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Ruster Ausbruch: the Exquisite Dessert Wine from Austria

Ruster Ausbruch is a rare, specialty sweet dessert wine which hails from Austria. First, let's 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), which is 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 from different countries called Ausbruch, and it refers to the method used to select the grapes during harvest: grapes which have been affected by botrytis cinerea (also known as noble rot) are "broken out" of the bunch to be used, leaving the clean, un-affected grapes behind. When you come across a sweet wine labeled "Noble," it is this precious mold they are talking about.

The quality of these wines 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, too, reach rotted perfection. 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 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

Precious few Ruster Ausbruch wines are currently imported to the United States, and they can be difficult 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 Winemonger, which offers at least 6 different varieties of Ruster Ausbruch dessert wine at last count. Two other good resources for locating these wines are wine-searcher.com and winezap.com.

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 important lage [vineyard area] on our property. The idea was to create 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 beautiful 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 finish. 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 different route: pair these wines with something savory, such as a blue-veined cheese or some prepared foie gras. If you do elect to serve it with dessert, they would recommend keeping it simple and not-too-sweet, such as a white cake or ripe fruits. 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.

About the Author

Emily Schindler is a wine importer based in Los Angeles. To read more of her wine writing, or to find the wines she imports, go to http://www.winemonger.com

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