The thrill of the mysterious exerts an irresistible pull. Take a tall, dark handsome stranger, or flowers delivered with an anonymous love letter. Or in my case, a bottle of wine so obscure that all I could do was to uncork it and hope for the best. Yep, I’m a real romantic.
It all started in a small Austrian town, near the Hungarian border. We’ll call it Eisenstadt (yes it exists, but the names of the guilty have been changed to protect the innocent). Every summer there’s a big food and wine fair in the town centre, with wooden huts where local producers offer their fare. You can drink many good wines from surrounding Burgenland – or for a bit more exoticism, something from the faraway climes of Mittelburgenland or Italy.
Hello Neuburger, my old friend
I was attracted by a lone stall selling wines from various Eastern European countries – Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia. The bottle that caught my eye was a Neuburger – one of Austria’s more curious indigenous grape varieties, and something I have quite a soft spot for. But this was Slovenian, with five years on the clock.
Vino Graben’s 2008 Neuburger was like no Austrian example I’d ever tasted. A deep amber colour, with brown tints, it had a rich, intense baked fruit palate, pin sharp acidity and a suggestion of sweetness – whilst still feeling dry on the finish. The colour might suggest oxidation, but there was nothing tired or oxidised – just subtle hints of nuts, sweet spices, dried fruit, perhaps from the use of large, old oak vessels. Or skin contact? Or…?
I was reminded of a dry Furmint from Somló, but this was a tricky number to pin down. Requests for information from the retailer turned up little. A tale was spun about the owner being a retired scientist, but next to nothing about what the production methods might be.
Yes, there is a website, with a design which looks like it was refreshed no more than 20 years ago. From this, I’ve learned that the estate has seven hectares, and is located in Eastern Slovenia near the Croatian border. But that’s about it.
Nothing about methods of viti or viniculture. No clues as to what made this Neuburger so richly complex, so long lived, and so damned enjoyable. And no apparent means to remote procurement of more wine.
As it turns out, I’m travelling to Slovenia in a few weeks time (I could tell you why, but I’d have to kill you). But tempting as it might be to pay Vino Graben a visit, there’s part of me that wants to keep this forever a mystery. To have merely enjoyed a brief encounter, as this tasty treat crossed paths with my existence in some happy cosmic syncronicity.