This year we travelled to central Europe as our son Ross has moved there to be with his partner Barbora. We flew into Zurich, a very pretty little city fronting a fast flowing river and a classic lake. You can’t help noticing how clean, efficient and stylish the place is. Clocks and digital times are everywhere and the public transport of trains, trams and buses operate down to the minute.
Tried only a few wines but the wine to watch is their Petite Arvine. This variety competes on equal footing to the Gruner Veltliner of Austria. The wines we tasted combined power and minerality with wild flower aromatics and mouth-watering grapefruit and greengage fruit. We need this in Tasmania now!
Travelling around the beautiful, pastoral Czech Republic, I was impressed by the technical standard of the wines presented. Climate change will favour a major expansion of their vineyard regions but without an ancient tradition like neighbouring Germany and Austria, there appears to be no indigenous varieties to showcase their uniqueness.
Prague is an absolute delight with its history, architecture and celebration of food and wine, just don’t expect to see much of their own wine in the top restaurants. Here’s a few tips-
Wine- Vinograf, don’t miss this place, great list of wines by the glass, busy but efficient and very knowledgeable and helpful manager (owner?)
Beer- U Kunstatu, in a hidden little back lane with a lovely courtyard, this place specialises in Czech craft beers. Went there twice to taste 24 different beers (just some of what’s on offer) in flights of 6, covering so many styles. The Czech Republic makes the best beer, full stop. Served with plates of local cheeses and sausages, this place is heaven for craft beer enthusiasts.
Coffee- just a few metro stops from the centre is La Boheme Café, not just any coffee shop, this chic funky space is so hipster but delivers the most amazing coffee experience with the an exotic range of coffees tracked down on the edge of the more commonly known regions, all Fairtrade, with a story to go with the coffees presented. Just allow the staff to prepare the coffee using the technique most suited to the individual coffees then sit back and marvel at the diversity that Arabica beans can deliver.
After a week in the Czech Republic we headed to Austria for my ’cousin’ Inge’s birthday. Three days in the Wachau region, then on to St.Wolfgang by the lake, then a beautiful day in Rust. The wines of the Wachau are exceptional. Riesling on the higher, steeper stony soils and Gruner Veltliner and Gelber Muskateller from vineyards closer to the Danube, are of the highest standard.
There are many top producers with cellars offering tastings of wines from individual sites allowing comparison of the subtle differences that terroir offers in this small but complex region. Great lunch and wine tasting at Hirtsberger and new to me was Gritsch in Spitz. Top wine was a Smaragh Riesling from the 1000 Eimmer site that dominates this town (image at top of this post). Also outstanding was the Gruner Veltliner from the Axpoint vineyard by both Gritsch and Hirtsberger.
Another revelation was the rare variety Roter Veltliner, being grown now in a developing region between the Wachau and Vienna called Wagram. This variety is fuller bodied than the Gruner, with a sweeter floral nose and a softer fruitier palate but a long dry finish to bring some seriousness to the wine.
Don’t miss the restaurant in Krems, Zum Kaiser Von Oeisterreich. Delicious modern interpretations of traditional Austrian food with an amazing wine list. The husband and wife team deliver precise service in this cosy restaurant and go out of their way to make you feel welcome. Just book in advance as it is popular locally and has limited seating.
In Rust we had great wine and food in the garden courtyard of Weingut Gabriel, Im Hofgassl.
This region on the shore of the shallow lake Neusiedlersee is known for its warm foggy autumns and botrytised wine, so my dessert this day was an Ausbruch (Beerenauslese).
Later that day we had a tasting at the Esterhazy estate which showed the potential for serious red wine that this warmer region can produce. Their Blaufrankish had the power to stand new oak and a Merlot from 2007 was travelling very well.
Finally we had 2 nights in Budapest and had probably one of the best, fine dining experiences ever, at Innio’s. Every dish was exciting and perfect in its execution with new flavours unseen before. The wine list by the glass allowed exploration of Hungarian wine, with a 5 puttonya Tokay by the Royal Tokay wine company a fitting end to great culinary experience. Had to grab a 6 puttonya version at the airport on the way home…