Thursday, October 6, 2011

Leo Hillinger Wines and Alsatian Food with Hillinger’s Michael Hoeffken and Chef Jacques E. Haeringer at L’Auberge Chez François in Virginia, USA

Pictures: Leo Hillinger's Michael Hoeffken with Christian G.E. Schiller, L'Auberge Chez François' Chef Jacques E. Haeringer and Importer Klaus Wittauer at L'Auberge Chez François in Virginia, USA

This time, Michael Hoeffken from Weingut Leo Hillinger in Austria teamed up with Chef Jacques E. Haeringer from the famous Alsatian restaurant L’Auberge Chez Francois in the hills outside of Washington DC for an extraordinary evening. They were supported by Leo Hillinger wine importer Klaus Wittauer. My last winemaker dinner at L’Auberge Chez Francois was with Catherine Faller from Domaine Weinbach in Alsace, supported by Danny Haas from Vineyard Brands.

The wines of Leo Hillinger from Austria are known all over the world. The main public face of Weingut Leo Hillinger for consumers in the US and Asia, along with Leo Hillinger of course, is Michael Hoeffken, Sommelier, Assistant Winemaker and Sales Person at Weingut Leo Hillinger.

I was in Austria this summer, including in Hofturn in Burgenland, by car just 30 minutes away from Jois, where Weingut Leo Hillinger is located. When Michael heart about this, he invited me over and we spent a couple of hours together at the winery. We were joined by Edgar Butler, the winemaker and also by Leo Hillinger. I had met Michael Hoeffken the first time in Vienna, Austria and then later in Washington DC, where we tasted some Leo Hillinger red wines.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller, Leo Hillinger and Hillinger Winemaker Edgar Butler in Jois, Austria

Jacques E. Haeringer and L'Auberge Chez François in Great Falls, Virginia

L’Auberge Chez Francois is an extraordinary place in the hills outside of Washington DC. It was founded by François Haeringer in the heart of Washington DC in 1954. Twenty years later, in 1975, the Claridge Hotel, which housed Chez François, was sold to make room for an office building. Instead of retiring at age 57, Francoise Haeringer decided to fulfill his dream of opening an "auberge" - a family inn prevalent in his native Alsatian countryside. L'Auberge Chez François opened in 1976 and became a family business. The eldest son Jacques, by then a chef in his own right, became Chef de Cuisine.

Pictures: Chef Jacques E. Haeringer and Christian G.E. Schiller at L'Auberge Chez François

Today, L'Auberge Chez François is much the same as when François first opened it - family-run, with Jacques’ brother Paul as the restaurant's sommelier and Jacques as Chef de Cuisine. L'Auberge Chez François is on the top 50 list of "Best Overall" Restaurants in US, as voted by users of the Open Table reservation system.

Chef Jacques is one of America’s most respected culinary personalities. His menus feature classic Alsatian and French cuisine reinterpreted for American palates. While his father Francois used to say that the chef has to stay in the kitchen, Chef Jacques is very present in the restaurant. He clearly enjoys talking about food and to communicate with his guests. He is great fun to listen to. No wonder that Jacques can be found sharing his cooking secrets on radio and television programs across the country. In addition to his own popular PBS cooking show “Two for Tonight”, Jacques has appeared on other national television programs. Jacques can also be heard the first Friday night of each month serving up “Lewd Food” on the nationally syndicated Food & Wine Radio Network.

Pictures: Michael Hoeffken, Chef Jacques E. Haeringer and Guests the Dinner at at L’Auberge Chez François

Jacques is also a great writer and his articles have been featured in such journals as Gourmet, Wine & Spirits,and Cosmopolitan.Finally, Jacques is the author of “Two for Tonight,” a collection of recipes that inspire romance through food and togetherness, and the “Chez François Cookbook,” the bible of classic Alsatian cuisine featuring some of the restaurant’s most popular recipes.

With Michael Hoeffken, Edgar Butler and Leo Hillinger at Weingut Leo Hillinger in Jois

I visited Weingut Leo Hillinger in Jois in the Neusiedlersee area earlier this year. Leo Hillinger took over from his father in 1990. At the time, the Weingut was tiny with only one hectare of vineyard area. Under Leo’s stewardship the winery has seen a phenomenal growth. Today, the vineyard area totals 46 hectares. 60% of the area is planted with red varieties - Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt, St. Laurent, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah - and the remaining 40% are planted with the white varieties - Welschriesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. In addition, grapes are sourced from contract growers with another 70 hectares of vineyards. Weingut Leo Hillinger is one of the top names in Austria. It ranks among Austria's largest producers of premium wines. More than 50% of the production is exported.

Pictures: Michael Hoeffken, Edgar Butler and Christian G.E. Schiller at the Leo Hillinger Winery in Jois, Austria

The winery in Jois is an impressive super-modern building in the middle of the vineyards. In the cellar, winemaker Edgar Brutler explained that the cellar technique equipment ranks among the most modern in Europe. After the cellar tasting we went outside to see a bit of the vineyards that are in Jois. We had a wonderful view of Lake Neusiedl. Above all, Michael said, the warm and sunny climate in Burgenland is decisive for the wine quality. The near Lake Neusiedl accounts for rising temperatures in summer which lead to higher sugar gradations and full-bodied wines. The soils on which the grapes ripen are an additional criterion. They decisively influence the character of the wines. The light, dry loess and black earth soils are responsible for powerful compact wines.

We finished up in the tasting room and the conference center. Leo Hillinger joined us there. “When the grape is excellent, then one has much less to do in the cellar. From years of experience and much-experimenting, I know that the fruit needs to be perfect and bottled without alteration.” Leo said and he continued: “I do not want an interchangeable fashionable wine, rather I want to produce a truly Austrian, if not Burgenlandian top-quality wine.” Leo concluded by saying: “Making wine is for me a source of happiness. It combines hobby with vocation. I cannot imagine anything more beautiful.”

What Michael Hoeffken, Klaus Wittauer and Chef Jacques E. Haeringer Served

What a feast - a fascinating combination of outstanding white and red wines from Austria and superb food from Alsace.

Hillinger Secco

Salmon Soufflé, with a Pinot Noir Sauce
Hillinger Pinot Noir Eveline 2008

Grilled Quail with Harvest Vegetables Gateau
Hillinger St Laurent 2007

Beef Wellington
Hillinger Blaufrankisch Leithaberg 2008

Fresh Raspberry Napoléon
Eiswein Cuvee Klaus 2009

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Tasting Leo Hillinger Red Wines with Leo Hillinger’s Assistant Winemaker Michael Hoeffken and US Importer Klaus Wittauer

Visit: Gerhard Wohlmuth sen. and his Weingut Wohlmuth in Austria

Visiting Leo Hillinger, Michael Hoeffken and Edgar Brutler at the Leo Hillinger Winery in Jois, Austria

Domaine Weinbach Wines and Alsatian Food with Winemaker Catherine Faller, Alsace, and Chef Jacques E. Haeringer, Virginia

A German Riesling Dinner at Open Kitchen in Washington DC, USA

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  1. Vielen Dank Christian fur die verfurerischen Paarungen. Wir mussen an unseren nachsten Trip unbedingt zum Hillinger.
    Judit und Corina

  2. Ich werde Euch mit Michael Hoeffken in Verbindung bringen.



  3. I LOVE L'Auberge Chez Francois. Used to live in Great Falls a few miles down the road. Reservations were impossible to obtain unless one was willing to wait a month or two. Whenever we had a hankering to go, we would call and get onto the "wait list," explaining that we lived a 5 minutes' drive away. I can recall only one time we didn't get That Phone Call.