A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Gumpoldskirchen - Thermenregion, Austria

The Village of Gumpoldskirchen
Today's post is a first for Fringe Wine.  The bottle that I will be looking at today was kindly provided as a sample by Circo Vino, an importer located in Evanston, Illinois, and is the first free sample that I've ever been sent.  They sent two bottles my way, this one and a varietal Rotgipfler which I will be examining tomorrow.  I know there's a lot of hullabaloo surrounding wine writers/critics/bloggers and the acknowledgement of free stuff, so I just want to put it right here up top.  This bottle was a free sample.  That said, I plan to evaluate it exactly the same way as if I paid retail price for it.

The title of today's post, Gumpoldskirchen, doesn't refer to a grape name, but rather to a place.  That place is the village of Gumpoldskirchen, located in the Thermenregion of eastern Austria (so named for the many spas or thermen found here), about 20 miles south of Vienna.  This region's climate is marked by hot summers, cold winters, and moderate rainfall.  The soils are littered with ancient marine fossils and, in general, are marked by heavy loam, gravel and clay.  This village was one of the shining stars of Austria and was at the forefront of quality production in the 18th and 19th Centuries.  Even into the early 20th Century, the wine from here was so well thought of that it was served at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1947 and, further, was served at a 1961 summit meeting in Vienna between president John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev.  The wines made within the Gumpoldskirchen district were known as Gumpoldskirchen Königswein, or the King's wine, a reflection of their reputation and lofty status.

And then disaster struck.  In 1985, a few wineries in Austria were caught adding diethylene glycol, one of the main ingredients in antifreeze, to their wines in order to boost their body and sweetness.  The Austrian classification system is very similar to Germany's and is based on the sugar content of the grape must prior to fermentation. It was (and is) illegal to add any sugar to the fermenting must in order to boost your wine into a higher classification tier. The problem that the Austrian producers had was that many of them had contracts that specified that they had to provide a certain amount of wine from each tier to their buyers and when a series of cool vintages struck in the early 1980's, the grapes weren't able to ripen fully and the producers were stuck with an excess of wine at the lower tiers and a dearth of wine at the higher ones.  Simply adding sugar would have raised the overall sweetness level of the wine (illegally), but the body of the finished wine would be thinner and it would be more apparent than some doctoring had taken place.  Diethylene glycol tastes sweet and is viscous, meaning that if it were added to the must, the wine would taste sweeter and have the unctuous texture that consumers would expect to find in wines in those quality tiers.  Diethylene glycol also happens to be toxic and when the adulteration was discovered and brought to light in 1985, it ignited a huge scandal that had a devastating effect on the Austrian wine industry.  Exports dropped 90% virtually overnight and did not reach their pre-1985 levels until 2001.

The village of Gumpoldskirchen was not directly implicated in the scandal, but the tarring brush was wide and the wine industry across all of Austria suffered greatly and equally for the transgressions of a very few.  It has recovered, as has the rest of the Austrian wine industry, over the past few years, though it would be difficult to say that the current fame of Gumpoldskirchen in particular matches its illustrious past.  Gottfried Schellmann made wines in the Gumpoldskirchen region for over forty years, long enough to experience both the zenith and nadir of Austria's vinous reputation.  He owned nine hectares of vineyard land scattered throughout the Gumpoldskirchen region and was a driving force in attempting to elevate the reputation of these wines to their former glory.  He is quoted as saying "the pinnacle has not yet been reached in the Thermenregion," and one can imagine that the statement is not tied to any particular time, but is rather intended as a motto for ever striving to greater things.
Fred Loimer

And then there's Fred Loimer, a well-regarded grower and winemaker from the Kamptal region of Austria.  Fred ventured into the Thermenregion in 2002 looking for new challenges and new opportunities in the different climate and with the different indigenous grapes that the Thermenregion offers.  Fred and Gottfried partnered up in 2002 and when Gottfried passed away in 2005, Fred stepped into an ownership role with the Schellmann properties and has continued to make wines from their estate fruit.  All of the vineyards in the Gumpoldsregion that are bottled under the Schellmann label are biodynamically farmed and Fred is one of the founding members of the "Respect" association of biodynamic farmers in the region.

There are several different wines in the Schellmann portfolio, but perhaps the most interesting is the basic Gumpoldskirchen cuveé.  The wine is based on the Michsatz, a traditional field blend from the region that consists of Rotgipfler, Zierfandler, Muskateller, Traminer (our old friend Savagnin), and Riesling.  In the next few days, I'll be posting more about Rotgipfler and Zierfandler as I was also generously given varietal bottlings of these two grapes.  Muskateller is the Austrian word for the local member of the Muscat family of grapes, and it will also likely get its own mention here before too long.

The bulk of the Gumpoldskirchen cuveé is made up of Rotgipfler and Zierfandler, a classic blend in the Thermenregion that is called Spätrot Rotgipfler when they are the only two grapes used.  According to the winery's fact sheet (in German, as the English version contains a typo here), this bottling has a touch of Muskateller and Traminer, but no Riesling in it.  The grapes are crushed and left to macerate with the skins for a short period of time before being pressed.  Fermentation takes place in both stainless steel and large, neutral oak barrels, where the wines are matured for a further eight months after fermentation ends.

The wine I was offered was the 2008 Gumpoldskirchen cuveé, which I am told retails for about $25.  The wine is not currently available in Massachusetts, but should be by the end of the year.  It is available in NY, NJ, IL, CA, FL, OR, and WA.  In the glass, the wine was a medium lemon color.  The nose was nicely aromatic with juicy pear, ripe grapefruit, honeysuckle flower and a distinct Muscat-like peachy, flowery smell.  I am a sucker for intensely aromatic white wines and this was pushing all the right buttons for me.  On the palate, the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acidity.  There were racy grapefruit and orange citrus flavors with honeysuckle flowers and a bitter, pithy finish.  There was a distinctive chalky kind of minerality to the wine that I don't always find welcome (hello there Chasselas), but here, the primary fruit flavors were well defined enough that the chalkiness wasn't to the wine's detriment (whether it's to the wine's benefit is a more personal question that you should probably answer for yourself).  As the wine warmed and opened up, nectarine stonefruit started to become more apparent and the Muscat-like character calmed down a bit.  The wine gives the sense of being perhaps a bit off-dry, but the residual sugar content is purportedly only 2.9 g/l, so it's probably just the ripe fruit flavors here that are contributing to the illusion.  Overall, this was a very enjoyable wine that is definitely suited for fans of interesting, complex, aromatic whites like Muscat or Riesling.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Nice post Rob - I used to live in Vienna and had a day trip out to Gumpoldskirchen one day.

It's a lovely little village, surrounded by nestling hills with vineyards.

If Austrian wines are fairly obscure in the world generally (and I think they are to many people), then Rotgipfler and Zierfandler are about as obscure as they get within Austria itself - I have had very few of them, but I do generally prefer Rieslings, GVs and the wines of Styria.

For some more mainstream Austrian reviews, check out some of mine:


Cheers, Tom