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The wines of Alois Kracher, Burgenland, Austria

Weinlaubenhof, Alois Kracher, Apetioner Straße 37, A-7142 Illmitz, Austria
Tel. +43 (0) 2175 3377 Fax +43 (0) 2175 33 77

Editor's note: for a much more recent report on these wines, based on a visit in October 2004, see here

Forty-something Alois Kracher has a reputation for making Austria's best sweet wines, and on the basis of this tasting it's hard to see how anyone else could do much better. He's located in the village of Illmitz, on the east bank of the Neusiedlersee, a long, shallow lake in the extreme south of Austria adjoining the Hungarian border. This lake is the key to this region's success with sweet wines. The vineyards are located on the flat shores of the lake, and the mist that develops in the warm autumn makes this ideal territory for botrytis, the fungal infection that shrivels ripe grapes, concentrating their sweetness while preserving their acidity. Although these grapes look disgusting, they make small quantities of highly complex sweet wine, such as these tasted here.

It's very hard to assess young wines like this, which, with their combination of massive sweetness and high acidity, will probably last longer than I will. But they really do seem to be stunning wines, showing awesome concentration and arresting complexity. As you'd expect, for wines that rely on the development of botrytis, which itself is dependent on a particular set of environmental variables, the quantity produced is highly vintage dependent. 1997, for example, produced just 1/20th of the quantity of the more successful 1998. Some of Kracher's wines are matured in traditional wooden vats, whereas others are given the full new barrique treatment (labelled as Nouvelle Vague). Although I'm usually a little wary about the overuse of new oak, it works very well here complementing these already powerful, rich-textured wines. Although I've rated all the wines the same, if I had to choose just one to drink tonight, it would probably be the Chardonnay-Welschriesling No. 7. These are all available from Noel Young Wines (www.nywines.co.uk), and his prices are given in brackets after each note. 

Chardonnay Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) No. 2 Nouvelle Vague 1998
Deep golden colour. Exotic nose of apricot, lime and honey with a toasty edge. Lovely, complex, full-textured palate shows honeyed, spicy fruit and caramel-like herby notes. Lots of botrytis evident. Extremely complex with great balancing acidity. Excellent (£22.99/half)

Welschriesling TBA No. 4 Nouvelle Vague 1998
Welschriesling is completely unrelated to Riesling; it's generally an undistinguished sort of white grape, grown quite widely in Austria and Eastern Europe, but it reaches its apogee in producing botrytised wines like this in the Neusiedlersee. This wine is a little bit shy on the nose, which shows honey, toast and spicy tropical fruit notes. The palate is rich, rounded and ripe with a wonderful texture. There's lots of botrytis and nice balancing acidity. It's a little softer and richer than the No. 2. Excellent (£22.99/half)

Chardonnay-Welschriesling TBA No. 7 Nouvelle Vague 1998
Wonderfully opulent nose is stunningly powerful, with complex herby, spicy and toasty notes. The palate is massively full and sweet, with spicy, luscious botrytis character and good acidity. Rich and unctuous, this is impressive stuff. Excellent (£25.99/half)

Grande Cuvée TBA No. 10 Nouvelle Vague 1998
Not made every year, this is supposed to be the most harmonious of the sweet wines, and boasts an awe inspiring 330g/l of residual sugar. The nose is quite refined, and leads to a smooth, rich, fat-textured palate that is very sweet and full. Hugely concentrated, this is a rounded, supple wine with great power. Excellent (£25.99/half)

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