From Vietnam to Vienna

In the former Saigon it's still BYOB, while in Austria a wonderful white wine beckons.

Spring and early summer is generally travel time for me. This year, sandwiched around my annual trip to the Napa Valley auction, I spent a week in Vietnam and a week in two of the most beautiful cities in the world, Vienna and Prague. The stories I could tell would fill this page and beyond, so I will keep my account as wine-related as possible.

First stop: Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). As I noted in a column earlier this year, if you are going someplace where the wine selection may be in question, you need only take your own. For this trip, accompanying me were Mr. Beringer and Mr. Jarvis. No, not the late Jacob Beringer or Bill Jarvis, but the 1994 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the 1996 Jarvis Cabernet Franc.

There I was, in a city with as many bikes as cars, dining with three colleagues: one Vietnamese, one Chinese and the third French. As the meal began, I opened the Beringer Cab, and I think it's safe to say that this was one of the very few times that this quintessential American wine was paired with succulent eel, sautéed whole frog, and pig's feet.

Whenever I'm in a new place, especially one as novel to me as Ho Chi Minh City, I reflect; I compare and contrast the present and the past. In Vietnam, our hosts had fought a terrible war to preserve a social and economic system that doesn't exist today. One look around tells you that capitalism is in full bloom in Vietnam, and when I left the country I knew quite clearly which way of life—communism or capitalism—had prevailed.

The historic cities of Vienna and Prague offer a sophisticated counterbalance to the frenetic market-based way of life that exists in Southeast Asia. Prague is a fascinating city, not necessarily rich in wine, but rich in history, poetry and art. Today, life in Prague is similar to Paris's Left Bank culture of 70 years ago. The cafés bustle and the galleries teem. Meanwhile, out in the country some Czechs are trying their hand at winemaking. Cabernet Sauvignon appears to be the early leader, and although the current results will not strike fear in the hearts of the Bordelais, we should keep an eye on these emerging Czech wines.

A few hundred kilometers south of Prague is Vienna, where I had my first experience with the Grüner Veltliner grape. In visiting the verdant Austrian vineyards and the Emmerich Knoll and Schloss Gobelsburg wineries in suburban Vienna, I fell in love with this complex and character-packed wine. Basically, Grüner is made in two ways: a crisp, lower-alcohol style that's fermented in steel tanks, and a richer, higher-alcohol style that involves barrel fermentation and oak aging. (For all the details, look back to our feature on Grüner Veltliner in the March issue.)

If you have fancied Sauvignon Blanc, had fickle affairs with Viognier, or are currently having a hot fling with Pinot Grigio, give Grüner some serious thought. It's the genuine article, offering loads of melon flavor and food-friendly acidity. And wouldn't you know it—Grüner Veltliner is a wine on the rise. It is beginning to occupy space on wine lists that was previously dedicated to white Burgundies and Rieslings.

· · ·

In my July column entitled "Wine Wants You," I suggested that there were career opportunities in the wine industry and we provided an E-mail address for you to tell us about yourself. To say the least, response has been overwhelming—more than 1,000 notes and résumés poured in (see Letters to the Editor, page 10). And they're still coming—dozens of them every day.

This tells me that we are succeeding in reaching a diverse and dedicated wine audience. Which brings me to my closing point: In our most recent independent audit, Wine Enthusiast was certified as having passed the 100,000 circulation milestone. When you include pass-along readership, more than 600,000 people see our articles and reviews each month.

In light of this, I am grateful to our readers and media partners for your support over the past 12 years and I raise a glass to the bright future of wine and wine journalism. Cheers!

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