I had recently picked up a book on German wines by Master of Wine Anne Krebiehl and was pretty intrigued by the fact that the book had an entire chapter for Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir). A country previously only known for its white wines has seen a significant increase in Pinot Noir production. Plantings had doubled in the decade between 1990 and 2000, an increase that is primarily attributed to climate change, and the then new generation of winemakers who were more endowed than previous generations with the know-how of red winemaking.
Austria on the other hand, has about a third of its total vineyard area devoted to black grape varieties, of which many are indigenous to the country. In spite of that, it is, not unlike Germany, white wine that still comes to mind when most of us think ‘Austrian wine’. This is all slowly changing with a new generation of winemakers who are intent on elevating the perception of quality of its local red wines. Gernot Heinrich is one of them.
Gernot and Heike Heinrich, husband and wife, established the estate in 1990 in Gols, Burgenland – a town that is at the intersection between Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. The goal was to move away from the simple and bulk wines they were making at the time and to produce instead, high quality red wines with local Austrian black grapes.
Gernot Heinrich was also a founding member of Pannobile, a group that has now 9 total members. Paul Achs, Claus Preisinger and Hans Gsellmann are some of the other members. It does feature a strong lineup of members, all with an unanimous goal: to produce wines that will genuinely express the terroir of Burgenland, through local grape varieties, cultivated organically or biodynamically. Each of the member estates must release a cuvée labelled ‘Pannobile’ adhereing stringently to these principles, which will be are for sale on the Pannobile webshop.
My first taste of the Heinrich wines was of their Pannobile cuvée from the 2012 vintage. An almost equal blend of Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch, it was love. It had this cherry like tangy acidity, quite the velvety texture and was mostly fruity at the start but allowed its deeper and earthier tones to come through after about 10 minutes in the glass. The structure was reminiscent of a central Italian red wine while the savoury aromatic and flavour concentration screamed Hermitage. I would have thought the wine to have another 5-8 years in the bottle till it peaks, but I would not have kept it for any longer. It was drinking beautifully well.
This wine that I have just had however, is an entry-level bottling from the estate but punches about its weight. Compared against the Pannobile cuvée, this wine is not a blend and is made with only Blaufränkisch. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks and oak vats. The wine ages for about 18 months in barrel, just a few months shorter than the Pannobile wine, but still as long most high quality Bordeaux wines. Only old Austrian oak vats are used here for maturation, though their premium wines have in the past seen a heavy handed use of new oak.
The bottle sports the Vinolok closure, as do many of their wines. I have only noticed that the 2009 Heinrich Gabarinza magnum from my personal collection uses a standard cork closure, though it could be that the rest of their premium, single-vineyard range uses them too.
I quickly realised that I had probably missed this wine’s peak by 3-4 years. I felt that it was on the verge of decline, and tertiary aromas were a dominant feature. The tannins were soft but the acidity kept fresh and was its redeeming asset. Though it was mostly dried fruit, tobacco and dried leaves all over, I couldn’t help but still relate this wine to an aged Côte-Rôtie or Hermitage. It had that savoury and spicy undertone, that just some years back would have been a lot more vibrant and dominant. Overall, a wine that I think we waited a little too long to drink, but still had great freshness that I enjoyed very much with a big bowl of slipper-lobster pasta.
Although white wine production at the estate is getting a boost with skin contact wines also making an appearance more and more each year, I have associated the estate with modern and complex red wines. I definitely recommend Heinrich’s red wines as the primer to the world of red Austrian wines. The wines combine complexity with easy-drinking that not a lot of wineries can do well. Except, maybe don’t wait 10 years before enjoying their standard Blaufränkisch release.