Carrying on the Austrian Tradition
Bert Salomon is a seventh generation winemaker at Salomon Undhof in Wachau, Austria where he makes exceptional terroir-driven white wines. When I heard Bert would be in town, I jumped at the chance to have him in the store for a tasting. His knowledge and engaging personality would have the whole staff talking about his wines. Salomon Undhof is a historic winery, though many people haven’t heard of it. It is important name in the annuls of Austrian wine and one of the main reasons we even have Austrian wine here the States. Ever wonder why Austrian dry whites have a better reputation than neighboring Germany? We can thank Bert’s father, Fritz, for introducing high quality, dry whites to the Austrian market. Prior to the 1930’s, Austria was primarily drinking off-dry or semi-sweet wines. Fritz believed dry wines paired better with food and provided more complexity to the drinking experience, so he introduced dry Rieslings and Gruners to the area’s top restaurants. While estate bottling is now common practice, prior to the 1930’s, many winegrowing regions across Europe didn’t practice it. Instead, the bottling was often done by the village, leaving more room for mistakes and lack of care resulting in lower quality wines. Fritz, however, believed that in order to ensure a high quality wine the winemaker should have total control of the product all the way through to bottling. He was the first in the Wachau to estate bottle and the first to export to the States though Chicago in the 1930s.
Bert speaks about his wines with great passion and depth, it’s clear he’s carrying on his father’s dreams for great Austrian wine. I was surprised to learn that Bert actually started his winemaking career in Australia. His older brother took over the family estate, so Bert’s love of the ocean took him and his wife to Australia where he made stunning, award winning wines near Adelaide. After his brother fell ill, Bert returned to the family winery to continue the Salomon family tradition. He spends the majority of his time in Austria (as it’s a more difficult wine region and requires more attention) but still maintains his original winery in Adelaide. As such, Bert now leads two lives; one surrounded by rivers, rolling hills and minerally white wine and the other with warm weather, the ocean breeze and spicy red wine.
We got to taste four of Bert’s Austrian wines. First, we tasted his entry level, estate bottlings of both Gruner Veltliner and Riesling. They are both perfect examples of high quality, complex “drink-now” styles of each. The Gruner with juicy citrus, pith and a light spice, and the Riesling with bright aromatic, white flowers, chalk and white nectarine. Next, we tasted the Kögl Riesling Erste Lage Reserve and the Lindberg Grüner Veltliner Erste Lage Reserve. Salomon’s vineyards lie along the picturesque Krems river. The Kögl vineyard is to the west of the Krems, where the vineyards are dominated by very stoney, rocky soil, best suited for Riesling. This stoney soil provides warmth by retaining and reflecting heat for the grapes and allows for good drainage for the vines. Not a Riesling drinker? The Kögl Riesling Erste Lage Reserve is the Riesling to change your mind. I dare you to find a hint of residual sugar in this bottle. It is crisp, clean and dry. In a blind tasting I doubt anyone would guess Riesling. It tastes of stones and flint, a direct influence of its soil, while having hints of white nectarine and apricot with a big body and a long, pithy finish. This is a Riesling that requires patience. It’s currently a bit tight, but this Riesling will age gracefully over the years, becoming more expressive and complex.
The Lindberg Grüner Veltliner Erste Lage Reserve comes from the Lindberg vineyard to the east of the Krems, where the soil is primarily soft glacial sandstone that suits Grüner Veltliner well. The grapes used for this bottle are picked from 60-plus-year-old vines and not harvested until after the first frost. This frost softens and breaks the skins providing ideal flavors and conditions for the twelve hours of skin contact this wine sees. This wine is an exceptional expression of Grüner. It is full of minerality, honeysuckle, apricot and a light hint of arugula spice. The skin contact coupled with lees contact provides for a very aromatic and very rich Grüner. Drink a bottle now because it is irresistible, but the ageability on this is incredible. Finding complex and ageable Grüner like this is few and far between.
We had a lovely day with Bert Salomon and won’t soon forget our experience tasting with a member of one of Austria’s greatest winemaking legacy.