Stadlmann • Taiskirchen • Thermenregion

Johann Stadlmann is in the little town of Traiskirchen, ten or fifteen minutes or so south of Mödling. This was once upon a time the main route south from Vienna to the resort and Kur Ort town of Baden. Thirsty Viennese still visit to pick up their favorite local wines, or to go to the Heuriges and restaurants that are everywhere in the region (though mostly in Gumpoldskirchen, the most famous and loveliest of the villages in the Thermenregion). Stadlmann’s vineyards are scattered in both communes. On my most recent visit, I was able to see them, and visit the lovely little hill of Mandel-Höh, literally the high place where almond trees grow. This vineyard produces Stadlmann’s best wine and the most famous in the region. From it, you can look directly west to the Wienerwald, the Vienna Woods, the last escarpment, heavily wooded, of the Alps. It looks amazingly similar to Burgundy, or Alsace, with the vineyards on the last slopes.

One hundred years ago, the Thermenregion (Thermal Region) was the best-known wine area in Austria, a playground for princes and their mistresses, for the art world of Vienna, and for ‘society’. Towns such as Gumpoldskirchen and Baden (not to be confused with Baden Baden in Germany) and Bad Vöslau were world famous. Fashion changed, of course, as it always does. But in 1985, the Austrian wine scandal pretty well leveled this area. I won’t say the vintners have been slow to recover; but at least the image has lagged behind the other prestige districts. This is a shame, because the Thermenregion produces wines unlike any others in Austria or the world, and you should know about them.

It is the home to two grape varieties that exist nowhere else, Rotgipfler and Zierfandler. These grapes and the wines made from them are the reason I decided to spend some time prospecting in the region. A year ago, I was served blind an exquisite wine that was like nothing else I had tried. At a loss, I guessed it to be a magnificent 10 year-old Grüner Veltliner (It was paired with a superb one from Knoll). But I was wrong; it was a Zierfandler from the ’90s, and was the absolute winner of the evening.

Zierfandler and Rotgipfler are very old varieties. One thought is that they originated in Italy, and wandered north into Austria in the dim and distant past. A story I heard, which is delightful, though probably apocryphal, is that two vines, one red and one white, the white being Zierfandler, were taken to California in the 19th Century. The white one didn’t make it, but its name, somewhat garbled, went over to the red, and thus we have Zinfandel. However it all happened, the two grapes were popular 150 years ago, but slowly were replaced by others, so that now only about 240 hectares total for both grapes survive, and those almost entirely are planted in the Thermenregion

So how would I describe them? Rotgipfler appears to be the juicier variety, with more fruit and a little more heft. It’s not lavish, or tropical, but it does have size and body and very sweet fruit. It can be rather exotic, with substantial body. It is not particularly acidic. When well made, it is a wine that will turn your head, maybe induce a double take. I find it delicious and always interesting. There are sweet versions, which can be very good, and occasional dessert wines as well. So far, the best of these that I’ve tasted come from the other grape, Zierfandler. This is a far more minerally grape, with higher acidity, and a zesty, slightly limey quality. At the moment, my tendency is to say it is the somewhat ‘better’ grape, with a relation to Rotgipfler similar in kind to Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. But they are both grapes with character, and more importantly, with staying power and the ability to evolve and improve in the bottle. They make a wonderful addition to the table

From my still relatively superficial knowledge of the area, it appears as if Stadlmann is the King, at least of Zierfandler (‘Mister Zierfandler’, as he is known in Austria), if not of both. Behind the rather drab entrance on the main street of Traiskirchen is a modern, elegant winery and sometimes Heurige (it’s only open during part of the Summer), where you can sit outside and drink the fabulous wine with simple food (though having had lunch twice there makes me think that Michaela Stadlmann probably can cook up a storm). I was dazzled by the 2004s, and if anything, am even more so with the 2005s. I should mention that the Stadlmanns produce not only the two signature grapes, but also some Muscat, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, and the red St. Laurent. The Muscat I purchased in 2005. We’ll see about some of the others in the future.