Weingut Alzinger Wachau
This report on the 2020 vintage at one of the Wachau’s great producers is late, I know. The samples only just reached me, though they were sent last summer. Some of it is the general bother with supply chains (including the difficulty of actually getting containers to Austria to collect wine) and some of it is specific to the importer’s warehouse and its pandemic-related staffing issues. Honestly, I never thought I’d see these wines, but they materialized out of the mists. While the trade is gearing up to present the new 2021 vintage, these ‘20s are still in the market, and so I hope to be helpful.
Among the great names in the Wachau, Alzinger stands somewhat alone. I’d describe the wines as breathy, by which I mean an evanescent quality that I receive as tenderness, which in turn belongs to wines that don’t “attack” with flavor, but which are enveloping and allusive. Such wines can offer remarkable power and expressiveness – think Raveneau or Dönnhoff – but they do not grip so much as caress. In their wake they leave a kind of haunting tingle, which you then attempt to reconcile with the profound information they convey. At least I try to do that, and then I fail. Reams of words later, I’m still not sure I’ve grabbed it, but maybe that’s as it should be; wines which themselves don’t grab the palate are fiends to try to grab in prose.
Knowing the family, it is clear whence these qualities arise. It lies in the modesty and warmth of Alzingers themselves, father and son, who convey a genial contentment almost Taoist in nature.
Thus I hold the wines in deep affection, and this is oblique to how I might evaluate them professionally. There are plenty of wines that impress me, but which I do not love.
I’m tasting them here as I always tasted them there: all the Grüner Veltliners as a group, and then the Rieslings. There are ten wines and I’ll do five per day. That’s a lot of white-space around each wine, to which I can only say the wines deserve it, have always deserved it, yet I was never able to give it. Now I can.
2020 Grüner Veltliner Dürnstein Federspiel
The first thing to observe is, I always tasted this wine before it was six months old, with all its baby fat and cooing melody. Now it’s a yearling, and has quieted down. It shows purity and delicacy, it beckons you in rather than reaching out of the glass to grip you.
Yet even in its whispery way, it shows both acids and phenols, offering crunch in place of fruit. It’s in the chervil and lentil dialect of GV, and it prefers the basic Spiegelau white wine glass, from which the texture is juicier. The classic pepper aromas are shy to emerge, though eventually they do. It’s Alzinger at their most inferential and least ingratiating.
You know how in winespeak the word “interesting” actually means uninteresting? It happens with the word “subtle” also, which often means bland. Here’s a subtle wine that’s by no means bland, but is simply not clamorous and doesn’t seek to charm you. It delivers a certain quiet, and asks for a similar quiet in return.
DAY-3 it’s much more aromatic, and the palate is crisper and clearer. At this point it’s a good cool-vintage GV on the light side – exactly as it ought to be. The texture is brisk and craggy, and the wine has benefited enormously from being open.
2020 Grüner Veltliner Ried Mühlpoint Federspiel
The back label adds “Loibner” to the designation, indicates a trademark by “Federspiel” and the “DAC” thing after WACHAU. Really, just don’t get me started….
Both Federspiels have (just) 12% alc, a half-degree lower than usual. And I do not, incidentally, have the Mühlpoint Smaragd here to taste. The site sits below the (great) Steinertal as its terraces give way to a gentler slope and finally to flat land tending toward the Danube. It is fundamentally loess, though its upper sections have some eroded material from the primary-rock terraces above. In the years I’ve known Alzingers, this site has gone from being incidental to offering more and more personality, as the vines age. And this vintage is lovely, but not undemanding.
Alongside the greater fruit-sweetness is a discernible umami like white-meat poultry (or even duck fat), with fennel seed and sweet fern. The palate is richer but not rich, and we have saltiness and elements of licorice. Yet these are “smaller” than the norm at this level from this domain, or so they appear in what I infer is a trough in their development. And as is my practice, I’ll taste them again at least three times over the next days.
SECOND TASTE, after one glass at the table with baby broccoli – if you must know – and here the aroma has retreated yet the palate has advanced. But even this isn’t quite accurate. The low notes of fragrance are subdued but the high tones are brighter, while the finish is really impressive, quite the rapture of scree and rock dust and anise.
2020 Grüner Veltliner Ried Loibenberg Smaragd +
Same “adaptations” in the back label as the above, but what’s striking here is the mere 13% alc.
It’s a fascinating site. It’s large (35 ha.) and with differences in altitude, terraced on a bedrock of “Gfoehler gneiss” often overlaid with loess topsoil. The wines suggest (and often present) an exotic generosity that usually maintains a certain cool fresh breeziness. It’s considered a top Cru, yet it’s one I have only fitfully understood, at least until the wines are mature – which means 15-20 years old.
And this ’20 is markedly (and beautifully) unusual; in place of the “yellow and orange” flavors we usually see (bergamot, peach blossom, malt, compound butter) this is all green, not as a synonym for unripe but rather as a family of scents and flavors usually obscured by the exotics of the site. I know I’m gonna leave earth with these associations, but I’m finding haricots verts drizzled with walnut oil and with a shower of fresh-ground Tasmanian pepper over the top.
Acidity is atypically assertive. Aromas are enticing and wonderfully expressive. Palate is ferrous, nettles and spinach. Finish is agreeably sour. There’s a lot of dialogue, a lot of motion among these flavors, but it doesn’t seem hurried. And I continue to prefer the juiciness from the Spiegelau to the almost arch articulation from the Jancis – which seems ill suited to these wines today.
As with all these GVs, this is showing markedly better after 48 hours; still craggy in its nature but more culminated somehow, now more chervil and summer savory. And with a fourth look (this time from the Jancis) the wine seems as expressive as it can be. It’s more complex in general, with additions to its herbal flavors, but the glass keeps emphasizing the shrieky sort of finish, so I strongly recommend a basic tulip like my beloved Spiegelau.
This is a good wine, worthwhile for its originality and dialectic, but if it’s your first-ever Loibenberg GV from this estate, I doubt you’ll ever have another one like it.
2020 Grüner Veltliner Ried Steinertal Smaragd
The site is described as “sheer, meager and steep.” It gives the utter classic shade-grown wines, and if you drive in from the east (from Krems) you won’t see it, as it lies in the shadow of the Pfaffenberg. Even from the other direction, unless you stop the car by the side of the road, you pass it before you even register it. Needless to say, I adore it.
Pure gneiss. A cool microclimate sitting in a warm region. A character so pronounced that it supersedes the grape variety. Daddy’s kinda hooch. A strange and lovely cognate is the Pfalz site Paradiesgarten (which we see from Von Winning) which also tastes like some stealthy little Sauv-Blanc munchkin stole into the wine and mischievously added a few drops of its flavor.
It often presents a welcome splash of bracing freshness among a lot of warm-vintage wines. How does it fare here, when everything is bracing? Well, it is fervently minty, both actual mints (spearmint especially) and mint family members like Italian parsley and tarragon; it shows a sharp pepper (such as Kampot or Kerala) and a pungency of herbs. Some of Nigl’s Pellingen wines show the same dark iris notes. It’s a yawping riot of aroma. A very good wine, and entirely unlike the usual Alzinger. It excels by an explicit and clamorous dialogue among its various assertive factions, and by its innate nobility, but in this vintage it stings your very bones.
Yet as it warms in the glass it seems to access a mid-palate richness I expect to come to the fore over the days – so if you don’t have days to wait, decant! Double-decant!!
After 48 hours the wine has folded its wings a little, as though it’s an introvert at heart. Its “green” typicity expresses as pea-pod or nightshade. It’s appallingly ill-suited to the Jancis glass, which seems to be friendlier to the Rieslings. This is my fourth sampling over a period of 96 hours; it’s 62º, and while there are many components to appreciate, there isn’t much to love. Right now the wine is kinda snarly.
2020 Riesling Dürnstein Federspiel
A sneak preview of the 4 Smaragds I’ll be sampling tomorrow…)
This has a very pretty fragrance. More grace and pixilation than any of the GVs.
The palate, at first, seems to fold in, almost modestly, as if it wishes to drape itself. You think ah, this is a cerebral Riesling. And indeed, it tastes as though it could be German, such is its crisply northern delineation. Yet that generous aroma has to emerge somehow, right?
And yes, it does. It’s a beautiful Riesling of a rarefied sort; it reminds me of certain wines from Johannes Gross (at Goldatzel, a favorite German producer) and certainly from Martin Nigl (closer to home in the Kremstal), and if the thing you like best about Riesling is its insane intricacy of mineral/herb/green tea, then this is your wine. It is explicitly flavorful – no groping for “subtleties” here – but rendered by a silvery shimmer that is generously yet unrelentingly mineral. Somewhere embedded within the byways of this wine’s structure is a savory note of sweet paprika, and lemon grass has a cameo of its own, but this isn’t a wine that strokes the fur, it’s one that scratches the itch.
Tasted the requisite four times, this wine has also gotten more bashful with air. It’s agreeably inexplicable, as though there were elements you won’t find on the aroma-wheel (unless you have the extra-terrestrial version, or are au courant with the Lebanese spice pantry.)
2020 Riesling Ried Liebenberg Smaragd +
A stunning vineyard in a crook of the Danube just upstream from Dürnstein itself, it consists of weathered paragneiss with outcrops of amphibolite, and it has tended to give curiously radish-y wines, without much we’d normally refer to as “fruit.” That is, until recently. As the vines age the wines grow juicier and deeper, and even this “entry” Smaragd has been pretty imposing of late.
Fragrances are high-toned and herbal from both glasses, with Jancis seeming more steely and more herbaceous. The palate is Riesling-with garrigue, with a profound gleam of mineral and scree from which wild herbs seem to peek out through tiny fissures. There’s some of the gin-&-tonic notes we’ve seen in Dautel’s GGs, and the finish is nettles and mints. It offers a lavish volume of flavor without alighting on fruit or flowers in any way I can discern.
With air (and tasting outdoors) there’s elements of dulce and ceviche and of Sarawak pepper. The wine is generous and intricate and fascinating, but not seductive; Riesling at its most superbly esoteric. And for all that, the mouthfeel is also quite juicy and the gestalt isn’t at all spiky but instead extravagantly salivating. I wouldn’t be shocked to learn it has 3-4 g/l of residual-unmentionable, but even if I’m wrong there’s something acting as a prod for a rapture of saltiness.
It’s the furthest thing from “everybody’s darling” but it’s also a masterly Riesling with a beautiful intelligence and no reason not to display it. And with air it gets more and more impressive, adding fruit to the portrait, tasting almost as though it came from a different vintage – until the tertiary finish where the acids show again.
I’ve tasted it four times and remain convinced that something is different about this. It could be localized weather, harvest time, arc of fermentation, but whatever it is, this is the Alzinger we know.
2020 Riesling Ried Hollerin Smaragd +
Partly terraced (where Gföhler gneiss dominates) and partly bottom-slope angling toward flatness (where calcified loess appears), this tiny site has given Alzinger the most fetching among his Rieslings, full of pitted fruits with a key-lime counterpoint.
And yet this ’20 begins with smoky ferrous aromas that usually mark its neighbor Höhereck. 2020 hasn’t seemed to want to show overt fruit, overall, and this very fine wine is, let’s say, misbehaving. That said, it feints toward hedonism in the Jancis, but it also shows more acidity. It’s Hollerin in a sort of aphasia, wherein it’s forgotten who it is – and yet it is seriously good, if less seamless than the Liebenberg. I’m tasting these in Leo’s usual sequence, but when I re-taste I’ll reverse them.
The Jancis is clearly the better option for clarifying flavor and coaxing fruit forward, but it also shows the jangly misalignment of components – at least for now – and while I’d willingly pay that price, the wine is casting about for a way to be pleasing. I’m eager to follow its progress over the days, as it swallows oxygen.
DAY-3 and it has found its peachy heart. It’s still laden with oolong jazz, the “sweet” vegetality of Lishan teas, and it might be pulled more tightly than is ideal for this (usually) seductive wine, but all of these are jumping around, and while I’m trying hard to “evaluate” them, it’s hard when they don’t hold still. DAY-4 shows the wine leading with its “sweet-green” element, with stone-fruits as an allusive counterpoint. You’ll notice the kinetic binding of acid and mineral, and you’ll also notice the snappy finish, because it’s actually too snappy for this typically delicious wine.
(My usual favorite, the Ried Höhereck, appears to be corked. I have some sitting out to confirm or refute, as it isn’t a blatant stinker. (It’s also a different cork supplier, “21180” vs. “123669 CB.”) And damn it, it’s really corked. Grrrrrrrr!)
2020 Riesling Ried Loibenberg Smaragd
In common with its GV sibling, this is atypical for Loibenberg. In this case, for me, delightfully so.
I often find Loibenberg elusive in its youth, when I’m usually tasting it. I perceive its refinement and appreciate the way it poises an exotic ripeness against a breezy freshness, but I seem to see these things through a scrim or a film – which is decidedly not the case with this striking ’20. There’s grip and fervor here.
The wine isn’t exactly sharp, but it is acidulous. It leans a little toward “fruit” but pauses at the sweet spices (paprika, cardamom) and again at a curious flavor of white chocolate. Like the Hollerin, the wine’s showing a few spikes in its structure. I’m starting to wonder if there was a localized weather issue that didn’t affect the Liebenberg, which remains the best integrated wine texturally and structurally.
On second glance, it’s both more complicated and less coherent. Its intricacy is strikingly impressive, but the unseemly mintyness may have to do with unintegrated RS – yet any judgment is provisional with these, they are so elusive.
But what’s this “RS” business? Well, it’s normal for these Rieslings to have a few grams-above-zero RS, which you don’t taste but which does its generally helpful thing in the wine. Remember, the EU says “Trocken” can go up to 9g/l of RS, and for most Rieslings the detection-threshold would be around 9-12 g/l depending on acidity, temperature and ambience. Thus a few grams – 3-4 or so – are almost always welcome, albeit we don’t discuss it because sugar is verboten.
This wine is a curious exception that that rule. I don’t know what it has for RS, but whatever the amount it’s in strife with the rest of the wine. A casual imbiber won’t register it, except perhaps to observe the wine seems angular. I like its angularity, and both the aroma and finish are its most successful components; it’s the actual palate whose legs are too long for the bed.
2020 Riesling Ried Steinertal Smaragd ++
Not surprisingly, a magnificent Riesling fragrance. This wine is an icon for the variety and for the Wachau overall.
As a rule (and as I reported in the GV note) the Steinertal adds a sting of briskness to otherwise ripe-tasting wines that can approach the status of miracle. Here in 2020 we have the briskness shouting into a void, as the physio-ripeness and the creaminess it expresses isn’t present. This can make the wines feel stark.
Yet I wouldn’t go that far. Not every chord needs to be polyphonal. What we do see here is impressive and beautiful in its direct way, all sweet herbs and vetiver and flowering fields and ginger.
Counterintuitively, this is markedly better from the Jancis, from which the structure makes more sense and that physio-sweetness is able to emerge. On repeated tasting it remains sensible and integrated, in its neon-green way, almost sedate, yet crazily long. And even in its pucker-y register it remains of-a-piece in a way that Hollerin and Loibenberg don’t.
A surprising final note. Without wishing to beat up on the Jancis glass – I love that glass – it yielded to the little Spiegelau on repeated tastings, even when it seemed preferable at first. This collection is pointed and adamantly minty, and it expresses its acids clamorously. The wines need the glass that makes them juicy. We can analyze the next vintage!