Palais Coburg in Vienna, Austria. Courtesy Palais Coburg Residenz.

VIENNA - Waltzing in Vienna is all very well, and useful for preserving the waistline in the land of the schnitzel, but drinking superb wine in palatial surroundings beats it by a twirl or two for me.  The Palais Coburg has been reincarnated as a luxury hotel in Vienna, stunningly renovated while showing off centuries of building history including the old defence walls of the city.  The added extra is that the owner, Peter Pühringer, is mad about wine and has built up a remarkable cellar at the Palais, a perfect foil for the two Michelin star restaurant here.


The French Wine Cellar at Palais Coburg. Courtesy of Palais Coburg Residenz

He has also been very pro-active in wine education and every year Palais Coburg hosts a hedonistic Fine and Rare Wine Course which attracts an international audience of knowledgeable professionals eager to learn more, as are we all.  My husband, David Peppercorn M.W., and I were asked to lead a tasting of First Growth Bordeaux, all plucked from the Palais cellars, and we were very happy to acquiesce, which is why we found ourselves on a summer Sunday in ultra elegant surroundings, in front of an array of magnificent magnums.  We tried to seize the spirit of each wine, in all the diverse glory and individuality of terroir and human endeavour that contribute to vinous quality.
People often ask us, in the context of a comparative tasting, which one is your favourite?   We usually demur, as a preferred style is subjective while intrinsic quality is an informed, disinterested judgment.  We were dealing with the best that emanates from Bordeaux so it was obvious from the first sip and spit that we were going to have fun.  This time, the wine that made me gasp with its beauty happened to be the oldest, Château Haut Brion 1962, all rich, peaty black earth and cigars – I can assure you that this is lovely in liquid form!  However, there was much purring over Lafite 1990, Mouton Rothschild 1988, Latour and Margaux 1986 and Cheval Blanc 1981, the latter perhaps a surprise for many in the room as the vintage is less well-known than the others shown.  The bonne bouche at the end was a total knockout, Yquem 1962.  I wrote “tar, orange, peaches and a bit of grapefruit on the nose, with a pure caramel finish – great stuff” and I am ‘sticking’ to this – sorry!

The steamboat 'Unterwalden' on its way to Alpnachstad, the steepest cogwheel railway at the foot of Mount Pilatus.  Byline: /ARMIN GRAESSL.

I am leaving the best news to the end.  Peter Pühringer has bought the famed Park Hotel Vitznau on Lake Luzern, one of my dream destinations.  This should be open for business by the end of the year and, guess what, the owner says the cellar there will be ‘even better’ than the amazing collection at the Palais Coburg.  My reaction to this is a mere ‘tough call’, but I cannot wait to check this out for myself.  I already know that, after a long, winey dinner in this enchanted setting, one can wake up the morning after to a glorious view of lake and mountains, plus the necessary utter silence, since boats with noisy engines are not permitted on Lake Luzern – a paddlewheel steamer gliding over the water is Swiss thoughtfulness at its most subtle.