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Austrian wines
Part 2: Neckenmarkt

Winzenkeller Neckenmarkt, Harkauwerg 2, A-7311 Neckenmarkt, Austria
Website: www.neckenmarkt.at


My Austrian journey begins rather unpredictably. Austria is known best for its whites; in particular Grüner Veltliner and Riesling from the Wachau and its neighbouring regions the Kremstal and Kamptal. But we’re beginning with Burgenland, which is red wine country, and the Neckenmarkt cooperative. I guess it’s a good starting point: it stops us getting in a rut, zoning in on just one region and style. It reminds us that Austria is actually a reasonably diverse wine country; it makes some serious reds as well as fabulous whites.

Neckenmarkt is an old market town that until the late middle ages gained great importance from being located on a trade route stretching from the Baltic to the Mediterranean. Wine has been made here for centuries, but the winemaking scene here assumed its modern shape only after the phylloxera disaster in the late 19th century, when vineyards were replanted with the sorts of varieties seen today. These include the Blaufränkisch, the most important grape of the region, which has its origins here.

The cooperative at Neckenmarkt was born under rather difficult circumstances. Abundant harvests in 1966 (THE world cup year) and 1967 (my birth year) resulted in a saturated marketplace and in 1968 growers were being offered less than cost for their grapes. The Mayor of Neckenmarkt, Karl Heincz, persuaded the growers to form a cooperative. In 1968 243 growers joined, and this has now risen to over 300, managing 300 hectares of vineyards. Even the mathematically challenged will realize that the average holding is quite small, and 90% of these growers manage their vineyards on a part-time basis.

Cellar master Joseph Tesch A sign marking an '8-grapes' vineyard holding

From 700 000 kilos of grapes in 1968, the co-op processes 2–2.3 million kilos per year, which is about 1% of Austria’s total harvest, and approximately 5% of all Austrian reds. That’s because Neckenmarkt is primarily a red wine operation, with just 2% of its production white.

How do you ensure quality winegrowing when you are managing a coop? Neckenmarkt take two approaches. First, they have two employees dedicated to helping out the growers. The growers listen to their advice, because their payment depends on how successful their work is. Second, the payment structure is determined by the sugar ripeness of the grapes. Of course, this would be barmy in the new world, but in classic old world wine regions sugar ripeness is a good proxy for phenolic ripeness (grapes generally only reach high sugar levels when they are physiologically ripe in cooler climates). The figures depend on the vintage, but in 2003 85 oeschle was the average, and they paid 73 c/kilo for this, 5% more for 86 oeschle, 10% more for 87 oeschle and so on. Typical yields are 8.5 Tonnes/hectare, down from about 12 a decade ago.

In addition, there has been a novel ‘8-grape program’, which involves about a tenth of the vineyards. Growers signing up to this must have vines aged at least 25 years, ad in the best locations. They agree to reduce yields to between 5 and 6 tons/hectare, for which they receive a supplement of more than €7000.  

Climate: Central Burgenland is located between the Pannonian (continental, very dry) and Illyric (affected by lows over the Adriatic sea, with more rain) climates. It has long summers and lots of sunshine, which makes it good for red wines. There is some climatic influence from the Neusidler lake. The soils: more gravel and shale makes the wines delicate, lighter and ‘more playful’; more loess makes them fatter and richer.

The wines

Zweigelt 2004 (just fermenting)
Amazing vivid red/purple colour (see right). Harvested at 90 oeschle on 1 October (tasted on 15th) and pressed on 12th October. Very fresh and intense with bright vivid fruit and lovely smooth tannins. Good concentration and very tasty. Zweigelt ripens early.

Zweigelt Classic 2003
Very sweet, open berry and black fruits nose. The palate is fresh and fruity with nice open, slightly sweet fruit and a nice subtle spicy structure. Very smooth and quite elegant: a mellow wine. Soft and compact, with a bit of structure: a lovely accessible red. Just stainless steel used. Very good+ 89/100

Blaufränkisch Hochberg 2003
Appealing nose of brambly berry fruits with a spicy edge. The palate is quite structured with nice chewy, spicy fruit and quite a bit of tannin. A very savoury style: nice and chewy, a good food wine. Just stainless steel used here. Very good+ 88/100

Blaufränkisch Himmelsthron 2002
Dense colour. Quite an oaky nose with savoury vanilla and chocolate notes accompanying the sweet fruit. The palate is chunky and bold with lots of oak. Savoury and spicy: oak is a bit too obvious for me. Very good 84/100

Via Romana 2002
A blend of 40% Blaufränkisch, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Zweigelt. Quite an intense, savoury nose with some spicy oak overlay to the dark fruits. The palate is structured and savoury with nice spicy tannins. A bold, rich style of wine with noticeable oak, showing just a touch clumsily at the moment. Dense, chewy and spicy. Very good+ 87/100

Porto Magica 2002
Mostly Blaufränkisch with a touch of Cabernet and Zweigelt, this flagship wine is named ‘magic potion’. It has a forward, sweet dense nose with vanilla, spice, hints of tar and some ripe dark fruits. The palate is complex and dense with taut spicy berry and black fruits and a fair bit of oak influence. Good potential for ageing, and as this has only been bottled recently I’d take my rating as provisional. Very good+ 88/100

wines tasted 10/04

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