The chalkboard sign outside the bakery downstairs usually reads Herzlich Willkommen (heartfelt welcome), but more recently it changed to Herbstlich Willkommen (a little play on words meaning autumnal welcome). It’s tough to mope too much about the end of summer, when every street corner café reminds you just how much there is to celebrate about Autumn.
Around these parts, Autumn means Sturmzeit (Sturm time). A young wine in its first stages of fermentation, Sturm literally translates to storm, a concise but descriptive name referring to the clouded appearance of this fizzy fall refreshment. Essentially freshly fermented must (juice of pressed grapes), Sturm has a characteristic tangy fruit flavor and soft effervescence. Suspended yeast particles give rise to Sturm’s “stormy” opacity, and ongoing fermentation naturally produces carbonation for a velvety soft mouth-feel and bright acidity — an intensely pleasing counterpoint to the fruity-sweet must. Once this vintner’s brew reaches an alcohol content of 4%, it can officially be sold as Sturm, but beware! Depending on how long the Sturm has fermented, the alcohol content may be as high as 10% and still taste deceptively sweet.
In Styria, the most common types of Sturm are weiss (white), rot (red) and Schilcher. The pearly translucent Weiss Sturm (pictured above) hits the palate with tart apple and mellows into ripe pear. The deep berry-red Rot Sturm strikes a delectably balanced yin-and-yang of tangy fresh raspberry and sweet blueberry.
Schilcher Sturm is another beast entirely. Schilcher wine is pressed exclusively from the Wildbacher grape, a varietal native to — and grown only in — western Styria. The Schilcher region produces Schilcher wein (a dry rosé of sparkling clarity and brilliant orange-blush coloring), Schilcher sekt (a sparkling wine) and of course the shocking Barbie-pink Schilcher Sturm, which sparkles over the palate with kiwi-citrus and rhubarb and finishes with a hint of wheatgrass.
The rapid fermentation process means Sturm cannot be stored for long, nor can it be stored in an airtight container without exploding. Bottled Sturm is therefore sold with a loose-fitting, perforated foil cap, a detail which David and I learned the hard way when we bought a bottle of Sturm that subsequently overturned in the back of the car as we drove home. Rookie move.
Sturm is only available concurrent with the fall harvest in September and October, and due to its volatility and short life-span, also difficult to transport over long distances. As such, Sturm has historically been a seasonal specialty unique to wine-growing regions.
These days the chalkboard menus of every neighborhood Buschenschank, café, Weinstube and sidewalk stand invite passersby to sip a glass of Sturm and savor this taste of autumn. And why not?
Why not relish this delectable but fleeting experience?