Just walking into the Washington Club I felt like I was walking into somewhere important. Then inside the event space, chairs were set at the tables with 10 wines in front of them with a placemat that said Institute of Masters of Wine - Austrian Wine Seminar. The Masters of Wine crest was on the placemat as well. I was definitely in the presence of great wine minds.
'Master of Wine' is both a qualification and a title, usually abbreviated to 'MW' following a member's name. Anybody who uses these letters has passed the rigorous Master of Wine exam that tests both practical and theoretical understanding of the wines of the world.The Institute of Masters of Wine was officially formed in 1955 but gave their 1st exam in 1953 to 22 students. Only 6 passed. The first woman didn't pass until 1970, and there are only 278 worldwide. Goes to show how serious this thing is! The presentation was given by Joel Butler, MW who was the 1st American to pass this rigorous exam. 2 Austrian wine makers also spoke to their specific wines and the Austrian-style of winemaking.
While I am familiar with the main grape variety of Austria, Gruner Veltliner, I have not had the opportunity to taste and compare/contrast many other Austrian varietals. This tasting provided that opportunity in that the seminar discussed everything but Gruner. The 5 whites we tasted were Weissburgunder, Rotgipfler, Zierfandler (2007), Zierfandler (2003), and Sauvignon Blanc. Good thing I still have my tasting sheet because there is now way I would have been able to spell the 1st 3 correctly! Which is also helpful since rotgipfler is a new fav I'm adding to my list. The 2007 Stadlmann Rotgipfler Tagelsteiner from the Thermenregion is made from 40-50 yr old vines that are grown at high altitudes. The high altitudes lead to a riper grape because of longer contact with the sun during growing season. The increased contact delivers a much fuller, riper and more aromatic wine. Strong nose of flowers, baked apple, ripe pear with hints of red pepper and spice. And spices, herbs and the baked apple were on the palate as well. While fairly high in acidity, this wine exhibited a long smooth finish. This is a very exclusive and rare grape with only about 250 acres planted in all of Austria.
The 5 reds were St Laurent, Blaufrankisch (3 examples), and Gabarinza (a Zwiegelt blend). I've had blaufrankisch before in my WSET courses and am definitely a fan of it. So being able to taste the differences between 3 of them from 3 different regions in Austria was amazing. It's amazing the differences that you can taste in the wine based on climate, altitude, soil and wine making techniques between the different vineyards. The 2006 Iby "Chevalier", Mittelburgenland DAC Reserve was my fav of the 3. Its rich deep red fruit and berry flavors were in perfect harmony with the oak and smoke from the fermentation in oak barrels. Another wine of note from this tasting was the St Laurent which was said to be a descendant of Pinot Noir. The 2006 Rosi Schuster Sankt Laurent Reserve Zagersdorf, Burgenland was a very well-crafted and balanced wine. Shows a delicate structure of black cherry and sweet spice with a slightly chalky finish on the palate. With deep tannins and high acidity, I think this one could also age a little while in the bottle for an even richer and smoother taste.
The tasting after the seminar gave an even deeper look into the wines of Austria. Especially since this was a self-serve wine tasting. I mean just pick up a glass and the wines are sitting out on the table. Not that I make a habit of looking in spit buckets at wine tastings…but when I went to use them, I did notice that they weren't too full ;-). I tasted a few more st laurents and blaufrankischs and even tried a few Austrian Rieslings. Not too bad, but I think my palate is more accustomed to the German and Alsatian styles. Although I was impressed by the sparkling riesling.
A great event and a phenomenal learning experience. To attend a seminar offered by a MW is definitely a seminar worth attending. Joel Butler, MW was a wealth of knowledge and even assisted the tasting attendees with aroma and tasting notes. I definitely have a greater appreciation for Austrian grape varietals and their winemaking techniques. Another country to add to my cellar. But just a small note to the organizers of this event: please offer some type of water during the tastings, please.