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A corked encounter at Steirereck, Wien.

October 13, 2014

I had the chance to re-visit this two-star Michelin establishment in Vienna for lunch on 18 Sep 2014 after a two-year hiatus, during which it had undergone some interior renovation. For those who remember its outrageous restrooms, I regret to announce that all that have gone, replaced now with ordinary fittings. 20140918_132539But, more importantly, Steirereck has upped the ante for what truly counts: its service is now friendlier and less stiff, yet delivered with greater polish, its wine list more extensively stuffed with Austrian offerings, and its cuisine more imaginatively and immaculately executed (not that it never was).

I have never been let down by Austrian whites, always uniquely flavoured and complex and reasonably priced and, on this occasion, I let the sommelier recommend the 2012 Prager Achleiten Grüner Veltliner after I had indicated my preferred grape varietal. As expected, this wine, decanted on-site, possessed very lovely and powerful aromatics hinting at crème de la crème, white roses and magnolias with an attractive grassy element whilst the palate revelled in the rich stony minerality that supported the excellent depth of fruit, combining to produce a lively and complex proposition. Pouring the beeswax for the CharAs lunch wore on (four hours!), a hallowed glow of hazelnuts and apricot grew out of the glass, a testament to its outstanding virtues.

For the red, I opted to move away from the ubiquitous blaufrankisch varietal, following instead the sommelier’s recommendation of a 2011 Claus Preisinger St Laurent Merlot from the region of Neusiedlersee. Decanted on-site for close to an hour prior to serving, the wine was notable for a huge earthy pungency that was on the verge of being corked. Whilst sniffing and sloshing the wine, I deliberated for several moments as to whether it may actually be corked although the fruit seemed alright on the palate, dominated by notes of forest floor, twigs and wild berries. I remarked to the young sommelier about the intense pungency but he waved it away (without tasting the wine), instead waxing lyrical about how familiar he was with the wine and its quality, having worked at the estate for three years. In the end, I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and accepted the bottle. However, as we drank through the bottle, I found the fruit to be continually overshadowed by a prominent salty minerality and the continual pungent presence that tended to shroud everything else. Three-quarters of the way through, I called the sommelier to bring over another similar bottle. Thinking that we needed more wine, he came bubbling over with fresh glasses and a new bottle. But before he proceeded to open it, I called the first bottle as corked, offering to pay for the second should I be proven wrong. It was only then that the young man took a swig from the remaining wine, agreeing immediately that it was, indeed, corked. DeliciousIn fact, I’d underestimated the severity, for the new bottle displayed a level of immediacy, freshness, vigour, depth and layering that was so far removed from the initial offering. In its full glory, this Claus Presinger St Laurent Merlot is truly excellent, offering an abundance of rich luxuriant red and dark fruit of wonderful depth and balance, coating the palate with ripe supple tannins, ensuring that this memorable lunch will not be forgotten.

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