Now on his own, Ernst and his son Roland continue to make some of the most exciting sweet wines in Austria.

Burgenland mapBut away from the lake, plenty of sunshine and warm, sunny, days, make Burgenland a perfect site for ripe and powerful red wines. The weather is actually a bit like you’ll find in Provence in the south of France, but the grapes are definitely different. In place of Provence’s Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Carignan, here you’ll find rich, robust, Blaufränkisch, herb-laced St. Laurent, and fun and fruity Zweigelt as the main red wine grapes.

Many of you have already tasted the superb red wine Steindorfer creates with these varietals in the form of the very popular Apetlon Rouge. Picked fully ripe, gently crushed, and aged in new oak, these are wines that deliver plenty of dark fruit and spice but stay smooth and fruit-filled enough to savor solo, too.

Pretty in Pink, Too!  The same Provençal climate that makes for such great reds is pretty much perfect for rosé, too. Before the 2015 growing season, the owners of Burgenland’s important Villa Vita Panonia resort came to the Steindorfers and suggested that they create a rosé that captured the magic of the region’s climate and very best grapes. Roland Steindorfer, now the lead winemaker here, was up to the challenge and selected a few rows in the family vineyard to go pink in 2015.

Roland monitored his rosé vines all through 2015’s warm summer and opted to pick them a week ahead of grapes for his red wines – at the perfect point of full ripeness but while sugars were still a touch low and mouthwatering acids still nice and fresh. The grapes were picked by hand in the early morning hours – keeping the grapes cool and fresh – and placed into small containers – keeping the grapes from breaking in the vineyard and starting to oxidize.

After a second sorting to remove any berries less that absolutely perfect, Roland crushed his fruit and allowed fermentation to start naturally. After a day or so, when only a touch of vibrant color had been extracted, he drained the tank and lightly pressed the must. The still fermenting wine went into stainless steel tanks where it was allowed to finish fermentation at its own pace cool and slow.

That’s the process the very best Provence rosé makers use, and you’ll definitely find a touch of something Provençal in Steindorfer’s Passion Rosé. But, as planned, you’ll also find something uniquely Austrian here, including a uniquely Burgenland spice. Drink it with any summer (or fall, or winter!) food or by itself as the sun shines on and you’ll be very happy indeed.

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