I am back from seeing my friends. It had been much too long, though pandemic-time tended to stretch certain time units and compress others, so that my drive from the airport into Vienna felt as though I’d made it just the week before, and nothing felt strange.
I want to talk about the matter of “friends,” and will do so in a little bit. My friends, of course, are vintners, and along with the many hugs and the touchingly warm welcomes, I also got a quick-and-dirty look at the current wines. In cases where samples hadn’t reached me – and there were a few too many of these – I was given the chance to survey what I’d missed. So I glanced at a lot of wine.
It was both deeper and shallower than my tastings at home. Deeper because of the warm context of being there and shallower because it was, by necessity, very fast. I don’t disavow the notes I’ll show you here, but they are only accurate as far as they go when tasting briskly. I respect the skill entailed in tasting that way, and owned my fair measure of that skill (and haven’t forgotten how to use it), but it’s a compromise you make with “The Schedule,” and you get maybe 90-95% of the wine, which suffices unless the truth of that wine lives in the final 5-10% that you can’t see in the snapshot you had to take.
I liked the new vintage 2022, given that the very best wines were still in cask and wouldn’t be bottled for many months. ’22 is what I’d call a drinky vintage; it offers a forthright companionable pleasure. It’s easy-going without being mundane, offering a stillness that runs deeper than you think at first. It will be cursed to stand in the shadow of its predecessor 2021, but the more I encounter that vintage the more I’m persuaded that it’s actually two vintages, and ’22 is better than one of them. At the everyday to mid-range levels, ’22 is actually more attractive than the (often) tart ‘21s, which seemed to need a lot of ripeness to mitigate their acids. Thus the great ‘21s are monumental in their silvery iridescent way, and I doubt that many ‘22s will rise to such levels. But we don’t live in such rarefied air on normal occasions, and I’m sure the ‘22s will be more satisfying for Monday-to-Friday drinking.
2021 and 2019 present an interesting tandem. ’19 is the golden year, beaming and full of phenolic “sweetness,” quite aligned with a similar profile in Germany and Champagne. It already shows a vintage-aroma (vetiver, malt, chamomile) that will go to beeswax in the coming years. It’s best wines are those that impose a power of terroir and minerality over the ever-present friendliness. Those wines are yummy, beautiful and explicable, adding up to a lovely vintage that everyone can grok. 2021 is quite different, silver versus gold, moonlight versus sunlight, interiority versus visibility. When ’21 works it brings an almost arcane concentration of fruit to its feverish acid-mineral backdrop, and the implosive density can truly bend your mind.
I hope to taste all (or most) of these again at home later in the year, after which I shall spew out my literary effulgences in the manner you have come, however warily, to anticipate. For now, this:
HIEDLER, Langenlois, Kamptal
VELTLINERS: The basic ’22 Löss is limpid, jasmine-like, with grain, substance and length. On the heels of the amazing ’21, this was encouragingly consistent. (Hiedler as a whole is encouragingly consistent of late; the estate is underrated.) The village Langenloiser is smokier and more herbal, resinous, more “important” but not more pleasurable. Thal is back in form, gracious and spicy and better than the ’21. Speaking of ‘21s, the single-vineyard Kittmannsberg is a perfect balance of lees and cask, while the Schenkenbichl is basically umami-drenched and vinous, with iron and smoke; a sweetly studious wine, probably ++ quality. The 2020 Maximum is the best vintage since 2016, endlessly creamy and focused, showing how a massive wine need not be ungainly. Potentially a masterpiece, I have +++ standing by. I was less convinced by the 2015 Familienreserve.
PINOT BLANC: The 2021 Langenloiser is a rocky Pouilly-Fuissé type wine, firm and upright, while the 2020 Maximum is a Hiedler archetype, calling me back to my original surprise that Pinot Blanc could possibly taste like this.
RIESLINGS: The ’22 Langenloiser, a cask sample, promises to be another Hiedler original Riesling gesture, while the various ’21 single vineyards are a farandole of blisses, the Steinhaus an apogee of minerality, the Gaisberg a floating night-bride arriving in white with a basket of mangoes, the Heiligenstein prismatic, gripping, resinous and gingery, with a salt-soaked finish - ++ is likely, and finally the Maximum pivots sometimes uneasily between cask and mineral, and may yet find its inner gyroscope.
The big doings here are the acquisition of a large building across the street, which will add exponentially to the size of the press house and the cellar, removing logistical obstacles that may have created some inconsistencies of style and quality the last few years. This could be huge news, and I won’t be surprised to find a renaissance of excellence here over the next bunch of years.
After an aperitif of a (very good!) Sekt, we proceeded upstairs to the chapel, where I always tasted, and where, to my entire delight, half the space had been dedicated to a play area for little Severin, a comely youngster just over a year old.
VELTLINERS: ’22 Hefeabzug and its leesy twin Zwickl were just 4 days bottled, but the former was smokin’! A ’22 Federspiel (these no longer carry the site-names) was a classically loveable Nikolaihof wine, lucid and calm, with murmurs of barley and mushroom umami, as though they’d fined it with Kombu. A 2018 Smaragd threatened to tilt “weird” but righted itself to become a lovely basmati-scented GV. I was less persuaded by a 2013 Baumpresse.
RIESLINGS: The 22 Federspiel was truculent from bottling, but I’m not sure it’ll be my gig in any case. The 2016 Federspiel is maybe a bit too ascetic, but such wines need air and more time than I had to offer it, but a 2017 Smaragd was really tasty, classic….which made the strangeness of the 2017 Steiner Hund all the more perplexing; the wine needs to be decanted and babied, which I’l endeavor to do if/when I get samples later on. But the best lay in wait, a stunning 2014 Klause from a vintage I’d never have dreamed could make such a wine; limpid and chirping as if herbs were singing birds. ++, and the epitome is a 2017 Vinothek “Fass Severin” which will stand along with the great wines in this amazing series, with the sweetest mystic peal and as gentle as a grandmother. ++ may be too conservative.
PRIELER, Schützen am Gebirge, Burgenland
It was only a matter of time before Georg Prieler ascended to superstar status. That time has arrived. His Blaufränkisch is in the very top rank, and his whites remain compelling. And bless him, he goes about it quietly and carefully, aware the wines are superb but not puffed-up about it – not to mention that he’s kept down to earth by an ever-ready sense of humor. Having known Georg since he was a fledgling, this makes me personally happy, not to mention I get to drink the wines.
REDS: The 2019 St Laurent starts out fun-kee! before resolving to a ferrous richness of blood and lava and pure deliciousness. Georg feels the reduction is like a gate you have to pass through if you’re going to “access” SL, and he has a point; the wine’s no more funky than plenty of Rhône reds.
Now comes an amazing range of Blaufränkisch.
2019 Oggau (the village name, also known as Johanneshöhe) is the warm Graves-like face of BF, pebbly sweetness and structure. A cask sample of 2020 is cooler and juicier, with more smoke and iron. 2019 Leithaberg is simply gorgeous; mineral, polished, elegant, as close as BF gets to being “proper,” and easily ++ quality. The twon peaks are the two “Grand Crus” 2019 Marienthal is rich and old-school, blood and plum stew, massive juicy length, iron umami, quite herbal, regal and benevolent. Also, the vineyard has more wild-strawberry plants than I’ve ever seen in a vineyard. If you want a smart hedonism, this wine’s for you. If you want the absolute Nth degree of terroir, the 2019 Goldberg is like Madiran if you could actually drink Madiran; an entire quarry expressed as a demi-glace. No hesitation - +++. I also tasted cask samples of both wines from 2020, and both of them rendered me wordless; the Goldberg was almost too beautiful, but – “the wine’s always better in cask,” as we know.
WHITE WINES: The 22 Gemischter Satz is hale and herbal and absurdly attractive; it would be gluggable with a bit less alc but it’s awfully tasty anyway. The series of Pinot Blancs starts with the 22 Seeberg, a lovely vintage of a classic Prieler PB. The 21 Leithaberg has a less funk to wriggle free of, while the 2020 is simply perfect Pinot Blanc; where on earth is it better than in Austria? What else has fruit, scree, lees, salt, sashimi? Staying with 2020, we have Haidsatz (which I found overly woody) and Steinweingarten (overly heady), but Haidsatz ambushed me with a totally unlikely finish as the oak gave way to a “french-toast” flavor followed by toasted brioche. The 2021s were mixed, Haidsatz better, Steinweingarten less so. But the 2019s were uniformly dazzling, showing me what Steinweingarten is truly capable of. Last we have a wonderul 22 Chardonnay “Sinner”.
But we mustn’t forget one of the world’s most interesting Rosés, whose 2022 is sleek and perfect, more delicious than usual, with sage, orange zest and roses.
ALZINGER, Unterloiben, Wachau
Still the calmest and most unassuming of the great Wachau names, Leo Alzinger’s wines maintain both their characters and quality levels year upon year.
VELTLINERS: 2022 Dürnsteimer Federspiel As one expects, midly peppery and sneaky long, herbal umami. Mühlpoit Federspiel good green-beany density, not spicy but corpulent in extract. Potential + Mühlpoint Smaragd, stonier, firmer, more “terroir” and with the extract density of its sib. I like these; they’re candid, not showy, but true. Loibenberg Smaragd is unusually toasty, as if there’s botrytis (which there isn’t), but it’s loessy in that dense brown rice way. Steinertal Smaragd is fascinating, less “green” and more caraway, very lingering, likely to shape-shift after bottling, but yummy now – and when does one say “yummy” with this wine?
RIESLINGS: 2022 Federspiel is herbal and juicy and with a “seasoned-salt” thing, fennel, dill frond. Two weeks in bottle. Hollerin Smaragd is extremely exotic, smoky, spicy, meyer lemon highlights. + quality at least. Höhereck Smaragd Smells like espelette pepper and orange rind and even cumin; palate is racy, exotic, fantastically tactile action on the actual tongue. ++ potential. Loibenberg Smaragd is unusually interesting, salty, braised root-veggie sweetness, this limpid length of the vintage that’s comfy with being “normal” or “good.” At least + Steinertal Smaragd in a sense the crowning of the foregoing, less “other” and more the fullest expression of this root veggie caraway thing, ripe gooseberry, perhaps a shy vintage for this site? +
2021s Höhereck Smaragd clearly great wine. No wonder the freak-out over ‘21. Fabulous yet elegant concentration of silvery celestial lemon, jasmine, osmanthus. All that plus his cashmere texture? I mean….++ at least. Loibenberg Smaragd, marvelous wash of complex filigree minerality yet in a savory driven wine. Steinertal Smaragd is an explosion of shimmer, like confetti of flavor raining down, with the largest impact being mineral grip, bound with high tones citrics. At least ++ Loibenberg Gruner Veltliner Smaragd way above its usual level. Not as “singing” as the others but with a firm dignified mineral/earthiness. ++ quite possibly. Grüner Veltliner Steinertal Smaragd is swashbuckling! Crazy long. Rampantly peppery and green, some doubts about whether this is “great, but it’s certainly fascinating.
Looking back on these, clearly 2021 is the “better” vintage, yet maybe just as clearly 2022 is the vintage more attuned to Alzinger’s particular flavor dialect. ’21 makes demands, and rewards them. ’22 is more easygoing, but its texture is Alzinger’s texture, and I wonder which vintage will eventually give the greater pleasure.
SCHLOSS GOBELSBURG, Kamptal
After a touchingly sweet welcome and a tour of the remarkable cellar, we repaired to the tasting room and effectively traipsed among a bunch of wines. If there was a system to what we tasted, it was obscure to me, and I appreciated that; it was more relaxing.
NV BRUT (18-19, disg Sept 22), once again, perfect, gracious, balanced, chipper, fruit from ripe vintages shows. Can’t praise this enough. 2012, disgorged late ’22, GV, R, PN, a fun extroverted wine with an amazing mineral length and an almost spasming finish. At this point you can choose any of this estate’s sparkling wines and be sure you’re getting something exceptional.
VELTLINERS: 2022 Domain, a zingy and cressy aroma and an energetic version of the limpidity of ’22. 2022 Langenlois is complex and sophisticated in the typical dark lavender, conifer and ylang ylang. + quality. 2021 Ried Steinsetz , that silvery tight sweetness, delicate radish, silvery mineral finish with a tic of white pepper. + 2021 Ried Renner (just bottled) not surprisingly miraculous. +++ quality in view. The apogee of refinement, grip and dialogue. I mean, cantaloupe even. Stands easily among the absolute icons of GV. 2021 Ried Lamm, about as great as this can be, rich and transparent and textured. Less melodic than Renner but every bit as splendid. The vintage suits it.
RIESLINGS: 2022 Domain, sensational aromas, bright, witty, mid-palate mineral “sweetness.” Exceptionally attractive, definitely + quality. 2022 Zöbing, cressier and grassier, coniferous, with the black-iron of Zöbing. 2021 Ried Gaisberg is ethereal, salty, keen cool fruit (lemon, papaya, delicate mint) classic for the site, easily + and maybe more. 2021 Ried Heiligenstein is as expected, extremely exotic, though this bottle was perhaps not 100% correct.
We then sampled a few earlier vintages, I assume for fun, and I was having so much “fun” I never thought to ask if there was an old-vintage series being made commercially available. If so, here’s a rough guide. If not, nyah nyah, I tasted them and you didn’t.
2017 Ried Heiligenstein, showing like a smoky dream, with an amazingly refined pepper. Superb Riesling. ++ Shoot-smoky finish. 2016 Ried Heiligenstein is stunning and amazing, limpid and insanely complex and beautiful. +++ serene, celestial complexity. 2014 Heiligenstein (!) is showing magnificently. Forest bathing in psilocybin.*** But here I must pause.
I had doubts about this ’14 as a young wine, thinking it was under a shroud of botrytis from which it would never emerge. It appears I was wrong. Michi never admonished me, though he might well have. I don’t know what that disagreeable young element was, nor how the wine broke free of it, but this bottle was mind-altering. Not to mention humbling.
2007 Heiligenstein begins to smell like mature Riesling, the smoky tertiaries just barely overtake the primary flavors, until a few minutes go by, both spicy and meditative, a finely aging Riesling in the heart of its life.++ 2004 Riesling Tradition (Mag) is an unfathomably great wine, “profound” isn’t enough for it. It’s 100 Christmas trees orgasming together. 1997 (Gaisberg) Riesling Alte Reben is doing just exactly its thing, a fine wine from a fine vintage from a grower on the way up. 1973 Heiligenstein, astonishingly pale limpid color and a classic quince-y waxy coolness. Not sweet, superb mineral grip – still ! As it freshened it got euphorically fruity and linden and hyssop and waxy; peaches in sweet paprika. A whole night needed with this.
Tradition 3-yr “851” the palimpsest of young and old, less peachy than “850” but nuttier and drier, more deliberate and even more pensive. Tradition 10-yr “851” Again Manzanilla, the firmest and woodiest (not as we normally consider “woody”); in a sense it isn’t exactly a “wine” any more. It’s a liquid tasting of time and wood. Watch this one; the first blend was more complete.
BRUNDLMAYER, Langenlois, Kamptal
The winery has gone roguish of late, pushing the envelope with a few of the “big” wines while being scrupulously scrupulous with the everyday things. I like a winery that doesn’t coast and seems to have lost the switch to autopilot.
REDS: 2019 Zweigelt is juicy and sophisticated, typical of the elevated level of these wines.; a little reduction isn’t bothersome. Another type entirely from what these were ten years ago. 2018 Pinot Noir has a celeriac thing going in each of two different glasses, a mercaptan reduction. Queer; is it correct? 2018 Zweigelt Reserve (Ried Hasel on the back) smells really good and is really good, like violets and suede. Seductive but not ingratiating. + 2018 Pinot Noir Reserve (Käferberg) to be released September but is still angular and unknit. A hardness needs to be resolved.
BUBBLES: 2016 Blanc de Noirs X-Brut deg 9/22 is about as good as can be.++ at least. Perfect blend of freshness and substance, fruit is “sweeter” than its actual value. A beautiful follow up to the superb ’15.
VELTLINERS: 2022 Loiser Berg (tank sample) is sorrely and delicious, rippling body and herbal/mineral sweetness. The 2021, now sold out, is even better, haricots verts, sweet pea. 2011 Loiser Berg “reserve” a forgotten bottle, in bottle, tastes like ’11, not so much like GV, lots of vetiver but also quince, marsanne/manseng, a bit heady and really exotic. 2022 Alte Reben (now Langenlois); still leesy but ought to be mid-weight and elegant with modest mineral concentration. 2021 Ried Käferberg smells like good Bourgogne Blanc but the palate is wonderfully unusual, has the “wet straw syrup” (I do think I know what I mean by that…) but also the high silver screech of 21; pretty impressive minerality here! You wish every vintage could be like this. + at least, with top notes that makes the wine multi-colored. 2018 Ried Spiegel is yin to the yang of Käferberg; all stone, all stubborn, all power and density as opposed to sheer flesh; craggy and muscular. 2021 Ried Lamm suggests a hybrid between the ethereal ’19 and the grossly oaky ’20. There’s more truth to this, and thus more hope. The 2021 Ried Spiegel may be the GV of their vintage, fine grained, stony but not obdurate, physio-sweetness and a gracefully mineral finish. ++ for sure.
RIESLINGS: 2022 Kamptaler Terrassen, suave, herbal and salty. Good example, not as strict as the ’21. Ried Steinmassel 2022 is a portrait of terroir complexity. At least + As appealing as the site can be. 2021 Ried Heilegenstein (open two days) is firm and stern and long and extremely smoky; missing the top note of fruit. Taste from fresh bottle. 2021 Heiligenstein Alte Reben is accessible for this wine, less sinewy but just as ropey and pebbly. Again, these are just my on-the-fly notes, such that “ropey and pebbly” signify something to me though probably to no one else.
OTT, Feuersbrunn, Wagram (& Kamptal)
The samples Bernhard Ott sent never did reach me. I hadn’t tasted his wines since sitting with him in 2019, and so this dear man led me through a high-spot survey of each vintage from 2018-2021. This was interspersed with conversation on the essential nature of biodynamics especially among those aspects that many people find mystical. I have some sympathy for those instincts, as I tend to shrink from the nebulous. Yet there are many ostensible mystical matters that seem quite matter-of-fact to me.
Bernhard is a holistic thinker, yet also a technically skilled cellarmaster, and I don’t see these things as mutually exclusive. At one point we were talking about animals and sentience and what effects animal participation could have on grape growing (and thus on “winemaking”) and Bernhard tossed off a casual remark that stopped me in my tracks. This isn’t verbatim (it went by so fast) but he said “It isn’t only the soul of the individual animal; it is also the soul of the herd,” and I felt that lovely inner shaking that registers an intuitive truth. I felt it again a week later when, on a hiking excursion to the Styrian Alps, we saw a herd of Ibex to whom we were very near. When a few of them clambered up the mountain, the few beasts who remained in our proximity had become individuals, slipping out of the integrity of the group – the soul of the herd. If an aggregate of beasts, cows or goats or sheep or whatever, has an identity as an aggregate, one of the satisfactions of encountering them is that they are both many and one, a collection of souls and also a collective soul.
If you see the world that way, just naturally, without forcing it or making it into something that is merely “environmental,” then nothing happens that doesn’t matter, in your discrete world and also in the entire world. Whether you “believe” this or not is beside the point. It is, at the very least, a satisfying and engaging way to look at existence.
We only tasted VELTLINERS. (With a single exception.)
2018: Der Ott: fantastic minerality, transparency and lucidity. For its ferrous mineral it’s also quite lyric. Has the basmati of ’18 but uncommon grace. ++ Ried Stein: urgestein to the max, like fluid gneiss yet with the banana-juice of the year. Stunning length.++ Ried Spiegel: gingery with a powdery mineral. Discreet for this site. + Ried Rosenberg: exotic, redcurrant, almost a buntsandstein note. Could be an Alsace wine. Stein is the pick of this trio.
2019: Der Ott more force than ’18 and less knit; the vetiver piece is grinding up against the mineral in a blatantly spicy way. Still quite good. Kirchtal (high elevation, loess over clay, younger vines); reduction comes and vanishes, smells minty/gingery like Spiegel; palate is cressy and sorrely and limpid with a super-pretty saltiness.++ Ried Spiegel: a stunning vintage! Best-ever for me. Magnificent poise balance and purpose. The site was meant for the vintage.++ Ried Stein: a sex bomb of mineral, a grinning beast of gneiss. More vanilla than usual but it supports the terroir in a seductive way.++ Ried Rosenberg is the bomb, the powerhouse, the jet-blast, yet its intensity is seemly and its umami is perfectly aligned with the vintage’s glowy nature.
2020: Der Ott mega-mineral! Classic ’20, greeny and earthy and salty. Most attractive +. Kirchthal seems to have a lilac signature, delicacy and detail, a Nahe-kind of charm but a sneaky length astride the most tantalizing saltiness. Pure melody and vim. ++ Spiegel is aggressive green, Sencha, marjoram, sternly herbal and subtly mineral + Stein is exactly my kind of wine. Enough said. Rosenberg is everything it can be, albeit with a little woodsyness but also with a complex herbality and a pliant structure. ++
2021: Ried Brenner is a frisky little guy, pebbly and snappy, mineral and taut, maybe too taut, too frosty. Wonder what a hot year would deliver. Ried Gmirk has more wit, more schwing, similarly mineral and high toned but less ascetic. Here the celeriac and endive tones of GV are happily present. This is quite good. + Der Ott is fervidly aromatic, crazy racy, salty and spicy with a yelping cry of minerality, in the best sense a totally spazzed out scree. ++ Kirchthal is almost too austere in 21, as that vintage can be below its exalted levels. Phenolic and charmless. Der Ott, though, is wonderful, stern and earnest but lovely, long as hell, like good sturdy hiking shoes. Stein again is made for just this vintage, salty and maybe even a teeny bit sweet? ++ Rosenberg is both rich and angular, a little pyrene, very freshly bottled, but clinging and with enveloping umami. ++
2022 quick & dirty – Spiegel is tasty and fruit forward; Stein is aggressive and stern, and Rosenberg is the most tranquil.
The amazing 2017 Grüner Veltiner-“Raveneau”, of which 30 cases were made, hasn’t been sold and may never be. But it is quite a wine….
“The soul of the herd.”
SETZER, Hohenwarth, Weinviertel
VELTLINERS 2022s – “Fliegengewicht” (fly-weight)is an adorable wee GeeVee, glugger, really really good, with much more substance than one would expect with 11% - and it’s long! Best vintage ever for this. + Ausstich is firmer, “darker,” more pebbly and lentilly; classical and following a hard act. Ried Kronberg (cask sample) has the vetiver aroma and a lot of paprika and red beet – not the crazy minerality of ’21 but also none of the ungainly elements of earlier vintages; salty and savory. This used to be called “Die Lage,” by the way. + potential
Roter Veltliner Symphoniker, markedly better than in ’21 because the acidity is complimentary and the wine justifies itself. Weissburgunder is as always tasty, and now that I don’t have to consider its “commercial” utility I can appreciate how pleasant it is. A tiny bit of pyrene. Chardonnay neutral, salty, correct steel CH. Riesling with 13% is really pretty though it starts out demure, and later accumulates all kinds of stone-fruits and sweet herbs (bee balm and aloe), a classic Riesling thoroughly delicious. +
The Rosé splits the difference between freshness and a dry profile.
Finally the 2021 GV Grosse Reserve Ried Laa, in bottle 4 weeks; aroma subdued but palate alive, woody, brown jasmine, emerging complexity but fruit is suffocated thus wood is over stated. To be tasted later at home.
NIGL, Senftenberg, Kremstal
They’re building a hotel behind the existing hotel. I didn’t know that. I drove around the corner and saw this ghastly and desperately out-of-place building and thought it had somehow been foisted on them, so when they asked me how things were I said “Great, until I laid eyes on the eyesore behind the hotel.” Ah, well, that’s our new hotel we’re constructing…. Oh, ah, right! Your new hotel! (Open mouth, insert both feet.)
It will have a spa and sauna and all mod cons and 25 rooms, and will certainly be a “destination” property, insofar as there’s nothing really to do in the Kremstal, so I guess you’d go there to visit wineries and hang out with the birds.
I’d tasted very little the last few years, so we did quite a survey.
2022s – Starts with a really nice rosé.
GRUNER VELTLINERS Gärtling is adorable, moderate and flavory. Freiheit smells really loessy and is hugely charming; a perfect vintage for this, + for sure, delicious and sneaky-long. Piri is transparent and herbal/mineral. These are an apogee of usefulness through and through. + Alte Reben is denser, compacter, transparent as 22s are, barley and lentil and wet forests and snap peas. These are really excellent. Maybe ++. The candid nature of this vintage is ideal for this producer. Ried Pellingen (cask-samp) typical of site and crop, obviously promising (and served ice cold. Ried Kirchenberg is rusky and salty and peppery (cask-samp), a jot better than Pellingen, maybe a bit too relaxed? Still, + at least.
RIESLINGS: Piri mothball, but very freshly bottled, so judgment deferred. Ried Hochäcker (cask), dry and brisk, mid-palate mineral almost covers a dearth of fruit; phenolic and strict. Bit of a shock after those open-armed GVs. Ried Goldberg has its typical caraway, is more “present”, wider and more interesting, bee balm and lime and strong mineral. Def. +
2021s GVs Ried Pellingen is a smoke bomb, singed violets, 17-leaf salad, beet and beet greens. Excellent + Ried Kirchenberg is thrilling, classic schist and paragneiss makes a leaf-dusty GV, stern and adamant yet not ascetic, rather large-spirited and even juicy. ++
RIESLINGS Ried Hochäcker is a “100-point” wine, at least according to one (qualified) reviewer. It sold out in a flash, and nothing wrong with that. Nor is it the time to fuss yet again about the point scale and the notion of “perfection.” I do think that score is a double-edged sword, though. For every person who approaches the wine expectantly and gratefully, there are five people who arrive with chips on their shoulders; “Oh yeah, 100 points? We’ll just see about that,” and then they busy themselves picking nits with the poor wine. Still, Hochäcker has always been my favorite Nigl Riesling (better in my view than the Pellingen, which he considers his best) and this glorious ’21 is rather as I thought it would be; massive pitted fruit aroma, celestial and classic, ravishing fruit supported with magnificent minerality and a splendid architecture. Defines “great wine.” salty and exquisitely detailed. +++ Ried Goldberg smells good! Minty and brilliant, less queenly but more resplendent, roasted beet, herbs, a wee tic of sweetness, hard to say it’s “less” great than the Hochäcker, but it’s less gorgeous. +++
SAUVIGNON BLANC 2022 - not one of the great ones, but certainly top-of-class compared to the sadly luckless Germans.
GELBER MUSKATELLER is classic Nigl, and perfect + with all of 11.5% it has more length and animation than many more wines with greater pretensions.
HIRSCH, Kammern, Kamptal
Maybe these don’t lend themselves to snap-tasting. When I have them at home I baby them and am often gratified. But not always. I’ll tell you about the wines that made me happy, because they’ll make me happy again, while the others may well make me happier when I can take more time with them.
2022s RIESLING Zöbing has a great aroma and a lovely snakey palate, the way this wine should be – though I’d be glad if it were more compact after bottling. Good eucalyptus shimmer.
2021s VELTLINERS Ried Renner is very much both a Hirsch wine and a 21. Ried Gaisberg is racier and green-beany, a simply classic peppery GV, not too leesy, where Renner is salty and doughy with that yeasty edge. Good wine but disappointing in the vintage. Ried Lamm’s pretty good! It’s (this time) a perfect melding of ‘Hannes and the site; doughy and lamby and rich but not voluptuous. + Ried Grub is above its usual station, looser textured than Lamm and more articulate; a very good GV. +
RIESLINGS 21: … Ried Heiligenstein Rotfels is bolder,than the “regular” Heiligenstein; a compelling aroma, leading to a firm-boned savory wine with length and umami and exotic spices. Way above anything else on the table ++ A lovely grippy Riesling. Ried Gaisberg is high-toned flowery, a spinning top of nuances, resolving into the usual blueberry, pepper and mineral, like looking at three pinballs in a single machine, in a sped-up video. Overall on the stern side, but still +
BERGER, Gedersdorf, Kremstal
Son Maximilan’s arrival corresponds with a change of accent at this laudable domain. The wines used to be pretty (and sometimes still are) but the new tendency is to make them more herbal and “textured.” I find I need to recalibrate my feelings toward them, but I don’t think less of them at all.
VELTLINERS: Gedesdorf is a classic lucid 22, charming and gluggable, with physio-sweetness despite 11.5% alc.. “I think 22 shows more loess than 21,” says Erich. LITER 22 is precisely as it should be; crisper (but also colder) than the last one. Loessterassen follows the recent trend toward herbality and “structure” (as opposed to the loessy charm of bygone days); it’s basically a wine of texture and leafiness now. 2021 Optimus Terrae is outstanding, classic upper-echelon GV with dark and bright notes conversing, flowers and rock dust in a stylish cling. Easily + and maybe ++ 2021 Ried Moosburgerin; if this wine will be good at all it would have to be in 21 – and it is. Now herbal and dusty, acacia sweetness, sweet leaf-mold, charming finish with indirect mineral and a woodsy umami. 2021 Ried Wieland (in oak) is very good but the oak isn’t necessary, albeit agreeable; this resembles the ’19, curiously, and is very good.
PINOT BLANC: Ried Altmandl Optimis Terrae is an excellent pungent PB, a sponti, all steel, has an Auxxerois touch, 40-yr vines; not as anticipated!
GELBER MUSKATELLER 2022 is pun-gent! As adamant a Berger Muscat as I’ve ever tasted; tomato leaf and redcurrant and little elderflower; salty and brusque (and weirdly lovable, but then I do like Muscat.)
RIESLING 2022 Ried Pfaffenberg (tank samp) maiden-voyage. Pungent and earthy; wonder whether bottling will civilize it. Now it’s like burnt oatmeal.
There’s a sturdy, structured Zweigelt Rosé (22) with a small reduction. The Riesling Sekt was also tasted at home, and it remains an unfussy and well balanced fizz; grapes from Zehetnerin and Spiegel.
GLATZER, Göttlesbrunn, Carnuntum
I have always loved this estate, and am still trying to lose the weight I gained from the lavish Schnitzel lunch they served us, which I could not possibly resist.
Honestly to me they are royalty – the wines, not the Schnitzels. Pure candor and vitality at the fairest prices you can imagine, with even the occasional feint toward greatness. I'm proud and gratified to have represented this family for three decades.
WHITES The basic 2022 Grüner Veltliner is pretty, teeny reduction but a zippy wine for 22. Impressive! 2021 GV Dornenvogel (his highest quality) is in contrast curiously still, an umami wine, sponti notes and interior, not really “GV” but a densely mineral impressive white wine. + PINOT BLANC 21: this is impressive, maybe even more than the GV; stiff and compact and stony. 2020 Carnuntum white is a big juicy beast. Seriously tasty and impossible to conceptualize – but yummy. 2021 SAUVIGNON BLANC “Weisser Schotter” expressive in the red-pepper vein and currant-leaf (in-between a nice 21 Chardonnay Ried Kräften), and then a 2022 SAUV-BL that’s actually more delicate and elegant, plus juicy and fruit-driven Glug!
REDS: 2020 Zweigelt is thoroughly luscious! Mega-gluggy! 2020 Blaufränkisch is primary and weedy with the Glatzer juiciness. A somewhat serious glugger, but you can still glug away. 2020 Sankt Laurent, reduction, but a clear varietal palate and a long salty umami lingers in the tertiary finish; even a bit tannic. 2019 Sankt Laurent Ried Altenberg has a stunning fragrance, animal and woody, and a solid rich palate. ++ for sure. THREE ZWEIGELTS: 2020 “Rubin Carnuntum”, reduction, but warmly rich thereafter. 2020 Dornenvogel is earnest, dark, sour-cherry, closed in. 2020 Ried Haidacker is elegant, roasty, solid, fruit and vinosity and still light-footed. A pinnacle for the sort. ++ Blaufränkisch 2019 Göttlesbrunn is serious with “good” tannin and a not-unpleasant bit of rubbery funk. 2019 Ried Bärnreiser Höflein is perhaps too tannic – but this NEEDS to be tasted more slowly at home. Too quick thru the reds now.
HEIDI SCHROECK & SONS, Rust, Burgenland
The happiest story for last; apart from re-immersion into an old friendship with a woman who is a genius at friendship, this was also a chance to observe a generational transition functioning exactly as it should. Heidi’s young men, inspired by the example she set for decades, have created a lovely synergy in which the whole exceeds the sum of its parts, and the wines improve markedly without being altered in any basic way. It’s exactly what you most want to see, and it doesn’t happen often, and it’s taking place here and now. I was so engaged with the dry wines we ran out of time before I could taste the sweet ones, so I’ll report on those when I get them later this year.
2021 Zweigelt has the weeds and berries aroma from its Blaufränkisch parent, angular and fetching but not ingratiating, a POV of Zweigelt I really like, violets and crushed stones. (This is part of a general leap forward in the quality of Schröck’s reds over the past several years.) 2022 Zweigelt is “darker” and more tannic, mid palate juice, bloody and “metallic” (recent bottling under screw gives a reduction), less compelling but served too cool. 2021 “Junge Löwen” (all Blaufränkisch) a superb BF fragrance, a silver stream of brisk minerally BF jazz. The “cool” side of BF, not everybody’s darling. Cerebral maybe. 2021 Blaufränkisch Ried Kulm, classic refined aroma and a Grand Cru profile, supra-varietal cedar and intense mineral, herbal with a Pauillac saltiness. Easily +
2021 Muscat is the rhubarb type, sweated veggies, faded flowers, not especially varietal, a good wine but one needs care how it’s used. Like a 19th-century Muscat. The 2022 is much more in-the-family and is a classic in a fleshier vein. Fully varietal but with a golden brioche-y umami. 2022 Weissburgunder: A wonderful vintage of this! Like Prieler’s Seeberg, roasted corn, brioche, several dimensions; honestly I’ve had 1er Cru St. Aubin that wasn’t this good. Superbly rich yet defined finish. The best they’ve ever made. + if not more. 2021 “More Is More” (Liter) all Welschriesling, is a tasty little fucker that surmounts the non-varietal issue with its clever name. Tasty! The 2022 is juicier (as all have been) and also spicier and more assertive; more obvious but not in a crude way. Both are very good.
2021 Furmint is along classic lines for these. Beeswax-chamomile-rosewater, exotic but not aldehydic, with a gorgeously waxy finish. Another high-spot among this wine’s history. + The 2022 Furmint is super Chenin-y, exotic, more honeyed (but not sweeter), more middle, blown-out candle, Jarlsberg. Perfectly good, more “present” than the 21 but less sublime. We’d had some of Schandl’s fine stainless-steel Furmint the evening before, and for all that wine’s practical and forthright goodness, I prefer the esoteric when it comes to Furmint, and Schröck’s wines are all that. 2021 “21 Buckets” is fun and curious; starts like some Greek wines but spreads out almost shockingly into an exotic crescendo of cucumbers and dill and a shot of mineral and mussel and a searching finish. Oak is amazingly apropos here. + and I’ll need days to suss this beauty. (Expect a 400-word note at some point.) 2020 Grauburgunder is along its classic lines. I love its almost somber depth and chewiness, and it’s a fine example of the best use of wood. Avoids all the occasional fatiguing overripeness of earlier years.
“Tour de Rosé” 2021 just a magnificent vintage of this! Less exotic and more articulate than before, but still an apogee of playfulness and character. ++ The 2022 is precisely along its line, salty and rhubarb and mega-fun, with a stubbornly lingering finale. Like a stoned version of the ‘21. Sheesh, what wines. +
ABOUT BEING FRIENDS
As my importer-career progressed I grew less and less able to buy wines from uncongenial people, even if the wines were good. It wasn’t worth it. I needed a certain warmth and ease with my growers. I needed them to know I revered and respected their work and would show it by paying close attention to their wines. If I could, I wanted to help them be heroes.
I didn’t make friends with all of them, but where friendship seemed possible I was eager for it. It took a certain finesse on both sides, especially if we did a lot of business and my decisions carried more weight. I’d always assumed that every importer made friends with his/her growers, but as time went on I learned that the depth of my relationships was unusual. Unusual, and sometimes inconvenient. Business interests and personal sentiment did not always align. I lacked the “hard-bitten” gene whereby I could easily jettison a grower who hadn’t been cutting the mustard. Now and again I’d wonder whether I was paying too high a price by growing close to those folks.
Now I know better. I went to Austria not to “taste the wines” but to see my friends. And seeing them, I understood that if I have any sort of “legacy,” it is one of having made good friends and having – I very much hope – been a good friend. The occasional little diplomatic awkwardness that ensued was a small price to pay for the rich privilege of those relationships.
A SMALL CLOSING WORD
We drank a lot of splendid wine over those twelve days, and more than a few supernal ones. I remembered again what a vibrantly healthy wine culture Austria’s is.
But the most wonderful beverage we drank was not wine.
It was water.
The nearest Alpine region to Vienna with any “high” mountains is in Styria near the pilgrimage town of Mariazell. (One makes such a pilgrimage not only for spiritual reasons; the place is also the headquarters of Pirker Lebkuchen, which we sought to, ah, “study.”) There’s a decent-sized massif called the Hochschwab, which isn’t so terribly high but which is dramatic nonetheless. For hikers there are four points of access, at least one at each exposure. But it was mid-April and the snows were still present pretty low down, so that ambitious hiking was precluded. On the other hand, no one was around.
On the north-facing slopes there’s a little hamlet called Weichselboden which I recall being a good place for setting out. It was silent when we got there. We saw a herd of big Ibex browsing among the meadows so casually we didn’t realize for a moment they were wild. They’d descended from the slopes to graze on the new grass, and the larger animals were unperturbed by our presence. I haven’t seen all that many Ibex in my wanderings, so this was a slip-through-the-membrane moment.
We found a place to leave the car. It was still silent. We found a fountain from which to fill our water bottles, and then saw the signs. As it happened, we had stumbled upon the source for the tap water they drink in Vienna. Here at the origin point the water was bracingly sweet and pure. It travels without pumps or machines down to Vienna, where it becomes the best tap water of any big city I know.
I often found the water in these lower limestone mountains to be the sweetest water in the Alps. You know the old question about what you’d want your last meal to be? As a guy who’s racked up plenty of Michelin stars over the years, my answer surprises even myself. I would want my last-ever meal to consist of the best possible bread, the best possible butter, and water from a mountain stream.