Ask Chuck

Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Four Fast Days In Vienna (May 29th through June 1st)

May 29th! Seminars, Castles, Shallow Lakes and Gourmet Fare!!!
At first I resisted the idea of having compulsory meetings. After all, it was too much like school. A visit to the Weinakademie Osterreich (Austrian Wine Academy) cured that. The school is a revelation and modern is the word with state of the art class rooms and grounds that would make a groundskeeper jealous. The inside was as impressive as the impeccable outside but what else would one expect from Austria. Our driver and guide arrived us in plenty of time. Tibor (his name) was already becoming invaluable both for his professional approach and his willingness to help in any manner. He did not fail.
Sandie and I attended the lecture about the "Wine Wonderful Austria" presented by AWMB Managing Director Willi Klinger and Christian Zechmeister of Wein Burgenland.
The lecture offered insight into the Academy which is not only the largest of its kind in Europe but also offers wine courses from Basic to a Master of Wine. One of the newest additions is the Rare Wine Specialist Course.Here were tasted some fourteen wines ranging from Sauvignon Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc and Riesling to Zierfandler, Gemischter, Zweigelt and St Laurent to Blaufrankisch to blended wines (Zweigelt, Blaufrankisch, Merlot) and (Furmint/Muskateller). Style also varied from fresh, dry and mouth puckering whites to earthy, fruity reds to the sumptuous and delicious sweet dessert wines. Regardless of what was the style, the wines produced were well made and (this is what I liked best) especially suited to food which of course is what I think wine should be all about.
Burgenland is absolutely beautiful with many tiny villages in the area and vineyards abounding. It has Two main cities Eisenstadt and Rust. In many ways, this area reminded me of California's Napa and Sonoma of earlier times.
Here it seems that the Gruner Veltliner is king of grapes. This grape certainly reflects its soils very well and for the most part offers at the basic level excellent mineral laden wine while at its best provides an experience that is both exciting and seductive with a fresh flinty nose and tropical flavours. Indeed this up and coming new comer is a must for those in North America wanting value and long lived charm. Some may not like the fresh acidity of this wine but as for me and many other professionals at various tastings, it proved a winner.
Esterhazy Castle
After the seminar we headed to Eisenstadt, the capital of Burgenland, where we had lunch and a tour of Esterhazy Castle. Lunch consisted of Burgenland specialties such as local salads, roast beef and dessert (Biscuits with Vanilla Cream and Chocolate Sauce). First can an aperitif of sparkling wine (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay).
The Salad was a perfect match to the Sauvignon Blanc from Estoras whose herbal qualities and bright acidity dealt well with the greens. The main course of Roast Beef (Joint) with Vegetables and Potatoes was well matched to an excellent Blaufrankisch (a dark wine with a definite fruity and spicy character). Finally the dessert was matched to an amazing Trockenbeerenauslese.
All the wines were from the Esterhazy Winery and exceptional in both their makeup and food matching quality. Once more the food and wine merge into sublimity.
The castle was built in the 13th Century and came under the Esterhazy ownership in the 17th. They added many of the Baroque features. As with many 300 year old castles, the history displayed here is massive with representations from different periods of the castle's (and families') evolution. A wine tasting was held with several more representations of the areas wines and then we went on a boat tour
Lake Neusiedlersee Boat Tour
Sparkling Wine Tasting
We drove from Eisenstadt to Rust where Illmitz (Drescher) Lines were waiting with a "shallow water" boat to take us across a very shallow but wide lake. The lake was basically four feet deep and almost surrounded by tall, bamboo type plants about six feet high. On the boat was held a wine tasting of sparkling wines presented by Szigetti along with some very fine pastry cakes.
The wines were from Gruner Veltliner, Muskat Ottonel and a blend of Zweigelt and Blaufrankish grapes which produced a very nice Rose.
Sweet Wine Tasting
Austria certainly enjoys a history of making sweet wines. We went to the Weinkulturhaus in Gols to taste 14 sweet wines from various styles. The wines ranged from a Spatlese and Auslese to Beerenauslese, Eiswein and Trockenbeerenauslese wines. My favourite was a Ruster Ausbruch which had a lovely nose of burning leaves and a palate of smoke, honey, minerality and some citrus.
Pannonian Dinner at Nyikospark Restaurant
A fine wine and food match was presented by the above restaurant with the following menu:
The evening started with a Small Hill Rose from Lentsch Franz
Chantrelle Mushrooms with Mushroom Soup. followed with a match of
Pinot Gris and Weissburgunder from Andeas Liegenfeld and Kaiser.
Fillet Of Pike-Perch mit Maize
Chardonnay and Chardonnay/Gruner Veltliner Blends.
Lamb With Shallots In Red Wine
Blaufrankisch and a blend of Zweigelt, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cream Slice With Berries
Beerenauslese (Velich) and Ruster Ausbruch (Gunter Triebaumer).
This meal was decadent and after a day of drinking wines, we drank still more wines.
With that in mind, we ended our day by checking in at the Hotel Pannonia Tower -------and by the way, we were all driven and not one person that drove was drinking that night.
To be continued!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Two In A Vineyard: Vienna or Bust Days One and Two

Getting There May 27th/28th
Being organized doesn't mean that you will be totally prepared for what is to come. So it went with the start of the Austrian portion of the new adventure. Our flight was to leave at 6:10 PM or 1810 hundred hours on May 27th. I was to be picked up at 1:15 PM or 13;15 hours . I spent 'till the last minute getting ready and even though my ride was late, I still couldn't help that feeling of forgetting something. I checked my bag over and over. I relented and off we went to the airport via the speedy 401. By the time we got to Leslie, traffic had slowed to a crawl aka construction but we arrived in plenty of time to get seats but not in time to get seats together. Together meant Sandie Kraft, Roy and myself.
They got the two seats together while I got the company of two males either side of my middle row seat. The flight was somewhat entertaining since one of those next to me was a computer and communication specialist in Afghanistan. We had a long chat as to the good that the occupation of this war torn country was achieving. The other person proved to be a student of my new friend Richard Johnston of By Chadsey's County.
The Arrival
Austrian Airlines Flight 072 arrived in the rain that she left in Canada. The weather was pouring and we were quick to be ushured into shuttle buses that took us to the passport check. There was no customs to speak of---not even travel forms to fill out. We then made our way through to the arrivals platform and were met by people from the AWMB (Austrian Wine Marketing Board). Our drive, Leopold, took us through Vienna and across the Danube to Hotel Am Konzerthaus.
After freshening up and having a coffee, I met the group and our new driver Tibero at the hotel lobby. It was Noon and we were up for 24 hours straight.
Tibero took us on a city tour which included the Museum, Parliament Buildings, Beethoven's House (one he stayed in in 1873), Franz Schubert's home and exceptional architecture that Vienna was/is known for. We stopped off at a restaurant called Weingut (Wine Cellar) Hajszan which was preparing for a wedding down in their superbly designed cellar. We also went to another Weingut that featured a baptism going on. Two In A Wineyard" was based on the premise that wine is a culture that brings together the many factors of humanity: birth, death, love, history, geography and history. So it came that we filmed a very happy and joyous group of people celebrating the baptism of their child. We then left the Weingut and went to one that was open. The food turned out excellent and was accompanied by some good Gruner Veltliner. The three of us had the same dish-----"Tafelspitz with vegies and potato hash. The "flank steak" was delicious and was enjoyed by all . Driver Tibero had a Rindsroulade served with mustard and noodles. After the meal we had double espresso coffee and then had seconds on the coffee. We returned to the hotel to freshen up and get ready for the whole team.
At six pm we were once again picked up at the Hotel support and he proceeded to take us to the Nussberg Vineyard for a wine get together with an international group of journalists from all over the world. Representatives from China, Russia, U.S.A., Bulgaria, Hungary, Britain, Germany and many more countries mingled and talked wine.
It is here that I must mention that Vienna is the only city in the world to be boasted as an actual Vineyard Appellation. It is very unique as having vineyards grown within its city limits.
The AWMB introduced some fine wines at the location at a vineyard high atop a hill overlooking the City of Vienna. Roy, Sandie and I took some amazing shots of the area surrounding the vineyard and of the City that was intermittently illuminated by the descending Sun as it peaked through the day's rain clouds. Rotes Haus am Nussberg was indeed a success.
The party went very well and we tried some find Gruner wines. Then it was off to the the house/restaurant that Ludwig van Beethovan wrote his "Nineth". Here we had a buffet dinner and tried some phenomenal wines both red and white, that were exquisite. The Cabernet Merlot was Roy's choice and we all loved the superb Pinot Noirs that showed much variation in body and taste. Sandie discovered a white wine a wine from what was called the Gemischter Satz grape but after inquiring found out that the grape variety was actually a style of wine made from several grape varieties grown side by side in the vineyard. While the varieties were not identified our guess was a Riesling, Werner or Gewurztraminer variety.
The Austrian Wine Marketing Board truly knows how to throw a party and it went on until about 11 PM or 2300 hours. We had been up for over 36 hours by this time and it was catching up to us so we decided to call it a night and headed off to the hotel where I am now finishing this entry.
On the whole it was a great night and an even greater day. At the end of it all, my mind wandered back to the earlier shows I did with Greg Rist and couldn't help but feel nostalgic. Greg, you are not here physically but you are here in spirit! Great Team! Great Shots! Great Day!
Wines Tasted
It was difficult to really do wines justice when tasting in such a large crowd with so much going on but I did manage to survey the group and come up with several wines that seemed to shine.
The Mephisto Cabernet, Zweigelt and Merlot blend was excellent with a firm backbone and a host of black and red fruit flavours which reminded me of some California representatives.
The other wine that stood out was a Wieninger Pinot Noir grand Select which came with a bevy of complex fruit flavours and a medium full body. The wine certainly went well with the foods presented----especially the lighter and saltier entries.
To be fair to the other wines, it is difficult to judge anything when such a crowd is indulging and the senses are being attacked from all levels and directions. But, on the other hand, if something sticks out, it does have merit to mention.
Tomorrow is another day!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

"Two In A Vineyard" The Adventure Begins!

Here We Go Again!
If I am correct, I remember mentioning to my former "Adventures In Wine Country" co-host, Greg Rist, that I wasn't going to do another series, article, book to do with wine again. Though the final product was excellent and the series was a critical success and well received, I had expected more. Greg and I had travelled over 75,000 miles and visited 6 countries, at least 30 wine regions, almost 200 wineries, tasted countless wines (not to mention the food----OH!! The food!!!) and met some of he most interesting and charming people ever! All this was done in a whirlwind Spring, Summer, Fall and Early Winter journey that taxed our resources both physically, mentally and financially. We did it and did it well! I felt that that was it!
I remember Greg looking across from the table at our McDonald's meeting place and saying, "Chuck, it's in your blood. You can no sooner give up wine writing and production as I could give up my work and passion!!!" Greg was absolutely correct!
After some rest and rethinking, I began writing again and then that led to tasting and finally---the unbelievable----the words "New Series" came to mind. This time, however, I would aim at a new demographic---another group of wine lovers. I chose women ages 35 to 55 as the main group. Of course the series would be seen and appreciated by other demographics but my main focus was to be women. Why??
Women in that age range are increasingly becoming aware of wine and appreciating both its health and social benefits. Statistics show that women are also moving towards all facets of wine appreciation---from White and Rose to Reds. Educational Facilities dealing with wine are reporting massive increases in the number of women enrolled in classes and when one looks at the constitution of winemakers, sommeliers and consultants in Ontario alone, it is clear that women are making a significant increase in their numbers. The situation around the globe is the same with women surging ahead in their appreciation of this great beverage. One woman winemaker/marketer in Veneto/Lugana, Nadia Zenato, has formed a professional women's society that is making headway around the World. Another, Ontario Sommelier Lindsay Groves, has spent the better part of this year in India working as both a consultant and writer. Lindsay who is still in India, was one of my main subjects in an article I did last year called "Sommelier". The number of Canadian women wine "experts" keeps growing: Natalie MacLean, Judy Eberspaecher (her cookbook "Totally Scallops" won fourth place in the "World's Best New Cookbook Competition), Christie Lee McWatters and Sherri Darling to name a few.
In order to start this off, I needed a female co-host to attract that part of the demographic. Sandra Kraft---well known wine consultant and oenophile---was perfect for the job. She had the knowledge, style and presence to ensure the image that would encourage women to watch the program. The fact that she was "very easy on the eyes" ensured that the male demographic would also be very prominently visible. She certainly made up for my bald headed wonder!!!
The title of the new series says it all! The show will be about two persons---one male and one female visiting vineyards wherever their journey takes them. Vineyards however will not be the only ventures that these two will take. Wherever there are vineyards, there is a story that involves history, geography, cuisine and culture. Intertwined with the the "juice of the vine" will be the "soul" of the area we will visit. Wine is a living, breathing creation which is made by living, breathing people who live in areas rich in culture scenery and folklore. This is what interests people and this is what wine is all about!
"Two In A Vineyard" has already filmed in Prince Edward County, Durham Region, Niagara, Toronto. Soon it will be going to various parts of the globe. Stay tuned and keep an eye out for some terrific new adventures in places that will make your imagination go wild and spirit run free!!