By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 18 May 2019
Some say opposites attract. That certainly seems to be the case with Elisabeth Pichler and Erich Krutzler, two young winemakers from leading wine families who are now establishing themselves as one of the new power couples on the Austrian wine scene.
Elisabeth is petite, charming and quietly spoken. She is the daughter of the cult winemaker Franz Xaver (F.X.) Pichler – her brother Lucas is the fifth generation to run the family estate. “Elisabeth is a posh elegant Wachau girl”, as her husband Erich fondly describes her.
She was brought up in the staunchly conservative Wachau wine region, the beautiful steep narrow Danube valley west of Vienna (pictured right) – a UNESCO world heritage site and Austria’s most established and notable wine region - home to its best vineyard sites for premium Gruner Veltliners and Rieslings.
Erich calls himself “Pannonian”. He is tall, broad-shouldered and half-Hungarian from Sud Burgenland, a remote little known wine region in southern Austria.
“I come from a very different background as my family were originally pig-breeders and farmers, who started to grow vines in late 1960s. I did not go to oenology school, my father taught me how to make wine”, says Erich.
Krutzler, his family’s small winery in the idyllic Deutsch-Schutzen village sandwiched between Hungary in the east and Styria in the west, was one of the first to spearhead a crusade for top quality Austrian reds. Today his brother Reinhold is a leading Blaufrankisch producer here and one of the most highly rated Austrian red wine producers.
So when the daughter of Austria’s leading white winemaker married the son of the Austria’s leading red winemaker, everyone was eager to see where Elisabeth and Erich would decide to put down roots and set up their own winery.
“We originally planned to go to the Hungarian side of the border to make Kekfrankos”, says Erich, “but were lured to Elisabeth’s homeland in the Wachau with its superb vineyard sites to make Gruner Veltliner and Riesling”.
To help pay for their Wachau venture, Erich worked in Slovenia for several years rejuvenating two wineries, Dveri-Pax and Marof. “It was a 300km drive from Wachau to northern Slovenia, so it was an exhausting time for us as we were setting up our own winery in Austria at the same time”, he says.
Since 2007 Erich has focused full-time in Oberloiben, a village on the Danube in Wachau, running their new venture, Weingut Pichler-Krutzler – which began with just 10,000 bottles, but now produces 75,000 bottles of which 70% is exported.
“I am a hearts and stomach winemaker”, says Erich. “My approach is very different to others in Wachau as I did not come from the area – and I make wines that I like to drink, which are a far cry from cold-fermented technical wines”, he says.
He refuses to join Wachau’s Association which classifies and labels their wines into different categories according to ripeness and must weight (similar to the German system). “I don’t want to make a classification of alcohol and sugar in my wines – I believe Wachau should label their wines more like Burgundy rather than Germany”, he says. So you will not see the Wachau Steinfeder, Federspiel or Smaragd on Pichler-Krutzler labels.
“We do have a lot of arguments”, says Elisabeth jokingly – “as Erich likes to pick early and I like to pick later for more intense styles as my father taught me”, she says.
Despite being brought up in such a different environment making red wines, Erich seems to have a very deft delicate touch when it comes to white wines.
Matched alongside a tasting menu at Le Roi Fou restaurant in Edinburgh, Elisabeth and Erich showed 20 wines from six vintages demonstrating the difference between vintages in Wachau from cooler 2016 and 2014 to warmer 2013, 2015 and 2017.
My own favourites were their Gruner Veltiner from the lower parts of the terraced Loibenberg and Kellerberg vineyards – and the exquisite Rieslings from the higher cooler parts on the same single vineyard sites. Some of the purest expressions of both varieties I have tasted recently from Austria – definitely a winery to watch in the future.
GRUNER VELTLINER LOIBENBERG 2016 Pichler-Krutzler £36 bt
Typical Wachau richness from this sunny warm Danube vineyard site with its stonewall terraces. Rich peachy fruits with celery undertones, zesty tangy palate, hints of lees with a soft silky texture and opulent weight with 13.5% alcohol even in the cooler 2016 vintage.
GRUNER VELTLINER LOIBENBERG 2014 Pichler-Krutzler £33 bt
A wine which shows its 50 year old vine pedigree in a rich intense baroque style, succulent fruits with minerally undertones, good acid-sugar balance, shows strict selection has taken place here in the tricky 2014 vintage.
GRUNER VELTLINER SUPPERIN 2013 Pichler-Krutzler £38 bt ***STAR BUY***
From a sloped (rather than terraced) Danube vineyard named ‘Supperin’, originally an apple orchard belonging to the mother superior of the former monastery here. From 2013, one of Wachau’s most perfect vintages with very rich lush apricot and fig aromas, very rich and concentrated almost spicy, lemon rich acidity – beautifully mature example of Pichler-Krutzler’s style.
RIESLING KELLERBERG 2016 Pichler-Krutzler £42 bt ***STAR BUY***
Kellerberg is the best single vineyard in Wachau with south-east exposure, cool air at night which ensures high acidity in the grapes – Riesling is planted up to 350 metres here. This is a good example of Kellerberg’s steely & crisp style. Very attractive citrus bouquet with a hint of honey, intense flinty palate with a sleek linear structure and rich concentrated tangy flavours – should mature beautifully: 13%
RIESLING LOIBENBERG 2013 Pichler-Krutzler £36.50 bt
Opulent ripe apricot and plum bouquet, more honey and plumpness on the palate with a nutty citric minerally undertone and a long sleek lemony finish. This really demonstrates Pichler-Krutzler’s purity of expression from such a warm sunny vineyard site in a classic Wachau vintage.
RIESLING KELLERBERG 2015 Pichler-Krutzler £42.20 bt ***STAR BUY***
Juicy baroque style from the warm 2015 vintage. Rich full succulent very ripe orange aromas with floral hints, sleek minerally notes with a lovely weight of fruit. Alcohol at 13.5% is quite high, but the palate has superb balance with rich fruits interwoven with lemony acidity.
(All wines above are available from Raeburn Fine Wines, 21 Comely Bank Road, Edinburgh 0131 343 1159 www.raeburnfinewines.com)
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