Beck Ink at Squid Ink – an Austrian red at a new restaurant

beck-inkSquid Ink is a Manchester restaurant that opened only a few months ago, and they suggested Beck Ink to match the current menu, even though the wine did not feature on the printed list. The uncanny relevance of the wine’s label image to our venue was not lost on the restaurant, but I fear it is a little too expensive to ever be their house wine. Its retail price from Buon Vino is £12.50, while the restaurant served it for £25.00, which in my naïve view is a very modest restaurant mark-up. A lot more modest than the Romanian Pinot Noir on the list, which I was also considering.

Turning the bottle to see the back label, we could see that the wine was 2014, certified organic, from Burgenland in Austria, 12.5% ABV, and bottled by Judith Beck. The Buon Vino website adds: biodynamic, wild yeasts, 80% Zweigelt 20% St Laurent, and that Judith Beck is also the producer.

It was medium pale purple-ruby in colour. Intensely fruity on the nose, dark berries. Medium high acidity, giving the wine a structure that would otherwise be lacking, as it was not at all astringent. Intense, vibrant, fresh and fruity. Light bodied, and refreshing. Excellent length. Drink now. My previous experience with Austrian reds has been generally disappointing, but it seems further exploration is called for. This is a style of wine that I really like, and I was tempted to give it a higher score, but finally decided on  ****

Oh, and it did go well with the food, so top marks to the restaurant for the recco. The menu was in the style that reads more like lists of ingredients than prepared dishes, but the three courses that the wine needed to match were basically: subtly spiced lamb meatballs on a bed of kale; chickpeas in pepper, tomato and harissa sauce with poached egg; and confit duck leg with pear and salad.

Overall the dining experience was very good. There is just one four course menu, and a short wine list with not a Cab Sauv, Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio in sight. The kitchen is in the restaurant area, with food prepared single-handedly by the owner. Each dish was carefully designed and executed, with a lot more thought and subtlety than my descriptions above give credit for. The wine glasses were very good. They use Riedel glasses, and the Beck Ink was served in what I would guess was the Restaurant range Pinot Noir. It does make a big improvement to the experience of drinking wine compared to what you get with the dire quality of glass you get in the vast majority of British restaurants, even ones with fine-dining pretentions.

I have only one general criticism: there were no starchy carbs in the entire menu. So don’t arrive too hungry. But it is not just a question of filling the belly. To my mind carbs are necessary to provide balance. Pitta bread with the chickpeas would have added contrasting texture if nothing else. And a few chips with the duck would not have gone amiss. If you are trying to be virtuous you don’t have to eat them. Nevertheless, a very good standard overall, and good value at £25 for the 4 courses.

The Wines of Austria – book review

the wines of austria bookThis is The Wines of Austria by Stephen Brook, a new book published by Infinite Ideas earlier this year. The RRP is £30.00, but I have a review copy. It’s a paperback of 294 pages, with black and white maps in the text, and several colour plates gathered together in the centre of the book. Like other books in this series, the general design and physical impression is good. As often the case with wine books, I found the maps disappointing, but I know good cartography is expensive and they are better than nothing. My only other criticism at that sort of level is the lack of a complete index – there is an index, but for wineries only. There is also a glossary, but that did not have an entry for the wine style I needed reminding about while reading.

This is a book that contains a lot of detail, and relatively short introductory chapters and sections, which made it heavy-going for me as a reader with no claim to any specialist knowledge of Austrian wines. It does not however lack clarity – indeed Brook writes very well. It is just that for someone who does not already have sufficient knowledge to hang the many facts on, the sheer number of different regions, sub-regions and producers is difficult to take in. Someone with more prior knowledge would doubtless get more out of the detail, but I decided that for my purposes it is a work of reference rather than a book to actually sit down and read over a few days.

I must admit though that I struggle to image how the book could be improved on from my perspective. At the risk of causing offense to Austria and lovers of her wines, I’d venture that part of the problem is that the history of Austrian wine as an international product is relatively brief, so there is not so much that can be written about historical context – compared with Port, Sherry, and Madeira to mention of vinous topics of other books in this series. The other sort of context useful for the organisation of knowledge is geography. Seeing precisely where villages, vineyards and producers are, down to the level of vineyard slope orientation, greatly helps, and I suppose that comes back to my point about the inadequacy of the maps.

So, an excellent reference book, and probably an excellent read if you already have a special interest in Austrian wines. For the more general wine lover there is still much to be gained from the book – I certainly learned quite a bit – but I suspect that much of it will remain unread on the first pass through.