If the wine world were a fair place, I would not have to draw your attention to what should by rights be an iconic bottle of Austrian red wine. But I'm happy to: Anita and Hans Nittnaus are founding members of the Pannobile group of wine growers - the name is a combination of "Pannonia" (the historical and geographical name of the east Austrian and Hungarian plain) and the Latin word for "noble". When Austria was first working her way out of the hole it had dug herself with the infamous 1985 adulterated wine scandal with a whole new generation of wines, Hans Nittnaus's reds were hailed as revelations. Then, since the late 1990s, they were increasingly eclipsed by bolder, bigger, heavier-hitting bottles.
This gave him some pause, naturally, and eventually made him adjust his style. Not, however, and to his everlasting credit, in the direction that the wind seemed to be blowing, towards more oak that is, more concentration, and all the latest blinking cellar technology. Instead, Nittnaus went back to the future, towards purity of fruit, drinkability and precise varietal character. A case in point - the 2006 Leithaberg:
The Leithaberg is a range of hills west of Lake Neusiedl where Nittnaus started cultivating a few cooler vineyards, away from the heat and humidity of the lake shore. And indeed, the smell of ripe cherries, juniper and red peppers that hits your nose is understated, classic, and most of all: textbook Blaufränkisch. On the palate, it starts out round, smooth and pleasant, and then becomes more precise, transparent and purist as you give it a bit of air: Plummy and peppery fruit, quicksilver acidity, perfectly integrated oak and highly polished tannin.
This vibrant and distinctive Austrian comes very close to my three stylistic ideals for red wine: freshness, freshness and freshness. Having met Hans Nittnaus only once and fairly briefly, it would be pretentious for me to link winemaking style to personality in that meaningless and clichéd way of much wine journalism. What I will say is that the sense of a personal touch, be it real or imagined, significantly enhanced my drinking pleasure.