Stuart George

Posts Tagged ‘Graham Greene’

The Third Man: AWC Vienna 2009

In Tastings on August 22, 2009 at 4:29 pm

Vienna is such a beautiful city. I find its “Strauss music, its glamour and easy charm,” as Graham Greene put it, utterly beguiling. But for the daunting prospect of having to learn German and the paucity of cricket grounds I would live in Vienna. The third man is for me always an off-side fielding position behind the wicket-keeper!

I spent four days here tasting for the AWC Vienna 2009 during a central-European heat wave that saw temperatures in the city reach 31 degrees. It was warm but it does not appear to have had the same impact as the hot summers of 2003 or 2006. Michael Edlmoser, organiser of the AWC Vienna, was nonplussed by the temperatures, telling me that they were “perfect” for Austrian grapes as the vintage approached.

Rathaus Film Festival (image courtesy of Vienna Webservice) Every evening from 27 June to 30 August, a music film is shown on the enormous screen erected outside the 19th century rathaus in central Vienna. Food and wine are in copious supply of course. I enjoyed rindfleisch-gröstl (a Tirol dish of fried meat and potatoes), würzige kässpätzle (egg noodles with cheese) and apfelschmarrn (diced pancake with apple sauce) with half-litre servings of the local Ottakringer beer in proper glasses. The Helles brand is quite light and refreshing; I found the unfiltered Zwickl Rot version heavier and more sullen. There was no drunkenness, litter or breakages—only people enjoying the food, music and weather.

Any notions I had about tasting for AWC in the cellars of Klosterneuburg Monastery were soon dashed when confronted with the grey, functional building that is home to the “Federal College and Office of Viniculture and Pomology” and where the AWC holds its tastings. It lies on a busy road north of Vienna, overlooking the strikingly modern Essl Museum, home to Austria’s largest private collection of modern art. There is a McDonald’s next door but happily lunch each day was at the Stiftscafe, cheek by jowl with the Monastery. You could eat what you liked as long as it was Wiener Schnitzel (breaded veal).

Federal College and Office of Viniculture and PomologyThe AWC was first held in 2004 when about 4,000 wines were analysed. This year 9,500 wines were submitted from 34 countries. Three bottles of each wine are sent, so over 28,000 bottles have to be logged, sorted and prepared. There are 490 tasting “positions” available to 290 tasters that come from seven countries. I was the sole UK representative.

Wines are tasted single-blind in “cabins” (einzelkosterkabinen) with each desk divided by a portable wall. Scores are done on a 100-point scale in which 80–84.9 is “seal”; 85–89.9 a silver medal; and 90+ a gold medal. Faults were noted according to five categories: oxidative, reductive, microbiological, “uncleanliness” and “deficit of the grapes” (the last two are crude translations from the German). Faulty wines are retained at the Federal College to be examined by its boffins and the winemaker is then advised on what might have gone wrong and how to avoid such things in the future.

At the end of each flight there would be one or two wines that had already been tasted; ringers were also occasionally inserted to keep tasters on their toes. Oddities included a filthy Thai wine and a more impressive Canadian Sparkling Icewine, which if I had been asked about I might have guessed, knowing that Andreas Larsson, in a supreme display of logical thinking, nailed it to win the 2007 Best Sommelier of the World. I could not have done it without Andreas!

Although I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the AWC, I remain ambivalent about many aspects of wine tasting and of large-scale competitions such as this. We all tried hard to be “objective” of course. But when confronted with high levels of sulphur, wines that were poorly balanced, flavours and aromas that were intolerably ugly, and excessive levels of volatile acidity/ethyl acetate, it becomes testing. Your 50th appraisal of a volatile Grüner Veltliner is unlikely to be as objective as your first, especially if you have only a couple of minutes to look at it. And we all have opinions, likes and dislikes that we cannot hang up with our coat and put on again when we leave. Nonetheless, I would hope that my fellow judges and I were as fair as we could be. There is no other way of judging wines if there are to be competitions at all.

AWC Vienna 2009

The tastings

Full results of the tastings will be published on Monday 14 September. Until then even participating tasters do not know what the wines were.

Unless otherwise stated all flights covered the vintages 2009 to 2006.

Tuesday 18 August

Riesling to 12.9%

19 wines

I was hauled up for scoring the “test” wine too low. I am cautious (some would say curmudgeonly) by nature and prefer not to indulge in hyperbole. But Michael was correct to point out that I had scored nearly six points below the consensus score.

Chardonnay to 12.9%

27 wines

A poor set here. I disqualified three wines for faults, usually excessive ethyl acetate. There were a couple of decent wines, one of which I thought might have been from New Zealand—the corn flavours reminded me of some wines that I tried in Waipara a few years ago.

Chardonnay 13%+

26 wines

Two corked wines, otherwise nothing too untoward. But largely anonymous.

Grüner Veltliner to 12.9%

26 wines

Far superior to the Chardonnays, with some wines of character and good quality.

Blaufränkisch

25 wines

Some of these were killed by over-ambitious use of oak. The better ones retained the juicy fruitiness of the grape, though never showed distinction.

“Reserve red wines” (2005 and older)

21 wines

Too many decrepit wines here—oxidised, stewed and charmless. Two wines showed some freshness and shone by comparison.

Wednesday 19 August

Riesling to 12.9%

29 wines

The sulphur levels of so many of these wines made my head feel as though I had done a few laps on the Prater rollercoaster. The acidity was also challenging. But I suppose that the sulphur might eventually blow off and the acidity soften with age. A winemaker friend suggested that “Austrian farmers tend to be heavy handed in sulphur spraying during the growing season, because they have such unpredictable summers. As Riesling’s skin is rather thin, it does rot easily.”

On the whole these wines were distinctly average; the Grüner wines were superior.

Weiß- and Grauburgunder to 12.9%

26 wines

I found these very hard work, not for any perceived faults, but rather for the neutral character of so many of the wines. The worst ones were confected and volatile. The better examples were clean, fresh, grapey and simple but of very little interest.

Weiß- and Grauburgunder 13%+

26 wines

Ditto!

Merlot

25 wines

Not quite chips with everything but not far off…

Pinot Noir

25 wines

Apart from one really good wine that I guessed might be an Hautes Côtes de Beaune, these were largely unappealing. Inexpensive Pinot Noir is a not a wine that much appeals to me… A lot of tart finishes here.

Champagne, Schaumwein, Perlwein

14 wines

Any flight that includes schaumwein is unlikely to be much fun but this was not as painful as it might have been. With a couple of exceptions the wines were light, simple and short, and only one was faulty. Indeed, there were fewer faults overall today than on Tuesday.

Thursday 20 August

Chardonnay to 12.9%

22 wines

Dull, with several showing excessive VA. The more interesting wines showed skilful husbandry of barrel fermentation.

Weiß- and Grauburgunder to 12.9%

25 wines

No better or worse than on Wednesday.

Rosé, Schilcher, Blanc de Noir

26 wines

I had not tried Schilcher before; probably not much is exported from this tiny region. The wines that had an onion or oeil de perdrix tinge might have been Schilcher, I guess.

Prädikatswein: Spätlese/Auslese (minimum 19 KMW, 94 OE, 12.4 Beaumé)

19 wines

Started off well at 87 points but deteriorated quickly… Too many dull and charmless wines.

Red Cuvées

25 wines

Nothing of distinction here.

Shiraz/Syrah

20 wines

This flight included an absolute stinker from Thailand that everybody condemned. There were a few generous, fleshy wines with sweet fruit but also some underwhelming examples with the “dusty” nose of oak-chips.

Friday 21 August

Sauvignon Blanc to 12.9%

18 wines

A few showed excessive methoxypyrazine, or rather were made in that now largely passé style.

Grüner Veltliner to 12.9%

17 wines

Many dull examples, with Tuesday’s flight generally better.

Grüner Veltliner 13%+

16 wines

A couple of very good examples, the highest scoring 88.

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