I have been waxing lyrical about the Steininger wines since I returned from Austria a few weeks ago. If “Austrian wines are the best kept secret in the wine world” according to Philip Blom (see previous blog), Austrian sparkling wines – aka Sekt – take that statement to new heights. And nobody does Austrian Sekt better than Karl Steininger.
Karl and Brigitta Steininger have been making wine in Langenlois, in the Kamptal Valley in Austria for over 25 years. Their two eldest daughters, Eva and Anna, are poised to take over, and are taking on more and more responsibility. But Karl and Brigitta are still clearly intimately involved. They simply can’t help it. When Terry Thiese talks about ‘connectedness’ this is what he means – they know every vine. Each plot, each wine. What happens every minute of the harvest, and what happens in the cellar. Across the globe, great winemakers will tell you that the wine is made in the vineyard. Which goes hand in hand with having an outstanding farmer around – in this case, the same person. The vines are tended very carefully throughout the year. Karl, and now his daughters, know what each vine is capable of, which vines have the potential to produce grapes that can stay on the vine longer (which is important when it comes to the Grand Grü!), and they make decisions about these vines all year long.
Karl believes that sparkling wine is the highest, most noble form of wine and he is committed to showing the world what Austria is capable of. Which is a lot. Karl also believes strongly in Austria’s ability to grow a wide range of varietals and thinks that the wines made from these should express their terroir and the vintage in which they were made. Austria is blessed with a range of soils that are a by-product of the last ice age – from loess (good for Gruner Veltliner), primary rock (good for Riesling), schiste, and a range of combinations. Each varietal has specific sites with certain soils and microclimates where it does best.
If you try the Steininger Sparkling Sekt made from Gruner Veltliner you may just agree with me that Austrian Sekt is one of the best kept secrets in the wine world. And if you taste it with Brigitta Steininger on May 3rd at Maslow 6 — which you have a chance to do — you’ll soon be clamoring for us to create a Sekt of the month club. Because without a doubt, Karl and Brigitta, along with their 3 daughters, are the warmest, friendliest winemaking family that will be visiting this side of the Danube, even with Austria Uncorked going on. So getting to taste the wines with her is a very special treat. After spending just a few hours with Karl and Brigitta last month, I felt like I had known them for years.
They welcomed our group (16 of us) at the Loisium hotel, with, you guessed it, a glass of Sekt for each of us. We then walked through their vineyards, and got a tour of the cellars, followed by … a Sekt dinner. Which consisted of several courses, each accompanied by a different Sekt!! Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Riesling, the above mentioned Gruner Veltliner, a “Burgundy” blend, and, ready? Zweigelt. Altogether they make 10 different Sekts – we might just be doing a Sekt of the month club!
We started with the still wines early the next day – 10:30 on a windy morning up on the hill. Luckily we moved inside for their full portfolio of still wines – it was a little chilly still in March! The Loisium Gruner shows the floral, stone fruit, and white pepper notes of classic Gruner Veltliner. Very fresh and very pretty. His Grand Grü is a rich, incredibly complex Gruner with layers and layers of stone fruit and minerality. This is not harvested until November (in addition to knowing each vine, Karl is a patient man willing to take risks). The result is a very elegant wine.
The thing that makes Karl so remarkable is his ability to produce not just fabulous still wine, but fabulous sparkling wine too. Under his care, the vines do indeed produce wines which express their varietal characteristics and transport you to small piece of the globe – Langenlois, Austria. It is this capability that continues to beguile so many, myself included.