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Fire & Spice - the Extraordinary Tale of Ruster Ausbruch Sweet Wine

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

Every connoisseur of fine sweet wines is familiar with the illustrious history of Hungary’s Tokaj Aszú, the sweet wine famously declared by Louis XIV in 1731 to be “the Wine of Kings, the King of Wines.” Or the myriad stories of Aszú’s legendary restorative, life-giving properties; Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, for example, would savour a bottle or two of Tokaj daily, something that may have contributed to his 68 year reign – one of the longest monarchies in the world (Louis XIV holds the record with 72 years). Well before him was Augustus II “The Strong” who stocked the royal cellars in his palace in Dresden throughout much of the 17th century with any and every bottle of Tokaj he could get his hands on; when he was crowned the King of Poland in the early 18th century, his most prized gift from friends and foes alike were bottles of unctuous Tokaj. Great artists and thinkers who admired and revelled in the pleasures of Tokaj’s heavenly amber-coloured nectar included Goethe, Beethoven, Liszt, Voltaire and Tolstoy. And then there is the sweet wine from the other corner of Europe: Château d’Yquem of Sauternes. This dense and supremely rich wine has been admired for centuries for its exotic notes of tropical fruit, wild honey and beeswax. Thomas Jefferson fell under its spell in 1787 after visiting the Château, and he left only after placing an order for 250 bottles for himself and President George Washington. It was a constant companion of both Napoleon Bonaparte and the Grand Duke Constantine of Russia, the latter paying 20,000 gold francs – an astronomical fee by any standard - for a single barrel in 1859 (the vintage was 1847, considered one of the greatest vintages for sweet wines to this day). Its vaulted status among wine connoisseurs and négociants was confirmed yet again when Château d'Yquem was given its own unique rank of Premier Cru Supérieur in the 1855 Classification, a ranking that lifted D’Yquem light years ahead of the other 27 châteaux that were unceremoniously classified as Premièr Cru and Deuxième Cru, respectively. Château d'Yquem’s reign as the greatest and most expensive white wine in the world continued into the 21st century when a single bottle of 1811 Yquem was purchased for an astonishing US $110,000.

But what of the other legendary sweet wine of Europe that hailed from a special place called Ruszt, that small town of renowned winemakers situated somewhere between Tokaj and Sauternes? The sprightly and luxurious sweet wine that was admired by emperors and kings, queens and intellectuals for centuries, much like its counterparts in Hungary and Bordeaux; a wine so valuable that it was once used to purchase the freedom of an entire town.

There is Fire in this Wine

Ruster Ausbruch. Even the name conjures up images of burnished amber and lofty aromas of clove and stewed ripe apricots. Ruster Ausbruch is the other legendary sweet wine of Europe that has beguiled and charmed wine lovers for centuries. Its history seems to begin in the mid-16th century when its sweet, opulent nectar was much in demand by emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, Russian Czars and Polish nobility. It was a sweet wine for the most powerful men and women of Central and Eastern Europe, for individuals who relished the disarmingly complex aromas of botrytised fruit ensconced in layers of honey and dried apricot.

“Ruster Ausbruch was a huge wine in the past,” explains Kurt Feiler from the Feiler-Artinger Winery in Rust. “The main markets were Estonia, and this region up to St Petersburg. Also, Poland. When the Hapsburg Monarchy lost all this territory our sales went down, unfortunately.”

The town of Rust, circa 1827.
The town of Rust with single vineyards identified and named, circa 1827.

Ruster Ausbruch, like Sauternes and Tokaj, is a sweet wine made from grapes infected with noble rot, or Botrytis cinerea. Ever-present in vineyards, the fungus spreads through clusters in humid conditions, attacking grapes with millions of microscopic conidia or spores that sprout hairy filaments that pierce the skin with the tiniest of cuts. In ideal conditions where misty, humid mornings are met with bright afternoon sunshine, the fungus transforms the fruit to shrivelled berries with fabulously concentrated sugars and intense aromas and flavours of dried apricots, caramel, beeswax and honey. After gentle pressing and maturation in oak for several years, an incomparable full-bodied sweet wine emerges of great depth and complexity.

“In comparison to Sauternes, we have more acidity, more living fruit and less influence from oak,” explains Herbert Triebaumer of Ernst Triebaumer Winery, one of Austria’s most renowned wine producers. “In comparison to Tokaj, we are also using different varieties.” According to Heidi Schröck, the key difference between Ausbruch and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) is a touch of restraint with botrytised fruit notes held in check by high acidity. “It is really luscious but held in balance by alcohol, acidity and sugar,” she says succinctly but then adds: “It tastes like dried fruits and freshly baked bread. It has this balance of fruit and power.”

Despite the shared heritage of using rot-infected grapes to produce sweet wine, Ruster Ausbruch does display a uniqueness that is found neither in the great Sauternes or the magnificent Tokaj Aszú of Hungary – a uniqueness that is revealed in its uncanny ability to remain intensely alive and sprightly on the palate despite high levels of sweetness, or residual sugar. While other sweet wines waltz across the palate, Ruster Ausbruch performs a fiery jig. “The wine should be living,” muses Triebaumer. “Always living, never boring. We call this fire. There is a kind of fire in the wine.”

The Sweet Taste of Freedom

Well before Sauternes was bending an elbow to make sweet wine from botrytis-infected Semillon and Muscadelle, the people of Rust were creating sweet wines that were highly prized by kings and queens, czars and even an emperor or two.

“In 1524 we were granted the right to mark our barrels with an “R” for Rust,” stated Brigitte Conrad of Conrad Winery. “Rust was so well known at this time that it made sense for them to mark their barrels, the sweet wines were already famous and you can see by the architecture of Rust, the beautiful historic buildings, that people were earning a lot of money from their sweet wines.” What Conrad did not mention was that this newfound freedom was extended by Mary of Hungary, the queen consort of Hungary and Bohemia and the wife of Louis II (Louis II, it turned out, was the last king to rule all of Hungary before the Ottoman Empire conquered parts of the country in the 1526).

The town of Rust, Burgenland and vineyards.
The free town of Rust, visible in the background, has been producing remarkable wine for centuries.

In the 17th century, Rust found itself within the confines of Hungary. What made it especially unique, however, was the fact that its citizens were Protestants, many of them German-speaking farmers who had fled the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants in Germany. With a sea of Catholic villages to the north and northwest, the citizens of Rust had the foresight to realise that a Protestant village in an empire ruled by a staunch Catholic Holy Roman Emperor may not be in their best interests. The solution was found in the golden nectar winemakers had been ageing in their cellars in Rust – a commodity more precious than gold. The citizens of Rust requested from the Holy Emperor Leopold I a charter and the right to exist as a Freistadt, or free state. To sweeten the offer, they added 28,000 Litres of Ruster Ausbruch – a quantity that must have represented the entire vintage at the time.

“We bought our freedom with sweet wine,” exclaims winemaker Paul Schandl, with a twinkle in his eye. “It is the oldest brand in central Europe established in 1524! It’s the top quality from Rust. Then in 1963 the word Trockenbeerenauslese came to Austria. It was just Ruster Ausbruch before. There was nothing else for 400 years.”

Out of the Ashes, the Fire Rises

Today Rust is home to 1,924 people, and it remains a Freistadt - a fact the inhabitants of Rust revel in and cherish to this day (this fierce need for independence was felt in 2005 when Rust declined to join the Districtus Austriae Controllatus or DAC, Austria’s appellation system, which established Blaufränkisch as the single red varietal for Mittelburgenland DAC, and the subsequent creation of Leithaberg DAC, Eisenberg DAC, and Neusiedlersee DAC in 2012; however, Rust is rumoured to be finally joining the DAC in 2020 with its own Ruster Ausbruch DAC for its sweet wines). And while Ruster Ausbruch may have experienced a steep decline in the opening chapters of the 20th century when empires dissolved and crumbled amid the carnage of WWI, only to repeat the madness again thirty years later in WWII, this remarkable sweet wine is currently undergoing a strong revival, if not a resurgence. Much of this is due to the dedication and passion of a small group of winemakers who refused to let this wine disappear beneath the waves of history, changing consumer trends or industry shattering controversy.

The Feiler family, like many families in Rust, has been making wine for centuries as the family-owned winery was passed down from father to son era after era, generation after generation. After the economic collapse of post-war Europe and the Soviet occupation of Austria after 1945, the Feiler family, like every other winery in Rust, was confronted with what seemed to be the most daunting conditions for making and selling wine. Cellars had been raided by Russian troops, barrels shot through with bullets to facilitate the drinking of wine without glasses by unruly mobs of soldiers, equipment destroyed or stolen. Ruster Ausbruch had all but vanished. “We had the Russian occupation, so it was difficult for those 10 years, really difficult,” says Feiler. “Then slowly the production grew, and my grandfather started reintroducing Ruster Ausbruch in 1953.”

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, the Austrian wine industry grew in leaps and bounds as western Germany prospered from free market economics and democratic reforms. The wine drinking culture was less focused on fine wines, however, and producers were often guilty of making as much wine as cheaply as possible to sell in supermarkets and Weingärten. Exports to Germany flourished. According to Herbert Triebaumer, wine -makers in Rust like his father, Ernst, were forced to make cheap quaffing wine to try  

Kurt Feiler of Feiler-Artinger checks on Botrytis-infected grapes after starlings devoured most the sweet fruit over a few hours on a warm November day
Not even nets can stop them. Kurt Feiler of Feiler-Artinger checks on Botrytis-infected grapes after starlings devoured most the sweet fruit over a few hours on a warm November day.

and stay afloat; higher quality wines went unsold and were cellared until prices increased or consumers demanded premium wines at better prices for producers. “My father was making some red wine but mostly white wines, semi-sweet and sweet wines, very good quality sweet wines,” Triebaumer recounted, “but the German market, they did not want to buy. They wanted something else and no one was thinking of drinking premium wines back then. At one point he had three vintages in his cellar!”

Just when higher quality Austrian wine was gaining acceptance from a more discerning wine drinking consumer, and after decades of languishing in the shadows of highly rated German wines from Mosel and the Rheingau, tragedy struck. German wine labs in 1985 discovered diethylene glycol in Austrian wines sold in West German supermarkets. Diethylene glycol (DEG) is sweet tasting, colourless, non-odoriferous liquid commonly used in antifreeze, brake fluid, and consumer dyes. It is extremely toxic and can lead to organ and renal failure, even death if consumed in large doses. After the discovery, German authorities destroyed 27 million litres of German and Austrian wine it suspected were laced with DEG. What went so horribly wrong? After several bad vintages in the run up to 1985, notably 1982 when quantities plummeted, Austrian winemakers locked into multiyear contracts with German distributors importing sweet wines for German and American consumers felt they could cheat the system by sweetening their light-bodied wines with DEG. For Rust, the damage was particularly severe after a wine from Burgenland was named in the scandal by the media. Even more damaging was the fact that all wines from the region were labelled with Rust prominently displayed on the bottle.

“All of Burgenland area was named after Rust so even the most southern point of Burgenland used Ruster on the label,” explains Schandl. “They found a lot of things in the Ruster wines, things that should not have been there. We had the right to put Original Ruster on the label, but the customer did not distinguish between the two and that’s why the wine scandal came to Rust massively.” Schröck recalls the scandal ruefully. “In two things it was bad. The whole wine area was called Ruster Neusiedlersee so our name was always involved in the bad things, of course. And second, it was sweet wines that caused the scandal.”

Rather than smolder in the ashes of scandal and shame, Austrian winemakers redoubled their efforts to prove to the world that their wine was not only safe to drink but was of exceptionally high quality. Winemakers from Burgenland were at the forefront of the effort to rebuild what was left of a shattered wine industry. Alois Kracher of Kracher Winery, in Illmitz on the other side of Lake Neusiedl, exuded a superhuman determination to redress the maligned reputation of Austrian wine. He visited international wine fairs, dragging all and sundry (especially wine journalists) to his display to sample his fabulously rich and exotic Beerenauslese (BA) and TBAs. It was his unbridled enthusiasm and courage, however, for pitting his sweet wines against the great sweet wines of the world that caught the wine critics’ attention and helped recast Austrian wines in a more favourable light (in 1993, for example, he made headlines by holding a blind tasting in London where Kracher’s sweet wines went head to head with sweet wines from Sauternes, including Château d’Yquem; the tasting panel was thrilled with the outstanding quality of Kracher’s wines, often rating them ahead of many Sauternes).

Building on Kracher’s momentum, the winemakers of Rust also refused to rollover with mea culpas to the world for the sins of a few that had tarnished an entire nation. The counter attack was planned in the shape of a circle, the Cercle Ruster Ausbruch. The Cercle Ruster Ausbruch was founded in 1992 by Heidi Schröck, together with winemakers Peter Schandl, Hans Feiler, Fritz Seiler, Ernst Triebaumer, and Robert Wenzel.  “I wanted the world to get to know Ruster Ausbruch,” reveals Schröck. The group quickly set to work establishing tastings and minimum standards for the production of high quality Ruster Ausbruch. “What we did in the Cercle was we worked with role models,” explains Schröck. “We made tastings and we discussed how the wines were made. You had the very good wines and the wines that were not so good and we listened to the winemakers who made very good wines. We learned from each other.”

Water, Water everywhere. Plenty of Rot, too

Most winemakers will agree that great sweet wines are made in the vineyard, not in the cellar. This does not always involve the physical efforts of the winemaker, however; in fact, Botrytis cinerea requires the right climactic conditions before it can truly work its magic: plenty of misty mornings, humidity, and sunshine in the afternoon (and plenty of wind seems to help as well). If one of these conditions appears at the wrong time, or in disproportionate amounts, the fungus will split the grape skins and produce grey rot, the not-so noble rot that results in unusable fruit. In short, this is a very precarious, tricky business.  

Shrivelled grapes from a cluster infected with Botrytis cinerea.
Shrivelled grapes (and a few almost fresh ones) covered in grey mould from a cluster infected with Botrytis cinerea. Once in the tanks, this will take months to ferment.

As in Sauternes and Tokaj, the right microclimatic conditions for Botrytis to take root in the centuries-old vineyards of Rust are furnished by one essential geographical feature: a body of water. For Rust, the key body of water is the inimitable Neusiedlersee. In truth, the Neusiedlersee is something of an oddity as far as European lakes are concerned: at a mere 1.5 metres deep some would consider this more akin to a massive marsh than a lake. Despite its depth, the lake plays a vital role in producing cool morning fogs and mists that drift leisurely south – southwest across the vineyards and low points in and around Rust. Brilliant sunny, warm afternoons mingle with brisk Pannonian winds, creating the perfect drying conditions for slowing down the development of Botrytis thus ensuring the majority of rot does not tilt towards the destructive grey rot. A similar effect is created in Sauternes where the much larger Garonne mingles with the smaller, cooler Ciron – an encounter that creates misty mornings that encourage the blossoming of Botrytis cinerea; in Tokaj, the meeting point between the Bodrog River and the Tisza also produces mist and humidity that is critical for botrytis to blossom and spread throughout the vineyards. 

It should come as no surprise that the best vineyards in Rust for noble rot are those closest to the water. Ried Greiner, planted with Furmint and Gelber Muskateller, is perhaps the ideal site and one that local winemakers cherish. Prized both for its proximity to the lake, and the humidity it brings, Greiner’s flat topography is conducive to the even spread of Botrytis cinerea in row after row of vines. Other notable sites are to be found in the gently sloping hills: Ried Plachen, which points directly east to Lake Neusiedl, is planted with Traminer and Welschriesling, and Ried Geyerumriss, with its highly regarded Welschriesling and Riesling are two sites renowned for producing beautiful late harvest grapes with surprisingly pronounced aromatics. Heidi Schröck also lists Satz, a vineyard nestled in between Greiner and Vogelsang, as one of her favourite vineyards for creating perfectly botrytised fruit.

A keen eye will undoubtedly observe that Rust’s vineyard area takes the natural shape of A keen eye will undoubtedly observe that Rust’s vineyard area takes the natural shape of an amphitheater. The vineyards fan out northwest to southwest as they move away from the lake and Rust itself. This fan also unfolds and rises into gently sloping hills the further away it extends from the lake. There is broad consensus that the best vineyards are to be found mid-slope, much as you would find in Burgundy’s Bonnes Mares or Le Montrachet. Despite the small size of 420 hectares under vine (the Leithaberg DAC is 3,097 hectares in total), the soils are remarkably varied. The southern half of the vineyard area is lime-free, with brown soils, sand and loess. The loose material is affectionately known as “Ruster Gravel.” Mica schist is scattered throughout the area and there are bands of clay that prolong the growing season during unusually hot vintages. If there was ever a textbook case of quality over quantity, this is it. a

A duck in Ried Greiner, Rust.
Ried Greiner. Located close to the water, this vineyard creates some of best Botrytis-infected fruit in Rust.

Since the creation of sweet wine hinges entirely on the development of noble rot on the grape skins that often spreads sporadically over several weeks and months, many winemakers will commit to making two or three passes through the vineyards, picking the most beautifully infected fruit while leaving fresh fruit on the vine for dry wines. In a nod to the importance of zealous precision-like selection in the vineyard, Schandl prefers picking his infected fruit in a two-week bout of intense hand-harvesting. “I want to pick after a shrivelling period of only 2 weeks or even 10 days. Normally I want to get it from round and completely ripe to shrivelled in 2 weeks. The longer the botrytis is on the grape, the less acidity there will be because the botrytis takes the acid.” Warmer and drier weather has also pushed winemakers into the realm of steel nerves and indomitable patience. “You have to wait, and wait and then wait some more,” explains Günter Triebaumer, “before everything is perfect for picking. The patience you need is unbelievable.” Herbert Triebaumer, Gunter’s cousin, picks when the fruit is downright hideous. “Normally we would see botrytis in August and now we never see botrytis in August, it is too dry. It starts late and then later in the year it is too wet and misty. It cannot dry. It keeps growing and it gets hairy. It’s very ugly.”mphitheater. The vineyards fan out northwest to southwest as they move away from the lake and Rust itself

In fact, the careful removal or “breaking out” of fruit infected with noble rot from the cluster is most likely how this sweet earned its name. “Ausbruch in German means to break,” states Triebaumer. “You break out the botrytis as a kind of selection, so we think this is the root of the word Ausbruch.” Schröck is very much in agreement with how Ausbruch was named but adds that two or three passes in the vineyard picking out infected moldy grapes is a very modern practice. “In the very old days, when it was first made, they did it with their fingers. In the German language, the old term, to pick an apple or to pick a pear, you speak of breaking the pear, breaking the apple, breaking the grape. But my father used to make Ausbruch and he would never take two trips through the vineyards or take some and leave the rest and go several times. They just took it all.”

The idea of nimble-fingered pickers in Rust making their way down rows of vines breaking out shrivelled rotten fruit from plump clusters of fresh grapes at haste will perhaps conjure up images of women deftly picking moldy grapes in the famous Mezes Maly and Oremus vineyards in Tokaj (the latter is reputedly the vineyard where botrytised grapes were picked for sweet wines in 1620 after being left on the vines during a spell of fighting between Hungarian and Turkish militias). Such an image would be more than appropriate since Rust was part of Hungary for centuries, especially during the centuries when Ruster Ausbruch was gaining fame and cachet in the 17th century. The similarities seem to travel no further, however. This fan also unfolds and rises into gently sloping hills the further away it extends f

Unlike Tokaj Aszú, where the sweetness of the wine was determined by the amount of Aszú berries added to the base wine (4 baskets of infected grapes was 4 Puttonyos, 5 baskets was 5 Puttonyos and so on) there seems to be no historical record of such a scale of sweetness levels for wines in Rust (I have deliberately omitted the use of Furmint as a shared heritage since the consensus is that no one can say with any certainty that this variety was the dominant grape variety used historically in the sweet wines of Rust despite the fact that some producers in Rust are growing Furmint today). While it seems likely that historically speaking Ruster Ausbruch was most likely made with botrytised fruit and fresh fruit fermented together, this is rarely practiced today. Some producers, however, such as Seiler and Schröck, still add a small dash or two of fresh fruit (Schröck was known to use almost 20% fresh fruit but this has come down to around 5% recently). Due in large part to the indefatigable passions and efforts of the Cercle Ruster Ausbruch to improve quality, the sweet wines of Rust can now be said to be travelling along a much more certain path, a path that seeks to cut a clear swath between lighter Beerenauslese and the explosive full-on botrytised fruit of Trockenbeerenauslese. A path that can only lead to one place, Rust.d consensus that the best vineyards are to be found mid-slope, much as you would find in

A New Chapter Unfolds

In the fog and uncertainty of the crisis of 1985, the Cercle Ruster Ausbruch did not panic. They knew very well that their wines were of superb quality and could proudly stand beside a Sauternes or Tokaj. It was also clear that they need not reinvent their sweet wines: what they had in the barrel was already beyond reproach. It was more a scenario wherein Ausbruch inherent characteristics that distinguished itself from the other notable sweet wines of the world, its ethereal balance between sugar, fruit and acidity that revealed itself in a restrained and elegant power gingerly dancing on the palate, had to be carried forth with rigorous work in both the vineyard and the cellar.

Burgundy’s Bonnes Mares or Le Montrachet.Despite the small size of 420 hectaresunder

To bring Ruster Ausbruch into the modern wine world, residual sugar levels were assiduously established by the members of the Cercle Ruster Ausbruch in the 1990s. This was largely done to steer winemakers away from making Ausbruch that was ill-balanced, and therefore suffering from either too little residual sugar or too much alcohol. “When we first made our first charter for Ruster Ausbruch in 1991,” explains Schröck, “we said it had to have a minimum of 150 g/L of residual sugar because at this time we had Ausbruch with below 100 g/L and with 16% ABV so we knew we had to lower the alcohol and get a little higher with the residual sugar.”

In the cellar, practically everyone is choosing a non-interventionist approach. For Triebaumer, the key is to leave the wines virtually untouched. After a spontaneous

fermentation in wood for up to 12 months, the wines are left on their lees undisturbed for 2 years. Stirring of the less is unthinkable. “For me the most important part for sweet wines is the sedimentation. It is really slow, and we let the sedimentation settle slowly. There is no stress. The wine has time.” To underscore his hands-off approach, Triebaumer makes a vivid comparison between making wine and raising children: “As a parent, you don’t push or pull your children to grow this way or that way, you give them space to grow. I have 4 sons and I never pushed or pulled them and they are all great!”v

Stainless steel tanks in the Peter Schandl Winery, Rust.
Stainless steel tanks in the Peter Schandl Winery, Rust.

To preserve the unbridled but refined fruit characteristics of botrytised Ruster Ausbruch wines, safeguards against oxidation are taken by using fine grained oak and keeping barrels topped up. Feiler, for instance, tops up his barrels continuously throughout maturation and never fines, preferring to gently rack the wine off its sedimentation just before bottling. “I don’t rack. I just wait and let the lees settle. Then we taste the varieties and blends and decide what will taste best and then we rack, filter and bottle.” Günter Triebaumer’s approach is wholly reductive, fermenting and ageing his Ruster Ausbruch in stainless steel tanks.

Schröck, however, adds a surprising twist: foot treading. After receiving the grapes at the winery, the moldy grapes are stomped on for several hours then left to macerate in the skins for several hours or overnight, depending on the vintage. The wine is gently pressed and transferred to barrels for spontaneous fermentation. Schröck is also fond of acacia wood barrels and casks, its tight grain naturally protecting the wine from oxidation. After two years on the lees the wine is filtered and bottled.

As far as varieties are concerned, Ruster Ausbruch can be a single variety or a blend. Among Cercle Ruster Ausbruch members, Welschriesling is highly esteemed for its profoundly complex aromatics. For Brigitte Conrad, Welschriesling is the most elegant variety for making Ruster Ausbruch and it has the starring role in many of their Ausbruch sweet wines. Heidi Schröck adores Welschriesling for its unfussy personality and its ability to hold high levels of acidity, a key characteristic amid rising temperatures and warmer vintages. Kurt Feiler makes a tangy Ruster Ausbruch from Zweigelt but he seems to truly make his mark with his Pinot Cuvée Ausbruch made from Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. Where Welschriesling is a tower of honey, apricot and peach, Paul Schandl still considers Riesling as the classic variety for making great sweet wines, and its inclusion in his Ruster Ausbruch adds a remarkable savoury exoticism that is impossible to resist. I would be remiss not to mention Furmint given the historical links to Furmint’s primary role in Tokaj, but this much-admired variety seems better for dry wines in Rust rather than sweet wines. Its fall from grace is to be found in Furmint’s uncanny ability to resist the growth of Botrytis cinerea by forcing it to develop in tiny patches here and there on the cluster, rather than as large masses of hairy fungus on the majority of the skins. That and the presence of a shatter like phenomenon where infected fruit breaks free from the cluster and simply plummets helplessly to the ground - a phenomenon that discourages even the most stout-hearted winemakers come harvest-time. Yet, like a mother that loves even the most difficult and ill-tempered of her children, Furmint has not been completely forsaken. Schröck, Seiler and Günter Triebaumer continue to make brilliant Ruster Ausbruch with Furmint, either as a single varietal or a blending partner.

Less talk, more Drinking

After a sprawling diatribe of facts and history, of vinification techniques and varietal preferences, the question finally arises: what do they taste like? I spent much of November and December in 2019 tasting dozens of Ruster Ausbruch in wineries and tasting rooms in Rust. None of the wines were served blind and direct comparisons were not made with Tokaj Aszú or Sauternes (this will come later in a follow-up article). What unfolds below is my best attempt and effort to present Ruster Ausbruch in its own light, with comparisons being made from within the Cercle Ruster Ausbruch itself, and thus between different cuvées and mono-varietals and each winemaker’s attempt to make the most remarkable sweet wines possible. The good news: the quality is astonishingly high among the vast majority of Ruster Ausbruch tasted. Truth be told, there was not a bad wine among the group. Yes, there were some wines that lagged behind, that seemed less captivating and enchanting, but this is to be expected. If anything, the diversity to be found here is a point to be lauded rather than criticized. One of the more memorable tastings (and perhaps one of the most memorable tastings I have ever had in my life, for that matter) was the Peter Schandl Ruster Ausbruch 1981. This wine was unequivocally sensational. The near opaque amber brown liquid in an unlabelled glass bottle covered in black mould poured by Paul Schandl in the tasting room as grey clouds and rain drops descended from the chilly November skies above Rust was a deeply moving experience. The hypnotically thick and dense wine exploded with baking spice, blood orange, dark apricots, and toffee while magically conjuring up scenes and emotions of childhood innocence, festive family Christmas dinners and those warm autumn days where millions of rust (no pun intended) coloured leaves fall silently to the ground as an unmerciful winter encroaches. Pure magic.

The bad news, on the other hand, was a force majeure of Mother Nature: swarms of ravenous starlings descended on the vines of botrytised grapes throughout November unleashing carnage in vineyards across Rust. Not even the usually reliable blue netting was enough to keep these hungry birds at bay. Sadly, some winemakers lost 100% of their infected fruit; 2019, it seems, will prove to be a very trying year for sweet wine production from Rust.

What lies ahead? The biggest challenges seem to be finding new markets for sweet wines and deterring voracious birds from decimating vineyards laden with sugary fruit. Sweet wines are a niche market and it is no secret that sales of the sugary stuff have been declining for decades. How to persuade consumers that savoring a bottle of sweet wine over several months at home is one of the most enjoyable drinking experiences one can ever hope to have is the question that sadly remains stubbornly unanswered. Changing or refashioning consumer opinion is never an easy task; it certainly won't be easy given today's choppy economic waters and the fact that many consumers are turning to fortified spirits like gin. Sadly, sweet wines will remain a hard sell. 

Where and how Ruster Ausbruch can gain traction among wine lovers in untapped markets during an economic recession will be an undertaking for the fearless. Adding to the difficulty, of course, is the closure of all restaurants during Covid-19. Ruster Ausbruch is found on wine lists in many fine dining establishments in Vienna and the world over. The financial crisis has torn a giant hole in everyone’s pockets, especially in the operating revenues of fine-dining establishments. It will take months if not years before businesses recover from this economic downturn. Furthermore, it is anyone’s guess if diners will be willing to spend extra money on a bottle of sweet wine after an impeccable meal when their wallets are noticeably lighter. Also, there can be no forays into new markets without sufficient quantities of said high-quality product. As warmer weather pushes harvesting for botrytis infected grapes for Ruster Ausbruch back further and further into the fall, the grapes become more and more vulnerable to marauding swarms of hungry starlings. Given the fact that Neusiedlersee is also a national park and therefore a protected bird sanctuary and you can see where this one is going. So where to now? Many winemakers I spoke to admitted they would need to invest in new netting that completely drapes over the vines and vineyards (the open-ended netting currently used in Rust can be easily penetrated by determined starlings. A few people even recounted stories of watching gangs of starlings landing en masse on top of the nets, using their collective weight to lower the netting until hundreds of other starlings could swoop in and feast on the grapes) thus rendering them fully protected and impenetrable. This will come at a steep price, however. 

The solution of new netting will have some serious economic ramifications: new, larger netting will cost tens of thousands of Euros, possibly even more, putting it well beyond the reach of many smaller producers. One must also remember that rows of vines in vineyards in Rust are also owned by dozens of winemakers and individuals which means some people own more vines than others. Determining who pays how much and for which vineyards will be an excruciatingly complicated exercise. With limited capital and half a dozen vineyards to cover, winemakers may have to practice a form of viticultural triage by agreeing on which vineyards are to be protected and which are to be left to the birds. 

Indeed, these are extremely daunting obstacles that will require considerable diplomacy, compromise and ingenuity. Fortunately, it is not all doom and gloom. On the positive side, the new Ruster Ausbruch DAC to be launched in 2020 will help put Ruster Ausbruch back on the map once and for all. With a new protected designation of origin, Ruster Ausbruch will enjoy a geographical place of origin and typicity that will clearly distinguish it from sweet wines produced in Austria either as Beerenauslese or Trockenbeerenauslese, making it much easier for both wine marketers and consumers to comprehend and purchase. With more than 400 years of wine-making history behind it, Rust has an extraordinary story to tell. The Ruster Ausbruch DAC will facilitate the telling of this story beyond Austria’s borders where enthusiastic wine lovers wait to be entranced by tales of how a sweet wine was traded for freedom in the 17th century  - something no other wine in the world can lay claim to. In the next chapter, I believe Ruster Ausbruch will find its well-deserved place alongside Sauternes and Tokaj as one of the finest, most majestic sweet wines of the world. If history and the unconquerable spirit of the people of Rust are anything to go by, I think we can rest assured that this fire will continue to burn brightly for many centuries to come. 

Weingut Peter Schandl

Ruster Ausbruch 2001 7.5% abv 300 g/L RS * * * * *

Made from 100% Pinot Blanc, this Ruster Ausbruch is a stunning single varietal sweet wine, its deep amber brown nectar beckoning to all and sundry to be sipped. There are deep layers of botrytis fruit consisting of plum, peach and apricot, all unfurling into delicious notes of toffee and dark bread with a whisper of wild honey from deep within the woods lurking underneath. The finish is long and generous.

Ruster Ausbruch 2015 10% abv 260 g/L RS * * * *

Produced from botrytis-infected fruit from Ried Plachen, Ried Kreften and Ried Geyerumriss, this cuvée is 60% Welschriesling, 20% Riesling, 10% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Pinot Blanc. Tropical and stone fruits of pineapple and peach shining brightly here with pristine notes of honey and biscuit. There is a wonderful tension between fruit, sweetness and acidity that expand effortlessly on the palate. Produced from a warm and dry vintage that was wonderfully conducive to the spread of botrytis, this sweet wine will reach even greater heights of complexity after several decades, possibly more.

Ruländer Ruster Ausbruch 1981      * * * * *

Harvested by Peter Schandl on 20th October 1981, this wine was the Ruster Ausbruch Peter had hoped to make back in 1974 when his daughter Barbara was born. Seven years late but not a gram short of perfection! This wine is a symphony of flavours and aromas and is bursting with dried apricots, dark warm bread, mocha and toffee. Even after 39 years the wine is still very much alive, displaying that quintessential character of fire and spice that is the signature of all great Ruster Ausbruch. Gorgeous. Even after leaving the Peter Schandl winery I had notes of mocha and toffee lingering on my palate. Extraordinary finish. 100% Ruländer (Pinot Gris).

Winemaker Paul Schandl digs out a gorgeous bottle of Ruster Ausbruch 1981 from the cellar.
Winemaker Paul Schandl digs out a gorgeous bottle of Ruster Ausbruch 1981 from the cellar. What a treat!

Weingut Ernst Triebaumer

Ruster Ausbruch 2014 8% abv 270 g/L RS * * * *

Herbert Triebaumer considers the 2014 vintage to be the exact opposite of 2015: cooler and with significantly more disease pressure. Fortunately, the botrytis grew perfectly and the harvest was relatively problem-free. No fresh fruit was used during vinification. Grüner Veltliner and Chardonnay botrytis-infected fruit were selected. As is the case with all of Triebaumer’s Ruster Ausbruch, the juice was fermented in used oak for up to one year and then matured in 300 L barrels on the lees for approximately 2 years. The 2014 Ausbruch evinces pronounced aromatics of honey, stone fruit and milk chocolate with a dollop of caramel. Baking spice and cloves are lifted by zesty apricot notes that spread gently across the palate giving this wine a charmingly playful character. Best enjoyed from 2025 onwards.

Ruster Ausbruch 2015 11.5% abv 252 g/L RS * * * *

Picked a few weeks before the Beerenauslese, the Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling and Traminer grapes were selected in two passes in November and December. “The botrytis was beautiful,” recalls Triebaumer. “In 2015, we could harvest like red wine: you could cut two or three bunches and bring them to the bucket, everything was perfect.” Despite unusually warm weather, the 2015 possesses fresh acidity that infuses deeply concentrated tropical and stone fruit notes of melon and peach with sparkling vivacity. Enticing hints of honey and spice provide yet another layer to this complex wine that will age well for decades.

Ruster Ausbruch Essenz 1999 8% abv 351 g/L RS * * * * *

A magical amber coloured wine with tremendous balance and harmony, enlivened by sharp acidity and vibrant dried apricot fruit. On the palate, orange peel and honey imbued with spice and whispers of cumin unfurl in a long, elegant finish. There is a shimmering tension between fruit, sweetness and acidity that practically vibrates on the palate. A memorable Ausbruch to savour with close friends and loved ones beside the fireplace. This wine is a testament to the dedication and vision required to making truly great Ausbruch. For Triebaumer, 1999 was the vintage of his life. Extremely humid conditions encouraged the spread of Oidium and rains sidelined Triebaumer and his crews for several weeks. Agonizing over when or even if they could pick for Ruster Ausbruch, Triebaumer steeled himself and waited patiently for the right moment to materialise. Eventually the sun and wind colluded to create the perfect window where dry conditions would slow the botrytis and allow for picking infected grapes between 30 and 33 KMW. Harvesting occurred over three or four days before misty, humid and rainy afternoons returned, pushing sugar levels to 40 KMW. In the end, only 400 bottles of Ruster Ausbruch were produced.

ctares in total), the soils are remarkably varied. The southern half of the vineyard area is Weingut Feiler-Artinger

Ruster Ausbruch Pinot Cuvée 2016 11% abv 220 g/L RS * * * * *

Biodynamically grown. Spontaneous fermentation in oak barrels and aged in 30% new oak for 2 years with all three varieties – Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay fermented and matured separately, then blended before bottling. Medium gold with green reflections this launches into exotic tropical fruit and honey, then succulent pineapple before dovetailing into a cloud of coconut. Bright acidity and a soft, creamy texture balance the sweetness allowing the wine to gingerly expand across the palate with elegance and restraint. This is an exquisite example of what new oak can bring to the table. Kurt Feiler believes the Ruster Ausbruch Pinot Cuvée is the shining star in his Ausbruch line-up; he is absolutely correct. Outstanding.

Ruster Ausbruch 2017 12.5% abv 185 g/L RS * * * *

Aromas of tropical fruit wrapped around a dried apricot core with a waft of honey lurking in between the layers of fruit. Medium gold in colour, youthful but complex and with a long luxurious finish, this wine will continue to evolve for 30 or more years. The blend consists of 2/3 Pinot Blanc and 1/3 Welshriesling. The fruit is dense and focused but never overwhelming, which seems to be a nod to the hard work Feiler has undertaken over the past 11 years transforming his vineyards through biodynamics.

Ruster Ausbruch Essenz 2016 8% abv 320 g/L RS * * * *

Made exclusively from Welschriesling from the Ried Plachen site, intense aromas of blossom, honeysuckle and ripe pear intermingle with cooked apricot and wild honey notes. The Essenz characteristics of low alcohol and high residual sugar never detract from the round, smooth texture. Drinking well now but will undoubtedly become even more special over the coming decades. Biodynamic.

Ruster Ausbruch Essenz Zweigelt 2016 6.5% abv 312 g/L RS * * * *

Boasting unusually eye-catching deep ruby-amber hues, this is one of the few Ausbruch made solely from a red grape variety. The Zweigelt was grown in the famed Greiner site. Resting close to the lake and southeast of Rust, Ried Greiner consists of granite and gneiss topsoil over red slate and it is arguably one of the best sites for botrytis-infected fruit. Aromas of orange peel and apricot with a touch of rosewood on the nose, but on the palate dark caramel notes appear towards the denouement of a medium finish. A little earthier and darker than its siblings. Biodynamic.

, with brown soils, sand and loess. The loose material is affectionately known as “Ruster

Weingut Tremmel

The Tremmels arrived in Rust in the mid 17th century and they have been farmers, coopers and winemakers. Harald Tremmel, who took the reins from his father Ludwig in 1999, has been steadily improving the quality of the wines ever since. Tremmel’s Ruster Ausbruch is fermented in stainless steel or barrel and fermentation is kicked off with cultured yeast to avoid stuck fermentations. He is the only member of the Cercle Ruster Ausbruch to have produced a multi-vintage cuvée Ruster Ausbruch and it remains a secret which vintages he blended and released in 2017. From Tremmel’s point of view, the wine is still a very typical style of Ausbruch with high acidity and good concentration with all the flavours of botrytis including the distinctive yeasty dark bread notes. What is uppermost in Tremmel’s mind is that his sweet wines are drinkable. “The wines must be sweet with enough acidity and concentration so that they are drinkable,” declares Tremmel. “If they are too sweet or too oxidative, then they are not Ruster Ausbruch.”

Ruster Ausbruch Non-Vintage 11.5% abv 160 g/L RS * * * *

The vintages and varieties remain a mystery, but Tremmel did confide that his non-vintage Ausbruch was made from four different vintages: two older and two more recent. The wine is youthful and lighthearted (despite there being two older vintages in the cuvée) with restrained notes of fresh, dried apricots, toffee and dark rye bread and yeast. Only 200 bottles were released in 2017.

Ruster Ausbruch 1999 12.5% abv 172 g/L RS * * * * *

A fascinating Ruster Ausbruch from one of the greatest vintages for sweet wines. Medium amber. Very precise but luscious bouquet of stewed apricots, figs and tamarind. There are brooding mocha accents beneath the fruit. Youth and energy define this wine as it uncurls endlessly on the palate. A virtuoso performance by Welschrielsing with Pinot Blanc in the supporting role at 1/3 of the blend.

Bruno Landauer and his son, Stefan, are well-known throughout Austria with over three thousand loyal customers and a seemingly successful international presence in France, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries, notably Sweden and Finland. The family-owned and operated winery traces itself back to 1650, when the Landauers migrated to Rust from Germany. With 28 HA of vines in many of the most renowned sites in Rust, the Landauer family has been producing noteworthy Ruster Ausbruch for more than 60 years. A hefty amount of their Ruster Ausbruch are blends. Welschriesling from Vogelsang and Furmint brings mouth-watering acidity; Pinot Blanc, Neuburger and Chardonnay add creamy complexity and a supple roundness on the palate. Weingut Landauer, however, is not a member of the Ruster Ausbruch Cercle (they left the Cercle in 2012). But this has in no way detracted from the quality of their Ruster Ausbruch. The wines are profoundly complex and harmoniously balanced, as evidenced by the tasting in their winery in November.

Ruster Ausbruch 2012 11.5% abv 125 g/L RS * * * *

Light gold in the glass is indicative of the youth of this Ausbruch which hailed from an excellent vintage that required a great deal of patience and even a little bit of luck. Harvest took place on 12 December – only one week before picking started for ice wines. A blend of Pinot Blanc and Furmint, the 2012 is less opulent than many other sweet wines, perhaps due to the Furmint. A gentle interplay between apricot and fig notes highlight the restrained and elegant nature of this sweet wine. The wine’s evolution over the coming decades will reveal whether the 2012 vintage is destined to be yet another classic vintage for sweet wines in Austria.

Ruster Ausbruch Cuvée 2013 11.5% abv 170 g/L RS * * * *

Although a very young sweet wine, the 2013 Ruster Ausbruch stands out from the crowd for its unbridled exoticism of spicy oak, vanilla and tropical fruit aromas. The aromatics leap from the glass with vigorous enthusiasm. Very strong oak due largely to the fact that the wine was aged in three new barriques. “We had a large yield for the 2013 vintage,” explained Stefan. “All of our tanks were full! What to do? We had three new barriques in the cellar, so we decided, that’s it!” The wine was aged for 18 months in the new oak. The maturation in new barrique reveals the seductive, racier side of Ruster Ausbruch with ripe pineapple and stone fruits firmly in the driver’s seat. This young and restless Ausbruch needs a few hours of aeration before revealing more subdued notes of honey, brown sugar and dried apricot buried underneath the waves of oak and coconut. It will undoubtedly benefit from another decade or so in the bottle before unwinding into what is sure to be a sensational sweet wine. A blend of Welschriesling and Pinot Blanc.

Ruster Ausbruch Cuvée Essenz 1999 10% abv 308 g/L RS * * * * *

The 1999 vintage has been hailed as one of the greatest sweet wine vintages in Austria over the past century. The Landauer 1999 Ruster Ausbruch is a testament to this outstanding vintage. It is towering giant of melted caramel, apricot, and wild honey. Mocha notes eventually appear after some time in the glass. The wine is strikingly fresh and nimble which is surprising since the acidity clocks in at a paltry 8.5 g/L. A sustained, persistent finish catapults this wine into the Classics. Made exclusively from Rivaner, a cultivar that no longer exists in Landauer’s vineyards, only adds to the allure of this wine. (During the 1970s and 80s, Rivaner, more commonly known as Muller Thurgau in Central Europe, was the most widely planted variety in Austria; today there is less than 1900 HA remaining in Austria, the vast majority of which is in the Weinviertel).a

Ruster Ausbruch Cuvée Essenz 1995     10% abv       214 g/L  RS     * * * * *

Another classic vintage for the record books, 1995 was a charmed year for sweet wine makers who relished the cool, misty conditions in August while Botrytis spread with wild abandon throughout the vineyards. Vintners harvested perfectly shrivelled, heavily infected fruit in October. Landauer harvested in mid-October when acidity was high with very good sugar levels. Stefan recalls that the fruit was immaculate with little to no grey rot; the picking was done in one pass. Weingut Landauer produced 14,000 bottles of Ruster Ausbruch from this vintage – an astounding quantity. The wine is a dark, semi-opaque amber. Bold aromatics of dark honey, apricots, and caramel emerge from the glass, followed by traces of fresh coffee and salted toffee. There is great depth to this wine as it expands on the palate revealing layers of dried apricots with an edge of salinity. With 9.2 grams of acidity, the wine is well balanced and sprightly. This wine simply pulsates with energy. The 1995 Cuvée Essenz is a blend of Welschriesling, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay.

Weingut Conrad

Brigitte Conrad, a former president of the Ruster Ausbruch Cercle, and her husband and head winemaker, Dieter, have been making wine in Rust since 2000. Weingut Conrad was certified organic in 2011 and makes a broad array of dry wines, including some very distinctive Ruster Ausbruch made from 100% Welschriesling. The Conrads produce wines from 5 HA; annual production numbers run from 13,000 to 16,000 bottles. Welshriesling is their preferred variety for making sweet wines. Brigitte values the floral elegance Welshriesling brings to their sweet wines above all else. “Welschriesling is the most elegant variety,” explains Brigitte, “and we try to make sweet wines from Welschriesling every year and when the conditions are not right then we like Pinot Blanc.”

Ruster Ausbruch Welschriesling 2017 13.5% abv 125 g/L RS * * *

The floral elegance of Welshriesling shines through with plenty of lift from citrus fruit. Pronounced floral notes of Chamomile, honeysuckle and lemon grass are complemented by lemon and ripe melon fruit. A medium + finish and refreshing, crisp acidity creates a restrained elegance. A fine example of what Welschriesling can do without Pinot Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc at its side. Fermentation in stainless steel and maturation in used barriques for approximately 12 months. Best after 2027.

Weingut Heidi Schröck

In 1999 Weingut Heidi Schröck had 5 different Ausbruch. Back then they were called Elysium and one sweet wine earned 98 Parker points – a feat that catapulted Schröck 

into international stardom. Much to her credit, Schröck’s wine has never wavered over the decades in the quality department, earning rave reviews and high points from some of the world’s most discerning critics. Changing climate and warmer temperatures have decreased the number of Ruster Ausbruch in her portfolio from 5 to two but quality trumps quantity at this winery. Her sweet wines are both opulent and majestic with fiery luscious fruit demonstrating sweet winemaking at its very best. “Ruster Ausbruch should be a wine where after you have one glass, you ask: please one more,” muses Heidi. One more indeed. 

Ruster Ausbruch Turner 2014 12% abv 190 g/L RS * * * * *

Made only in the best vintages from the single vineyard Turner, the Ruster Ausbruch Turner is an extremely limited release made from Furmint and a dollop of Sauvignon Blanc (Schröck and her son Georg make this wine only 2 or 3 times every decade). Miniscule amounts of less than 200 L are fermented in acacia barrels and aged in 90 L Stockinger oak barrels for 2 years. According to the Schröcks, the 2014 vintage was a difficult one: rain and more rain descended on Rust waterlogging the grapes. Botrytis infected grapes absorbed so much water that many began bursting. Cool weather kept acidity levels high, but the moisture called for extra hard work in the vineyard picking suitable grapes from disintegrating clusters with shrieking volatile acidity. “The motto of the vintage was no vinegar!” recalled Heidi, a phrase she shouted every 20 minutes to her crew in the vineyard during the harvest. For Schröck, the hard work and careful selection clearly paid off: a beguiling, energetic bouquet of blossom, apricots and honey is the first sign that there is something very special in the glass. The wine is lavishly dense and unctuous on the palate with crystalline acidity confidently steering the wine away from garishness. There is heftiness and energy. Creamy waves of fiery dried apricot, candied orange and lemon give way to a solid core of the purest honey. Given the high acidity (10.5 g/L) and alcohol, ageing potential is tremendous – possible drinking window – now to 2060 and beyond.

Ruster Ausbruch Auf den Flügeln der Morgenröte 2017 11.5% abv 220 g/L RS * * * * *

Auf den Flügeln der Morgenröte or On the Wings of Dawn was first released in 2002 and it is normally a 50-50 blend of Welschriesling and Pinot Blanc or Furmint. Welschriesling brings smoky spiciness and powerful aromatics and acidity; Sauvignon Blanc brings the dulce: beeswax, honey and candied citrus fruit. This is the winery’s flagship wine and it has won Heidi Schröck critical acclaim from critics (100 points from Wine Enthusiast and Wine of the Year from Gault Millau 2019). Élevage takes place in barriques over 24 months and the wines are filtered before bottling.

Schröck recalls the 2017 vintage as rather uncomplicated and straightforward. Harvest came relatively early and it was the last vintage they picked in September (harvesting now occurs in mid-August now for dry wines) but grapes for sweets was picked in mid-November. A very round and creamy mouthfeel lifted by just enough acidity gives the wine a zesty harmonious balance. Underneath candied fruit and honey, subtle coconut notes emerge presumably from gentle oxidation that occurred in a 100 L new oak barrel during maturation. Delightful. This wine is destined to increase in complexity over the next few decades.

ere was ever a textbook case of quality over quantity, this is it.

Weingut Giefing

Ruster Ausbruch Chardonnay Essenz 2015 10% abv 226 g/L RS * * *

Youthful bouquet of honey blossom, ripe green melon, and yellow apple mingle with subtler notes of cantaloupe and honey. Quite fresh despite an acidity of just 5.6 g/L. The medium finish leaves little to the imagination at this point but this is bound to change over the next decade. The usual telltale notes of Botrytis are largely absent from this young Ruster Ausbruch – something which lends itself as an intriguing alternative (much like Conrad’s Ruster Ausbruch) for those seeking flavour profiles of tropical and green fruit over stewed apricots.

Weingut Giefing has produced only one Ruster Ausbruch in the past 5 years – the 2015 vintage, in fact, but they are very determined on making a very special Ruster Ausbruch for 2020 for the launch of the Ruster Ausbruch DAC.

G & E Triebaumer

Günter Triebaumer prefers to make single varietal Ruster Ausbruch if the vintage is kind enough to bestow such generosity upon winemakers. He is endlessly fascinated by the aromatic prowess of Welschriesling and the unforgettable earthiness of Muscat. He had what he thought to be his best ever botrytis-infected Muscat in late 2019 but that was before the starlings picked the vines clean. “Wine should define itself by fruit,” declares Günter. “So I always ferment in stainless steel…the wines should never be cloying or gluey.” He makes a few hundred litres of Ruster Ausbruch per year. The winery switched to screw caps exclusively in 2007.

Ruster Ausbruch 2017 #2 12% abv 156 g/L RS * * * *

A blend of Weissburgunder and Riesling, handfuls of fiery spice and secondary characteristics of coconut, vanilla custard and biscuit. This sweet wine is the exception that breaks the Triebaumer rule of fruit first: fermented and aged in new barriques for 2 years, the oak-driven flavours of biscuit and coconut dramatically overpower the fruit at this point in time. These flavours should subside over the next ten years, when new layers of stewed dried fruit should emerge. This is one for the cellar.

Ruster Ausbruch 2015 9% abv 214 g/L RS * * * *

A typical warm and dry vintage with some rain in the late fall that jump started the botrytis in the vineyards. The 100% Welschriesling juice was fermented and aged in stainless steel. Impressive power and energy uncurl on the palate releasing a meteor shower of spice, cloves and citrus fruit. Star bright lemon and ginger are tightly wrapped around a musky, earthy honey core. Impressive.

Ruster Ausbruch 2014 10% abv 180 g/L RS * * * * *

Medium amber with a pungent, powerful nose of apricot, dried fig, and orange peel. Underneath the fruit lurks honey and cumin. A restless spiciness lifts the wine to a long, sustained finish. This is a superb effort from a very difficult vintage. The wine is a blend of 2/3 Welschriesling and 1/3 Furmint. A faultless Ruster Ausbruch.

Weingut Georg Seiler pungent, powerful nose of apricot, dried fig, and orange peel. Underneath the fruit lurks

The Georg Seiler Winery and Buschenschank is a charming family-owned business located at the top of the high street in Rust. The Seilers are one of the oldest wine producing families in Rust (the first Seilers arrived more than 400 years ago from Germany) but they have a glossy modernity to their traditional wine making approach. With 10 hectares under vine, they are growing top quality grapes in several of Rust’s best sites including Umriss and Riegelband. They are also growing 2 HA of Furmint and 1 HA of Muller Thurgau. Georg, who assumed head wine making duties from his father, Friedrich, in 2004, produces classic Ruster Ausbruch from several varieties but will deliver on single varietal Ausbruch made from Chardonnay or Welschriesling if the conditions are favourable. Seiler ferments in stainless steel but if he has sufficient quantities the sweet wines are aged in old barrels, 15 to 20 years old to be exact. Most of the time spontaneous fermentation is encouraged but if the fermentation is stuck cultured yeast is added to the juice. Overall the quality is excellent, with many Ruster Ausbruch overflowing with classic notes of botrytis and smoldering spiciness.

Ruster Ausbruch 2014 10% abv 135 g/L RS * * * * *

Three varieties – Welschriesling, Furmint, and Weissburgunder – positively soar in the glass with freshness and vigour. The wine shimmers with crystalline purity and energy. Dried stewed apricots, figs, coriander and cumin coalesce into a fiery finish. The mouthfeel and concentration are nothing short of exceptional. The high acidity, punching in at 11.5 g/L, will ensure this wine will evolve with majestic flare. Outstanding.

Ruster Ausbruch Gelber Muskateller 2014 5.5% abv 262 g/L RS * * * * *

Wet conditions produced unusually high volatile acidity in the vineyards. “There was so little [good berries] because most of the grapes were dead from acetic acid, they just dropped to the ground,” recalled Georg. The teams harvested enough berries to produce a miniscule 50 L of juice. But great things come in small packages and this wine is no exception. The aromatics are a complex, tightly woven tapestry of apricot, dried orange, and straw held fast by a savage, animal musk. There is raw power and verve in this wine. A backbone of extraordinary acidity runs through the wine. When I ask if the acidity was above 11 g/L, Georg smiled. It’s 19.5 g/L. The finish is long and brimming with spice. A veritable coup d’état in the glass, and the revolution is only just beginning. “Where this wine is going in 20, 30, 40 years is anyone’s guess,” declared Georg. “But I love it.” This is a remarkable Ruster Ausbruch that seems to inhabit multiple worlds and limitless possibilities. Magnificent.

Ruster Ausbruch 2017 10% abv 232g/L RS * * * * *

Medium gold with lemon-green hues. A blend of Chardonnay, Welschriesling, Scheurebe, and Furmint. Classic aromatic notes of botrytis - apricot, honey, and beeswax. Just when you think the wine will continue along the same path, a lick of caramel and nuances of mocha materialise. This is a fine example of a classic Ruster Ausbruch in what seems to be a very forward sweet wine.

Ruster Ausbruch Chardonnay Essenz 1998 7.5% abv 281 g/L RS * * * * *

Another glowing example of astute decision making in the vineyard, the 1998 Ausbruch was picked during a brief window when the rains let up, offering winemakers the opportunity to cease the moment or wait for sunnier conditions.

The vintage was promising to be superb before unwelcome downpours saturated the vineyards. “Everybody thought it was going to be a great vintage and then it started raining; it rained from maybe 20th August until 20th of September and then we started harvesting and we had to harvest very fast because we had a lot of botrytis.” Ample aromas of apricots, barley sugar, caramel and coffee are present with a brief dash of dill on the back palate. There is just enough acidity to keep the wine from sinking into sluggishness. An earthy, punchy tanginess surfaces on the finish. Impeccable freshness.

Ruster Ausbruch 1991 12%abv 94 g/L RS * * * *

I was surprised to see the 1991 reveal such a light amber colour once in the glass that I was convinced something must have gone wrong either in the vineyard or in the cellar. Perhaps a bad bottle? Previous Ruster Ausbruch with bottle age I had tasted was always a luxurious dark amber. Could Seiler be fallible after all? “It is not every year that we get a dark colour,” declared Georg. “Some say that when you have a warm year and the Botrytis starts early you get dark colours.” The vintage was cold and rainy, however. “We had problems with the dry reds and the whites because the ripeness was not very high but it was rainy so the Botrytis started very early so we had excellent sweet wines. Very fresh.” The 1991 is nimbler than its siblings, one might even say quieter or more subdued if pressed to stretch the analogy. The fruit is ripe but less obtrusive and opulent. It is delightful nonetheless and would be fitting for impromptu occasions when a modest sweet wine is in order after a light lunch or a casual weeknight dinner. Sadly, the 1991 Ausbruch will no longer be available in 2020 but I suspect those possessing unusually gifted skills of persuasion and diplomacy might convince Georg to dig out a bottle or two from the cellar to be enjoyed over a plate of cold meats and cheeses in the Buschenschank. It is certainly worth the effort.

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