In school, this used to be an uncool situation for me: admitting that you didn’t understand something, asking again, always with the stupid thought in the back of your mind that you were the only one and would now be the target of ridicule. I’m sure at least half the people in the room felt the same way, just waiting for someone else to make the first move. I have the impression that the situation is very similar when it comes to wine. Many newcomers are intimidated because they think they have to bring their Abitur knowledge with them to the first lesson in order to be allowed to talk and play along. Quite honestly: complete nonsense. Wine is not a literary quartet for academics, but an adventure playground without admission control, everyone is allowed to let off steam. And even the professionals remain curious. Rainer Müller, host at the Hotel Sonnenhof in Grän, in the Tannheim Valley, has received an award from Gault&Millau for the composition of his wine list – Map of the Year 2022 – and still likes to learn. So when I visited the Hotel Sonnenhof I wanted to take the opportunity to go to voluntary detention – of course with serious practical research, where you can look deep into the glass. Rainer Müller gave me some insights into his own wine journey – and picked out 5 beginner-friendly wines from his menu for you, with which the curious can start the adventure of discovering wine at the Sonnenhof.
Note: The hotel has now freshly opened the doors after renovation on May 13 – perfect to go on a spontaneous pleasure adventure, right!
A Gault&Millau award-winning wine list with over 1,200 positions, built up over years and generations, countless wine regions visited, countless glasses tasted: Can a wine expert like Rainer Müller even remember when his own love of wine first budded? Rainer Müller can, and remembers – not through the flower, but crystal clear – a key experience.
“That was in my early 20s, we still had a normal wine list, standard, ten different bottles. Then I was invited to come along to Vin Italy in Rome, and I thought – yeah, sure, come on, I’ll go. Then we went past Lake Garda and Verona to the first big fair. I was incredibly fascinated by the diversity there – and it was mainly Italian wines. That’s where it all started. I took my first steps, expanded my knowledge, tasted, set my sights on other countries, looked beyond the edge of my plate, or rather glass. I wanted to know more, wanted to know how wines can taste, what flavors, what styles there are. The basic ingredients for wine are clear. But the product, the craft, is constantly changing. Natural wines enter the stage, cultivation methods change, old methods are tried out again, the climate changes, new grape varieties are added. In short, you never stop learning.”
The consumers’ relationship to wine is also changing, as Rainer has noticed. “The guests’ knowledge is different, they know more, have more wine knowledge, are even more interested in it. But also the awareness of where the wines come from, how they are produced, is increasing. And: The topic of wine accompaniment to food is experiencing more and more demand.” As a host, he is prepared for this with the large wine list; the decisive factor here is the balance.
When it comes to selecting wines for the hotel menu, host Rainer Müller has earned himself the title of sleuth.
„We have a very good mix on the menu. Many classics, a bit mainstream, but also young savages. The trend is moving away from fat, heavy wines to lighter, easier-drinking, more elegant wines. There’s a change happening right now. The focus is clearly on local, Austrian wines, but we also have a large range of global wines. We don’t want to limit ourselves completely; after all, we also bring French oysters, lobster or Breton fish. Of course, we have an eye on sourcing as many products as possible locally and regionally. And: The wine list is not static, but has grown over 30 years. It is constantly being expanded, but also sometimes reduced. A lot of work, a lot of time, a lot of heart and soul goes into it.” And Rainer Müller continues to learn, even as an expert, as he reveals. “You always have to deal with wine anew. I visit trade fairs, read specialist literature, attend tastings, visit winemakers on site. You build relationships, find out about trends, keep feeding your wine curiosity. That’s also what makes it so appealing.” In this respect, the host of the Hotel Sonnenhof in Tyrol sometimes has parallels with a sleuth. Because of course it has its charm to discover again a new, still unknown vintner, who still grows in smaller numbers – and then becomes the next insider tip, which lands newly on the map.
I also like to follow my nose when it comes to wines, but somehow I also have a heart for beautiful labels. And that’s where I get doubly flirted with the in-house wine bottlings.
An expressive part of Rainer Müller’s love of wine are the four special in-house bottlings that are currently only available at the hotel. A sparkling wine could be added in the future, but we are still busy trying it out. Together with winemaker friends from Austria, Rainer Müller has bottled wines from special sites as a private edition, and now comes the next good news: You will find the wines among the open wines on the menu. Relaxed tasting of the quartet is therefore easily possible. Part of the in-house bottling is on the one hand the Grüner Veltliner 2020 “fulminant”, from the Jurtschitsch winery, from Langlois in the Kamptal, as Rainer reveals: “A typical Kamptaler. The wine mixes juiciness, multilayered finesse and herbaceous spice. Also the variety-typical “Veltliner Pfefferl”. Lively, precise and with great fruit. The second white wine is the crispy-fresh “Lumachelle”, Morillon in collaboration with Armin Tement from Styria. Morillon is the proprietary name for Chardonnay only in Styria. Fermented spontaneously and aged for 18 months on the fine lees, puristic and independent. Multilayered aromas of chocolate and quince. In the fragrance pure minerality with elegant acid structure. Long-lived, elegant Burgundy” I can tell you: Exciting part!
On the red wine side, you’ll find “Solenn”, from the Sepp Moser winery in Rohrendorf, Burgenland. “A Blauer Zweigelt, spontaneously fermented, three weeks on the skins, 24 months in used barrique. Red-black sheen. Expressive nose with attractive elderberry and cherry aromas underscored with black pepper. On the palate silky tannin, powerful and elegant, Long lasting finish. The second red wine, “Euphoria”, a cuvee of 2/3 Merlot and 1/3 Blaufränkisch by Christoph Wachter-Wiesler from Burgenland is clearly weightier. The proportion of Blaufränkisch were fermented with combs (vine stems). On the nose, leather and red berries. On the palate punchy, elegant and powerful. Well-integrated acidity, elegant wood.” Here too, my recommendation: has decent punch, definitely try it!
Not only wines, but also a large selection of champagnes make the wine list of the Hotel Sonnenhof in Grän so exciting.
When it comes to describing wines at tastings, Rainer Müller prefers to take a pragmatic approach. He doesn’t think much of sprawling fruit basket analyses. “I’m a poor describer, I wouldn’t have the vocabulary. I rather like it straightforward, and formulate it in such a way that I like saltiness, or minerality. I say quite clearly simply: yes, that tastes good to me, everything fits together, that is harmonious. And then you don’t have to philosophize around a wine for hours at all, but should rather have fun with it promptly.” And he also briefly uncorked a piece of advice for newcomers. “You have to approach wine without fear, without prejudice, curious, best together, exchange. Do not be deterred, wine is no longer as elitist as it may sometimes still seem. I, too, am always learning something new. In the end, it is simply important to taste, to discover and pursue one’s personal style, and then gradually assign winemakers to this taste profile who speak this personal wine language. Simply: stay curious!”
WINE BUYING LIST: HOTEL SONNENHOF EDITION
With a wine list as extensive and excellent as the one at the Hotel Sonnenhof in the Tannheim Valley, reading it – and deciding which wine to start with – can take a little longer. But at the hotel, you have time, and you should take it. I have therefore asked host Rainer Müller for a little inspiration help, or in short: 5 wines with which beginners and curious beginners get a nice impression of where the journey on the wine list goes, but which are above all also an accessible and exciting entrance ticket to the adventure land of wine. In this sense: happy curious tasting!
Curiosity expressly desired: Rainer Müller with his selection of 5 wines with which beginners will be in a real mood.
You can’t tell by looking at me directly, but the wine selection really knocked me off my chair.
Learning by doing. It’s not called grape harvesting for nothing. By the way, the location is the fine-dining restaurant of the Hotel Sonnenhof.
Cantina Terlan, Sauvignon Winkl 2019 (Alto Adige)
White wine again, this time from South Tyrol from the Cantina Terlan. Sauvignon Blanc Winkl is a classic Sauvignon, aged in steel tank, very typical of the region. Very grassy, green notes, fresh but elegantly balanced. A nice food companion, for example, for Tafelspitz or Wiener Schnitzel, very crisp, fruity, great nose, great fruit flavors on the palate, has a tad more alcohol with 13.5%, but also depth in taste. Elegant, high quality, fun!
Refreshing white wine elegance from South Tyrol: the Sauvignon Winkl from Cantina Terlan.
Weingut Rosi Schuster, Blaufränkisch Burgenland 2017 (Austria)
A beautiful red signal from Burgenland with a fine label. Here is a Blaufränkisch from the winery Rosi Schuster, which is still called so, even if in the meantime son Hannes has taken over and swings the vine scepter. Classically vinified, large wood, thus beautiful fruit, good acidity. Not a fat wine, on the contrary, has a great drinking flow, goes well with stews, but is also wonderful solo. Also great value for money. Exciting entry into the Burgenland, has temperament, but is accessible, therefore: rantasten, open, drink, have fun!
Flirts with me directly: the reduced, purely text-based label.
Weingut Tement, Ried Sulz Weißer Burgunder 2017 (Austria)
We have a long friendly relationship with the Tement winery. Together with them, we have also pressed one of our house bottlings. The Weißburgunder Sulz 2017 comes thanks to wood aging a little creamier, mouth-filling, has real pressure on the palate. A classic Pinot Blanc on paper, but you should put the wine in the carafe so that it can show all its facets. My tip: If you don’t drink red wine, you should try the Tement Sulz with meat – exciting combination. A class insight into the handwriting of the winery, a benchmark that shows what they can do there.
T for drinking pleasure: the Ried Sulz Weißer Burgunder 2017 from the Tement winery.
Domaine Chavy-Chouet, Bourgogne Rouge La Taupe 2019 (France)
Burgundy is one of my favorite regions, and the Bourgogne Rouge La Taupe 2019 from Domaine Chavy-Chouet gives a nice insight. I was there recently, have visited the winemaker personally, a great guy, young, innovative, beautiful vineyards. A – in quotation marks – normal Pinot Noir, absolutely terrific value for money. Was a bit in the wood, the 2019 can also be drunk now, then it comes a bit fresher and fruitier, who has the patience, wait another year or two. Not a heavy wine, easy and understandable, perfect to pursue curiosity.
With this you always have a stone in the board as a host: the Bourgogne Rouge La Taupe 2019 from Domaine Chavy-Chouet.
Weingut Veyder-Malberg, Grüner Veltliner Liebedich 2018 (Austria)
A nice tip for white wine fans: Grüner Veltliner 2018 Liebedich from the Veyder-Malberg winery. A great winery from the Wachau, a very innovative winemaker who works biodynamically (not certified, but still). A classic Grüner Veltliner, but with a modern twist. Aged in steel tank, a very cahrmantes label, fits super for example to the Tafelspitz. An excellent wine, especially for beginners, which can do everything: uncomplicated, elegant, approachable, refreshing.
Love at first nose and first sip: the Grüner Veltliner Liebedich 2018 from the Veyder-Malberg winery.
When it comes to wine flirting, there’s no need to be shy. Simply uncork, compare and get involved.
In conclusion, I can say that the Hotel Sonnenhof in Grän in the Tannheim Valley is a really cool place to get on the trail of the wine adventure. An excellent because extensive, but also cleverly thought-out wine list, in which you can get affordable insights into partly still emerging winemakers even as a beginner, but also taste the Champions League of Austria and beyond. In addition, a host who really lives wine, and shares his knowledge. And of course it is practical that you have a very short way home to the room as a guest there. Strategy is everything!