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Pulp Fiction Hospitality with Erich Machherndl

After a fascinating lunch at Hofmeisterei Hitzberger, one of the must-go restaurants of the region and one that I was grateful that Michelin does not rate, as it would definitely would earn one or two (along with those increased bookings). Its service is down to earth, efficient and with great attitude. The food is refined, yet retains that home feeling… a wine pairing is also recommendable as older vintages of established producers as FX Pichler are paired with some of the dishes. At the end let’s just say I was probably not in my freshest state, and little did I know what was about to come.

Venison beautifully paired with Malat St Laurent Reserve 2013

As you arrive to Erich Machherndl’s winery, you notice the peace within it. Nothing moves but the leaves of the plants that guide you, and the door wide opens invites you to explore. One of the perks of living in the countryside is that peace of mind that the cities just are not able to provide. After a few minutes of wandering around Erich came to receive us, you can notice his upbeat energy and positive attitude as you go into his tasting room. Also mind the tasting room also serves as his home, a fact that gives the guest a sense of warmness that lets you be at ease.

His wines are what we may consider low-intervention wines (infamously called natural wines), it is always a tricky subject in the wine world as there are varying philosophies. As you sit with Erich, he states that wines are for his taste, and this does not give arrogance to the philosophy but rather means that you will taste a unique point of view in the enormous wine world. His fidelity for the sense of place is also important, always speaking about varieties as if they were their children, with their own personalities and their flaws. He has had the ability to understand them know their flaws and accept them in order to produce a wine that will make you remember the wine’s name.

Having been producing wines for over 20 years, it became clear that his wines have been made from character from the beginning, as older vintages began to be poured like Jochinger Kollmitz Grüner Veltliner 1999 that had become an adult and was now showing its potential, structured and rich honeyed, slightly herbaceous flavors and great marzipan flavors but still with that bright acidity that characterize Wachau wines. It turned out increasingly difficult to follow the wines and the tasting notes, as Erich is of a very generous nature and driven by the passion of sharing the wines with those who appreciate. Throughout the tasting he was always eager to listen eagerly to our opinions, not that they would change his wines, but one thing you learn from him is his passion to be dynamic and not dogmatic.

His philosophy is also very approachable, with tasting notes always being open and relatable. An easy example would be his Pulp Fiction line, a wine with a cheeky word play that makes reference to the pulp in the grape and to the classic Quentin Tarantino movie. The wines are yelling with fruity freshness, pear abound, along with white flowers and lemon blossom, little else can be asked specially if drunk on a hot day.

The red wines follow his style of crispiness and freshness. Lighter color abound for the “rosés”, which to me they looked like elegant reds with a charming light ruby color, clearly acid driven but with bursts of dry strawberries and cherries which are gotten only from an 18 hour maceration. In another bold statement, it is his belief that Syrah is one of the perfect potential matches of the Wachau (a grape that along with the other red grapes of the bunch needs to be labeled under the regional Niederösterreich, decreasing its location identity, thus in customer’s mind: prestige) but, as usual, he proves his point and we got expressive wines that gave that pepperiness, bright violet and black fruits that we love so much from Syrah, and always these aromas reaching out of the glass!

What I most admired and truly made me believe in his wines is the how strong he believes in them, cares for them and is proud of them. I believe he has found a passion in life in which he will be able to leave behind a legacy of great wines for the rest of us to enjoy. As we age we get restless of what is it that is going to drive us or what are we going to leave behind, Erich has managed that his love for crafting wines that touches people hearts will become ethereal, and that is something that few of us will ever achieve.


Day 1, Roter, Botrytis and Tradition

After a bumpy arrival in Vienna, which included a lost luggage I was ready the next morning to begin tasting the precise wines of Kremstal. My first stop was Mantlerhof, a winery located just about 10 minutes from the town of Krems, settled in an old monastery that has been owned by the Mantler family for over 200 years, and that serves as home for the family as well.

I was received by Josef Mantler, about the 6th generation of winemaker in the family, who from the beginning he strikes as approachable and friendly. At a young age of 25 he has clear point of views of his wine philosophy and more importantly what he does not want in his wines. For instance, he never rushes his wines, as I learned that the Sandgruben Riesling 2018 had taken almost one year to ferment, providing a wine that was strikingly gravelly and with a high sense of minerality.

One great characteristic of Mantlerhof is their wide range of out of common range that has allowed them to become one of the champions of the little known variety Roter Veltliner. This variety is characterised for having the highest extract in a white wine variety, providing wines with great texture, and great flavor intensity, think of honeycombs, honeysuckle, pineapple, accompanied with some great acidity and a strong ageing potential. Quite naturally rich, and with a charming mouthfeel. Having tasted the Ried Rasenthal 2018 wines they stroke to me to be nicely floral, always with a bite in the palate that is unique to this wine.

Take into account that Josef uses botrytis in his winemaking, being able to produce wines with more fruit intensity, and some added weight and richness. This philosophy has lead the wines always to have a cheerful and explosive character. One of the clearest examples I found was in the Gruner Veltliner Losser Terrassen which is a blend of the mid-terrace vineyards that he owns, with aromatic notes of ripe papaya and with lemon pie, accompanied with its high acidity.

My Mantlerhof visit was characterized by the humbleness and ambition that Josef portrays. His wines certainly have his signature, and they can also be considered unique within the area, be by his love for that botrytis touch or by always giving a chance to lesser known varieties. For instance, in the future there are plans for a furmint bottling, perhaps the next big surprise coming from Austria. After the tasting I was taken to the vineyards where I could see first hand the vines flourishing, and seeing how healthy they were.

My next stop took me to one of the strongholds of the Wachau, Nikolaihof. A winery considered to be the oldest wine estate in Austria and a leader in biodynamic wines having been certified by Demeter in 1971, certainly not the brightest decade for organic let alone biodynamic farming.

Nikolaihof has a very broad range providing many different winemaking and ageing methods but the wines always have a precise acidity backbone that permits them to age slowly and, more importantly, gracefully. The Vinothek Range, which the 1995 gave the first 100 Parker points to Austria, is aged for more than 15 years in old casks giving the wine a unique oxidative profile, the latest release being the 2002 with dry apricot, and old woody notes. Another unique wine to try would be the Baumpress which is made with a huge 1750 original press, a wine that is broader than the rest with a dry floral profile that is enticing.

1750s Traditional Press

At the end of the tasting I was presented with a 1986 Riesling Spatlese Trocken which was certainly the star of the tasting, a wine that makes you fall in love with it and that needs you to sip it patiently, soft and slow, ideally with a company that gives you peace and conversation as it begins to touch your heart and you remember how lucky you are to be in this beautiful wine world. A wine that finally showed that potential that Nikolaihof has to offer, as I also feel that the wines are way too young to appreciate their true being.

1986 Gruner

It is difficult to include all the wines tasted from them here nevertheless, one of the things you begin to notice in Austria is the hunger of producers for sticking to your style, but never settle for what they already have. Both of the producers had their classic bottlings, but also were experimenting with other things on the side. Unfortunately much of these wines cannot be had outside of Austria due to the limited range that is being exported at the moment, although to be honest the wines alone are the worth the trip.

Almost all of the bottles tasted!

Introduction: An Austrian Getaway

I still remember the first time I drank a glass of Austrian wine, it happened to be in a fresh spring day of 2016 while ordering a nice plate of the delicious local specialty Mangalitza ham in the Naschtmarkt in Vienna. When asked what I wanted to drink I let the owner give me his recommendation, the result was a white wine coming of a grape I had never heard before (please mind, at this time I had not been bitten by the wine bug). The owner graciously repeated several times the name of the grape so I could pronounce it “Grüner Veltliner” and which I failingly was able to understand (not as easy to pronounce as Chardonnay, right?) Nevertheless, little did I know it would become, some years later, one of my preferred wines.

Fast forward to 2020, and we get hit by this pandemic which leaves all of us in the hospitlity industry on a 3 month break where we begin to question our own professional life and now more than ever we ask ourselves, what makes us happy? At least for me one thing was for sure, I needed to be closer to the vines and certainly having more conversations with the hard working people who produce it… and Austria is a very much intriguing wine country to visit, so as soon as I saw the opportunity I booked myself a ticket to spend a week visiting the legendary Lower Austria trifecta: Kremstal, Kamptal, and of course, Wachau.

With about 45,000 hectares under the vine and being the 18th largest producer in the world, Austria produces a wide range of wines coming from its own set of endemic grapes in a beautiful landscape that is mandated by the course of the mighty Danube. These grapes, appellations, laws and a diversity of producers most surely overwhelm at first but once you begin to understand them you are welcomed to a very complex and fun wine country, with a historic gastronomic heritage that might as well give you a new world of pairing possibilities.

This hasn’t come without its own challenges, and wine scandals made the Austrian producers understand that if they wanted to rise from the ashes they would have to focus on quality, and they got the message loud and clear. Today they have managed to build a solid set of associations and laws that gave the consumer the confidence back to explore again, not an easy feat, so I am eager to see how these ambitious growers set their minds into becoming what they are today.

In this week I will be talking to producers to find out what the future holds for the Austrian wine while understanding the unique style of their wines … all of this of course with a glass in hand, and later on, some hearty Austrian dish. Meanwhile, I also invite you to follow this trip and ask any questions you might have about these regions.

A glimpse into the past

These past couple of months have been placing society into a misty situation into which we face uncertainty day by day, in pretty much every aspect of our life. Are the days of packed restaurants gone? How will we behave socially? Is travelling going to be as widespread as before? More and more questions appear day by day, and sometimes all we have to cherish are those memories of trips, moments, meals or just phases of your life in which normality was undervalued.

Fortunately for those of us that have been buying wine through the years and have a decent stack, quarantine has been able to give us not only an easier quarantine but also a window into past sensations. I had one of these moments just yesterday when I decided to open a nice bottle of Rioja, Viña Ardanza 2009. A wine that apart of being elegant, expressive, thoughtful it also screams one thing: it’s a classic Rioja.
As you put your nose into the glass and aromas of sweet coconut, slight vanilla, bright strawberry with hints of darker cherry appear, I began to remember a time of simpler wine and there is also a tinge of satisfaction of knowing that maybe somethings might never change.

Certainly sommeliers and other wine geeks are always looking for the new things that producers are trying, from innovative winemaking styles to pushing the boundaries of grape varieties in previously unknown terroirs and sometimes we tend to forget or underestimate some of the classics in wine that year after year produce a wine of superb quality, incredibly balanced and above all reflective of their respective vintages.

For me as a sommelier, new styles have fed my passion for wine, they create an ambition for trying more things and building an almost endless mental library of new producers, new wines and new aromas but everyday I open a bottle from a classic producer it reminds me why I got into wine in the first place and why these producers are the ones that throughout decades have shown us consistency is the key to becoming a high-regarded wine producing region.

I hope through the rest of the year we are able to go back to normal, or a slight variant of it, but even if it does not I hope we can still be able to have those hard working producers providing us with warmness from the past.

A glimpse into Mexican Wine

As I am visiting Mexico for a couple of weeks, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some wines from mexican producers that are trying to increase quality in an industry where demand is still looking for oaky, ripe wines, and even more, there is no notion of the “terroir” or to give a differentiating style to the different wine regions. Nevertheless, projects of great interest are growing all over Mexico, all of them trying to give their unique point of view on Mexican wine, so before I arrived I bought a couple of bottles in order to taste them.

First a little introduction into the wine regions and their defining factors. In general, Mexican regions are crossed by the 30th parallel, in theory the limit of winemaking and where it would become too tropical to make wine. Fortunately altitude and dry conditions aid the vine to produce quality grapes.

Regions and Producers

Valle de Guadalupe

This is the most popular wine region in Mexico and is located in Baja California, one of the northern states of the country. Often compared to Napa Valley, the Valle de Guadalupe defined by being dry and arid, with a 30ºC average temperature in the summer. Thus, irrigation is needed despite water being an extremely valuable resource.

The main producer in the Valle is Monte Xanic, they produce a wide range of varietal wines. The style tends to be done in a very international style, with fruit forward extracted notes for the reds, and the whites done in a fruity style, and always craving for a bit more of refreshing acidity.

For this tasting I decided to taste other two smaller producers who are supposed to be defining the style of the Valle. Casa de Piedra a project that started in 1997 and produces also wine from the nearby Valle de Santo Tomas. Apart from a highly regarded reputation, what pointed out for me was their simple wine production of 3 different sparklings, one white and one red, also an innovative project that consists on blending wine from their vineyards as well as wine brought from Roussillon, France (welcome to the Mexican wild west). Back to the red, it consists on a blend of Cabernet and Tempranillo, aged in both french and american oak, with varied percentage of new, 2nd use and 3rd use oak barrel. I found the wine to have a certain cooked or overripe flavor that is a very marked characteristic of a lot of Baja producers, and I found it that could have a more marked acidity. Otherwise very ripe strawberry, black currant and blackberry flavors.

Vino de Piedra 2015

The other small producer, but a very recognized within the valley, is Adobe Guadalupe. This winery planted their own vines in 1997, and having their first vintage in 2000. Their bottles are based on Bordeaux, mediterranean and Tempranillo blends, as its typical in Mexico. The wines are regarded by as being of Rhone/Chateauneuf-du-Pape characteristics, with a very good ageing potential.

Serafiel 2015

The rest of Baja…

Ensenada is one of the other subregions of Baja that concentrates another bunch of innovative producers, similar conditions and very close to the Valle de Guadalupe. One producer that stands out is Durand Viticultura, which focuses on red wines produced from rented or bought fruit. Having tried their second bottle, Ala Rota, which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Syrah, Merlot and Malbec. The wine is certainly fruit forward but has certain freshness and displays a great blackcurrant leaf aroma from the Cabernet. The wine does not have the highest acidity, but it does not present itself jammy. The blend of Petite Syrah and merlot also gives a certain plum flavor. Still curious to try the flagship bottle, Icaro, but it displays freshness and lightness that is appreciated.

Another subregion from Baja California is the Valle de San Vicente, another source of fruit for Valle de Guadalupe producers, is also home to the vineyard of Nebbiolo produced by the Margaux producer Henri Lurton, who is also owner of Brane Cantenac. The winemaker Lourdes Martinez Ojeda, was working for 10 years in Brane Cantenac, so she was brought back to her hometown Ensenada to produce Mexican wines with a French influence. Surprisingly, most of their production is white wine with french varietals (Chenin, Sauvignon Blanc) and only the nebbiolo as the red offering. Le Nebbiolo offers a very plush option, with a very nice fruit clarity and a slight oaky influence. The Nebbiolo is certainly not made in the classic style, but does display a very bright cherry fruit characteristic of this varietal.

Henri Lurton Le Nebbiolo

Last but certainly not least is Bichi Wines. This winery is my personal favorite and is probably the most interesting wine project that has happened in Mexico. Its a project started by the Montaño brothers along with their mother, and is settled in a small town called Tecate. The wines are produced in a low-intervention way (dry-farming, spontaneous fermentation, low sulphites), with very old vineyards. For example in the vineyard used for their No Sapiens cuvee, is a 69 year old vineyard of which no one really knows what is planted. Their bottles are always full of fruit, freshness and a certain uniqueness that I always find hard to find in Mexico. For this trip I tasted the Pet-Mex, the first and only mexican pet-nat that I have seen. This is done with Dolcetto, and honors the name by making it in a semi-sweet style, perfect for a beach day. The fruit is clean and full of sweet cherry, fresh strawberry and some raspberries. The wine is almost too easy to drink, and presents itself as a no-frills wine made to enjoy.

Thats what I really love about Bichi, its simplicity and its unique personality in all of their bottles. All of the mexican wines I have tasted tend to always try to be too big, some of them have more personality or some of them less, but all of them are full bodied to be had with food, when sometimes you need less noise and just volume enough to make you listen to what the variety has to say. Hopefully more producers understand this, but it is difficult in a country where we still do not understand that a wine can be medium bodied and still be good.

In conclusion, I feel mexican wine is beginning to find a style that suits the tastes and demand of mexican consumers. I just hope that this style continues to develop into a unique one, where we can find a good balance and does not just become a wine region with over-extracted and “warm” wines. Having said that, this should be some exciting times for Mexican wine!

First Impressions on Romania

As you land in Bucharest’s Airport you notice the vast green land around, dotted by fairly squared white buildings, I was already getting that sparkle you get every time you visit somewhere new.

Street in Bucharest

After a fairly fast passport control and getting the car rental done, I drove down to Bucharest, that being peak hour meant having some standstill traffic, no problem, lots of observation to do. The first impression you get from the city is that of beautiful decadence, of certain grandeur but with buildings not exactly taken care of. But all of this adds essence and identity to the city, gives history.

After checking in I lost no time and went straight to the Old Town where I had some places marked up. The walk gets me more in tune with the city, which in contrast with London it is a very silent city. As you get closer to the city center more illuminated areas appear, and you start to see the more beautiful side, and also more cultural.

My first spot was Caru’ Cu Bere which stands out in every must go place in Bucharest due to a beautiful bar, and serving a wide range of traditional food. As I sat down in the terrace and having a well deserved pint (well, 400 ml as they do not serve 500 ml for some reason). Service in Romania I soon found out to be lacking of many smiles, but most of the time it tended to be efficient.

Bar of Caru’ Cu Bere

With the beer out of the way it was time to go and explore the wine scene. My first wine bar was The Industry Bar, a nice little cozy place in the Old Town that is away from all the busy turistic part of the city. After letting him know that I wanted to taste as much as possible, rather than having one or two glasses, he proceded to pour 5 different wines, thus guiding me into my first experience with Romanian wine.

Tasting at Industry Bar

In general I found the wines to be exciting. The first white wine was from Corcova and a 50-50 blend of Feteasca Regala (Royal Feteasca) and Feteasca Alba (White Feteasca). The wine, while not hugely complex, did offer a good acid structure and pleasing citric aromas. We were off to a good start. Then he gave me to try a rosé which it had some kind of fault, so we immediately proceded to the reds.

The red wines were some nice examples, one Babaesca Naegra and two Fantesca Neagra. While I found the wines not to be spectacular, they were very correct and had some individual character. The wines in general were quite extracted, but I soon realized the potential that Feteasca Negra had. It had beautiful freshness, and a truly great acidity that only freshens the wine.

Great wine in Gastrobar

The next two places were Corks and Gastrolab. While the places are nice, I found the service not to be truly engaging. The wines continued to go on the same line, and I was becoming scared that it would be like this throughout the trip. Fortunately my next day held some good surprises for me…

Off to Romania

Today I am leaving for an express trip to Romania in which I will be able not only to taste some of the thriving wine scene but also be able to meet some of the winemakers of Dealu Mare, in order to get a better idea of this fairly unknown wine country.

As I have been reading about Romanian wine history I realize how much in common in terms of wine drinking culture there is with the French or Spanish. Of course, they both share a latin language but we do not hear anything about Romanian wine, in an era where unknown is what the wine lovers are looking after.

This may be due to Romanian rocky recent history, in which Communism made it into a massive wine factory, with a cooperativism that really led nowhere. By the end of the communist era we saw a country with great wine history ,reduced to hybrids and wines that had no identity…

Fortunately, even though privatization has not been easy, we are seeing an increase in investment that also has meant an inflow of knowledge and foreign expertise that has allowed, at least locally, for the wine industry to flourish.

Even though I will only be visiting Dealu Mare, the variety of wine regions around the country exposes the great exciting potential that this country has, and that hopefully with the help of wine professionals and sommeliers we are able to recognize those who are working hard to give a voice to this terroir.

The Love For Wine

Why is it that wine makes so many people feel so passionate for a liquid?

For me the first thing that made my curiosity grow about wine was the possibility of tasting years that have already passed, in a liquid form. The best would be those that I remember having a great time, and wine would give me a slight chance of reviving them, of having the slight hint of a memory come back as I sip that vintage.

One clear example I have is 2003, while not a particularly great year for wine in Europe due to a very hot vintage, I remember having a very pleasant month long trip with my family through Portugal with many memories still very alive in my mind. From these memories, I just love opening 2003 vintages and doing a very small connection from my memories, to where these grapes were grown, and grow a small but appreciated relationship with the winemaker that took the time and effort to produce that bottle, in which a sip evokes so many emotions.

Another thing that gets people into wine is the vast amount of places and people that are producing wine. From the time you start, you begin to realize how big the world of wine is, and then you end up only asking the same question again and again: “They make wine there???”

Wine gives me the possibility of tasting what a country likes to drink, and best of all through the lens of a culture or point of view of a winemaker. This opens the possibility for so many different profiles to be tasted, that is difficult not to get overwhelmed and excited. For me there are not many feelings that I love the most than the week before going to a new wine region and knowing that I will see things that no other place has, and that sense of place will be unique to this region, cannot get more beautiful than this.

Jerez de la Frontera

Last but not least, is the people you meet through wine. This can be guests coming for dinner which you serve, friends of friends you meet at a wine dinner, winemakers, sommeliers… the list goes on. Wine has the power of putting together in one room talking about it, and making people come out with the things that have in common rather than focusing on the differences.

Great Fleurie Winemaker

One of the things I love people in the industry understand is the power of generosity which I have seen in great amount. From the moment I went to Oregon and found a great sommelier there that helped me with appointments, we went for dinner with his close friends and even got me breakfast! I am talking about someone that I had never met, all conversations were about the thing we loved: wine. At this point of my career I was beginning, and felt really insecure about my possibilities as a sommelier, but this person made me feel like my opinion counted even though I had 15 years less experience than him. That was an experience that made me push, and above all to remember to be as generous to future generations as he was!

So here we go…

So, the first lines are always the hardest.

I am one of many people who consider wine to be prime on my day to day, not only on professional matters, but also sentimental ones. Wine allows me to connect everyday with my memories, with my everyday reading and also to find future connections for the future, best of all this mostly happens around a table where the main purpose is to enjoy each others’ company with a prime facilitator : Wine

A little bit about me, I am a sommelier in a restaurant in Central London. I got bit with the wine bug while working in Napa Valley and went wine tasting on my days off, of course not much studying or learning was done this way so I got my way through the Court of Masters and finally the WSET. I could say that my revelation came with a MacPhail Pinot Noir from Sonoma County, that explosion of flavors with such a nice acidity made me realize all the elements that were hidden in a wine glass, and definetly wanted to know (and taste) more!

The reason I decided to open this blog is to share my experiences, my ideas and perhaps interesting findings. I will be posting wines I have been tasting and why are they special, tasting notes, perhaps some regional profiles with a personal touch and thought on that region.

I hope this blog helps other people find their way through wine, and to know you have someone you can ask away your wine questions, and perhaps find one or two posts of interest.