The wines of Muhr-van der Niepoort, Carnuntum, Austria   
Elegant expressions of Blaufränkisch from Dirk and Dorli

Carnuntum is a lesser-known Austrian wine region, east of Vienna, and this is where the Muhr-van der Niepoort winery is based. It is a partnership between PR queen Dorli Muhr and Portuguese winemaker Dirk Niepoort. Until recently, the two were married, but they sadly parted ways a few years back, although their winemaking collaboration is ongoing.

Here I'm reviewing the top two wines: Spitzerberg comes from a single, old vine Blaufränkisch vineyard, and Carnuntum is made with younger Blaufränkisch vines. In addition, a white wine (Prellenkirchen), a Bordeaux blend (Rote Erde) and a monovarietal Syrah are also made here.

As you’d expect from a wine where Dirk Niepoort is involved, the emphasis is on elegance rather than power. There is some foot treading, which gives softer extraction, and some stems are used. ‘Dirk comes over to Austria two to three times a year to taste the wines,’ says Dorli, ‘and he is the one who eventually decides about the blends.’

‘I did the winemaking on my own in 2006 and 2007, but soon I realised that it is too much,’ she says. [Dorli runs Austria’s leading wine PR agency and has a young daughter.] ‘So I was looking for a person to look after winemaking. And a fantastic guy came over from South Africa.’ This was Craig Hawkins, who Dorli describes as ‘an angel’. Craig used to work for Eben Sadie, and is now the winemaker at Lammershoek in the Swartland.

‘It is kind of a luxury to have a full time winemaker for only 20 000 bottles, even if it is only for 3 months,’ says Dorli. ‘But thanks to the time he has, he really help us achieve our dreams. So, for example, in 2009 we did not use the pump at all for the whole time. Everything is made either by hand or by foot. And we have a small basket press. Our "winery" is very archaic. Everything is very basic.’ But the results are wonderful.

Retail prices: Carnuntum 14,50 Euros; Spitzerberg 33 Euros.

Muhr-van der Niepoort Carnuntum 2007
13% alcohol. Lovely bright elegant cherry and herb fruit with real precision and very well managed tannins. Quite primary with sweet focused red fruits and real elegance. Fresh and quite serious, but there's just a hint of cork taint to this wine so I can't score it.

Muhr-van der Niepoort Spitzerberg 2007
12.5% alcohol. Quite a beautiful aromatic nose, similar to the Carnuntum with its fresh bright cherry fruit, but there's more depth here, with subtle hints of tar and herbs and some sweet plum fruit. The palate has a lovely elegance and an amazing firm but silky structure. There’s a wonderful combination of fresh acidity and firm structure, with some floral characters emerging after a while. It’s like a combination of Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo – a beautifully subtle but powerful wine that’s so fresh and bright. 95/100

Muhr-van der Niepoort Carnuntum 2006
13% alcohol. Taut nose of cherries, spice, herbs and tar. There’s some robust tarry, spicy, savoury structure under the fruit on the palate. Nice fruit, but also a strongly savoury dimension, and this is going through a slightly difficult phase at the moment. After two days it is still quite firm and together. 92/100

Muhr-van der Niepoort Spitzerberg 2006
13%. This is beautiful. Real elegance to the sweet, pure dark cherry fruit nose with some subtle, spicy, earthy notes. The palate is supple, rounded and elegant with sweet cherry and berry fruit, smooth texture and some resolved silky tannins. A beautifully expressive wine with haunting elegance. Still quite tannic so should develop well over the next decade. 94/100

Muhr-van der Niepoort Carnuntum 2005
Very sweet, complex nose with notes of coffee, tar, herbs and cherry fruit. The palate is elegant, sweet and earthy with some evolved complexity as well as bright berry and cherry fruit. There’s real spicy interest here: a thought-provoking wine where the pure, sweet elegant fruit is joined by some tertiary notes. Probably peaking soon, this is elegant and delicious, and holds up well after being open for three days. 92/100

Muhr-van der Niepoort Spitzerberg 2005
13% alcohol. Again, showing a little bit of evolution. The sweet pure cherry fruit is joined by taut spice and herb notes as well as a hint of tar. The palate is medium-bodied: light and expressive with dark cherry fruit as well as some structure. There are savoury notes of tea and herbs complementing the sweet fruit. The overall picture is one of elegance, but it is still quite structured and I suspect this has some distance to go. 93/100

See also:

A review of the 2004 Spitzerberg
Austrian wines: visiting Austria's wine regions (series)

Wines tasted 04/10  
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