If you’re looking for value for your wine dollar, I always recommend searching out lesser-known wine-producing regions and grape varietals. Kelsey, my daughter/business partner, and I spent a few days in Austria and Hungary, wandering through farms, vineyards and tasting rooms. The locals were welcoming, the producers small, the food delicious — and the wine was amazing!
Meinklang, Weninger and Wetzer were the top three artisan producers that stood out for us: the common thread of being family owned, organic with a special link to their land, and operated by passionate and hardworking folks.
Very few of these mom-and-pop wineries export their wines into North America. But, thanks to importers who focus on small producers such as Erik Mercier of Juice Imports, we are seeing more wines from these unfamiliar wine regions. He travels far and wide to seek out these wines and bring them into Alberta.
“Our company philosophy is to import ethically farmed wines that are made without any additives, crafted by our friends, tiny independent farmers,” says Erik. “We’re always aiming for both drinkability and complexity…the wines that captivate us most.”
The world of a wine professional is not all fun and games, as I did lose my only pair of glasses in Meinklang’s cow pasture — just over the Austrian border in Hungary.
Every trip takes us beyond the names and characteristics of each grape because we have opportunity to research the unique viticulture, viniculture, climatology, geography, biology, regulatory laws and history. This all help us make sense of what’s in the bottle.
We expect crisp and complex white wines from cooler climates, as with Austria’s native grape, Gruner Veltliner, and Hungary’s own Furmint grape — but it’s the red wines that are especially surprising. Although difficult to pronounce, these are wines for every Pinot Noir and Gamay wine lover: Blaufränkisch (blouw FRANN-keesh), Zweigelt (TSVYE-gelt) and Sankt Laurent. We have seen an increase in demand because the red/black grapes are able to ripen longer, in part thanks to climate change but also due to the proximity to central Europe’s largest lake, Lake Neusiedl (which straddles the Austrian-Hungarian border).
Here is a selection of some of my favourites from our Austro-Hungarian research and development trip. These are three small growers consistently producing quality wines that deliver incredible value for quality. They are not just drinkable but food friendly too! Pair with local dishes of schnitzel, goulash and spaetzle for an authentic food and wine evening.
Keep your eyes out for wines from these producers on shelves and restaurant wine lists such as Biera, The Marc and Three Boars.
MEINKLANG PROSA $26
I am mad about this lightly sparkling rosé, made from a combination of Pinot Noir, Zweigelt, and Blaufränkisch. It’s just the right amount of fruit and freshness to be perfectly drinkable. Biodynamic, natural and delicious! Available at The Marc downtown.
MEINKLANG FOAM SOMLO $26
Made from 35 to 60-year-old Harslevelü and Juhfark grapes that are planted on the Hungarian volcanic rock on a small knoll that stands alone on the Pannonian plains, known as Soḿlo. We climbed up the steep slope alongside the vines to peer into the crater. Neither sparkling nor still, but somewhere in between, with a slight effervescence, no additives and plenty of character. On the list at Three Boars.
WENINGER KEKFRANKOS BALF $26
Hungarian Kékfrankos is the wine variety of Sopron. This red is organic, biodynamic and delicious, with notes of freshly ground black pepper, earth, juicy dark cherries, plum, forest, pomegranate and sour cherry with a slightly tart finish.
WENINGER VOM KALK $28
Franz Weninger says that if we can feel the texture of stone, lime and clay with our hands, the content in the bottle becomes real. A Bordeaux-styled blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sankt Laurent that’s beautifully layered with flowers, herbs, spice and dark fruits. Complex and elegant. On the list at Biera.
WENINGER ROZSA PETSOVITS $27
Just as the history of Burgenland is a history of German-speaking Hungarians, so this wine tries to think without borders. Syrah from gneiss from Hungary mingles with Sankt Laurent and Pinot Noir from limestone in Austria. A wonderful rosé that’s a blend of both Austria and Hungarian grapes.
PETER WETZER TOKAJ FURMINT $36
This wine is made exclusively from Furmint grown in Tokaj, in northeastern Hungary. The organically farmed vines are 45 years old. This wine is fabulous with honey, hay, Asian pear, white peach, flowers, earth and fresh herbs.
PETER WETZER PINOT NOIR $30
It would be hard to find a Pinot Noir of this quality for a better price. A blend of two vineyards in Sopron, Hungary that average 40 years of age. Beautifully fresh and aromatic with crushed-ripe summer strawberries, raspberries and white pepper. Smooth and lush with fresh acidity that lingers. Only 1,000 bottles were made of this vintage and 300 of them were imported to Alberta.
Wine selections are available at select Alberta shops. Log onto liquorconnect.com to check availability and give them a call to verify.
Juanita Roos opened Color de Vino, a fine wine and spirits store, with her family in 2014. She has traveled to wine regions around the world and completed the prestigious WSET Diploma from London, England, the prerequisite for the Master of Wine program. Send your questions about wine to email@example.com.