The estate Weingut Bründlmayer is less a large winery than a sort of agglomeration of small wineries linked together under a capacious umbrella. Thus we have the red-wine estate, the sparkling-wine estate, the “classic” estate (Riesling and Grüner Veltliner) and the “other” estate (Chardonnay and the Pinots) acting as semi-autonomous fiefdoms under the guidance of an organizing principle – that being Willi Bründlmayer himself. This doesn’t work without a talented team, which entails both individual talents and the talent of working seamlessly together.
It isn’t hard to fathom marvelous quality from a little bijou winery with the wherewithal to lavish attention. Indeed we rejoice in such producers and the miraculous wines they send us. I realize that to some people, Bründlmayer’s 80-something hectares would count as a small estate, but from my happily skewed perspective it looks….sizable. All the more beautiful, then, the sustained level of excellence they are achieving in the past 8-10 years. But “excellence” doesn’t quite suffice to describe it.
You have the superb qualities of this wine and that one, but you also have what accumulates when you look at the production as a whole. This production is improving in countless small, smart steps, so that you can’t really say “This thing happened and our quality really catapulted forward…” but instead you see an ongoing process of refinement, that has urged the estate forward inexorably, from what was often considered a “classic” (but maybe not terribly interesting) estate to something that now claims your attention with almost every wine.
“Classic” varietal aromas in the black-cherry Blaufränkisch direction. You could almost believe it was a cuvée of Petit Verdot and Syrah. Willi’s Zweigelt has always been silky and delineated, on the peppery side, not as chummy and ingratiating as some intro-to-Zweigelt wines can be. And curiously, it feels more pensive and lapidary from the Jancis glass, and more overt from the Spiegelau “red wine.”
This wine has always seemed like Zweigelt in a tuxedo to me, yet it rocks the suit and doesn’t feel at all awkward. There’s tannin but fine-grained, fruit but not gushing fruit, violets, iron and Tasmanian pepper but everything measured and articulate. This is admirably classy for the “basic” level. It’s worth asking how classy we want the basic level to be, but there are plenty of snugglesome Zweigelts out there and it would be out of character for Willi to produce one. Yet it leaves unanswered the question: what is this wine’s purpose?
There is also a Reserve-quality bottling, which I wasn’t sent to taste.
My SECOND LOOK is three days later, the bottles untouched in the interim, and this time from the Jancis and the MacNeil “Creamy & Silky” (for the first time). That glass really caresses the wine aromatically, but (atypically) it either suppresses the fruit or the fruit suppressed itself in the open bottle. In the Jancis it’s perhaps less “pensive” than it is calmly articulate, and it reveals a slinky and bewitching juicness on the finish, like liquid rippling peppercorns. You get the lamb chop and the mint sauce in this guy.
2017 Pinot Noir (Blauburgunder)
“Schilfsandstein” translates (uselessly) as reed sandstone. It’s a hard yellowish sandstone often used in building construction. “Cleebronn” is the village, and this is an original, a PN with an attractive rusticity and a twang that makes me fantasize a few rogue liters of Lemberger made their stealthy way in. I’m sure they didn’t, by the way!
It doesn’t offer more weight than the estate, but rather more spiciness, density and personality. I’ve had Chassagne reds with this dusty resinous quality. The tannin is refined. It’s PN in its adamant profile, though the wine is far from overstated. It unfolds inexorably. It reminds me of Ziereisen’s Talrain, though this is bloodier. You could write “Blood, iron and roasted black cherries” and you’d be most of the way there.
We’ll see what the coming days bring, but a decent first impression is it’s a wine more impressive than loveable. Yet I’m also sure this impression may be distorted.
SECOND LOOK, two days later, and the wine seems to show more wood now, at least from the MacNeil “creamy and silky” whereas it’s improved from the Jancis; more animated, livelier dialogue of flavors – grilled eggplant, harissa, tallow. For all it shows the “dark” face of PN, it’s also easy to drink; it isn’t temperamental.
2017 Pinot Noir Reserve +
(The back label says “unfiltered,” and reserve Langenloiser Käferberg, which is better-known for its full-throttle Grüner Veltliners.)
The color is a charming youthful ruby; it looks younger than the regular PN. Fragrances, naturally, are richer and more interior, at least when first poured. I’m deliberately not looking at the vinification info (or other fact sheets).
What this is, is simply beautiful wine.
It’s a rapture of civility, or a civilized rapture; it offers every facet of loveliness without ever clamoring or “stunning” or knocking you out.
Flavors play in so many fields it’s daunting to list them. Mushrooms run to butter-boletes, really fresh morels. Savories display the usual sandalwood, cardamom, summer truffle and tomato concentrate. There’s a high toned floral I can’t name. It has the shimmery length we anticipate from “serious” wines, but the finish is not at all serious; it is ridiculously marvelous. I have a memory-flash of some d’Angerville Volnays I drank now and again.
The estate’s description refers to notes of “asparagus and verbena.” Ummm….okay. I have some dried verbena leaves (from our own garden) at hand, and (sniff-sniff) I’m not getting it. But okay, there’s often something shrieky-green as a kind of stratosphere of aroma atop many Pinot Noirs, so I’ll make peace with verbena as poetic (or cannabic) license. Asparagus, not so much.
There’s more new wood here but paradoxically it shows less. What we have here is a wine of pure beauty and serenity, happy in its own gleaming skin, endlessly complex but not assertive, adult but not haughty, lucid but never clamorous, just wave upon silky wave of class and poise.
On SECOND LOOK, again three days later, the color has deepened, as PN often does. The wine is elegantly proportioned, though the MacNeil makes it seem overtly woody. It’s spirit-kin to Dautel’s Erstes Gewächs – high praise. It’s unlikely to stand out at “tastings” but believe me, it’s a wine that almost palpably respects you.
Austria’s first producer of serious sparkling wine – for many years now – has only improved of late. I can recall as a merchant searching for the “next big thing” in Austro-fizz production, being reminded that I already had the top grower. The number of cuvées continues to grow.
It’s crucial to mention that the two wines with which I had “issues” as described below, were both completely lovely when I drank the last of them ten days later while cooking dinner. “What did I think was the matter with these wines?” I asked myself. Of course I recalled it quite well, and yet it simply didn’t pertain to this moment of simply (and happily) drinking the wines. There are very few instances where I think “No, this wine just doesn’t work,” at least with Bründlmayer, so please remember, tasting is one thing (and a legitimate thing), while drinking is another.
Brut Nature Blanc de Blancs 2017
(It says “Vintage” on the capsule. Deg 13 April 2021; it’s all Chardonnay from the calcerous sites Spiegel and Steinberg.)
Enticing aromas remind me a little of Chiquet’s Blanc d’Aÿ. The palate “reads” this as sweeter than it actually is. In fact this is more successful than 99% of the Champagnes bottled as Brut Nature, and other than a little post-disgorgement rasp I am nothing but delighted with it.
Flavors run to straw and hay and warmed cracker dough, with nuances of Chardonnay apple and citrus; it has the ripe “sweetness” of really good Meunier Champagne (and I may well have guessed Moussé if I’d tasted it blind) along with a superb generosity, thrilling balance, and a beaming welcoming personality. It took all my willpower to spit it.
Yet this first impression wasn’t quite borne out with subsequent encounters.
Tasted again two days later, it seems drier now, more stern. Still finely balanced but the rope is more tautly pulled. Here’s a difference: on day-1 I tasted this after the three reds, and today it’s my first sip of wine. When I taste it again I’ll repeat the sequence of reds first. These things matter, they weigh upon “palate” and are the reason I’m wary of scores that assign absolute value.
This is very much the Sekt the estate wanted to make, and they’re delighted with the results. I suspect more tasters would agree with them than with me, but I report my impressions as faithfully as I can, and y’all know my subjectivities.
Extra Brut (Reserve) +
PN/CH blend now; I am not seeing the contributing vintages but I am smelling something that’s either oxidation or else an element of PN. The wine, which I have always liked, is highly suave and vinous, perhaps a little advanced for barely two years on the cork but a pleasure to drink right now. The estate’s fact sheet refers to “hazelnut (which I get), honeysuckle (which is plausible) and heliotrope (which smell I do not know)” to which I might add jasmine rice, talc and malt, and maybe a hint of ginger, but all this language has me scratching at the door for associations.
There’s a curious high brightness that enters the finish in a most bewitching way. We are also the teensiest bit astringent. Still, it’s a lovable wine to drink tonight – not that I will, but you should – and the other thing that strikes me is, there is nothing especially Austrian about these, which is neither good nor bad but does offer us things to think about. Meanwhile this wine just gets yummier (and fresher) as the glass empties.
Taste #2 is again succulently textured and aided by its subtle oxidation. It’s like donuts in the deep fryer! His majesty is like a cream donut. This particular wine feels like a good Sezannais Champagne; in fact probably better than anything actually made there. Sitting in the glass it starts to waft aromas of gougéres and Reggiano. The wine is classy and cordial, and one is well pleased.
Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut (Reserve) +
(Deg 23 Feb 2021 – which they have hand written on the back label because they knew I’d ask – bless them. 100% CH, with 3 years of tirage.)
Now we have disgorgement aromas, which is to say a certain steely brutality. This lasted maybe five minutes and then went ape-shit with loveliness.
Fascinatingly, the palate is just roaring along. The mingy few grams of RS are massively helpful, encouraging a fine angularity that sets up a visceral dialogue among many elements, partly cressy, partly tart-berries, partly pink peppercorns, partly osmanthus, partly cake frosting, partly wintergreen and mint.
I think it’s both lovely and wise to make sparkling wine out of what would have been rather ordinary Chardonnay as a still wine. Because these are remarkable beings; this one has fragrances I associate with certain 1er Cru Chablis (Vaillon for instance). Compared to Gobelsburg’s, these are rather white-linen, but nothing wrong with that!
SECOND TASTING as a palate-control check since I seemed cranky toward the other bubblies I tasted on day-2. This is still zingy and good, really vibrating, frisky; the flavors seem to ripple on currents of sheet-metal brightness, and that tautness is supported by a persistently angular and delicious meld of fruits and savories. And on THIRD LOOK it has only improved. Complex, animated, quivering and just plain tasty. My money’s on this, and the Rosé. And you know, excellence has a very particular flavor, distinct from other flavors we find to be “good” or “very good,” and this wine is loaded with excellence. I’ll be forlorn to see this bottle emptied.
(deg 8/2020, typically 18 months tirage, and a real cuvée of PN/CH/P-Blanc/P-Gris and Grüner Veltliner.)
This one wanted to be poured; it foamed mightily over the lip of the (fridge-cold) bottle, and now the whole room smells like Bründlmayer Brut. Nothing wrong with that! For many years this was the only fizz from this estate, and now it’s the flagship, and I don’t know whether the presence of GV in the blend makes it taste more “Austrian,” but for some reason it does. Nothing wrong with that either. Curiously the expression of the blend seems to suggest a variety not actually present – Welschriesling.
Readers who own both this and the Gobelsburg Brut should have them side by side. Each is impeccably polished and there’s a distinct family resemblance, but they play in different keys. Put another way, Gobelsburg’s is more silvery/green and Bründmayer’s is more tan and grainy. Flavors run to malt and orange blossom, and there’s a yum factor thanks to the (inconspicuous but useful) dosage.
A year on the cork ought to have mitigated a certain rasp, making me think a longer tirage might be helpful. As I recall this was disgorged “as-needed” so it’s possible there are later disgorgements of this assemblage, lot 8819/17. Below the fruit and savor there’s a tautness that seems to stand in for chalk. It’s just this side of bracing. There’s a lot of charm in the fragrance, and the palate’s innate geniality is obtruded upon by a subsequent stiffness. We’ll see how it does over the days.
The second encounter is generally more comely. I mean, the wine is plain tasty, and yet for all its polish you wouldn’t hate yourself if you drank it with a Schnitzel (or in my case, three Schnitzels) or with fries dipped in mayonnaise, which is how any decently civilized person should eat fries. Also note the meyer-lemon and passion fruit notes in the finish. The “stiffness” is all gone now, and the wine is lavish and charming.
It occurs to me to observe, if Bründlmayer made only sparkling wines, they’d be worthy of the greatest attention and acclaim. When you consider everything else they do, you have to place them alongside Zind-Humbrecht (among others) for sustained superlative performance over a wide range.
2015 Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut “Grosse Reserve”
(deg 18 January 2021, all PN from a vineyard attached to the Loiseum hotel complex; it’s a Coeur-de-Cuvée, barely three years en tirage)
The aromas are those of earnest, avuncular Pinot Noir. The “dark” elements. The palate is almost adamant, but not quite. Call it stern. It’s a table-thumper that stands out from the range. It has power and torque, but on first pass it doesn’t have much generosity. I “see” the associations they cite on their web page, but this bottle is honestly kind of leaden.
It could be me, though I have done the usual preparation for tasting. The weather’s close to yesterday’s. I’ll re-taste one of the bottles I loved yesterday, just to see. Like all Bründlmayer wines there is a palpable intelligence behind it. They know what they want to do, and do it. The –x-factor, as always, is the bottle itself, not the literal glass container, but the caprice of the particular object. I’ve said how much I like tasting alone, but now I wish Willi (or Thomas or Andreas) were here so I could ask, Is this the wine you know, and is it how you want the wine to present? Having spoken with them in the interim, their answer would be a definite YES.
A densely embedded salty kind of dark fruit wants to squirm to the surface, but someone left the door locked. Do consider this a provisional impression, as I’ll taste at least another 3-4 times.
On 2nd glance it is both the same and different. It makes better “sense” this time, though it does like to pound the table to make its point. It is no longer “leaden” but it’s still maybe a bit obtuse. I can almost eavesdrop on the thinking….the wine has so much body and weight that it will take a very low dosage, and this is plausible IN THEORY. And to be fair, the wine is “balanced.” But it would have been much more delicious with another gram or two – not more – of RS.
The question of what it “needs” is the wrong question, though it is often the only one asked. The better question is: how will it taste? And so this fine, interesting wine is something of a missed opportunity. Let’s see if that opinion holds the next time I taste it!
Indeed, it did. Yet the whole picture is more nuanced, because when I drank the rest of the bottle – many days later – I liked it very much. Perhaps we tasters should remember, should force ourselves to remember, what it is to be drinkers.
Brut Rosé (Reserve) ++
(deg 9/2020, alc only 11.5%, it’s PN/Zweigelt/St Laurent, but the more assertive Zweigelt is used for the still Rosé; this again is only free-run juice, 18-24 months tirage for this lot # 8984/04/18)
The color of farm-raised salmon (paler than before) leads into a strikingly enticing fragrance; I mean, it’s all the “usual” fruits and berries but they’ve all taken molly or something, because they’re just exhaling love and joy. And delicacy! The voice of the wine is cool and silky and you have to bend your ear a little to hear it.
Doubtless there are more grandiose Rosés in Champagne; I know there are, I shipped many of them. But there are none more refined or exquisite than this. The (old) Margaine Rosés could breathe the flute-breath like this does, but not with the wicked little earthy twang of the St Laurent or the aloe vera and wisteria from the Zweigelt.
Some years ago I was selling this wine to somms who responded to its delicious oddness. It has changed since then. Now it talks to quietude and divinity. It’s nothing except beautiful. Willi Bründlmayer and his team have many monuments to be proud of. I tasted the Veltliners yesterday and will start tasting the Rieslings in a few minutes. But I hope in my heart that they pause, at least once, before this wine, and are thankful for their vision and skill, and for the many mysteries the gods keep to themselves.
Consider me melted.
2020 Kamptal “Terassen” Grüner Veltiner +
I tasted this before, from an open bottle (mostly still full, opened that day), and wrote this: Finely detailed lentilly aroma. Generous mid palate for a ’20, and while the finish is washed with scree, it isn’t sharp. This is effective, sensible winemaking; the wine has either been cressy (at times too much so) or “yellower” (oleander, meadow-flowers) but this one straddles the line smartly. Aromatically “giving.” One plus, as it does everything an “ace” estate ought to do.
Now I have a bottle of my very own! And it’s a sorrelly beauty. Aficionados of spring herbs know that wild sorrel can show an esoteric sweetness, like a marriage of cress and key-lime and wintergreen, and this rare and refined aroma is available to very few wines. But we find it here.
Willi knows me a long time, and he knows (ruefully) that this wine sometimes frustrated me, in vintages when I found it too austere. I liked the ripe, “yellow” ones, but this ’20 is the best example of a (ripe!) “green” vintage in my almost 30 years’ association with these wines. It is a lyric of leaves! It is so detailed and has so much of what I sometimes call “secret” sweetness – and so much sheer class – that I wonder if this price-point can possibly offer a finer wine. Not just a finer GV: a finer wine.
In principle you encourage complexity by mixing fruit grown on loess along with its counterparts from primary rock. Loess gives what I call the “wet-cereal” aroma, and primary rock the minerality, and this vintage is an example of the 1+1=3 principle of blending, offering flavors different from the sum of their parts.
2020 Ried Berg Vogelsang Grüner Veltliner ++
An unheralded site mostly on (so-called) Gföhler gneiss with amphibolite rocks scattered around, the wine can either be markedly peppery or else – as here – intriguingly suave and cressy. And this vintage has just the sweetest aroma! Actually, sorry, I mean clearly I shouldn’t say this, but it’s one of those wines where if you taste it and still deny that GV is a great variety, then you are just terminally hopeless, is all any thinking person could say. And it’s a “little” wine at 12.5% alc.!
The green beans that grow in heaven would smell like this. The serene energy and effortless detail of this wine are barely accessible to most other wines. OK, lima beans, hyssop, chervil, dill, sweet marjoram, radish, ginger, and on and on, different with each inhale. A nearly perfect wine occupying the terra incognita between the “Great” (which we lunge toward) and the “Everyday,” this is the place where genius is found.
Having written those words, I admit I approached the second tasting with some wariness. I’ve been known to take a shortcut to euphoria, oh…from time to time. Today I’d observe that the sweet top-note of the wine has absorbed itself into the omnipresent chlorophyll-y green. It’s the gorgeous reek of Spring apart from the flowers. The wine remains a masterpiece in miniature, and I can’t help responding to its charged, pulsing quietude.
2019 Ried Loiserberg Grüner Veltliner
Though this is the “great” vintage, I’ll be sorry to leave the ‘20s.
One hears various things about this vineyard. Bründlmayer’s website describes it thus: “The soil is mainly a rocky, non-calcareous brown earth that overlies a variety of siliceous crystalline rocks such as paragneiss, mica schist, and amphibolite, except for areas where these rocks are covered by loess (which thickens towards the southeast) and the occasional marble outcrop.”
Often this feels like the GV for Riesling lovers, but the ’19 offers aromas that don’t refer to either variety, but rather to oleander, mimosa blossoms, vetiver and flowering fields. The palate is improbably rich for what is usually a streamlined wine, which may have influenced some suspiciously high “scores” from other reviewers. It’s an outsized Loiserberg, strong but turbulent, with a lot of “sound” but rather like an orchestra playing while the audience files in to take their seats.
Yet there may be something here. I’ll observe it over the days to see if it knits or if it’s just some crazy skein of flavors with no organizing principle. Another grower cautioned me to watch out for 2019s, which “are sometimes in one of their moods,” he said.
But who knows? Tasting it again I remember the vintages I’ve liked, the cool ones, crisp and verdant and mineral. Don’t take this the wrong way, but this very good wine is something of a mess. I like the haricot vert thing, and the overall mood of voodoo, and the end-palate firmness is a hopeful sign. I wonder whether it will gather itself and stop flopping around.
2019 Langenloiser Alte Reben Grüner Veltliner +
In principle a cuvée of various parcels of very old vines, creating a sort of hybrid-vigor of different soils. Formerly just known as Alte Reben,” the commune name was mandated by the DAC regulations. Note also the visual symbol of the Burgundy bottle.
Often this was the relatively affordable entrée into the world of the outsized GVs. You’d taste wood now. The best vintages would poise the woodsy tertiary flavors against a primary pepperiness and the results could be galvanizing – with the proper age. To our benefit the estate offers back-vintages, which I always sought out, a practice I hope goes on.
This is potentially wonderful GV, especially as tasted from the Jancis glass. In a way I can’t bear to taste it, but would rather sit on the deck on this arrestingly fresh late-July day and just contemplate it. A lot of atmospheres to inhale in a wine like this. Occupying as it does, the vestibule to the Giants, it shows a certain lift, yet it’s one of those wines, if you tasted it blind, you couldn’t say if it was red or white.
2nd LOOK: This time I introduced the MacNeil “Creamy & Silky” glass to the process. From that glass the wine totally hugs you, and who doesn’t love a hug? From the Jancis it whispers to you, which is also exquisite. We get to select our version of the truth, understanding that each is a partial truth. I prefer the articulation of the Jancis in this case, but that’s because it’s so compelling I don’t notice missing the hug. There’s an odd iron length tasting right from the bottle, absent from either glass’s expression. Regardless, the wine is lovely, but its “truth,” how it “really” tastes, remains obscure and contingent. But in each of the inputs there is a tender strength I find wonderful.
2019 Ried Spiegel “Vincent” Grüner Veltliner +
Willi’s son Vincent obtained the vineyard in 2010, but since 2018 he’s stepped away from day-to-day involvement with the making of the wine. In any case the vineyard is large, deep and calcerous, and the wines can be either medium-weight, firm and muscular or outsized and capacious, according to the preference of the vintner. This bottling has tended to the large-scaled and stolid. In earlier times it contributed to the “Alte Reben.”
I admit to a certain wariness about this wine, but I also admit the ’19 is pretty damn impressive. It has that GV crossing-over to White Burgundy thing going on, but no white Burgundy has this implacable solidity. It’s like a meat made out of hay, or like really fresh oyster mushrooms; it’s a ’19 that makes a believer out of me. This wine has sometimes troubled me with its affectations, but now it grasps what it reached for, and it lands on some elemental Veltliner-ness that was obscure to earlier vintages. And while it is certainly intense it’s also surprisingly light on its feet. That deftness is underscored from the Jancis, which is the glass for this wine, one of the few times where one is certain – yup: this is the best. It reveals the underlying stoniness explicitly, and now the richness of body both makes sense and is part of a dialectic.
It’s a high-water mark for this wine, that smells, among other things, like a roasting chicken the moment you notice “Wow, the bird smells good.”
This wine is sometimes considered avant garde but I don’t find it so. It is rather a classic vein of GV, spun out to its limit.
I have to interject. This isn’t about “wine,” so skip ahead. We have clear air today, Canadian air arriving on a northwest wind. No smoke from the fires out west. The clouds are outlined in detail. All the rain we’ve had, the garden is going happily apeshit, and even our “lawn,” such as it is, is a crazy shade of green. I paused outside with this wine, and the liquid blue sky and the psychotic white clouds and the plants engorged with watery life and even the silly emerald grass, and I put my nose in the glass and almost sobbed at all this aching lostness, all this world, this simple world, the square meters of it at the edge of my dwelling, and let me warn you this won’t be profound, but I thought “in all this beauty and peril, people go on making wine as though beauty would save us.”
I don’t know, maybe it will. Something has to.
2019 Ried Käferberg Grüner Veltliner +
Willi took us up there one year – “us” being my wife and me – because Karen-Odessa had asked for a spot from which she could walk back down to the winery. (I taste, she walks.) So I have it imprinted – also as the place from which the sometimes too-big wines hail. According to the website, “The soil here differs from that of all other sites in the region. At the 300 metre level, preserved calcareous, clayey marine deposits are found. This soil is similar to that of the famous Château Petrus in Pomerol, and produces an extremely dense wine, although it is difficult to work with.”
This is another instance of 2019 surmounting my wary objections. The wine is excellent. It’s strong, to be sure, but not clunky or fatiguing. Käferberg is a big strong dog who pulls you around when you go out walking, but she’s a tail-wagging friend to everyone she encounters. I could regale you with “The Flavors,” but it’s enough to say it’s an amalgam of big-ripe GV with unusually firm White Burgundy – though with a fervid note of licorice I don’t know how to account for - and I really wonder….does this ’19 offer an (unusual) structure the estate intended, or is it the vintage? Because I’d love to think this is the future for Käferberg; smoky and exotic (and a little reduced?) yet also firm and high-register and spooning a warm liquid straw over your palate.
It changes little on second encounter. How much you love it will depend on your tolerance for assertiveness. MacNeil’s glass tempers the thrust somewhat, at the cost of a brilliance you may or may not require. It’s a big strong wine that isn’t oafish or crude.
2019 Ried Lamm Grüner Veltliner +++
In some circles “Bründlmayer Lamm” has the same resonance as “Mugnier Musigny” or “Leflaive Montrachet.”
Accordingly we who know it are wont to approach it…almost warily. Is it really all that great? Again???
I’m struck first by the alcohol – only 13%. This is not common.
The fragrance is miasmic and staggering. There’s a fluidity I now see is missing from Kâferberg, fine as it is.
There is a deep, deep savor that has nothing to do with anything discrete we can cite: not with “grape variety” or “cellar regime” or even “soil composition,” but is rather one of those enigmas by which we are either frustrated or galvanized.
It is also one of those rare wines we feel can be happily drunk now but which will age without complication for as long as you can bear to wait. I have been tasting calmly all afternoon, duly (if reluctantly) spitting, but this is today’s final wine and damn if I won’t swallow it.
The ICON is always under pressure to earn its place again, year after year. Bründlmayer Lamm GV is one such (among several from this estate) and we can well ask, has it warranted its place every year? To which I’d answer: more often than not – and these are not machines that can replicate a given result, but human beings coping with the caprices of nature. And so “more often than not” constitutes a triumph, and among these temporal victories none is more profound than this truly heartening and astonishing Lamm GV from 2019.
I haven’t told you what it tastes like, but that isn’t so simple to do. You have the Lamm rusk, the rye-dough, even the rare lamb-meat itself (though “Lamm” has nothing to do with baby sheeps), and it has a marmalade-y fluidity, and if I said “rhubarb-beets-wintergreen” and some other taster said “allspice, pink peppercorns, verbena,” we’d both be wrong and we’d both be right. Both of us might say “wood” but we’d agree the wood is enfolded into the omnipresent juiciness. The wine is a modest heroine, she prevails by guile and grace and cleverness and determination while all the guys around her are busy beating each other up.
I apologize, I know some of you hate “gender” attributes ascribed to wine, but this “she” glides along as no man could. She is a slippery bliss. She is every scintilla of profundity without an ounce of preening strength. She is echoes, kiss-breath, she is the shape of the neck when a swan bows its head.
I have only ever had two Austrian wines that approached the ethereality of Raveneau – one from Bernhard Ott, and this one. With wines like these, you sit with them, and they show you the world.
2020 Kamptal Riesling “Terassen”
Starts out smelling like nettles and woodruff. Then boxwood and white iris. Lupins have this smell too; almost but not quite wisteria. The palate, though, moves in another direction.
The aromas led me to expect something funky or spiky, a face of Riesling some call “austere,” but the wine is a juice-bomb, silvery and grassy but not Sauvignon grassy, more like some esoteric grass Jeff Bezos has on his lawn that smells like ibogaine when you snip it. We also have some phenolics to manage, but not obtrusively.
It’s basically the cressy-arugula facet of Riesling in a not-hot vintage, yet the texture is so spurting (with its 8g acidity) it’s like your palate was soaked by a water pistol. It’s fun, it’s wide-eyed, its zapping with life, but it’s not ingratiating. In this vintage, this wine favors the GV.
I drank a little one evening to see how it would react to food. Nothing noteworthy, except that now the fill-level is lower than the other wines, and that has brought forth a lot of fruit….and a teensy bit if sweetness. I mean “extra-brut” sweetness, like 4-5 g/l. But noticeable, and happily so. This is a better wine than quick swirl-and-hurl would indicate, and a few years in the bottle will prove it.
2019 Riesling Ried Steinmassl
The late Bill Mayer (poet and wine-merchant, and friend) was a lover of this vineyard. I wish he were still with us, because I’d posit that his love of (the poet) Jack Gilbert was analogous to his appreciation for Steinmassl. Each is piercingly beautiful in a cut-the-crap kind of way. I myself would often use Steinmassl to overcome objectors to the idea of “terroir” or even of “mineral” flavors.
From their website: “The Riesling vines of the Steinmassl vineyard grow on primary rock with mica-schist. This geological formation of Austria’s southern forest district possesses as classic and traditional a soil type as one is likely to find anywhere Kamptal, Kremstal or Wachau. Paragneiss and mica schist make up the crystalline bedrock, together with dark amphibolite and light coloured granite gneiss. Deep weathering has resulted in a brown earth soil layer of variable thickness (up to one meter in places), which contains scattered rock fragments and which, despite the siliceous nature of the bedrock, can sometimes be a little calcareous.”
I bring this to your attention because the Rieslings from this vineyard are fervently expressive of every flavor that isn’t fruit, flower or spice. Tasters can name these things as they wish; the common (and contentious) word is “mineral,” which is as intuitive a metaphor as seems to be available.
The wine at hand plays on the ultra-violet end of the spectrum. It is no-quarter-given tart, and many would find it austere. From the Jancis glass the aromas are brilliant, complex and interesting, with subtle lavender and white peach coming into play, but honestly this feels like one of the few remaining German GGs that just isn’t generous enough. There are partisans for this style, which others receive as shrill.
The SECOND LOOK, after two days’ open, shows the caraway-seed thing common to Riesling grown on amphibolite. This is like a somewhat coarser version of a Goldberg from Martin Nigl. It also calls to mind the Rüdesheimer Berg, curiously. As a lover of mineral-madness I want to like this more, but it makes me feel admonished.
2019 Riesling Ried Heiligenstein ++
If you’re unfamiliar with the system, up to now there were three bottlings of Heiligenstein Riesling, the basic one (12.5%alc) and another from pure Lyra-trained vines, and a third from extremely old vines. It’s one of the top-10 Riesling sites in the world, and I’d entertain an argument that it’s in the top-5.
I had this before from an open bottle. I wrote: “Rampantly balsam-sorrel-aloe, lavishly juicy and gleaming and gorgeous. At least one plus.” This bottle’s better behaved, running a quivering spiciness that’s like some blends of Chinese 5-spice along with a zingy eucalyptus Timut pepper riff – basically an almost brash energy – as well it might show with 8 g/l acidity. It’s a strong wine but it’s also incipient. One of those “moody” ‘19s skulking in its trough. Believe me, I get it.
But then this wave of papaya jazz emerges from the fragrance and it’s all juicy and sexy and you know this sizzling person just needs a little break from the action, to recharge for the next round. Heiligenstein is one of those wines that’s more inscrutable than we can actually understand, even as it’s feverishly expressive and generous. Because what is it, exactly? Is it the hours of quiet study to arrive at the fine, firm idea? Because there is a genius in these wines. Or is it the giddy dancing (per Joni) energy that wraps you in its perfumed nexus? Or is the salt you like off the naked skin of your lover? Because it is also that. Or is it the Talmudic depth that almost seems to scold you for staying at the surface when an ocean of mystery calls to you?
I have a glass of Riesling Heiligenstein and am sitting on my deck with a friend, and I take a sip and shake my head and wipe a stray tear away, and my friend asks “Are you upset?” and I say, No, I just can’t make sense of the world sometimes. And my friend says “In what way?” and I say “I don’t know how something can be like this thing we have in our glasses,” and my friend doesn’t quite get it, but remains my friend.
2019 Riesling Ried Heiligenstein “Lyra” +++
I’ll have detailed in the introduction how this wine may cease to exist except in rare instances. It will instead improve the “regular” Heiligenstein, which I understand – and yet perhaps the very greatest Austrian Riesling I have in my cellar is the 2014 Lyra, and now it will have the somber shimmer of demise. Or I’m just a drama queen.
The so-called lyre-training system, after which this wine is named, offers an advantage in the ever more frequent hot years, when it provides a sort of umbrella of canopy to keep the grapes from sunburn. But for all its advantages, this method will never be widespread because of the enormous hand-labor it entails. Willi told the magazine VINARIA “Our workers don’t love the lyre vineyards because they’re so demanding.” But the results…oh, the results!
This 2019 starts with a cool green aloe, with ancillary notes of sweet wood-sorrel and balsam fir and linden blossom. It’s both cooler yet also more intricate then the above. It expresses all the flourishes of deep green beings. It feels like something explosive will emerge, but for now it is demure.
But coax it, calmly, as you would a shy child. A lively top note (almost) of spearmint materializes, and then some embedded pepper. The Jancis wants to show me some kind of molecular powder made from the petals of dried violets. It also reveals a firmness of spine I barely saw at first.
Lyra has been a changeling over the years. At first it was blatantly fruity, blissfully so, showing every lovely thing we could see above the surface. A hedonism for refined people! Then over the years it got curiously deeper, until it scratched at the ancient door of the Old-Vines. Still, an ineluctable frontier separates the two. The old vines would never show this yuzu or this riot of maracuja.
It’s sublime from any glass I pour it into, but from the Jancis it is almost forbiddingly complex – I like this quality!
In the early days Willi would sometimes say that he wanted to show you could make great Riesling from young vines, but these aren’t really so young any more. Most were planted in the 80s, and so the two wines (this and the old-vines) become a sort of dialectic between euphoria and gravitas, with each inhabiting the other indirectly.
Put it this way: the two wines occupy the same monastery in some remote part of the mountains. The Old-Vines are like the old monks who pray silently all day and barely notice their bodies, while the Lyra is like the young novice monks who still sing and fly kites on breezy days. They love one another, in their rarefied way. They know that citizenship means more than one thing. I am a little afraid of the gravitas of the old ones, yet I need to peer in again and again. The Lyra is a refuge from thoughts uncomfortably dark.
2019 Riesling Ried Heiligenstein Alte Reben ++
Just 13% alc, in a ripe vintage….we’ve come a long way from the dark years when a wine like this might have had 14.5% alc with botrytis. The average age of the vines is 50, with many being 75 and (much) older. Willi observes that “A Riesling vine will outlive a human being.” I’d have decanted this except I want to keep it for a few days. If you’re drinking now, please decant at least 2-3 hours out.
I just took the first sip. When you taste a wine like this, there comes a point where it isn’t even “Riesling” any more. It enters a kind of profundity that obliterates the details. It is both numinous, powerful and inscrutable. The sheer mass of material renders it mute, as if it has so much to say that it can’t begin to speak.
It is almost inevitable that this wine will entice dark raptures. But let’s look at it as unblinkingly as possible. At cellar temp, and from three different glasses, it is grippy and phenolic. While I vibrate to its Saturnine nature, I do notice with what rigor it pulls me away from sentiment. It doesn’t want me to feel, especially not my more decorous (and vicarious) sorrows. Those are a currency that cannot be spent here.
Oddly, the least “pretentious” glass – the little Spiegelau white wine – encases the wine so as to favor a certain obscure lyric. It indicates the beauty of old hands, all knuckle and gnarl. I stuck two “plusses” up there but honestly, right now it is one and ten years now it could be twenty – probably will be.
Dönnhoff’s Brücke behaves this way too, at times. It’s a good lessen for the taster. Humility! The estate’s own tasting note refers to not “appearing melancholic.” I’m not sure that any other response is appropriate. Obviously you can’t tell your customers This wine is guaranteed to bring you right down! But at the same time you could say, “Don’t drink this if you want to be giddy; we have other wines for that. Drink this if you want to think about who you want to grow old with.”
Lyra is just that – lyric. I adore it for that reason. Alte Reben is grave, urgently so. In these times some of us are asking “How do we care for one another amidst all this danger?” The answer can start with letting this wine take us where it wants us to go, and then to open our eyes and not shrink from what we see. If Lyra is loving life brightly, then Alte Reben is loving it darkly, all the things we didn’t earn and took anyway, the gratefulness we remembered to feel almost too late. But just in time.
OTHERS AND SWEET WINES
2019 Gelber Muskateller Ried Rosenhügel +
I’m surprised by the Burgundy bottle – was it intentional? Turns out it was, as a means of indicating the wine won’t be the “little aperitif” form of Muscat.
The wine is completely ridiculous! Entirely insanely good in every possible way this variety can shine. But let’s look at the Icons.
You have Zind-Humbrecht with their Goldert Grand Cru, which allies the blatant varietality of Muscat to a limestony bite that feels analogous to some Pouilly-Fumé that isn’t crudely “Sauvignon Blanc.”
You have Müller-Catoir, who for decades have limned the ultimate expression of the pure grape in an almost psychedelic brilliance.
Below these summits you have (among many others) Nikolaihof, with their “mineral” take, and you have the Styrians with their irresistible sappy Springtime juiciness where you’d swear you never sipped anything so absurdly tasty.
Which carries us here. The tobacco aroma is surprising; the peppermint aroma less so. Then there’s this craziness of ghee and pickled ginger and crème-fraiche. The palate shows the Bründmayer polish in a charmingly undisciplined form. Is it the “thinking man’s Muscat?” Not really! The “thinking man” knows better than to thinkwhile drinking Muscat. We just respond and register. We are not seeing brave new realms of Muscat here; we are seeing the variety respected and rendered with the estate’s usual care and polish. It’s ancillary for them (only because the grape is so finicky), but admirably fine, more along lines of dark-pepper notes than elder-blossom.
Would I like to taste any sweet wines, they asked? “If there’s a couple spaces in the box, sure, send me what you know I’ll like,” I said. I’m so damn coy sometimes.
Bründlmayer has an excellent track record with sweet wines (as does Schloss Gobelsburg), which are imbued with the same sense of intelligent proportion as everything that comes out of this winery. Bear in mind, dessert wines are circumstantial, made from botrytis berries not suited to the dry wines, but over the years I think they have benefited from ever-greater respect by their makers. I recall a truly beautiful quartet of 1998s, after which it was clear – the wines would be made as nature permitted, but when they were made they’d be made wonderfully.
I tend not to like the fleshier styles of sweet wines from warmer climates. It’s relatively cooler in the Kamptal, and while the wines miss the sting and lift of their German cousins, they also avoid the sort of louche indolence I find in the more blatant examples of warm-climate sweet wines. Finally, as regards young sweet wines, I must confess my palate is often defeated by their opacity and concentration. I’ve also found, as I’ve gotten older, that by the time we think of serving them – after the meal – I’ve had a surfeit of booze.
But last evening my wife and I opened both bottles and drank them – not “tasted,” but drank – under a rare midsummer sunset that was a riot of murmuring pinks and russets. It was the moment the birds put their songs away for the night. We talked a little about the wines, but mostly we just talked with that familiar aimlessness that’s one of marriage’s more exquisite privileges.
The wines were a 2018 Grüner Veltliner Auslese, Langenloiser Alte Reben, followed by another 2018, Gelber Muskateller Trockenbeerenauslese Ried Rosenhügel.
These wines have always expressed their varieties clearly, and these two were no exceptions. The Auslese was almost savory, definitely max-GV, and rather too energetic to serve as a Vino di Meditazione. That function fell to the blazingly varietal Muscat, rich enough to pause before but also somehow serene, confident in its identity. I’ve tasted oak in past vintages of Willi’s sweet wines – and liked it – but I wasn’t tasting it here. That said, I’ll gird my loins and “study” the wines over the days to see what wriggles out from under the richness.