April 6 2011 12:00 AM

They may not be well known in the States, but these Austrian delights are delicious discoveries


The recent wine-tasting fundraiser at the Kellogg Center, benefiting the Michigan State University Museum, provided a cornucopia of the wines of the world — or the world of wine. But where to start when confronted with more than 200 versions of tasty juice?

To Americans, Austria is probably better known as the home of the Von Trapp family, rather than as a region which has been making quality wines since the age of the Roman Empire. Traditionally, Austrian wines have been consumed domestically or exported to Germany.

But they are starting to make their presence known in the States. The wines were presented by the passionate and quadrilingual French woman responsible for bringing them into this country, Christel Burks.

First out of the gate was an amazingly tasty sparkler made entirely from the Gruner Veltliner grape, not exactly a household name in these parts (nor are some other grapes — stay tuned). Gruner is a white grape that grows well in cool climate regions, producing crisp, minerally wine.

The non-vintage Szigeti sparkler ($21.19) made in the traditional “méthode Champenoise,” using small barrel fermentation and indigenous yeasts, showed very bright fruit, a clean, crisp finish, and wonderful balance. It was my favorite at the table, and it should have universal appeal.

The 2009 Lois Gruner Veltliner ($14.69) is a table wine with palate-teasing acids that tingle on the back of the tongue; imagine a wine halfway between Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc with notes of citrus, grass and melon. The 2009 Wiengut Stadt Krems Gruner Veltliner ($18.19) was of a very different character. The acids were much less pronounced and the wine seemed more delicate. Our group of tasters preferred the Lois.

The third white wine was a grape familiar to most, a 2007 Loimer Riesling Kamptal ($21.69). The bouquet was a bit reserved without the wine having much time for aeration after opening. It had a somewhat dry presentation, nice but not overpowering acids, and crisp, light mineral character.

Austrian reds blaze new territory for many, starting with the 2008 Winzerkeller Neckenmarkt blauFRANKisch ($15.89), made from the Blaufränkisch grape, a.k.a. Lemberger (not to be confused with Limburger). This light ruby wine presents with an extremely effusive and fruity bouquet, lots of fruit-forward flavor, a touch of cedar, moderate tannins and a finish that melts into the back of the throat. A good, food friendly wine. (For Michigan travelers, Shady Lane Cellars on the Leelanau Peninsula makes an excellent Blaufränkisch wine, which they dub “Blue Franc.”)

The last two Austrian wines were both from the Zweigelt grape, the most widely planted grape in Austria, yet virtually unknown here. The 2007 Zweigelt from Heinrich ($21.69) was medium ruby, a bit smoky from the oak aging, and light to medium bodied, with very subtle tannins, cherry overtones and peppery spice. Think of an Austrian take on Pinot Noir.

Kicking it up a notch was the 2008 Zantho Zweigelt ($14.19). It was darker, richer, fuller and more flavorful, showing both red berry and darker fruit, hints of cinnamon and pepper, and moderate tannins. I would pair this with any foods suitable for pairing with Chianti, certainly including Mediterranean foods, pizza and barbecue.

Respite Center hosts fundraiser

If you missed attending the MSU event, another worthy wine-tasting event — with a very important purpose — is just around the corner. The LAP Respite Center exists to provide services for area families that care for children or adults with disabilities, chronic illness or age-related conditions. LAP invites you to help it celebrate 21 years as a provider of quality lifespan respite services.

Master of ceremonies will be Evan Pinsonnault of WLNS-TV, and cuisine will be prepared by Kellogg Center Spartan Signature Catering and MSU chefs. The wine will be selected in consultation with Ron Perry, MSU professor of horticulture and wine educator, who will answer questions on wine and food pairings.

Wine selections will emphasize the best of the best Michigan wines, and there will also be craft brew selections from Short’s and New Holland. A silent auction features wine, cuisine and vacation packages.

In vino veritas

(Michael Brenton is president of the Greater Lansing Vintners Club. His column appears monthly.)

LAP Respite Center’s 2nd Annual Fundraiser/Wine Event

6 p.m. Friday, April 15 Stadium Tower, Michigan State University $50 www.laprespitecenter.com (517) 372-6671