Austria’s international wine festival uncorked
Imagine throngs of winemakers cramped shoulder to shoulder, vying for the attention of thirsty drinkers (sorry, “tasters”) who jostle for position with wine-stained hands outstretched, glasses hung around necks for safe keeping, ready and willing to sample anything over 10 per cent alcohol. This is the VieVinum, Austria’s biannual blockbuster trade fair for wine growers, distributors and associated groupies, a pleasingly sloshy and (relatively speaking) civilized affair coming very soon (June 4th to 6th) to the Hofburg.
For a start, the venue is classy. You march up the grand staircase into what was once the epicenter of imperial power and emerge into the magnificent Festsaal, baroque pastorals and playful cupids looking down on the cheerful chaos of alcohol-fuelled modern business. The atmosphere is a comfortable mixture of the casual and the commercial: growers, dealers and ordinary tipplers are hard to distinguish in open-necked shirts and off-duty slacks, the women as always a shade smarter. You feel right at home, but the hard work is only just beginning.
There are more than 550 exhibitors, mainly local Austrian growers, but also vintners from around the world. Special guest partner this year is the VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter) – an opportunity to also get to get acquainted with the best of Germany’s great but often underrated wines.
Here are three points to help you tackle the daunting task ahead, to maximize your time and money when there is so much to taste.
1. Go early, not late.
If you can take time off work or fake illness, then get to VieVinum as early as possible. Open from 12:00 – 18:00 Saturday through Monday, and 9:00 – 12:00 just for the trade, you will encounter a completely different kind of vintner. Smiles will abound, and time will be on your side, so you can ask questions and discuss your preferences.
2. Be selective and have a plan.
If you want to invest in a season ticket for all three days (€70) or just make it to one day (€40 or €30 pre-sale), the rules still apply. Going from one stall to the next and saying yes to everything will quickly devour your palate and senses, leaving you an inebriated cuvée of acids and tannins. At the very least, break the tasting into white wines first, then red wines after. This may add walking distance, but you will have a greater appreciation for what you taste and gain the opportunity to find out what you like.
3. Choose which producers to taste.
The holy-grail question. Some may just want to catch up with their loyal suppliers of preferred wine to check on current vintages. Others might walk by at a distance, eying which cut-through label design attracts them the most. Still others will just go where most people are standing as they figure it must be good if others think so.
My advice is to follow your nose (pun intended). A little research never goes astray. The VieVinum website has an interactive list of producers and programs, including side events featuring private tastings that cover specific regions or vintages of single vineyards. Early booking is necessary, though.
One tried and true strategy is to ask the wine producers which of their colleagues they would recommend visiting – especially when you come across wines you enjoy. Birds of a feather….
June 4-6, Hofburg