By Franz Scheurer
31st July 2006
I have always admired the incredible balancing act performed, year after year, by the Kracher team, making wines with impossibly high sugar levels, perfectly held in check by stratospherically high acid levels.
Alois Kracher and Alois Kracher senior are the proud custodians of a unique terroir, along the shores of the Neusiedlersee. One of the larger inland lakes in Europe (some 40km x 10km) it is shallow enough to wade straight across and there are another 32 smaller lakes in the same area, called the ‘Seewinkel’ (an corner of the lake). The wetlands are a natural preserve and remain pristine despite an ever-encroaching civilisation. An hour from Vienna and some 15 minutes from the Hungarian border this area is prone to humidity, fog and all the other climatic conditions, helping with, actually almost guaranteeing, botrytis, with every vintage. Summers are dry and hot and winters bitterly cold, but it is during the cool autumn evenings that the evaporation from all the surrounding lakes creates a thick fog, which covers the area like a damp blanket till the sun manages to burn it off by midday the next day.
The Kracher family seized this opportunity offered by Mother Nature and are now world-famous for their dessert wines. Their vineyards are contained by the town of Illmitz on one side and the shores of the Neusiedlersee on the other. Although apparently flat, Alois points out that the ‘mountains’ (undulations of a mere metre in height), are of utmost importance to the quality of the wine and the formation of botrytis.
Alois Kracher senior is the viticulturist of the family and Alois Kracher junior the wine maker. They’re both fastidious and forever chasing their dreams and this has paid off. The biological selection of their own yeasts (survival of the fittest), a rigorous picking regime to attain the perfect Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA for short) and knowing which grape varieties will survive in the close planted, stressed environment, are paramount to their success.
Grape varieties include Muskat-Ottonel, Chardonnay, Scheurebe and Welschriesling (not a Riesling relative). The numbering system on the TBAs is simple: the higher the number, the higher the concentration. Alcohol plus residual sugar equals concentration. This is how they are measured, and then numbered.
Alois Kracher junior visited Sydney today and I was privileged to be included in a tasting. Here’s a quick summary of the wines:
2003 Muskat-Ottonel Auslese
This wine is only produced during a botrytis vintage and 2003 was an exceptionally warm year. Roughly about 100g residual sugar and an initial volatility will mask the melon, carnation, raisin and orange peel aromas. Once your system has adjusted honey and orange peel are confirmed on the palate with a finish of Turkish delight.
Made from Chardonnay and Welschriesling in a cold year, this is a much more focused dessert wine with high acid balancing the inherent sweetness. Quite closed on the nose it nevertheless shows some turpentine and it is tight and spicy on the palate with brown cardamom and cinnamon flavours.
2004 Eiswein Cuvée
Complying with Austrian law, these grapes are harvested frozen and the varieties are Chardonnay and Welschriesling. A green tinge sets this wine apart and boiled lollies are the first thing your nose perceives. Ice wine is made from non-botrytised grapes (botrytised grapes are unsuitable for use after they’ve been frozen) too unripe to be collected for TBAs. On the palate there’s a huge volatility hit followed by dense, almost gluey characters.
When asked to vote the room elected the Eiswein their favourite, personally I preferred the freshness of the 2005 Beerenauslese.
Kracher produces a total of about 150,000 half bottles a year and only 35,000 of these are Trockenbeerenauslese.
2001 Trockenbeerenauslese #2 Zwischen den Seen
Made from Muskat-Ottonel and about 200g of residual sugar with 95-100% botrytis this is an open, approachable wine with lots of strong floral and perfume aromas. In the mouth there’s lots of vanilla, Christmas pudding and soft, sweet notes similar to Baklava. Absolutely delightful without ever losing the delicate Muscat flavours.
2001 Trockenbeerenauslese #4 Zwischen den Seen
Scheurebe is the grape variety here (it’s too warm to grow Riesling successfully) and once the initial acetone notes blow off you’re treated to grapefruit rind, spice and complex caramel aromas. It’s mouth-filling, textured and spicy with the acid holding the sweetness in check. No doubt this wonderful balance is partly due to the Krachers’ patience where ferments can take anything from one month to a couple of years. Amazing wine!
2001 Trockenbeerenauslese #8 Zwischen den Seen
As you can tell from the numbers this is a highly concentrated wine with lots of Jaffa chocolate orange, dark phenolic and spicy notes on the nose. Almost Pedro Ximenex-like density with viscous textures, these are perfectly balanced by coconutty and spicy flavours and an acid level that brings it all into one homogenous whole. This is a wine I’d like to savour with blue cheese.
When asked to vote the room decided that #4 was the winner of this bracket. I concur.
Thanks to Alois Kracher and Vintage & Vine for putting on this amazing tasting.
For more information visit Kracher’s website: http://www.kracher.net/