The arrival of Beirbeisl in Beverly Hills as a pristine example of Austrian cuisine -- check out Besha Rodell's review, out today -- comes as Austrian wines enter into a kind of renaissance in California, a blossoming of popularity, a flurry of import activity, and the thrilling entry of red wines to wine lists and porfolios. All along, the quality has remained remarkable. In fact I think it's not an exaggeration to say that down to a bottle, the wines of Austria being imported to this country are so consistent, they make 'wonderful' seem almost routine.
This is a hard fought victory of sorts. Austria's wine industry was devastated in the middle eighties by a scandal in which a number of unscrupulous producers added diethyline glycol to their wines (an ingredient found in, yecch, anti-freeze) in the hopes of adding some body and perceived sweetness to their (poorly made) wines. They were found out, and the entire industry collapsed as consumers -- mostly in Germany at this point -- ran away in droves.
The short term effect was disastrous. But in the long term, the country was given a colossal do-over, an opportunity not only to re-devote itself to varieties which suited its moderate continental climate -- then-newfangled grapes like gruner veltliner, zweigelt, and blaufränkisch -- but to commit to stringent guidelines for purity that few countries in the world can match.
Austria's best have been found on L.A. wine lists for years, starting with Manfred Krankl's list at Campanile and of course at Spago, shepherded by the city's second most famous Austrian, Wolfgang Puck. But Bierbeisl's wine list is, I believe, the first to go 100% Austrian, with cru- riesling and gruner veltliners from Brundlmayer, Leth, Hiedler and Ott, and laser-like reds from Markowitz and Umathum. Even five years ago, a wine list this 'niche' would have seemed ruinous in an L.A. restaurant -- well north of your everyday Angeleno's comfort zone. But the wines are being embraced in increasing numbers, aided by dedicated brokers and importers like WineWise, Blue Danube, and Winemonger.
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For more, see your local retailer; but here are a handful of recs to get you started:
- 2011 Etz Kamptal Gruner Veltliner, a great introduction to the signature grape of the country and a steal for a picnic at about $14 for a one liter bottle.
- 2010 Schloss Gobelsburg "Steinsetz" Gruner Veltliner for a wine with more structure, mineral tang, and nerve (about $25).
- 2010 Loimer Riesling Kamptal, a bracing white with limeade flavors and rippling acidity (about $15).
- 2010 Juris Zweigelt (about $20), a pinot noir like red with black cherry accents and plenty of spice.
- 2011 Moric Blaufränkisch (about $25), spicy and suave red with flavors of blackberries dusted in minerals.
Patrick Comiskey, our drinks columnist, blogs at patrickcomiskey.com and tweets at @patcisco. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.