“Austria!” a friend exclaims, nearly chocking on his sip of Sauvignon Blanc. “They make Sauvignon Blanc in Austria?!”
People have been making wine from the Sauvignon Blanc grape in regions around the world for hundreds of years. For most of us Americans, Sauvignon Blanc is a wine to break out during summertime picnics (or order with shellfish at our favorite restaurant), and most Americans make the assumption that the “best” Sauvignon Blanc comes from a region of New Zealand called Marlborough. For whatever reason, many people mistakenly assume New Zealand is a warm, beach-oriented climate.
New Zealand is actually quite cool, and you will be hard-pressed to find any wineries on the west side of the island because of the cold wind. Yet it is that cool weather that gives their Sauvignon Blanc such high acid and flavor.
Perhaps this is also why Sauvignon Blanc is also made very well in Austria, a climate everyone knows is quite cool. Though the wine geeks are touting Styria (Austria) as the country’s best region for growing Sauvignon Blanc, the wine I have just poured from the region of Traisental — Ludwig Neumayer “Giess” Sauvignon Blanc 2006 — is so elegant, delicate, and rich with a myriad of layered flavors, I just have to talk about it.
In some ways, Neumayer’s Sauvignon Blanc shares characteristics of the best Rieslings. On the nose, you detect intense minerality, along with an elegant lacing of delicate ripe fruit and succulent white flowers. Minerality transfers also to the palate, lending low notes to the ethereal high notes of flowers and ripe fruit. The length is long and seemingly never-ending with a finish of more minerals, flowers, and fruit – much like the moment of silence following a Mozart concerto.
If you want to read up on Neumayer, or even the region of Traisental, you will not find much on the Internet. However, this valley is an ancient winegrowing region. As early as 1673 the wines of Inzerdorf (an area in Traisental) were rated higher than those of the Wachau, Austria’s most famed wine growing region. Traisental is noted for its complex geology.
In the east (towards the Danube) deep layers of clay soil predominate. In the West (towards Wachau) you can find classic prehistoric stony soils, known as granulite. In the area around Inzerdorf there is a narrow transitional zone between these two formations where the soil consists of a poor, chalky conglomerate (to winemakers, the poorer the soil, the better the resulting wine). Chalky soils typically yield wines with high acid and lightly coloured crystal clear wines with lively levels of acidity. Their delicate balance makes them impressive.
In the words of winemaker Ludwig Neumayer, “Do not look for grassiness in my wine!” Or cat’s pee, for that matter. He does not want anyone to confuse his wine with the profile of a typical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. With this wine as my initiation to the complexity of Austrian Sauvignon Blanc, look forward to profiles of other producers soon.