We’ve been wanting to add more wines to our collection for awhile now, but ones that no one knows about and I had never heard of until….now. During my trip to Austria this past fall, I had a blast sampling some of Austria’s sparkling and dessert wines although truth be told, they’re lower on my wish list than say a big bold California Cab or an Italian Barolo. I wasn’t convinced that a wine from Austria could turn my head never mind excite my palette. That said, I did hang my hat at a number of delicious restaurants (see my Salzburg restaurants round-up) and let’s just say that my palette was nothing short of excited.
Back in 2013, we ran a piece on Austrian wine tasting and I attended a top notch Austrian dinner in a funky loft on Van Brunt Street in Brooklyn last October, led by top Austrian Chef Gutenbrunner (also founder of the KG-NY Restaurant Group) and the Austrian Tourism Board and every wine selection was out of this world. From Gruner Veltliner Sekt, NV, Szigeti, a sparkling wine with our appetizers, to a 2012 Spatrot Klassik Gebetshuber and a Sauvignon Blanc Umathum, which we had with rabbit to a 2010 ZweigeIt Eiswein, Hager Matthias which we paired with our plum strudel served with homemade buttermilk sorbet, it was all good.
It’s time to meet my favorite Austrian wine, a gem of a find called Höpler which I first had the privilege of tasting at the infamous Obauer Restaurant, where we went to town on a several hour lunch that included Quail Egg with Balsamic Apple Jelly, Lamb Terrine, chicken with sesame and a Venison with cabbage terrine sampler. If you’re interested in seeing photos of that oh so delicious meal, check out my restaurant write-up.
During our over-the-top lunch at Obauer, we paired our appetizers with the Weingut Hopler 2014 Pinot Blanc, which was perfectly balanced and the 2012 Pinot Noir from Weingur Hopler was incredibly smooth with the Deer-Ragout. Worth noting is that Obauer has the only MASTER Sommelier in Austria.
Based in Breitenbrunn, Austria, the Höpler Winery is located on the northwest bank of the Neusiedl Lake in Breitenbrunn, Burgenland. They produce a diverse spectrum of wines which is roughly broken down into 55% white wine, 40% red and 5% sweet wines. I had an opportunity to hang with Christof Höpler during my trip who set me up with some of their wines to taste on my own home soil. The truth is that 70 % of Höpler’s wines are actually exported and the US is the largest end market, followed by Holland, Scandinavia, the Baltics and Germany.
Another cool factoid that I learned is that the winery produces the house wines for the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont as well as for the Estonian prime minister. Some of their more well known customers have included Jamie Oliver “Fifteen”, Marco Pierre White “Marco”and the Queen Mary II and now, a not so well known customer, ME. I decided to do a blind test with Anthony recently as we were preparing both cod and snapper at home, our “lighten things up” approach to cooking after a series of heavier dishes over the holidays.
Bear in mind that Anthony’s Italian palette prefers some of the crispier Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio varietal wines more than I do and while he can easily do an oak-infused Chardonnay from northern California as happily as I can, he is a bit more flexible with white wines than I am. I heard him comment from the other room, a rarity….and it went something like this — “Wow, where did we get this wine from? This is amazing….”
No, it wasn’t one of the wines we purchased for my birthday but one that guests did taste at the holiday gathering although he didn’t have a chance to sample. I did try it at the holiday party, but didn’t have time to properly pair it as I was more focused on hosting than tasting. Let’s just say that I was curious about how it would pair with our double course fish dinner, which we were serving with pan-fried string beans, garlic and ginger and a mozzarella, tomato and basil salad, one of our favorites.
WOW went my palette and surprisingly enough, even after we moved onto the Pannonica several days later, we couldn’t get the Hopler’s white 2014 Gruner Veltliner out of our heads. When I tried their Pinot Noir in Austria, it was light as expected, but had enough legs to pair with the lamb terrine and venison I had in Austria. Back in the states, while Gruner Veltliner presented the biggest surprise, their red Pannonica was also a delight. A medium bodied red, this delicious Austrian gem from Hopler paired well with a cubed steak with turmeric and broccoli combo we prepared in San Francisco.
Two thumbs up for their surprisingly delicious wines and if you’re not one of those serious oak barreled kind of wine lover, then you’ll be as happy as a clam with Höpler.
Above is Christof Höpler at a wine tasting event — I met him in Salzburg where in addition to serving us their best at Obauer, he poured at The Sound of Music 50th Anniversary Gala this past October.
Top restaurants such as “Blue Dragon” in Boston or “Georges” in La Jolla near San Diego serve his wine from the vines of Burgenland. Last year, nearly 40% more bottles of Höpler were sold in the USA than in 2014 and their winemaker spends more than ten weeks a year in the states visiting wholesalers and customers. In other words, its popularity and distribution is growing state-side. For more information on their wines, visit http://www.weinraeume.at and http://www.hoepler.at/. Here’s a list of their distributors including the states towards the bottom.
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