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The Neu-romantics

Robert Mason

Posted on August 13 2023

I visited the Neusiedlersee DAC in September last year upon joining a press trip to this neglected corner of Austria’s Burgenland. I had zero pre-conceptions and little experience of the area but returned from the trip with enthusiasm, passion and a renewed sense of why the wine industry is so awesome.  

The history of the Neusiedlersee region is as brief as Stephen Hawking’s ‘Brief Answers to the Big Questions’, a book which was great to casually dip into on the flight to Vienna. This relatively new Austrian D.A.C. was created in 2012 to highlight the high-quality wines from the area, particularly from the Zweigelt red variety.

The Zweigelt grape was created by crossing Sankt Laurent with Blaufrankisch by Dr Fritz Zweigelt in the laboratories of Klosterneuberg just outside Vienna in 1922 and was bred to ripen earlier than Blaufrankisch and it is a variety which reacts better to co2 exposure and oxygen transfer in oak than other Austrian red varietals. It is also handy that it tends to produce very high-quality wines which can age extremely well, of which I can personally attest to.

During my brief stay, I was able to sample everything that this land has to offer: all the hues of sparkling wine (including sparkling red Zweigelt!), white, pink, orange, natty, red and sweet botrytised wines. All were extremely well made and each winemaker was genuine in their passion for their land, the grapes and the wines they make. I also got a sense that the region was genuinely collaborative, although being a region populated by independent producers, there was a clear vibe of togetherness. Always promoting the region, varieties and rival producers within the 6,239 hectares of vineyards.

Neusiedlersee is also one of the flattest (the highest point being just 117 meters above sea level!)  and warmest areas of Austria, characterised by its proximity to the 2nd largest steppe lake in Europe, Lake Neusiedl. A lake which can be walked across, barely going beyond waist height at its deepest point. And is lake characterised by its salt and high mineral content. Throughout the towns on the western side of the lake public springs are available to sample the local water. Packed full of magnesium (34 mg/l), Chloride (299 mg/l), Calcium (95 mg/l), Natrium (920 mg/l) and Floride (1.2 mg/l) to name but a wide variety of minerals found within the natural springs. Not amazing flavour, I will be honest, but I am sure it must be good for one’s constitution on some level, not that I would know as it was the only liquid on my entire trip that I spittooned!

Thankfully the wines of the area are second to none and full of flavour, complexity and drinkability. And I was so pleased to see two producers from my visit arrive in the latest shipment from Austria: Markus Lentsch and Markus Iro. Both incredibly down to earth, super cool guys that make superlatively good wine.  

Markus Iro is located in the northerly part of the region, in the town of Gols approximately 40 minutes’ drive from Vienna. “We cultivate about 20 hectares of vineyards in the best locations [Gabarinza, Herrschaftswald, Heideboden and Ungerberg]. It is important to feel and work out the typical character of each grape variety. The result is pure and honest wine that flows into the glass with clear varietal typicity.” And it does just that! His Zweigelt is a particular favourite of mine. After having tried some of his older vintages I can attest to the durability and age-ability of the Zweigelt grape. It is worth laying down a few bottles few 20 years or so – trust me, it will be well worth it.

I have met Markus Lentsch on numerous occasions, each time I am calmed by his demeanour. Super-chill and assured in the family business which he has now made his own. Third generation family producer, Lentsch is both conventional and sustainable – and exciting. Making ripe, vibrant wines from Gruner Veltliner and St Laurent which are currently on the portfolio. Markus states the secret behind his excellent wines: “We think the quality comes out of the vineyard and not from the cellar. We try to keep the quality in the cellar as high as we get it from the vineyard and bring it to the bottle.” The Gruner is perhaps one of the best Gru-Ve wines I have had the pleasure to drink in a while: packed full of ripe citrus fruits, saline, mineral and bursting with acidity and freshness – stand down Sauvignon, there is a new kid in town!

Despite the flatness of the land and the “purity” of the water, this region should never be overlooked. Spend time exploring the wines of Neusiedlersee, not briefly but for life. I cannot wait to go back and to see the many producers, including both Markus’, once again. Such a wonderful with so many wonderful wines.

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