This is the second part of an article that started last Monday from the fine Austrian town of Graz (admire the shopfront above in the old town). I should also refer those interested to a series of 3 articles that I wrote (in French) on this same region and its wines from Sauvignon Blanc on this site back in 2015.
First I owe an apology for not checking a fact in my article last Monday. I wrote that Sauvignon Blanc « probably originated in France’s Loire valley and appears to be the result of a spontaneous crossing of Traminer with Chenin Blanc. » This is what the official documents of Austrian Wines say, but it is clearly disputed by José Vouillamoz in the admirable collective book Wine Grapes, co-authored by Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding. Vouillamoz is an ampelographer and specialist in DNA analysis, and I would tend to trust his autority on this matter. He says that Traminer is effectively one of the parents of Sauvignon Blanc, but that the other is currently unknown. The relationship between Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc is that of a sibling, with Traminer being the shared parent.
I think we all can agree that describing a wine by simply naming its variety is just as inadequate as using a region or appellation to provide some form of « identikit » portrait of a wine. Bringing the two together may get us a bit nearer to the truth, although I still shun the term « typicality », which is one of the three « t » words that I try to avoid whenever possible in connection with wine as their significations are, at best, variable, and, at worst, meaningless (tradition and terroir anyone?)
photo BK Wine
Sauvignon Blanc is a very popular grape variety with consumers in major wine markets, even if it hardly casts a shadow on Chardonnay. Yet it suffers from a somewhat ambiguous reputation with some wine professionals (are you reading this Marco?) who say that they dislike it on the whole. Naturally personal preferences play an essential role in all our esthetic choices, but I do think that one should be careful about making sweeping statements of this kind. I must admit to having fallen into a similar trap on occasion, such as in the case of the variety from Savoie called Jacquère, which I have been known to call « quite un-interesting ». I am sure that there are some good wines of Jacquère and I hope to taste them someday soon! But Sauvignon Blanc is far more widely planted on different sites and in different climates that Jacquère, not to mention the greater number of techniques used in the production of these wines. Hence its diversity is much greater, and saying that one dislikes Sauvignon Blanc is rather like saying that one dislikes the total population of any one country: an unacceptable and simplistic generalization based on limited experience.
Part of the Lackner Tinnacher vineyard near Gamlitz under snow last week
Now, to get back to the particular case of Sauvignon Blanc in Austrian Styria (Steiermark to give it its real name), the style of the good examples of these wines strikes me as being somewhere in between the often highly aromatic one of wines from Marlborough in New Zealand and the very lean and restrained style of the Central Loire wines, of which Sancerre is the best known appellation. Once again, this remark falls fully into the generalization trap, but it is an attempt to provide the reader with some idea as a start and an encouragement to explore these wines. Styrian Sauvignons have plenty of freshness from their altitude-affected cool climate, and yet manage to attain decent to excellent ripeness levels from the combination between good site choice and careful vineyard management. This means that they totally avoid any herbal or grassy character, as much in terms of aromas as textures, and are less severe and sharp in their perceived acidity as many a young Sancerre, as well as being more expressively aromatic. The textural factor is a key element in my personal judgment of a wine and the best Sauvignons from Steiermark excel in this respect since they manage to feel suave without any loss of freshness. Pleasant and stimulating aromas, good mouth-watering freshness and fine, lingering textures are to me three characteristic « signatures » of these wines.
I wrote some comments last week on some of the Styrian Sauvignon Blanc wines that I tasted when I was in Graz and, if you read them, you will see that there were good and less good wines in that set, so I am definitely NOT saying that all Styrian Sauvignon Blancs are good. That would be a form of « fake news ». In this preceding article, I commented the wines without giving each of them a note as I usually do, and so, following a discussion last week about an article by my colleague Hervé Lalau, I will do so now. To get a fuller picture, you will have to put the two parts together.
Harkamp Sauvignon Blanc extra brut (sparking, méthode traditionnelle): 13,5/20
Maitz, Steirische Klassik Sauvignon Blanc 2017: 15,5/20
Strauss Classic Sauvignon Blanc 2017: 11/20
Riegelnegg Olwitschhof, Sauvignon Blanc Sernauberg Roland 8° 2016: 9/20
Erwin Sabathi Sauvignon Blanc Ried Pössnitzberger Kapelle 2015: 17/20
Gross Sauvignon Blanc Ried Nussberg 2015: the bottle was corked !
Polz, Sauvignon Blanc Therese 2015: 16/20
Frauwaller Sauvignon Blanc Ried Buch 2013: 13/20
Potzinger Sauvignon Blanc Reserve Sulz Joseph 2013: 14,5/20
Muster Sauvignon Blanc Grubthal 2013: 16,5/20
Neumeister, Sauvignon Blanc Stradener Alte Reben 2011: 17/20
Tement, Sauvignon Blanc Zieregg 2011: 15/20
Sattlerhof Sauvignon Blanc Kranachberg Trockenbeerenauslese 2013: 19/20
This last part of this article will concern a single estate that we, as judges at the Concours Mondial de Sauvignon Blanc, were taken to visit. Lackner Tinnacher is a family estate currently managed by Katherina Tinnacher (above) and her father. Situated in hills near the village of Gamlitz, in the Südsteiermark sub-region, its history goes back to 1770 and all the wines produced come from the family-owned vineyards on six different sites. Katherina converted the vineyard to organic farming in 2013. Suavignon Blanc is not the sole variety planted here as Morrillon (Chardonnay) is also important and there are some other varieties.
Just one of the many tasting areas at this beautifully designed and hospitable winery whose wines are as good as the looks
I had visited this estate previously on my last trip to Styria back in 2015, so this was also an opportunity to measure the progress made in many aspects here. And at least one aspect of this progress this was very clear from the outset, with work now finished on the (mainly) internal modernization of the buildings, with the traditional dwelling house now totally and intelligently renovated and dedicated to reception of customers, with ample tasting rooms and a perfect connection to the winery via a cellar to ensure a smooth transition for visitors at any time of the year. Katherina’s sister is an architect and she is responsible for this remarkable work of conversion that shows, as so often in Austria, that all-too-rare combination of respect for traditional architectural forms and materials and successful use of modern design. All of this integrates superbly and the use of wood in furniture and decor, some of which apparently comes from the estate’s own forestry, is particularly remarkable.
My tasting of the Lackner Tinnacher wines (prices given are consumer retail in Austria)
This tasting, that followed a brief visit, was so impeccably organized that I would cite this as an excellent example of how to handle a tasting for a fairly large group (we were around 40 tasters from several countries). Katherina was clear in her discourse, without any undue emphasis but passing the messages about her approach to wine on this estate. We were all seated, the rooms and tables were well appointed and perfectly adapted. The glassware was impeccable and there was a list of the wines printed for every taster with some factual information on each. Plus the wines were served at the right temperature and at the right speed. This combination is sufficiently rare to be underlined.
If you cannot be bothered to read all the tasting notes below, just consider that this producer is highly recommended.
Südsteiermark Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (price around 15 euros)
A blend from younger vines made in stainless steel. Quite firm and fresh. Very good definition with a nice balance between fruit and acidity (15/20).
All the remaining wines, apart from the last one, are from single vineyard plots, which is the approach favoured by Katherina. It is not necessarily the one that I would personally adopt, but it is their wine after all! I did make an improvised blend of two of their 2015 single vineyard wines and found it better than each part. So, it is fashionable to subdivide and speak a lot about « terroir » and « authenticity ». But this does not necessarily make the wines any better.
Ried Steinbach Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (price around 25 euros)
Various soils types and meso-climates cohabit in this vineyard. Intense, almost exotic aromas from this warm vintage. Firmly structured and quite tactile, with excellent balance, it will need a year or two to give its maximum. Very subtle use of oak in the process (16,5/20)
Ried Steinbach Sauvignon Blanc 2001
Interesting to see the ageing capacity of these wines. The nose is rich and tropical in style. Perhaps a bit too much oak, but a good wine with a softer profile than its younger version. Pleasant now and has lasted well but I think that the younger wine will go further (15/20).
Ried Flamberg Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (price around 25 euros)
Limestone soils for this vineyard. This seemed sharper and crisper on the palate that the Steinbach vineyards from the same vintage. Good length and precision. I found that blending the two 2015s in roughly equal proportions was a good compromise and produced a better balance. (16/20 for the original, 17/20 for my blend).
Ried Flamberg Sauvignon Blanc 2014
Apparently a more difficult year on account of rain. Thinner, with edgy acidity and less length. (14,5/20)
Ried Welles Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (price around 40 euros)
Stony subsoil with sand and gravel on top. The highest vineyard of the estate, at 510 meters. Still quite closed on the nose and tight on the palate. It has had 18 months in barrels but will need more time in the bottle. A biggish wine with firm structure. Not sure that it is worth the extra money though (16,5/20)
Ried Welles Sauvignon Blanc 2013
The vintage was also a good one here. Far more expressive and juicy, at least on the nose, thanks to the extra time in the bottle. But on the palate this is still tight and almost tannic. Power wins over finesse here (15/20)
Ried Welles Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Lots of rich tropical fruit aromas here for a wine now fully evolved with lovely satin-like texture and just a hint of bitterness on the finish to give it grip and lift. Lovely wine (17/20)
Ried Welles Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Still very dynamic and has also rounded out with time but it is less expressive and smooth than the 2009
Sabotage (no idea of the price, but the label is the centre one on the photo)
This is a wine made in tiny quantities using skin maceration for 50% of the wine. It is also an association between Katherina and her boyfriend, Christoph Neumeister (another excellent producer from a bit further east), in which each contributes a barrel or so of their wine to produce this cuvée. No sulphur is added. I found the nose rather flat and inexpressive, more vegetal (onions and garlic) than fruity. It has plenty of power and character but I found it rather weird and verging on the unpleasant with a tad too much alcohol as well. Not recommended but there is so little made that you will probabbly not find it anyway.