Austria is a landlocked country, so its authentic dishes like Griessnockerlsuppe, Schlutzkrapfen and Schweinebraten aren’t usually served a few feet from the ocean. That wasn’t the case on Feb. 28 when Morgan’s Harbour Restaurant teamed up with BlackBeard’s Beers, Wines, Spirits to host a Taste of Austria dinner paired with five Austrian wines presented by Master of Wine Andreas Wickhoff of Premium Estates.
On first impression, holding a dinner featuring authentic Austrian cuisine at a Cayman Islands waterfront restaurant like Morgan’s Harbour might seem like a strange idea.
However, with three Austrian chefs in its kitchen, a selection of fine Austrian wines, and Austrian Master of Wine Andreas Wickhoff on hand to host the event, the idea seemed perfectly reasonable.
Grand Cayman’s residents thought so, too, as the event quickly sold out. Some of the guests who were lucky enough to book spots were Austrian residents – some dressed in traditional costume – who were looking for a taste of home. Others were residents who were just looking for something a little different from the usual wine dinner fare. No matter where the guests came from, everyone was pleased with the results.
Austrian wines 101
In the ranking of countries based on their volume of wine production in 2011, Austria came in 16th – right after Romania, Brazil and Greece. Outside Austria and Germany and a few specific markets, many people know little about Austrian wines.
But because of the major influence of Austrian restaurateurs in the Cayman Islands, Austrian wines have a big presence on the island, even though their production is relatively small.
“Austria only produces 1 percent of the global wine production and we drink a lot of it at home,” said Wickhoff. “We’re pretty patriotic wine drinkers.”
As a result, only a small number of Austrian wines reach export markets beyond Germany and select U.S. markets such as New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. And then there’s the Cayman Islands.
“The selection of Austrian wines in Cayman is really great,” said Wickhoff. “You’d probably have to go to New York or San Francisco to get the same kind of selection [in an export market].”
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges with Austrian wines in most markets is the unfamiliarity many wine drinkers have with the country’s grape varietals. Less than 10 percent of Austrian wine production is with internationally known grapes such as Chardonnay and Riesling. Instead, Austrian winemakers concentrate on the country’s native grapes like Grüner Veltliner, Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch.
It was Grüner Veltliner that really put Austria on the global wine map, Wickhoff said.
“In the mid-to-late ‘90s, leading sommeliers in New York and San Francisco really thought it was a great food companion and that it was very versatile and refreshing.”
Then, similar to what had happened with California wines in “Judgment of Paris” in 1976, there was a surprise outcome of a comparative tasting in London in October 2002 that also featured wines from France, the United States and Italy, and famous winery names like Louis Latour, Gaja and Mondavi.
“It was a blind tasting and some of the top Burgundy wines were in there,” said Wickhoff. “Some of the single-vineyard Grüners fared better.”
In fact, Austrian wines took first place in all three vintage categories judged, and they also took seven of the top 10 places based on points awarded.
One of the key attributes of Austrian wines is their food friendliness. The white varietals, and in particular Grüner Veltliner, are typically light-bodied with refreshing, crisp acidity. The reds usually have soft tannins and balanced acidity, and lively flavors.
All of those characteristics make Austrian wines good for pairing with a variety of foods.
During the welcome reception, Morgan’s Harbour served delicious pieces of schnitzel – made with conch instead of the traditional veal – along with Loimer Zweigelt Rosé. Zweigelt is a grape created by Professor Fritz Zweigelt in 1922 by crossing two of Austria’s other red grape varietals, St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch. The salmon-pink wine is pleasantly fruity and refreshing and has a nice dry finish. It’s a perfect wine for Cayman’s climate, especially for outdoor gatherings in the garden, on the beach or on a boat. It’s a good match for many foods and its tart acidity allowed it to pair with the deep-fried conch schnitzel.
Two different Grüner Veltliners were served with the next two courses, which were Griessnockerlsuppe – beef broth with semolina dumplings – and Schlutzkrapfen – an Austrian pierogi stuffed with cheese and potato.
“The soup is so authentic, my mom couldn’t make it any better,” said impressed Austrian resident Leo Preiss.
The first Grüner was 2012 Loimer Kamptal, which delivered the refreshing acidity and light flavors of green apple, fresh citrus and spicy characteristics for which Austrian Grüner Veltliners are known.
The second Grüner was a 2011 vintage single vineyard wine from the Kafferberg Vineyard. This wine has a designation in Austria similar to Premier Cru in France.
“This one has more body and more mouth feel,” Wickhoff said. “It spends more time in the winery and it’s more age worthy.”
In addition to multiple layers of flavors that included spice, pear, apple and even some white peach, the second Grüner had much more texture that the first, giving it an elegance similar to a Burgundy wine.
“This wine has 10 to 15 years of age potential, which would be easy to obtain,” said Wickhoff.
The pairing of the Kafferberg Grüner with the pierogi was probably the best of the dinner, with the wine’s bright acidity and velvety texture perfectly complementing the cheese and potato stuffed pasta.
With the meat courses of the dinner, two different Austrian red wines were served. With the Wurzelfleisch – beef simmered in consommé and served with root vegetables and horseradish – Morgan’s Harbour served Heinrich “Red,” a crowd-pleasing entry-level wine that is fruity and vibrant, with aromas and flavors of fresh cherries. The softness of the wine allowed it to pair with the horseradish, and the lightness of the wine allowed it to pair with the subtle flavors of the simmered beef.
The second red wine poured was 2007 Heinrich Pannobile Rot [“rot” is the word for “red” in German], which was unique and complex with intense aromas of dark fruits and notes of tobacco and minerality. From the aroma, it would be easy to mistake this sophisticated wine – made from a blend of Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch grapes – as one from northern Italy.
On the palate, Pannobile displayed good fruit, with flavors of dark berries. It was served with Schweinebraten (roast pork) with the traditional potato cake and sauerkraut trimmings.
“Sauerkraut is normally a hard thing to pair with wine,” said Wickhoff. “But if you take some sauerkraut with the pork and gravy, it works.”
Morgan’s Harbour finished off the dinner with two desserts: Buchtel, sweetened bread laced with apricot jam and vanilla sauce, and Sachertorte, a traditional and famous chocolate cake from Vienna.
The rule of thumb for pairing wine with a sweet dessert is that the wine must be at least as sweet as the dessert. Heinrich 2010 Zweigelt Beerenauslese fit the bill perfectly.
The wine is produced on the shores of Lake Neusiedl, which straddles the Austria-Hungary border.
The wine is rare in that Heinrich doesn’t normally produce a dessert wine. However, in 2010 a very cold, damp and foggy summer led to a loss of 70 percent of Heinrich’s crop of grapes used for dry red wine. In the end, they kept the grapes on the vine longer and decided to try and make a dessert wine.
“We made 7,000 bottles from our best vineyards that normally produce premium red wines,” said Wickhoff. “But we won’t produce any more sweet wines… we hope.”