The delicious quest
to find the oldest sweet wines in Europe

Trockenbeerenauslese or Ruster Ausbruch, their names may be unpronounceable but their taste is unforgettable. These sweet wines, from vineyards in eastern Austria, are mentioned in historic texts dating back to 1525. Half a century before the Tokaji wines of neighboring Hungary.

The delicious quest | to find the oldest sweet wines in Europe

Trockenbeerenauslese or Ruster Ausbruch, their names may be unpronounceable but their taste is unforgettable. These sweet wines, from vineyards in eastern Austria, are mentioned in historic texts dating back to 1525. Half a century before the Tokaji wines of neighboring Hungary.

It's a drop in the wine bucket compared to that of the 45,700 hectares of Austrian vineyards, but what a celebrity! Wine lovers the world over know the reputation of Burgenland's sweet wines, more specifically those made from the grapes planted around Lake Neusiedl. The sun, mist, and wind of this microclimate cause the grapes to generate generous sugars and give these fruity nectars an amber glow.

It all started with the Esterházy princes. They were the ones to have first created these sweet wines, and their vineyards produce them to this day. You simply must tour their palace, Schloss Esterházy, not only to admire the sleekly modern exhibit rooms dedicated to composer Joseph Haydn, who was Kapellmeister here for 30 years (and paid in part with casks of wine!), but also the basement cellars converted into a winemaking museum.

Melinda, the last princess of Esterházy, died without a descendant in 2014, but the family's vast vineyard was entrusted to a foundation. It still produces the sweet wines bearing this aristocratic label at a high-tech winery in the countryside, where the grapes are pressed and left to mature in barrels for a year and a half before being transferred to narrow half-bottles.

Out of the vast acreage of the Esterházy vineyard, just 1% is devoted to sweet wines, amounting to an average of just 7,000 bottles a year. Depending on the assemblage, the house Trockenbeerenauslese, with its classic aromas of honey and orange, develops more surprising notes, as well, like the tinge of coffee found in the 2009 vintage! And despite the high sugar concentration, the goal is always for the wine to bring a touch of acidity to the palate.

A stone's throw from here, in the lakeside village of Rust, Heidi Schroeck's wine estate, spanning just 10 hectares, is much more modest. But this vintner, with her two sons Johannes and Georg, produces the rarest of these sweet wines, Ruster Ausbruch, an appellation reserved for grapes from this town. The family harvests in October and November, working in several rounds, leaving the grapes on the stalk until it wilts and the fruit is gorged with sugar, dubbed "noble rot."

These grapes, in assemblages with younger grape juices, will result in a wine that does not flaunt its sugars (something it contains naturally), reaching instead for an elegant freshness. Standing before the door of her cellars, Heidi explains: "Depending on the year's climate and the grape varieties selected - from one to five -, the aromas of our Ruster Ausbruch can vary widely: quince, black bread, tea leaf, orange peel. I like pairing them with tart tastes, like a lemon pie."

For this woman, who was voted Austrian Wine Queen when she was just 19, seeks not only beauty in her sweet wines, but also the perfect pairings for their unique flavors. And not simply the standard foie gras or marbled cheeses, but more original combinations. For four years, Heidi has been publishing ingenious labels bearing illustrations encouraging much more unusual taste adventures, varying with the vintage: artichoke, cutlets, parmesan, ginger - bold new horizons for the palate to explore.

 

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