Austria, Burgenland, Esterházy Wines

Sep 1, 2011
2011 / September 2011
In the 1700s, when the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn served as the musical director for the Esterházy family, one of the wealthiest and most influential in the Austrian Empire, he received part of his salary in wine.

At that time, Esterházy was already known for the quality of the wine made at its ancestral home in Burgenland in eastern Austria near the Hungarian border. Now, some 250 years later, Esterházy wines have come to the United States, and Americans can discover for themselves why Haydn so willingly accepted wine rather than cash.

Esterházy produces wines in several categories. Among the wines in its Classic category is Zweigelt, from a red grape created in Austria in 1922 when Dr. Zweigelt crossed two other grape varieties to fashion this new one. Zweigelt is now the most widely planted red grape in Austria. Esterházy’s 2009 ($26) is quietly refined, well knit, fresh, fruity and nimble.

Grüner Veltlinter, a wine from Esterházy’s Estoras category, is Austria’s most popular white, made from an indigenous grape of the same name. The aroma of the 2010 ($29) is reminiscent of tropical fruits; its taste is minerally and inviting. Another Estoras wine blends 80 percent of Blaufrankish, one of Austria’s most prominent red grapes, with 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon to give, in its 2009 version, a vibrant, spicy, lively and ample-bodied wine ($33).

Esterházy takes particular pride in its Tesoro. And indeed, judging from the 2008 ($86.50), it is an exceptional wine. Here the winery moves from Austria’s own grapes completely to international varieties, blending 60 percent Merlot and 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon to create an intriguing wine with an intense nose, deep flavors and excellent balance. In all, an elegant wine.

And finally, under its sweet category, there is the Esterházy Trockenbeerenauslese Cuvée 2008, the rare, exquisite, sweet wine that has few rivals. Its nose is all ripe peach and apricot; its body is luscious and honey-like; the taste, with its concentrated sweetness balanced by a bright acidity, is dessert in itself. The price, $57 for a .375 bottle (half a standard bottle), is not inexpensive, but for the pleasure it gives, worth many times its price.

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