Wine tasting at home
There is no shortage of possible topics and ideas. How about tasting different wines from one Austrian region or from one specific vineyard? Austria’s clear organisation according to the system of origins – for example, into Gebietswein (regional wine), Ortswein (‘villages’ wine) and Riedenwein (from single vineyards) – can lead to intriguing discoveries in the realm of wine. And it is equally engaging to taste wines vinified from the same grape variety, grown in different corners of Austria. An opulent Grüner Veltliner Smaragd from the Wachau alongside a mineral-driven Kremstal DAC Reserve. Or a concentrated Riesling from the Kamptal juxtaposed with elegant examples of that variety from Vienna or the Südsteiermark. Monovarietal tastings also highlight the great diversity that is available between neighbouring postal codes on the Austrian wine landscape... Sauvignon Blanc or Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) from the Steiermark, Zweigelt or Blaufränkisch from Burgenland or the indigenous varietal specialties of the Thermenregion: Austria offers plenty of engaging material for extensive rounds of instructive tasting.
If you have a very special favourite wine, you can organise a vertical tasting, whereby several vintages of a wine are compared and contrasted. A prerequisite is of course that the chosen wine must have a certain potential for maturing, as is usually the case with reserve or single vineyard wines. Many Austrian winegrowers can (and will!) pull out one or another bottle of older vintages from their treasure cellars upon request. In this way, differences in vintage character, development and maturity can be perceived and distinguished. The counterpart to the vertical is the horizontal tasting, where wines from the same vintage from various estates in a region or district are tasted and compared.
Most folks will have formed some opinion about a wine even before the first sip is taken. Be it the beautiful label, the well-known winegrower or the famous vineyard site – all of these influence one’s expectations. The price of the bottle, the place of origin or the vintage also play a role. So why not organise a tasting where the guests don’t know what is waiting for them in the glass? In blind tastings, all of the above factors are eliminated and the senses alone are challenged. Even true connoisseurs of wine may experience difficulty with ostensibly simple tasks of recognition. Which grape variety is hidden in which glass? Which wine is the more expensive, the older or the one that has been aged in cask? Can the wines be accurately placed in the different growing regions? The host can decant the wines beforehand into neutral carafes, or conceal the labels when pouring.
The order in which the wines are tasted can be based on a few rough basic principles. Sparkling wines and white wines are typically tasted first, then red wines, followed by sweet wines. Young, aromatic wines should also have their turn before older, full-bodied or matured wines. One should be careful not to overdo it with the number of wines to be tasted: ten to twelve is probably the upper limit, while with fewer than four or five bottles it is difficult to address certain interesting themes. Most wines will benefit from being decanted in good time and served at the appropriate temperature – ideally around two degrees below the drinking temperature. Lighter white wines and sparkling wines are best served at 6–8°C, medium-bodied to robust white wines and rosé wines at 8–11°C, more opulent white wines at 11–13°C, fruit-forward red wines at 14–16°C and powerful, matured red wines finally at 16–18°C.
What should not be missing at the table is a good supply of white bread, crispy breadsticks or crackers. A couple morsels of bread will neutralise and prepare the palate between the rounds of wine to be tasted. Water glasses and carafes are also a must for any tasting. Where the wine glasses are concerned, one need not be too picky. If you don’t happen to have a stemware collection at home, you will do nicely with Universal glasses. For the necessary spitting, one usually uses opaque spittoons made of metal, ceramics or plastic. Cups, small vases or pots – as well as simple plastic cups – can be pressed into service if necessary.
With all your planning, however, please do not forget the most important thing: take enough time to discuss the wines, have a convivial chat and enjoy the opportunity to gather together once more wherever possible, and to enjoy the marvellous wines of Austria in good company.