Weingut Berger

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2020 Grüner Veltliner LITER

I wonder when was the last time I wrote a tasting note for this wine. Usually it was “good again,” sometimes very good, and I tried to “make the sale” for the category. Now here is the wine.

The wine, as always, is true. In contrast to the Setzer it’s creamier (but not actually “creamy”) and sweeter (but obviously not “sweet.”) and it has some of the semolina-savor of loess-grown GV, though I doubt it’s all from loess – there’s a lot of contract-purchased fruit in it, though often the first bottling of a vintage is 100% estate. There’s iron and pepper in the mix also; sandy soils can give those flavors.

It’s enough for such a wine to be honest and agreeable, but in many vintages this is more than agreeable, and this is one of them. There’s texture here, structure, contour and grip. It doesn’t “need” to be this good. But Erich Berger has a deep conscience.

I sold this wine from the very start, back in 1994. “Berger Liters” became a bit of a thing, and then suddenly everyone was offering Liters of GV (with cute names and whimsical labels). Most were just fine – the general level of competence is high in Austria – but it started being a race to the bottom price-wise. Then Liters seemed to become infra dig, but recently they seem to have been rediscovered.

Being a mere humble scribe these days, I can only remark that wines like this – and this one especially – are a real gift to the wine community. East on the wallet, frisky on the palate, super pleasant if “pleasant” is all that’s needed, but offering class and animation for anyone tasting attentively.

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2020 Grüner Veltliner Gedersdorf

This newly designated “village-wine” takes the place of the previous site called Zehetnerin, which was Erich’s “little” GV; this one has just 11.5% alc. For some reason it was always a riot of fragrance, as this is. I wonder if that blast-o-scent is fleeting, i.e., would it last 2-3 years. We’ll never know as wines like this are made to be drunk up.

Light wine doesn’t have to be slight, and this one isn’t. After that fetching aroma, the palate is ferrous and fir-like, leading to a markedly big whoosh of lentil and mineral dust on the back, surprisingly adamant for such a wee little lad, and that snappiness leads in turn to a static-y finish, as though the wine were suddenly irked. That’s likely the vintage, as it breaks from the template of the many vintages I’ve had.

In my merchant days, I felt in principle that we should lead people from the Liters directly to the mid-range wine coming up next, but often I was captivated by the charm of this flyweight and couldn’t help offering it. To little avail, alas.

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2020 Grüner Veltliner Loessterassen

It has the classic 12.5% alc; in ripe years it’s often climbed to 13%, which defeats the wine’s purpose. 

The wines in the middle don’t get no love. Doesn’t matter what they taste like. They are an inexplicable “item.” Cheap wine is an “item” and big important wines with “scores” are an item, and between these is a community of delicious wines that no one seems to know what to do with. Um, drinking them might could be the answer, just sayin.’ Among the many things I love about my successor Gabe Clary, one is that he truly understands this principle, though I doubt his headwinds are less aggressive than mine were.

In any case this is a beautiful vintage, and also an atypical one. That is, it’s atypically green. Loess usually gives what I call the “wet-cereal” flavor, having to do with a weird thing I did as a child, to let my cereal get soggy and then eat it. It also relates to oatmeal, cream of rice, jasmine, sweet hay. A sunny disposition. This guy, though, has points to make. The wine is markedly herbal and redolent of sweet fern, Sencha tea, hyssop and dill, and all of it comes on the heels of a fetching aroma that wants to lead you elsewhere.

Again, I expect this is the ’20 vintage, but we’re atypically assertive here, and the wine contains the strategic national reserve of rotundone.

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2020 Grüner Veltliner (Ried) Moosburgerin

CASK SAMPLE. I found both the ’19 and ’18 overripe, but we all know I’m a fusspot for white wines at/above 14% alc. This one smells good in a rugged sort of way.

The palate isn’t working for me. There’s a jalapeño heat, and the pepperiness reminds me of the Penja from Cameroun, which is the one you use if you’re looking for bite. I switched over to the long-stemmed round Spiegelau, which improved matters considerably. Basically you want the glass to express the spherical “sweetness” (in the physiological sense) and suppress the sour elements – and this one does. It may also feel less bellicose after bottling. Right now it’s nightshades and burned lentils and oolong tea in the Wu-Yi type.

Could be one of those wines I’m not destined to come to terms with. It happens.

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2020 Grüner Veltliner “Optimis terrae”

CASK SAMPLE. And this has the classic fragrances of serious loess GV, a madness of lentils and fennel seed.

It’s serious to the point of earnestness. Just a description, not a judgment. It would make sense for Erich to have ambitions beyond the nice-guy wines, albeit I like the nice-guy wines. But we have a Statement here. We have a density of body that borders on creamy, yet any furtive sense of lusciousness is firmly sent packing by an adamant dryness. It’s as if there’s something it wants to prove.

But I admire it, greatly; I respect its ambition, and while it’s maybe a little heavy on the tread, it manages even its modest vegetal note. A firm classic, in some way a capital-C classic, asserting density and thickness, if not elegance or charm.

This by the way is the second wine made in full by Erich’s son Maximilan, who did four days on the skins (without oxidation). The name means (in effect) “best earth.”

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2020 Grüner Veltliner LITER

I wonder when was the last time I wrote a tasting note for this wine. Usually it was “good again,” sometimes very good, and I tried to “make the sale” for the category. Now here is the wine.

The wine, as always, is true. In contrast to the Setzer it’s creamier (but not actually “creamy”) and sweeter (but obviously not “sweet.”) and it has some of the semolina-savor of loess-grown GV, though I doubt it’s all from loess – there’s a lot of contract-purchased fruit in it, though often the first bottling of a vintage is 100% estate. There’s iron and pepper in the mix also; sandy soils can give those flavors.

It’s enough for such a wine to be honest and agreeable, but in many vintages this is more than agreeable, and this is one of them. There’s texture here, structure, contour and grip. It doesn’t “need” to be this good. But Erich Berger has a deep conscience.

I sold this wine from the very start, back in 1994. “Berger Liters” became a bit of a thing, and then suddenly everyone was offering Liters of GV (with cute names and whimsical labels). Most were just fine – the general level of competence is high in Austria – but it started being a race to the bottom price-wise. Then Liters seemed to become infra dig, but recently they seem to have been rediscovered.

Being a mere humble scribe these days, I can only remark that wines like this – and this one especially – are a real gift to the wine community. East on the wallet, frisky on the palate, super pleasant if “pleasant” is all that’s needed, but offering class and animation for anyone tasting attentively.

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2020 Grüner Veltliner Gedersdorf

This newly designated “village-wine” takes the place of the previous site called Zehetnerin, which was Erich’s “little” GV; this one has just 11.5% alc. For some reason it was always a riot of fragrance, as this is. I wonder if that blast-o-scent is fleeting, i.e., would it last 2-3 years. We’ll never know as wines like this are made to be drunk up.

Light wine doesn’t have to be slight, and this one isn’t. After that fetching aroma, the palate is ferrous and fir-like, leading to a markedly big whoosh of lentil and mineral dust on the back, surprisingly adamant for such a wee little lad, and that snappiness leads in turn to a static-y finish, as though the wine were suddenly irked. That’s likely the vintage, as it breaks from the template of the many vintages I’ve had.

In my merchant days, I felt in principle that we should lead people from the Liters directly to the mid-range wine coming up next, but often I was captivated by the charm of this flyweight and couldn’t help offering it. To little avail, alas.

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2020 Grüner Veltliner Loessterassen

It has the classic 12.5% alc; in ripe years it’s often climbed to 13%, which defeats the wine’s purpose. 

The wines in the middle don’t get no love. Doesn’t matter what they taste like. They are an inexplicable “item.” Cheap wine is an “item” and big important wines with “scores” are an item, and between these is a community of delicious wines that no one seems to know what to do with. Um, drinking them might could be the answer, just sayin.’ Among the many things I love about my successor Gabe Clary, one is that he truly understands this principle, though I doubt his headwinds are less aggressive than mine were.

In any case this is a beautiful vintage, and also an atypical one. That is, it’s atypically green. Loess usually gives what I call the “wet-cereal” flavor, having to do with a weird thing I did as a child, to let my cereal get soggy and then eat it. It also relates to oatmeal, cream of rice, jasmine, sweet hay. A sunny disposition. This guy, though, has points to make. The wine is markedly herbal and redolent of sweet fern, Sencha tea, hyssop and dill, and all of it comes on the heels of a fetching aroma that wants to lead you elsewhere.

Again, I expect this is the ’20 vintage, but we’re atypically assertive here, and the wine contains the strategic national reserve of rotundone.

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2020 Grüner Veltliner (Ried) Moosburgerin

CASK SAMPLE. I found both the ’19 and ’18 overripe, but we all know I’m a fusspot for white wines at/above 14% alc. This one smells good in a rugged sort of way.

The palate isn’t working for me. There’s a jalapeño heat, and the pepperiness reminds me of the Penja from Cameroun, which is the one you use if you’re looking for bite. I switched over to the long-stemmed round Spiegelau, which improved matters considerably. Basically you want the glass to express the spherical “sweetness” (in the physiological sense) and suppress the sour elements – and this one does. It may also feel less bellicose after bottling. Right now it’s nightshades and burned lentils and oolong tea in the Wu-Yi type.

Could be one of those wines I’m not destined to come to terms with. It happens.

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2020 Grüner Veltliner “Optimis terrae”

CASK SAMPLE. And this has the classic fragrances of serious loess GV, a madness of lentils and fennel seed.

It’s serious to the point of earnestness. Just a description, not a judgment. It would make sense for Erich to have ambitions beyond the nice-guy wines, albeit I like the nice-guy wines. But we have a Statement here. We have a density of body that borders on creamy, yet any furtive sense of lusciousness is firmly sent packing by an adamant dryness. It’s as if there’s something it wants to prove.

But I admire it, greatly; I respect its ambition, and while it’s maybe a little heavy on the tread, it manages even its modest vegetal note. A firm classic, in some way a capital-C classic, asserting density and thickness, if not elegance or charm.

This by the way is the second wine made in full by Erich’s son Maximilan, who did four days on the skins (without oxidation). The name means (in effect) “best earth.”

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2019 Grüner Veltliner Ried Wieland                                              

CASK SAMPLE.  Calcerous sandy loess. The best GV Erich ever made was – improbably- the 2014 from this vineyard.

Man, ’19 is another world after these ‘20s. And I’m not certain the “foreign-ness” I’m tasting is just that, or an issue with the cask-sample. The wine is a teensy bit spritzy. Please consider this note tentative.

One happy thing I notice is – no oak flavor.  And apropos flavor, if this flavor is “true,” then it’s a lovely one, in contrast to the gnarly Moosburgerin and the almost comical earnestness of the last wine. But on retasting (and trying it with food) I do think this wine is distorted by the refermentation that’s always a risk with cask samples that aren’t tasted promptly. Berger’s case too a long time to reach me, thanks to the logistical challenges of this year.

 

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2018 Blauer Zweigelt Ried Haid                                glug-glug-glug

I remember when good simple Beaujolais smelled this way, not to mention easygoing Dolcetto or Barbera, not to mention unpretentious Schiava from the Alto Adige – basically as charming as red wine can ever smell. It borders on candied but stays on the right side of the line.

The palate surprises with its silken sleekness and its attractive little finishing bitterness, a little jot of smoke and char, and after that riotous prettiness of scent we find a rather serious wine after all. It feints toward the verticality of Blaufränkisch (one of its parents) and as it sits in the glass, toward the pleasing sourness of “basic” Sangiovese. Indeed it tastes like the old straw-basket Chiantis might have tasted if they’d ever been any good.

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2017 “Cuvée Maxim”  Cabernet Franc + Zweigelt                           +

 

Erich’s “big” red usually gets the big red treatment, but right away you notice the limpidity of color, an honest garnet instead of the obsidian opacity of the more…hmmm, affected wines. The fragrance is oaky, like a crianza Rioja. It’s not grossly woody; it’s actually a pleasant aroma, if plausible. A wider glass subdues the wood in favor of fruit.

In a way it’s too bad this is a wine of “local interest” only, because it’s actually very good. My merchant-mind knows it’d be more “saleable” if were entirely Cab Franc. How it tastes doesn’t enter into these equations, not because we’re all terrible people but because a wine is first positioned as an “item” before it is sold as a beverage. Even lofty wines. And it’s hard to make an item out of a cuvée from Austria with a fantasy name and no varietal tag.

So I get it, I understand, and still it rankles me. Because the wine is smart, balanced, tasty, intelligent, and a total batshit joy to drink. Berger isn’t counted among the significant producers of red wine in Austria, so I’d wager the only way you’ll find this is to visit the winery. And again, I get it. There are a gazillion wines in the world, and no one’s stopping the presses for some obscure weirdo wine from a guy in the Kremstal.  Only it’s in my glass right now, and I love it. So I’m frustrated.

This isn’t the place for some massive screed on all the wrongheaded thinking and false premises by which it is decided what wines you get to see on retail shelves or wine lists. I’ll find that place elsewhere, you may be certain. But for now let us praise Erich Berger for a triumph of winemaking.

The wine might easily have been overripe. It isn’t.

It might easily have been overextracted. It’s not.

It could have shown the annoying green-pepper tones of many Cab Francs. It doesn’t.

It might easily have succumbed to the false notion that tannin and oak-char would confer “importance” (or its semblance) to the wine. It avoids that mistake.

Do you see what clear-minded guidance this entails? Only if your lodestar is civility and deliciousness could you make a wine like this. I found some faltering among the Veltliners, as you’ll have read, but this wine is greatly reassuring, even if I’m the only guy in the United States who ever drinks a bottle. 

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2020 Riesling Spiegel

CASK SAMPLE. This is one of those wines, you lift it to your nose and all you can think is “I do like Riesling…..”

Spiegel can be aloof in cooler years. In hot vintages it shines with its restraint and structure. Here, even as a cask sample the wine is tightly wound, not quite bracing (thanks to its ample extract), with flavors closer to Loire Chenin than to most other Rieslings. That is, to Loire Chenin from the purists (and I do NOT mean the Naturalistas) who like them gravelly and dry and solemn.

We have quince, among other “white” flavors (white tea, basmati, jasmine, and white-rock, at least metaphorically…) and it’s only the fleeting surmise of apricot that announces “Riesling.” I like this a lot; it’s how to do Riesling in an utterly dry manner without falling prey to sourness or bitterness or various other meannesses.

Why might that be, I wonder? Obviously we are south (and east) of most German wine country. If you believe in the effect of kilocalories of sunlight, they would be different here. Acids might be structured differently. Yet this determinedly dry Riesling never scrapes or pierces, and I think that’s because there’s a flavor umami and also a textural element one doesn’t anticipate. I’m gonna go crazy here – but I’m thinking of tapioca pearls like in bubble tea, or like Israeli cous cous slightly undercooked….a kind of clotted-ness that offers a curious facsimile of richness and shelters the pathways where bitterness would ride.

There’s also a starch-and-salt thing, like basmati rice with ground Sel Guerande. Yeah, this is a lot of words trying to suss the elements that make a not-terribly-conspicuous Riesling succeed, but you know? There’s too much shitty dry Riesling still being made, and we need to understand how their underlying flaws might be avoided. And maybe a useful way to do that is not to rely on a great Riesling as a guidepost, but instead to consider this thoroughly good (if “incidental”) wine as our template.

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2019 Riesling Ried Steingraben                                                       +

The antonym of the Spiegel; a rich wine that can lapse into botrytis and overstatedness in hot years but that often shines in cool ones. And 2019 is a big-deal vintage, so….

The aromas are sexy stone fruits. Who doesn’t love a ripe apricot, right? The palate is overt, shimmeringly juicy, entirely ripe and “yellow” and with a swimming mélange of salts and fruits and petals and crunch. And there is zero overripeness nor any discernible botrytis.  It’s quite the parfait of loessy wet-cereal, and I can remember when Nigl made Riesling from a loess site called Kremsleiten, that often smelled like this.

The wine is lusty, without any great refinement, but it has its own form of repose. Wines like these can sometimes seem to force themselves on you with an unseemly urgency, but this one is simply generous and available. It measures its command, and has power in reserve.

 

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2020 Gelber Muskateller                                     glug-glug-glug

 

Okay, guilty as charged; I am gaga over dry Muscat. In case you don’t know this, i.e., are unfamiliar with my written output hitherto, let me lay some groundwork.

It has to be Gelber Muskateller, because this is a finicky low-yielding high-acid variety without the car-air-freshener aromas of inferior members of the Muscat family, e.g. Muscat-Ottonel.

It is rarely “great,” but when it is it has unusual underlying minerality (Zind-Humbrecht’s Goldert Grand Cru being the prominent example),  or unusually crystalline detail (Müller-Catoir above all others).

When it is “good” it blends two elements to perfection. One is a cattiness and the other is a rampant florality, specifically elderflower. Unripe years are too sere and catty. Then it’s all Thai basil that started getting gooey in your fridge. But when these disparate things are poised against each other, a miracle results.

It’s a minor miracle, obviously. But we take our miracles where we can find them. And Erich Berger has provided an outsized proportion of Muscat-miracles over the years. And it isn’t easy to do. The variety will rot if given half a chance, and if you pick it in a panic before it starts fouling, you get too much cat and not enough flower. Small wine, which I happen to appreciate, but then I like Muscat.

This ’20 is fine dry Muscat. It’s not “great” but wow, it is entirely good! Maybe 60-40 cat to blossom – and remember, elderflower can also be funky. I do admit Muscat can appear somewhat crude for palates insistent on the finesse of Riesling, but I love this particular crudeness and so there’s nothing to forgive. And Berger has The Touch for this variety, and for this ongoing little miracle, he has my abiding thanks.

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2020 Rosé Vom Zweigelt

It’s what you’d expect Berger rosé to be; correct, discreet, delicate, unfussy. It does rather join a glom of forgettable rosés, but I doubt if Erich has grand ambitions for it. I’ll call it…incidental.