Monday, 24 December 2012

The Hills Are Alive With The Taste of Blaufrankisch...

Last night, The Sound of Music made its annual return to the festive line-up, so I decided to have a bit of an Austrian night. Even though we are days away from days of leftover turkey, my Austrian-themed dinner naturally had to be a modified yet classic Austrian turkey schnitzel. (The irony is that while in Austria, I never had schnitzel. Instead, I discovered the beauty of smoked trout with pickled beets, but I digress). Schnitzel is one of the easiest things to prepare: take out holiday stress by pounding cutlets to paper thin, coat in flour, egg, and seasoned breadcrumbs (I like to use tarragon), fry in butter, done. Accompanied by potatoes and broccoli (not sure if that is particularly Austrian either - it was just on sale), I also made a creamy garlic/mushroom sauce that soaked up the bready meat perfectly.

Of course, no dinner is complete without wine, so I opted for a Blaufrankisch. It is one of Austria's key quality red grapes, full-bodied with medium tannins and rather similar to a Merlot.  It also has a bit of an earthy flavour, which is why I picked it to go with the schnitzel and mushrooms. In case you're interested, Zweigelt (red) and Gruner Veltliner (white) are also important Austrian grapes.

Little seen on the international market, Austria is actually a producer of amazing wines, most of which are from vineyards in the eastern end of the country (ie. frolicking children singing their do-re-mi's are in the alpine centre and west of the country). In fact, Vienna is the only major European capital to also be its own wine region. There, the hills are alive with the sounds of Heurigen; Austrian taverns that feature locally produced wines and delicatessen fare. Also, you may start off your Heurigen experience with pretzels and cheese, an experience I'm recreating as I type this with pretzel sticks and a pungeant St. Nectaire from France.

But back to dinner, the schnitzel was plated and ready to go at 7pm when the fully-restored, 4-hour long (LOTS of commercials) Sound of Music was aired. I look forward to this annual event not so much because of its connection to Christmas (that's for Charlie Brown's jazzy soundtrack and the poetic rhythm of the Grinch), but mostly because The Sound of Music is responsible for one of my top 5 "most-shocking-moments-ever." Growing up, I was never allowed to watch the whole movie. The von Trapp children singing goodnight was a cue to my mum that I too had to bid adieu and go to bed. I was able to deduce that the Captain and Maria would marry, so I assumed the movie ended with a wedding and they all lived happily ever after.

That was my impression until one day, bed-ridden with the flu in New Zealand (it's an Easter-thing there), I happened upon the movie and decided to watch the whole thing beginning to end. At age 29, I finally found out what really happened to the von Trapps. The specific shock-of-my-life was seeing 17-going-on18 Rolf literally blow the whistle on Liesl and the other hiding von Trapps. Beyond being an unexpected plot twist, I was devasted that I had spent a lifetime completely oblivious to the real ending of what is arguably one of the most successful musical movies.

So, that is my fitting way of building up to Christmas. A once-a-year movie with themed dinner, and re-living the shocking truth that your parents have been lying to you.