The Wine Drinker

This is the Dead Letter Office of my wine writing. These stories ended up not fitting on our company's Facebook page (Piedmont Wine Imports) or website,, for reasons that I think are clear once you scroll through a few posts. Less professional musings, impressions that ultimately never got past the rough prototype stage. Um... enjoy!

Monday, August 02, 2010

Lackner Tinnacher Styria Austria

I met Kathy Tinnacher at a cafe in Vienna that used to be the royal butterfly house and botanical garden. She was hanging around the big biannual Austria trade show Vievinum talking shop and lending moral support to her fiance from Tegernseerhof, an estate in the Wachau. A few days later I showed up at her winery in Austria’s far southeastern corner. Typical Europe: the Lackner-Tinnacher estate is a hundred kilometers and a million miles from Vienna. Kathy was a terrific tour guide to unvarnished Sudsteiermark. I appreciated being led well off the tourist trail. We drank bad wine and brilliant euax de vie at an utterly simple Buschenshank (sp. essentialy a Styrian Heurige) along a winding hilltop road that traced the border with Slovenia. From the Austrian side, Slovenia appears to be quite densely forested. As we walked toward the Buschenshank Kathy warned me not to laugh. I thought, what do I look like a bozo? Surely she does not think I would snicker in the presence of rustic local folk. The place looked dark, closed. Kathy uttered a greeting. In the dusk it seemed like the bellowed response came out of the grey forest below. A very troll-like woman emerged and greeted us warmly. In the fuzzy hours that followed I thought more than once about the brothers Grimm. We were served spreadable warm pork fat on rye bread (oddly satisfying, and very necessary) and big red beetle beans flavored with pumpkin seed oil, (a delicious Styrian product) which I could have eaten all night long. We had a date for Styrian fried chicken at a fancy place down the road later on, an appointment with culinary destiny we nearly missed thanks to our extremely generous and insistent host. There was no leaving. Glasses were forced into our hands containing distillates that were honestly delightful but absolutely 80 proof as well. In the middle of a handful of pumpkin seeds I saw a ray of light (two other locals appeared, B&B owners) and we bolted for the exit. Kathy hollered appreciations back into the Buschenshank. We were free. We would get to our Austrian fried chicken, which was superb (the country does specialize in schnitzel after all). The evening had crested a ridge and slowly unwound. Soon sleep under the very dark Stryian sky would become irresistibly appealing.

The estate does not grow Gruner Veltliner. Did I just blow your mind? Styria is warm, wet, hilly like northern Beaujolais or the best part of the Italian Piedmont and in its wines are linked to points south and east more than to the rest of Austria. South Styria is a distinct place, tiny, a piece that does not fit into a neat and simple stereotype of Austrian wine. Lackner-Tinnacher farm Sauvignon Blanc, Gelber Muskateller, Roter Traminer, Rielsing, Welschriesling, Weissburgunder and Grauer Burgunder. And a little Zweigelt. Fritz, Wilma and Kathy Tinnacher’s winery is understatedly modern, minimal and integrated well with the landscape. Lackner-Tinnacher’s vineyards are on high hillsides with round tops and steep grades. They are experimenting with organic farming. Wide swaths of grass are left between the vines to prevent erosion. Kathy walks like someone who grew up on a hillside: I noticed the same motion in the stride of Karl Lagler, Jr. in the fields of the Wachau, a slight side-step intended to grab traction from rocky slopes. It is not the gait of a flatlander.

The region is tiny. Have I mentioned that enough times? I believe it is possible to see all of South Styria from the small hotel I slept in. In the morning after our fried chicken and booze marathon I felt a very physical need to go running: I easily toured the whole region, up and down tiny roads surrounded by vines and tractors. To me South Styria is the prettiest region of Austria, the one I will return to first for an actual vacation. Bucolic.



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