Way back when I first got into the wine industry, a famous actor used to wander into my place of employment, a wine store in New York, usually before 11 a.m., and purchase a gallon of wine or another. I’m assuming he could have afforded something a little bit more expensive — like a case of the 1.5-liter bottles of Concha Y Toro that were floor stacked for $4.99 — but he always went for the jugs.
Oversized bottles of wine often carry a stigma unless they are of a very high pedigree. However, in Austria, larger-format bottles used to be very common and were not frowned upon the way they have been here. For many years, there was a tradition of putting wine into 2-liter bottles. They were usually sold in six-packs and carried around in special carrying cases made from wire. Think of the milkman to get a visual.
In 1985, several Austrian wineries illicitly added diethylene glycol, a compound found in antifreeze, to make wines taste sweeter. The scandal rocked Austria, resulting in very stringent wine laws. It also made many producers want to distance themselves from this in every way, including packaging, and 2-liter bottles became nearly obsolete.
In time, the 1-liter bottle started appearing. Just a few folks were brave enough to chart into this risky format territory when I visited Austria in 1997. At the 2010 Vie Vinum, Austria’s premier wine fair, the liter bottles were not the majority, but they were noticeably more popular.
Those of you who have dinner parties know that a 750-milliliter bottle can get emptied quickly, especially if you are trying to share it with more than four of your peeps. That’s why I will often supplement my gatherings with these Austrian 1-liters. I see them in many wine and grocery stores, so they are not that hard to find, but here are a three that you definitely seek out.
E & M Berger Zweigelt Haid, 2008 (Kremstal, Austria): For me, 1-liter bottles began with Weingut Berger, who started its experiment with Gruner Veltliner and now also make a 1,000-milliliter Zweigelt. Spicy and floral, light and zippy, you will not find a better-made wine for 1.5 cents per milliliter. Suggested retail: $14.99
Ecker Gruner Veltliner, 2009 (Wagram, Austria): The Wagram has been ascending in recent years, making superb wines from a plethora of grape varietals. Light and bright with traces of peach and minerals, this is a delicious wine that does require much thought. Suggested retail: $11.99
Paul Direder Zweigelt, 2009 (Wagram, Austria): In the U.S., Paul Direder is not allowed to drink his own wine. At 20 years of age, this prodigy is the talk of Austria and a sip of his Zweigelt is all the explanation you need. Fruity, bright and eminently quaffable, I look forward to many of Direder’s wines, no matter the size of the bottle, in years to come. Suggested retail: $10.99
Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant. Please submit your questions to Pamela@Skrewcap.com.