A Sweet Wine Exploration with Gerhard Kracher
Before even digging into the producer and wines that inspired me to write the following piece, let’s get something out of the way. Salt, fat and sugar. Three things that our society has been led to believe are purely evil.
We’ve created artificial sweeteners, invented butter substitutes and convinced generations to cut back drastically on salt. Granted, there are people in this world that shouldn’t consume too much salt, often due to legitimate illnesses. There are also people who should cut back on fat, especially unhealthy fats that can affect their heart, arteries or waistline. As for sugar, the average human being naturally creates all of the sugar our bodies require from the foods we ingest each day. On the flipside, everything is healthy is moderation. Salt is important to a healthy lifestyle, as long as you drink enough water to balance your intake. Fat is essential to a healthy lifestyle; it’s burned for energy and helps to lubricate our joints. As for sugar, it’s our bodies preferred source of fuel, as long as we don’t overdo it.
All of this aside, if there’s one thing that loving wine has taught me, it’s that balance and moderation is the key, and living a little brings a healthy dose of happiness.
This brings me to one of the most disturbing topics that I find myself discussing on a regular basis with other wine lovers: the lack of sweet wines that Americans are willing to drink. Tell a visiting European that very few consumers are buying Sauternes, Vin Santo, or Auslese, and watch as their jaw hits the floor. Depriving ourselves of these things seems completely unnatural to them. Mind you, these aren’t obese or unhealthy people. They look just as fit, if not more than the rest of us, and yet their love, respect and desire to drink sweet wines is high.
Now, there’s something to be said for a well-balanced sweet style versus one that is simply a dessert in the glass. I can perfectly understand how someone wouldn’t want to drink something that tastes and feels like liquid sugar on the palate. Yet if you haven’t tasted what the world’s best sweet wine producers are capable of, then I assure you that you truly haven’t lived.
Balance is the key: a balance of sugar, acid, depth of fruit and the layers that follow. In some cases, you will taste these wines and not even realize they are “sweet.” Often they are finessed, lifted, mouthwatering and truly irresistible. Which brings me to my inspiration for this piece, the masterful creations of the Kracher winery.
A brief history of The Alois Kracher Winery
The story of Kacher begins with Alois Kracher, a farmer in Burgenland, Austria, southeast of Vienna and only minutes from the Hungarian border. Alois worked hard, running a fully functional farm, yet he dreamed of making wine. When the time came, he didn’t imagine what his dream would grow into, nor the style of wine that would define his house. The Kracher winery opened for business in 1959, with vineyards situated in a location that is quite unique and perfect for the production of noble sweet wines.
With vineyards near the largest national park in Europe, Hohe Tauern, home to the enormous, yet incredibly shallow Lake Neusiedlersee, the Kracher winery defined a style that brought fame to the region. The complex combination of low-lying lands, mixed with high humidity blowing off of lake Neusiedlersee, low precipitation year-round, yet hot summers and moderately cold winters, creates the ideal scenario for the development of botrytis cinerea (otherwise known as noble rot).
As Gerhard Kracher, the third generation to run Kracher, explained it to me, “The decision to make sweet wines was made by the terroir,” not his grandfather. It was the unbelievably high quality of botrytis found throughout their vineyards that inspired him and put them on the map. However, the real fame at Kracher wasn’t won until Gerhard’s father, Alois Kracher Jr., joined his father in the winery, and together they gained international renown for their winery and Austrian sweet wines as well.
Alois Kracher Jr., known to most as Luis, brought a level of passion and a personality to the mix that spoke to customers and wine lovers in a way that few others were able to. Unfortunately, Luis was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died in 2007 at the young age of 48. However, with the knowledge of his failing health, he was able to spend his final year working closely with his son Gerhard, imparting two generations’ worth of knowledge and experience onto him. If Gerhard is any example of his father’s devotion and passion, then I can only imagine how inspiring Luis must have been in his day.
Now in the capable hands of Gerhard Kracher, this historic winery continues to not only create some of the world’s greatest sweet wines, but to also continue to refine and improve on what many thought was already achieved–perfection.
Today’s Kracher and The Collection
In a recent tasting with Gerhard Kracher, I was granted the rare opportunity to experience an entire lineup of wines produced by the estate.
From their thirty-five hectares of vineyards, nearly 70% of the winery’s entire production is sweet wines. The grapes of choice are Welschriesling, Chardonnay, Traminer, Pinot Blanc, Scheurebe, and Pinot Gris. The Pinot Gris is the newest addition to the Kracher lineup, as Gerhard’s father wanted to experiment with a dry wine. I can assure you that the experiment was a success, as the 2016 Pinot Gris trocken was a perfect way to start a tasting of noble sweet wines.
However, the real treasure at Kracher is found in their production of Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese, otherwise known as TBA. Each is produced using hand-picked botrytized grapes, yet in the case of Trockenbeerenauslese, the grapes have reached the highest level of sugar possible without literally preventing the juice from fermenting.
What About The Wines
At the entry level, Kracher produces a lineup of amazing wines ranging from Auslese to Beerenauslese, which represent amazing quality at an unbelievable price point. At the highest level, they create “The Collection,” which changes from year to year and represents the absolute highest quality level of Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA). There have been years where the collection is represented by only one wine, and other vintages where there are as many as fifteen different wines. The two distinct styles you will find in the collection are “Zwischen den Seen” (or “between the lakes”), which are aged in stainless steel (and/or) cask, seeking a fresher style, while the Nouvelle Vague range is aged in French oak. As you work your way higher up through the numbers, it’s like turning up a dial of sugar levels (which are not necessarily perceptible) and depth.
Some are red, but most are white, yet all are worthy of our attention. What’s more, unlike many sweeter styles of wine, these can pair remarkably well with food. A great example is the #6 Grand Cuvee Nouvelle Vague (70% Chardonnay and 30% Welschriesling fermented and aged in a combination of new barrels and 1000 liter vats), as the wine is remarkably balanced and fresh with a saline-minerality that perfectly cleanses the palate after each sip. Then there is the #3 Zweigelt Nouvelle Vague (a Red), which Gerhard described as the ultimate accompaniment to a cigar. I must say, as someone who has smoked a few in my time, I can certainly see it, yet this wine is drop-dead gorgeous all on its own, and it’s completely a wine of meditation.
I could go on and on…
So let’s live a little. Let’s explore by opening our minds and palates. Even if one glass a week is all you want, a Kracher TBA will stay well in a refrigerator for weeks. However, I think the best thing to do is to share them. Trying opening one at the end of your next tasting or dinner, and watch as people’s faces light up with fascination and pure indulgence.
On to the Tasting Notes
Alois Kracher Pinot Gris trocken 2016 – The nose showed crisp apple with zests of lemon, honeysuckle, fresh florals, hints of minerals and herbs. On the palate, I found silky, almost-weighty textures yet offset by perfectly balanced acidity, as ripe apple, honey, subtle spice, and minerals washed across the senses. The finish was long, resonating on minerals and hints of spice. (91 points)
Alois Kracher Cuvée Auslese 2017 – The nose was wonderfully floral with notes of black tea, honeysuckle, ripe peach and wet stone. On the palate, I found soft, silky textures, lifted with medium-bodied weight, giving way to ripe melon, apricot and peach with hints of spice. The finish was long with lasting hints of fig, kiwi, and raw honey. (92 points)
Alois Kracher Cuvée Beerenauslese 2016 – The nose was intense and spicy with exotic floral perfumes, peach, crushed stone and hints of indian spice. On the palate, I found oily, weighty textures, offset by a stunning mix of acid and saline minerals, as notes of ripe peach and honeydew melon coated the senses. The finish was medium-long with lasting notes of ripe apple and inner florals. (91 points)
Alois Kracher Zweigelt Beerenauslese 2016 (Red) – The nose was dark and almost savory, displaying dried black cherry, plum, blackberry, dusty florals, hints of spiced orange and crushed stone. On the palate, I found wonderfully silky, weighty textures with offsetting acids and notes of plum, figs, sour cherry, ripe apple, spice and saline-minerals. The finish was long with a bitter twang of red berries offset by mouthwatering citrus and apple tones with a last note of salinity. (93 points)
Alois Kracher Rosenmuskateller TBA #1 Nouvelle Vague 2015 – The nose was incredibly rich yet also had notes of florals, as brown spices wafted up from the glass, followed by spiced orange, a dusting brown sugar, lemon tart, and the slightest hint of floral undergrowth. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by a mix of tart cherry with brisk acidity, ripe orange tones, melon and masses of inner florals. The finish was long and floral with lasting notes of peach, spiced apple and lingering inner florals. Wow! (95 points)
Alois Kracher Welschriesling TBA #2 Zwischen den Seen 2015 – The nose was intense, as floral perfumes with a spritz of lemon and lime wafted up from the glass followed by quince, peach and minerals. On the palate, I found soft, voluptuous textures which seemed to envelope all the senses with ripe peach, quince and hints of spice. The finish was long, as oily textures slowly faded with hints of peach and inner florals lingering long. (94 points)
Alois Kracher Zweigelt TBA #3 Nouvelle Vague 2015 – The nose showed Christmas spice up front with tart cherry, black tea, crushed fig, and exotic floral tones. On the palate, I found silky textures, yet lifted with a mix of cherry, fig, plum and sweet spices offset by balanced saline-driven acids. It finished medium-long with hints of sour cherry, black tea and hints of dried plum. (93 points)
Alois Kracher Scheurebe TBA #4 Zwischen den Seen 2015 – The nose showed masses of spiced, perfumed florals with a mix of tropical fruits, lime and crushed stone. On the palate, I found weighty, silky textures with a mix of ripe peach, mango, melon, and sweet spice. It finished long and spicy, with lasting sweet mango and inner floral tones, as oily textures slowly faded. (94+ points)
Alois Kracher Grande Cuvée TBA #6 Nouvelle Vague 2015 – The nose was very pretty with a mix of ripe apple, crushed stone, sweet spices, coconut, dried florals and minerals. On the palate, I found enveloping, silky textures with a bump of lifting acidity, as ripe yellow apple, sweet spices, lemon curd and honey washed across the senses. The finish was wonderfully long and fresh, with lingering ripe stone fruits, spices, and inner floral tones. This is the most likely to please across many palates, with great acidity to balance its intensity. (95 points)
Alois Kracher Scheurebe TBA #10 Zwischen den Seen 2015 – The nose was remarkably fresh with pretty florals, lime, kiwi, exotic spice, herbal tea leaves, and hints of wild herbs. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by brisk acidity with a mix of tropical fruits and gorgeous inner floral tones. The finish went on and on with lingering hints of grapefruit, spice, minerals and savory baked apple. (95 points)
Alois Kracher Welschriesling TBA #11 Zwischen den Seen 2015 – The nose was darker and richer than the wine before, as dried florals gave way to peach, undergrowth and earth, with crushed stone, ripe apple, lemon zest, brown sugar and hints of wild herbs. On the palate, I found silky textures with enlivening acidity, as ripe apple and pear with sweet spices coated the senses, offset by notes of honey and minerals. It just seemed to hover on the senses. The finish was long and incredibly soft, slowly fading from the senses with lasting notes of ripe spiced apple, pear, apricot and hints of wild herbs. (96 points)
Credits and Resources
Article, Tasting Notes, and Photos from Tasting: Eric Guido
Thank you to David Bowler Wine for Organizing the tasting
Thank you to Terlato Wines for Providing additional Photography
Visit the official Kracher Website
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