Here's a story of youthful adventure: In my last year of school, I went for a week of hiking in the Scottish Highlands with three friends. Among many glorious things and brave deeds, it was also a time of spectacularly soggy hiking boots and mad scrambling for overbooked accommodation, us German school boys never having heard of such a thing as a bank holiday. One late afternoon we stumbled into the village of Crianlarich after a day's quasi-amphibious hike and made for the hostel where we had secured beds for the night, when the menu of the local takeaway caught our eye: Fish and Chips up there, of course, and a good variety of other deep-fried fare. But did it really say "fried black pudding and chips"? Dessert was provided for by fried chocolate bars.
This culinary cornucopia seemed outlandish, if strangely appealing, to us, and we mentioned this to our landlord when we checked into our bothy bedrooms. "Och ay", he said, "they fry ****ing everything". All right, I made the och ay-part up, but he did have the Scots accent that gave us such trouble, and I also seem to remember a distinctly north-of-the-border expletive in there. He also said this with a look that seemed to say "You boys think you can handle it?" It was a dare.
We were 19, healthy, and, we reckoned, our digestive tracts at the very height of their power, so we went and knocked ourselves out. The rest of the evening is a blur. My friend Stefan had fried black pudding, my friend Martin had fried Haggis (and lived), and myself - I honestly can't remember. Suffice it to say that we had been to the very edge of the edible, and made it back to tell the tale.
Why did I think of that story when researching the Steininger winery of Austria's Kamptal region for this review? Because they operate their wine cellar much in the way that those brave Highland men operated their deep-fat fryer, in that they make sparking wines out of almost anything: Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat and Pinot Noir Grapes, to name but some of their varietal sparklings. And Traminer, as I found, much to my delight:
A spicy and lush nose of flowers, nectar, and concentrated exotic fruit juices.
Very concentrated on the palate as well, with sweetness that is prominent, but seems to come right from ripeness and is perfectly harmonious, with a hint of marcipan and buttery notes on the finish. Not serious and minerally structured like champagne? Certainly not. But this intensely fruity, seductively creamy sparkling is - barring a plate of fried haggis'n'chips - the most pleasurable way of knocking yourself out.