The Bar at Cafe Katja

It was on an unseasonably warm September day that I made my way to an Austrian wine event at Cafe Katja on the edge of Chinatown. I thought it was pretty neat that I would find an Austrian restaurant steps away from an area otherwise dominated by Chinese noodle shops, hot pot buffets, and dim sum parlors, on streets dotted with bilingual Chinese-English placards, as far as the eye could see. I was walking briskly east from Broadway while simultaneously regretting having worn a sleeveless but high neck dress on what was proving to be an oppressively hot afternoon. I remember thinking “Why would anyone design a sleeveless dress with an extra high collar?” I mean, you lose the sleeves, conceivably, to make it summer worthy, but, you up the neckline. “Who would buy a high neck, sleeveless dress? Me, that’s who.
I thought irritably. Needless to say, I stopped chiding the manufacturer. There was obviously a market for it. I guess it makes a good transition piece, say, under a denim jacket?

Some Austrian Whites on Ice

I shifted my focus to the frosty glasses of white wine that surely awaited me at the event. I’m a white wine lover. And Austria is reputed to be the site of many a fine white wine. So I figured the prospect of sampling at least a few of them was almost guaranteed. Admittedly, my knowledge of Austrian wines at this point, was limited, despite my having travelled to Austria in 2017. I had flown into Graz from Amsterdam, hopped a bus to Klagenfurt to attend a wedding, and then carpooled to Vienna. I guess I could chalk it up to being too busy city-hopping, but a few Gruner Veltliner (a star among Austria’s white grapes that is derived from Sauvignon Blanc and generally believed to have originated in the region), and a glass or two of Riesling, (Austrian Riesling is ranked among the top white wines in the world), summed up my Austrian wine experience. But what I had tasted impressed me, as much as the country itself and its unique blend of cosmopolitan charm and Old World European flair. So I had high hopes for the wines I would sample as I arrived at the event -and I was not disappointed.

Master Sommelier Suzanne DeStio
Szigeti Grüner Veltliner Brut N/V

I was greeted almost immediately by Suzanne DeStio, Austria’s Best Sommelier of 2020 and Head Sommelier of the Modern at the Museum of Modern Art, who graciously offered me a glass of Szigeti Grüner Veltliner Brut N/V. It’s made with 100% hand harvested Gruner Veltliner and carbonated using the traditional method of fermentation (the same method used to make champagne). It was a delightful apertif. The sparkling wine’s refreshing acidity, and notes of lemon, green apple, and white pepper powder, will pair well with raw or simply prepared seafood, and pasta salads, not to mention, the Austrian classic, wiener schnitzel (I tried it with my wiener schnitzel at lunch and they went really well together!).

Chef Erwin Schröttner of Cafe Katja

Speaking of schnitzel, Chef Erwin Schröttner of Cafe Katja – an expert in the craft of schnitzel making – kindly offered to share his schnitzel making expertise with us. He made a skill that probably takes years to perfect look simple, so that I walked away from the demonstration thinking “Hey, I think I can do that!” At the very least, I intend to give it a try.

A Sparkling, Some Whites, and a Rose on Ice, and Two Reds

There were a number of white wines, and a rose’ chilling in tubs filled with ice, along with a couple of reds that had been opened and allowed to breathe, for the informal tasting that followed.

I was amazed by the sheer scope of flavor profiles represented by the whites at the tasting.

From the floral, citrus, and orchard fruit-dominant, to the pepper-accented, mineral-driven, and herbaceous, these Austrian wines spanned the breadth of the flavor spectrum.

Weingut, Tement, Südsteiermark, Kalk & Kreide DAC, Sauvignon Blanc, 2020

A Weingut, Tement, Südsteiermark, Kalk & Kreide DAC, Sauvignon Blanc, 2020 had a well-pronounced salinity, aromas of crisp citrus fruit, fresh herbs, and grass, and balanced notes of green apple, grapefruit, and minerals.

Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC, Wieninger, 2019

Then there was a Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC, Wieninger, 2019. The interesting thing about this particular wine is that it’s a field blend. What’s a field blend? Well, it’s basically a mix of several (in this case 11) different grape varietals. There’s Grüner Veltliner, Weißburgunder, Welschriesling, Chardonnay, Riesling, Rotgipfler, Zierfandler, Sylvaner, Traminer, and Neuburger of varying ripeness in this wine. How does it taste? It’s got

aromas of white flowers and tropical fruit, and soft notes of citrus fruit, herbs, and honeydew.

A Wachau, Riesling, Ried Bruck, Veyder-Malberg, 2017 was crisp, with good acidity, aromas of ripe orchard and tropical fruit, and fresh herbs, and notes of apricot, pear, and papaya, along with honey and jasmine.

Weinviertel DAC, Zeisen, Gruner Veltliner, Pfaffl R&A, 2019
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A Weinviertel DAC, Zeisen, Gruner Veltliner, Pfaffl R&A, 2019 exhibited a refreshing acidity, aromas of green apple, peach and mint, and notes of ripe citrus and orchard fruit, and fresh herbs and spice.

Now onto the rose’. It was an Osterreich Cuvee Rose’, Himmel auf Erden, Tschida Christian, 2020, with delicate aromas of strawberries, raspberries and a touch of mint, and vibrant notes of fresh red berries and fruit, balanced minerals, and herbs.

And finally the pair of reds.

A Zweigelt, Rubin Carnuntum, Markowitsch Gerhard, 2018 had good acidity, aromas of fresh dark berries, and red fruit, and juicy notes of raspberries, blackberries, cherries, and chocolate.

The other red, a Burgenland Reserve, Blaufrankisch, Moric-Roland Velich, 2017 was structured, with good acidity, and firm tannins. It gave off aromas of preserved red fruit, ripe berries, and black pepper, and notes of raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and earth, along with scented wood. Blaufrankisch, (“blau” meaning blue in German and referring to the skin color of the grape), is considered Austria’s premier red grape. Blaufrankisch is grown throughout Central Europe, but the Austrian variety is a cross between two grapes, the Blauer Zimmettraube and the Weißer Heunisch.

Wiener Schnitzel Served with Some Tender Butterball Potatoes and Tangy Lingonberries

We sat down afterwards to a lunch of – guess what? – wiener schnitzel, served with some tender butterball potatoes and tangy lingonberries.

Smoked Brook Trout, Jerusalem Artichokes, Wilted Watercress, and Pumpkinseed Oil Relish

But before that we had a warm smoked brook trout, accompanied by Jerusalem artichokes, wilted watercress, and pumpkinseed oil relish.

Apple Strudel with Sweetened Whipped Cream

A warm and buttery apple strudel with sweetened whipped cream capped off the traditional Austrian lunch perfectly.

Three Wines Served with Lunch and One from the Tasting

We had a trio of wines to go with it. The first one, a Prieler Ried Sinner Chardonnay, Burgenland, 2019, had balanced acidity, aromas of citrus and orchard fruit, and sweet spice, and notes of lemons, apples, pears, and minerals.

The second, a Weingut Prager Wachstum Bodenstein Gruner Veltliner Smaragd, 2019 had aromas of grapefruit, green apple, and fresh grass, and notes of ripe lemon, orange, and pear, along with honey and minerals.

The final one, a red Rosi Shuster, Sankt Laurent, Burgenland, 2018, had aromas of red berries, dark stone fruit, and scented wood, and notes of raspberries, blackberries, and cherries, along with plums and earth. It was a wine that paired particularly well with the wiener schnitzel.

As I left the restaurant I thought how ironic that I would receive a comprehensive education about Austrian wines, not when I had visited the region but instead, right here, in New York City. It just goes to show you that sometimes it’s less about where you are as opposed to having the right guide to help you navigate through new and uncharted territory.

Austria should be on any wine lovers’ discovery map. This autumn is a great time to explore this Austrian wines right in New York City. Austria’s “Go For Austrian Wine” campaign is running from September 15, 2021 to November 30, 2021. You’ll find numerous restaurants offering Austrian wines by the glass and hosting Austrian-themed events at numerous restaurants throughout the area.

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