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Austrian wines part 5
Alois Kracher: the waiting game

Alois Kracher is one of the world’s great sweet wine makers. As I was tasting through the line-up of his 12 numbered sweet cuvées from the 2002 vintage, I was amazed by not just the consistency of quality, but the way each wine expressed its own personality.

In some ways the wines reflect the man: Kracher himself is a striking character. He’s the sort of guy that looks you in the eye as he gives you a bone-crunching handshake. 

We gathered in Illmitz on a damp autumn evening for a prelude to the main event the following day: the annual showing of the new releases. In mid-October Illmitz, near the Hungarian border, has a sleepy, out-of-season feel to it. This atmosphere is compounded by the fact that it’s dark and drizzling as we arrive.

It would be a much livelier place in mid summer, as Lake Neuseidl is a big draw for holidaymakers. Indeed, we meet for dinner in the restaurant at a large holiday complex – so large, in fact, that Valentina, our host from Austrian PR agency Wine and Partners, gets hideously lost on the way out and we end up driving for ages on a confusing road network though endless chalets and caravans. Slightly surreal.

The particular area where Kracher has his vineyards is called the ‘Seewinkel’, a stretch some 20 km wide along the shore of lake Neusiedl in the Burgenland region. It’s a special location: during the cool autumn evenings a heavy fog from the lake develops, which hangs around the vineyards until midday. These are conditions tailor made for botrytis, the noble rot, a vital ingredient for making great sweet wine. 

Making these wines is a waiting game. The grapes are left on the vine well into Autumn – so they need to be heavily netted heavily to protect them from hungry birds – and it’s a question of letting the rain and fog provide the right conditions for botrytis to attack the already ripe grapes. It must be a nervous business to be in.

In the vineyards: the netting is essential of the birds would strip the vines clean
at this time of year

Kracher began making wines in 1981, when he took over from his father. It’s true to say that his efforts – in both making great wines and also marketing them enthusiastically – have almost single-handedly put the Neusiederslee region on the map as one of the world’s leading sweet wine regions.

Two styles of wine are made. Zwischen den Seen (between the lakes) wines are made with a focus on freshness and fruit, fermented in stainless steel. The Nouvelle Vague wines are vinified and aged in barriques. The cuvees are labelled with numbers reflecting concentration; in 1995, for example, there were 15, and in 2002 there are 12. Within the numbering scheme, the wine with best balance is labelled ‘Grande Cuvée’.  

Some years, things go right. Some years they don’t. This is partly why Kracher has diversified – he runs a wine import company, and makes products such as wine vinegars, cheeses, wine jellies and chocolates in partnership with other expert producers. These other businesses help to keep the cashflow going so that Kracher can continue to be obsessive about the quality of his wines.

2002 and 2003 were contrasting years. 2002 is one of the best vintages he has experienced – Kracher puts it on a par with 1999, both just behind 1995 which remains his best vintage ever. 2003 was a disaster and won’t result in any top sweet wines, because of the paucity of botrytis this year.

The 2002 releases

‘After harvest we had 58 different lots of trockenbeerenauslese (TBA)’, says Kracher. ‘Then we put together what works together in terms of flavour’. In the vineyard Kracher has 78 parcels to work with, totalling 32 hectares, in three different crus. Two thirds are on gravelly soil, and a third is on a mix of gravel and sand.

Kracher Zweigelt TBA No 1 Nouvelle Vague 2002
(100% Zweigelt, 147. 5 g/l residual sugar)
Just one and a half barriques of this unusual wine were made. It’s made with a red wine grape, Zweigelt, and the thicker skins make this a microbiologically hazardous ferment. It’s an orange brown colour with a sweet, intense nose of herby, candied fruit, and hints of brown sugar. The palate is smooth, sweet, intense and elegant. There’s a savoury structured bite to the finish. Notes of tea and herbs, too. Very interesting wine with great depth. Very good/excellent 92/100

Kracher Chardonnay TBA No 2 Nouvelle Vague 2002
(205.8 g/l residual sugar)
Yellow/gold colour. Bright forward nose of fresh lemony fruit with an apricotty edge. Some tropical fruit and hints of vanilla. Clean and fresh. The palate is ripe and sweet with lovely rich fruit. Harmonious and balanced, this is youthful at the moment with no rough edges. An elegant modern wine. Very good/excellent 92/100

Kracher Welchriesling TBA No 3 Zwischen den Seen 2002
(208 g/l residual sugar)
The Welschriesling variety makes up about half of the grapes that enter the Kracher winery, and is known for its small berries. This is a yellow/gold colour and has a bright, forward sweet nose of marmalade, apricot and candied fruit. Quite smooth and fruity with a lemony edge. The palate has a lovely contrast between the herby fruit and the apricotty botrytis, with some spice and good acid on the finish. Very good/excellent 93/100

Kracher Muskat Ottonel TBA No 4 Zwischen den Seen 2002
(222.9 g/l residual sugar)
This is a difficult, thick skinned grape variety which has flowering problems and often plays up during fermentation. There are more than 100 different Muscat varieties in the world, but less than 100 ha of this particular one globally. Open, ripe grapey nose. Very rich and full, with a musky richness and subtle herbal complexity. Pretty and perfumed. The palate is thick, viscous and super sweet with a real thickness to it. A fat, intense wine. Very good/excellent 91/100

Magnums of the full set of 10 TBAs from 2000

Kracher Scheurebe TBA No 5 Zwischen den Seen 2002
(214.7 g/l residual sugar)
Sweet, quite tight nose of brown sugar, fruit, caramel and some herbs. The palate is viscous and sweet with a bold richness to the smooth fruit and a subtle spicy edge. Rounded and intense. Very good/excellent 93/100

Kracher  Scheurebe TBA No 6 Zwischen den Seen 2002
(233 g/l residual sugar)
Lemony freshness to the dense herby nose, which is sweet and full. The palate is rounded and intense with a fresh lemony intensity. It’s interesting to note the differences between this and no 5, both from the same variety. This is lighter and fresher. There’s no racking after fermentation in this wine. Because of yeast contact primary fruit is lost, but minerality, character and power are gained. Very good/excellent 92/100

Kracher Grande Cuvée TBA No 7 Nouvelle Vague 2002
(A blend of Chardonnay and Welchriesling, with 252 .7 g/l residual sugar.) Complex, intense nose is sweet and apricotty with some lemony fruit and a bit of spice. Broad and full. Very powerful, complex rich palate with the new oak (spice and vanilla) balancing the fat apricotty fruit. Intensely sweet but in balance. Kracher says he is aiming at harmony: ‘If you look for power you lose finesse; if you look for finesse you lose power’. Excellent 96/100

Kracher Welchriesling TBA No 8 Zwischen den Seen 2002
(268.5 g/l residual sugar)
Distinctive, beguiling nose of crystalline fruits together with herbiness and dark thick-cut marmalade. The palate is open and very sweet with a fantastic concentration of herb and spice tinged marmalade and tropical fruits. Seamless and smooth. Excellent 95/100

Kracher Chardonnay TBA No 9 Nouvelle Vague 2002
(295.9 g/l residual sugar)
Ripe, intense tropical fruit nose showing hints of vanilla, spice and fudge. Concentrated and intense. The palate is viscous, full and fat with lots of sweetness. Taut complex youthful fruit flavours combine with honeyed richness. The acidity is masked by the huge, fat sweet character. Very good/excellent 94/100

Kracher Scheurebe TBA No 10 Zwischen den Seen 2002
(311 g/l residual sugar)
Very forward, distinctive sweet herbal fruitiness on the nose, which is sweet, honeyed and alluring, showing some apricotty botrytis. The palate is explosively rich with fat, viscous, supersweet fruit, notes of spice and vanilla and a lovely botrytis character. Feels intensely sweet: powerful but balanced. Excellent 96/100

Kracher Welschriesling TBA No 11 Nouvelle Vague 2002 
(403 g/l residual sugar)
Dense, tight supersweet nose with some varietal character and brooding complex honey, vanilla and spice notes. Explosively rich palate is hugely sweet and viscous but has some lovely spicy complexity. Very intense and powerful with fantastic complexity and balance. Excellent 97/100

Kracher Noble Wine No 12 Zwischen den Seen 2002
(A blend of Scheurebe and Welschriesling, 430 g/l residual sugar, 4% alcohol)
This is excessive. For the first time Alois has had some casks with this sort of abnormally high residual sugar but which also show finesse, so he has bottled it rather than use it as a blending component. Because it is under 5% alcohol it falls outside the regulations and is therefore labelled a noble wine rather than a TBA. The figures aren’t that accurate – it’s actually around 2–4% alcohol (hard to measure in this context) and 500 g/litre residual sugar. Fantastic complex nose of sweet candied fruit with great depth: it’s hard to describe. Hints of lifted acid. The intense, almost solid viscous palate has a huge weight of sweetness with complex marmalade and apricot flavours. The 11 g/litre acidity (huge) is needed to keep a semblance of balance. Excellent 97/100

Other wines

Kracher 2003 Beerenauslese Cuvée
Ripe, sweet open nose shows apricots and lemon. The palate has a rich texture and nice balance. A delicious rounded win: not a blockbuster, but nice. Very good+ 89/100

Kracher 2003 Muskat Ottonel
Herby, sweet candied fruit dominate here. On the palate there’s a lovely sweet viscous character: not terribly complex but sweet, ripe and delicious. Very good+ 89/100

Kracher Pinot Gris 2003 Illmitz
This dry white has a nice lemony freshness to the nose, but the palate is quite rich textured with typical fat spicy Pinot Gris flavours. A nice balanced dry white. Very good+ 88/100

Kracher Blend 1 2002
This red wine is a Zweigelt with a hint of Blaufrankisch. Dark, rich, intense and spicy with good balance and nice spicy tannins. Very modern but classy with fine grained savoury tannic structure. Normally around 2500 bottles produced each year. Very good+ 89/100

Availability in the UK: Noel Young Wines

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