For the past 24 years, the Salon of Austrian Wine has been the official annual national championship. Around 7,000 wines are tasted in the provincial premier tastings of Lower Austria, Burgenland, Styria and Vienna. From these 7,000 wines, the provincial winners go on to the Salon championship. Around 200 to 220 of these wines make it into one of the 16 categories in the Salon of Austrian Wine.
Most of Austria’s wineries are quite small and because the country’s most successful producers do not need to enter their limited quantities of wine in the national championship, a special category of recognition has been created called the “Ausserwählte” – loosely translated as “special select”. National journalists and sommeliers are asked to nominate 40 wines for this category. From these 40 wines, the 10 most frequently nominated appear in the Salon as “Ausserwählte”.
A Salon book is published each year and a Salon tasting goes on tour through the country. This tasting has become a wonderful opportunity for consumers to discover quality wines from little-known producers. Many of the wines can be purchased directly from the producer and also offer wine enthusiasts an excellent quality for price. For small unknown vintners, it has often served as a launching pad into yet higher spheres of recognition.
This year, the Austrian wine marketing has sent wine journalists two Salon Champion wines with the request to publish tasting notes online. The first wine I tasted was lovely – a prime example of its variety, aromatic, well-balanced, and a wine that would be a lot of fun to pair and enjoy with food. The second wine was … er… well, it is the reason I have been procrastinating. I have been procrastinating because I disliked it. In fact, I found it unbalanced and crude. Obviously a lot of people are in disagreement with me about this wine because it has had to make it through at least two tasting commissions to make it into the Salon. All of the tasters for the Salon have received special tasting training sponsored by the Austrian Wine Marketing. I am qualified with the WSET diploma as a taster, am experienced, and have even written a book on wine tasting for which I have done considerable research. Despite this, there always remains an element of subjectivity in wine tasting. It is my job to be as objective as possible and give you, the reader, a realistic idea of how a wine tastes, when it is best drunk and for which occasion or with which foods it is best enjoyed. The following descriptions are intended to do just that.
Salon Champion 2011 Aromatic Varieties
2010 Gelber Traminer Röhrl, Weingut Griessauf-Nell
The Gelber Traminer is a special variation of the Gewürztraminer and this particular example comes from the Röhrl vineyard in Südoststeiermark (Southeast Styria). Traminer varieties are a specialty in the micro-climate and volcanic soils surrounding the village of Klöch. Wine snobs will sometimes rumple their nose at Traminer, accusing the variety of being loud and clumsy. This is not so with this wine. Its bouquet is softly aromatic instead of penetrating and releases a fragrance of rose petals, litchi, and vineyard peach. The wine is off-dry, alcohol content moderate, and the residual sweetness is balanced by surprisingly refreshing acidity for the variety. The floral components are by no means cloying and mingle elegantly with citrus-laced litchi in a medium-full body and medium long finish. This very well-balanced wine pairs nicely with a goose liver and bitter chocolate praline or with a cold lettuce and prawn spring roll with a peanut and cilantro dip. This Gelber Traminer is lovely to drink now and should continue to offer abundant drinking pleasure over the next three to five years. It is sold in Austria for around € 12.50.
Salon Champion 2011 Spätlese/Auslese
2010 Chardonnay, Weingut Handler
This pale yellow Chardonnay has a nose reminiscent of canned pineapple and pear. It is both sweet (33 g/l rs) and sour in the mouth, simple, medium-bodied, and rustic. The tart and sweet finish is quite short. I thought this wine might improve with food and wanting to give it a chance, I tried it with a couple things that I thought might work. On its own, the best combination with this wine was a pork chop with apple sauce – spicy Asian-inspired dishes didn’t work. I then tried this wine as a “G’spritzter”, 50/50 with sparkling mineral water. Better. Then I tried it as a G’spritzter with a slice of cucumber and lemon and a sprig of mint. This was absolutely lovely! This is a simple wine that is sold for only € 5.-. It won’t improve with age, so drink it now or never.