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Ruster Ausbruch: the Specialty Dessert Wine from Austria

Ruster Ausbruch is a specialty sweet dessert wine from Austria. In understanding what Ruster Ausbruch is, it is helpful to first look at the name itself: Ruster is pronounced “rooster”, like the bird, and it simply means that the wine comes from the town of Rust (pronounced roost) in the Burgenland region of Austria. Ausbruch is pronounced ahs-brook, and comes from the German word Ausbrechen, which means to “break out.” There are a number of dessert wines hailing from different countries called Ausbruch, and it refers to the method used to select the grapes during harvest: the grapes which have been affected by botrytis cinerea (also known as noble rot) are “broken out” of the bunch, leaving the clean, un-affected grapes behind. It is this noble rot that is being referred to when you find a dessert wine being called a “Noble Wine.”

The quality of the final product depends upon how meticulously this selection process it is done. The simplest way involves taking two buckets and making one pass at the vines, roughly separating the merely ripe grapes from those affected by noble rot.

The more labor intensive way involves going through the vineyard day after day, sometimes as much as a dozen times, and only picking the most perfectly noble-rotted grapes with each pass and leaving the rest on the vine until they reach rotted perfection. Those affected by the lesser black or green molds are also picked but then discarded. With this method, even the most experienced picker will collect only about enough grapes to produce 20 liters of wine with each pass. In fact, winemaker Michael Wenzel of the Wenzel Winery in Rust tells of a year when it took a team of 7 harvesters working full-time for 10 days to pick enough grapes for a mere 300 liters of this precious wine.

Production then goes something like this: maceration generally takes between a half to 2 days, depending upon the quality of the nobly rotted grapes. Next comes a gentle run through the press. The must is then left to ferment until it reaches around 12% alcohol, which takes approximately four months. The wines are then aged in wooden casks or oak barrels, the length of time and type of barrel used depending upon the style of the vintner

The most traditional blend of grapes used for making Ruster Ausbruch is Furmint and Muskateller, but you’ll find examples from single variety or cuvees of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Neuburger, Traminer and Welschriesling as well.

As a bit of a history lesson, the first official record of Ausbruch wines comes from the communal register of the town of Weiden, which is on the opposite side of the Neusiedler Lake from Rust, and is dated 1617. There are those that like to claim Ausbruch as being the first type of dessert wine on record.

Precious few Ruster Ausbruch wines are currently imported to the United States, and they can be hard to locate at your local wine shop. Two outstanding producers to look for are the Feiler-Artinger winery, which just celebrated its 100-year anniversary, and the Wenzel winery, whose family have been making wine in Rust since 1647. Both can be found online at the Austrian specialty wine shop www.winemonger.com, which offers at least 6 different varieties of Ruster Ausbruch dessert wine at last count. Another excellent resource are the many wine-shop search engines which can be found on the internet.

Last year, Wine Enthusiast magazine named the 2001 Wenzel SAZ Ruster Ausbruch wine to it’s “Top 100 Wines in the World” list, a wine which vintner Michael Wenzel describes this way: “This is the flagship of our Ruster Ausbruch wines. “Saz” stands for the historically vital lage [vineyard area] on our property. The thought was to make a Ruster Ausbruch from grapes that have been the traditional combination used for hundreds of years: 60% Furmint, 40% In the glass it is a gorgeous sparkly yellow. The nose is immensely fruity, with notes of apricot and citrus fruits. An explosion of fruits. On the palate you are overwhelmed by the finesse of the acid that carries the wine and builds the backbone for long cellaring potential. The 2001 Saz was aged for 18 months in new wood barrels.”

What is the cellar potential for a Ruster Ausbruch? Vintner Kurt Feiler, from the Feiler-Artinger winery, describes their passage into maturity this way: “The Ruster Ausbruch has a cellaring potential of up to 50, 60 years. It shows well in the first 2 years, then closes down in year 3 for about a year, and then opens back up with fruit and more complexity on the palate; more rounded and integrated. It will hold at this perfect taste for another 15 years and then slows development as it moves into its ripening period. The sweet impression of the sugar reduces during this final period, developing a more crispy, slightly drier end. For our Ruster Ausbruch blends every grape is picked single varietal, at different times, and then after fermentation they are blended. This also helps us to control the final feeling.”

One might be tempted to serve such a sweet dessert wine alongside the dessert course, but both Michael Wenzel and Kurt Feiler recommend a different route: pair these wines with something savory, such as a blue-veined cheese or some prepared foie gras, to make incredible balance and harmony. If you do elect to serve it as the finishing touch of the meal, they would recommend keeping the dessert simple and not-too-sweet, such as a white cake or ripe fruit dish. Or better yet, serve a glass of Ruster as the entire dessert course. This is one dessert wine that can certainly stand alone, and deserves to do so.

These rare and exquisite wines are a must for the dessert wine connoisseur, and a knockout for the sweet wine novice.

Emily Schindler is a wine importer based in Los Angeles. To learn more about her company, read more articles about wine, or to find fantastic Austrian wines, visit winemonger.com winemonger.com.

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