top of page

Weingut Hirsch

Tasting Year

2021

I’m weirdly delighted to confess that I struggle to write about Johannes Hirsch and his wines. I just got off a zoom call with him, in which I asked him how he would contrast his wines to those of the other Kamptal titans, and he also fumbled about trying to answer. It’s not the man I can’t describe; that’s easy. It’s the wines, which are shape-shifting beings. If you wanted to find the diametric opposite to “formulaic,” it would be these wines. And if you’re thinking that “formulaic” means modern denuded antiseptic paint-by-numbers wines, that is only half of what it means. Many wines in the “natural” community follow formulas, but we approve of those and so we don’t perceive them as formulas.

Many of Hirsch’s wines are excellent, and some of them are superb, but very few of them are ingratiating. Nor do they really speak the prevailing “languages,” neither the impeccable diction of (what we call) the great Classics, nor the charmingly rough dialects of the “alt” gang. They’re not so much in-between these as they’re on the other side of a large body of water. 

Johannes never set about to be a lone wolf; it came naturally to him. In the 22 years I represented him I came to feel his wines were like a hiking trail that kept winding around blind corners, but each time you turned a corner the view was fantastic.

I said the wines don’t ingratiate, but neither do they really explicate. They do not seek to explain themselves. Mind you, they do express themselves, in their generously interior ways, but when you drink them you might become aware of how other wines do for you, how they create a response. And this is perfectly fine. Hirsch’s wines are simply there to be found. But what exactly do we find?

Johannes is biodynamic – he’s a founder member of Respekt – and he picks everything by hand, even his entry-level wines, and he ferments strictly with ambient yeast. “Some of my colleagues say they do only wild-yeast fermentations but then they say Of course, if we have one that won’t start or won’t finish, then we inoculate, and I think this is cheating,” he insists.  His wines spend a seriously long time on their primary lees. Wild ferments and long lees contact can be a recipe for various reductions, and Hirsch’s wines are not invariably free from this. Neither are they spit-shined when first released. Often they need a few years, which means often they’re underrated in their youth. Not by me, of course, I’m way too sophisticated to make such a rookie mistake. (Except I’ve done it too.)

So, what can be said about these? They come from remarkable land; 65% of the holdings are from Erste Lagen. They may convey an anything-goes nature but in fact they’re tightly controlled. They have to be. “In the old days before climate change, if you needed a break from picking you could wait a few days, even a week. But today there’s always a moment where you have to pick, and if you miss it your wine will suffer.”

A Hirsch wine is like wine in the form of food. They lead with umami. They entail a sort of honeyed core, but you have to consider the taste of honey without the sugar. They can show the allusive “sweetness” of bread baking, the first moment where it starts to perfume the house. I find them Autumnal in their ambiences – pumpkins, roasted squashes, the first parsnips. They’re sometimes malty like a good Assam tea with milk added. They are, I suppose, savory. They are deliberately intended to be aged, as though their fundamental soul lives in tertiary flavors.

All of this is truer for the Veltiners than for the Rieslings, but even the Rieslings have a certain Otherness.  Anyone who’s never seen the expressive possibilities in a Hirsch Riesling (and in Hiedler also) is missing a key piece of the Riesling portrait.

Johannes Hirsch is a believer in late-bottling (which hails from his belief in long lees-contact) and so this first round of wines comes from 2019. I’ll have a subsequent report on the ‘20s, at least the first releases, later in the year.

2019 is hailed as a “great” vintage but I’ve tasted almost none of them. Couldn’t get there. With a single exception all of these are terra incognita to me.

Hirschvergnuegen-2020-2.png

2019 Grüner Veltliner “Hirschvergnügen”

12% alc, and estate-bottled, which for this wine is a recent development). The aroma is rich and leesy, and a little aldehydic the way a Nikolaihof Federspiel can sometimes be. Blind, that would have been my guess.

This was always the most vinous of the entry-level GVs, and this ’19 has “ideas;” it’s a miniature version of the higher-level wines rather than a snappy little guy from another family. Even at this “modest” level there’s a mid-palate creaminess and a surmise of the vetiver notes of the big boys. Tastes like a stock from guinea hen or pheasant bones. It didn’t work to treat it like a little wine; I poured it into the glass I’d use for the more august among its larger siblings, and it justified my confidence.

The next day I tasted it right after a Setzer Ausstich, and that was a contrast! This one’s the leesy exotic, less varietal and more temperamental. Finally on day-3 I sensed the wine was showing its true self, free from the leesy shroud, now suave and salty. Insistent “study” reveals an echo of the aldehydic notes present upon opening, but no sensible drinker would study so maniacally.

All of which is to hail this wine’s tertiary depth, and to establish my great admiration for its generosity in what is after all an “everyday” tier. But I have to wonder, just how do you use it? It’s not crisp and snappy, not an aperitif nor a hot-weather slug-it-backer, yet it’s also not “big” enough for the moment where a “big” GV is asked for.

Maybe I’m foolish to worry about that.

Lamm-GV-Kamptal-2019.png

2019 Grüner Veltliner Kammern                                             +

(alc 12.5%, and the “village-wine” in the new system, a wine which had several different names in the past.)

Aroma again leesy and a teensy bit aldehydic. Also something grainy, like raw bread dough, and also like the smell of a cask-cellar empty of wine, where you can still imagine the breathing of the trees.

I’ve always liked this wine. I recall when Charlie Trotters ran it by the glass and I was so happy, not because I had my wine at Trotters – I’d had many wines there by then – but because they were so smart to pick this one to pour; good enough to reassure the guest that “significant” wine was being served, yet not so good as to wrest attention away from the food.

In some wines, usually more “important” wines than this, there can come a moment where you taste something in the mid-palate that seems like a demi-glace of the wine, a concentrate. We all love that. We call it “length” among other things. It’s the emergence of the non-grape, the bridge to foods, things we want to chew. This wine has more than a hint of that juicy pith, the rusk and toasted rye and veal-chop, and if ‘Hannes tells me (in our zoom call) that he had some young-vines Ried Lamm in here I’ll be like “Yes! I tasted it. Yay me!”  (If he says otherwise I’ll just chalk it up to him forgetting what he put in here…)

The second day, and from a bottle we drank at dinner and which is more depleted (and thus more oxygenated), there’s still more articulation and nuance than most mid-range wines show.

The “plus” is for sheer sophisticated stylishness in a countrified idiom; these are biodynamic wines but they show the aspect of the earth that feels sweet, not crude or rustic. That feels like a friend.

Gaisberg-Riesling-Kamptal-2019.png

2019 Grüner Veltliner Ried Gaisberg                                                 +

(13% alc, full name Kammerner Gaisberg, not to be confused with the Zöbinger Gaisberg from which the Riesling hails. Same hill, different soil and exposure.) 

This is the one wine I drank before, but this is a much better bottle, and time to trot out the Jancis glass….

It’s a parfait of esoteric peppers. It’s GV at its peppery best.  It is also a radishy beast. It could stand to trim its fingernails. Don’t search for mid-palate thickness; this is cress-pepper-cress-arugula-pepper-mizuna-marjoram…and interestingly it’s the first wine not to smell leesy.  An expressive little critter that really thwangs! the palate, and leaves a finish like drinking a medicinal herb tea based on mountain raspberry leaves. Only on the third day open did it reveal a cucumber note that softened – if only a little – the wine’s attack.

It’s also a wine where GV and Blaufränkisch seem to overlap, or intersect. This will really be interesting to track over the next few days – is there something hidden beneath the resinous snap?

Well, yes and no. The tall Spiegelau is the most flattering, and the Jancis the most stark, nettle-y. A jot of physio-“sweetness” seems to poke its head out – or do I dream this because I’m looking for it?

“Needs time” is winespeak for when you can’t bear to tell a grower that his wine isn’t very good. Yet here it’s appropriate. The wine is zany and hyper freshly opened and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s showing all its cards. The evolution of a certain quietude over three days suggests a more complete wine down the road – well down it. I’d lay this  away at least fifteen years.

Renner-GV-Kamptal-2019.png

2019 Grüner Veltliner Ried Renner                                              ++

(13% alc, full name Kammerner Renner, detritus of eroded soil from the Zöbinger Gaisberg at the bottom of the terraces, thus a “Riesling” soil in which GV appears to thrive. It’s my favorite  GV from Gobelsburg, for instance….)

Initial aroma is pure vetiver (and a little reduction), and that leesy reduction needs a few minutes to disperse.

(A few minutes later)…and subject to the predations of the Jancis glass, this feels like a masterpiece. My god, Renner is a great site for this variety. 

I went out onto the back porch to taste it. We have a sea-breeze today and it’s pleasantly cool, for once….and I looked out onto the cheerful disorder that is my wife’s garden. It’s kind of higgledy-piggledy, and seemingly random, awfully sweet, cheerfully colorful, fragrant as all get-out, not entirely tamed, like my sweetheart herself, and I had one of those unity-moments, you know them, I hope….the breeze, the air, the garden, the wine, all a single fine thing, and I know now, that this moment isn’t a chimera – it is pure life, and only the finest wines bring it.

The wine is all yellow and bronze. Yellow like buttercups, bronze like alpenglow. There’s also an inference of green like Chartreuse or Balsam Fir, and again a yellow like lemon and ginger. It’s all there, however you access it.  And for all its complexity it is also hale and delicious. It loves you back.

Someone will eventually tell me, yet again, that GV isn’t a “great” grape variety, and yet again I will oscillate between pity and contempt. How can you possibly miss this, and what a shame.

Grub-GV-Kamptal-2019.png

2019 Grüner Veltliner Ried Grub                                                   +

(alc 13.5%, grown in “deep loess” in a declivity between the Gaisberg and Heiligenstein hills.)

Can I take a detour to stemware? I poured this into my “control” glass, the Spiegelau “white-wine” 1.0, and also into the MacNeil  “creamy and silky” glass, which is more capacious. Grub is a big wine, rich, thick, sometimes a little crude, and it’s clear the control glass constricted it. But it also gave shape to all that belly-muscle and made Grub into a thing I could understand. MacNeil’s design was made for just such a wine as this; it instinctively groks the body and mid-palate umami, and it sings in just the right key. It also trims off a couple curious edges, but that doesn’t do a lot of harm – Grub is a rich wine, a wine of mealy murmurs. It is also broody, inscrutable, ample and yet translucent. The opposite of limpid, lucid or lapidary.

It was only on the third day, when I tasted it from the smallest glass, that it stretched and yawned and spoke a few words. There’s minerality embedded in it somewhere, a hidden fossil of nuance you really have to eke out.

But this is a fine vintage. I often wonder whether a 15-20 year old Grub would reveal the secret the wines seem to preserve. I’ve never quite gotten it, and still don’t except to say it’s a bigly kind of GV that you should decant 3-4 hours in advance.

The (upcoming) Lamm is more clearly great because the Lamm has lift along with its mass. It’s an easier wine in that sense. Grub, in contrast, talks almost entirely to the mid-palate, the place where the taster infers and where the message surrounds her, and she has trouble finding words for it.

Tonight’s dinner will be a little brash for a wine like this, but I’ll try it anyway. I keep needing to unlock this guy. I need an Elder to come along and reassure me “It’s OK Terry, Grub really is often opaque…” but failing that, decant and serve it as close to 55-58º as you can, try it with a mushroom risotto, and tell me if you can guess at its belly-rich riddles.

Lamm-GV-Kamptal-2019.png

2019 Grüner Veltliner Ried Lamm                                             ++

(alc 13.5%, the Chambertin of the Kamptal, full-name “Kammerner Lamm.”)

Lucky buyers of the “library releases” of this wine have marveled at the resonance and complexity it achieves with the age it deserves – or at least some of that age.

OK, well, this is simple; it’s a perfect confluence of a great site, a top producer, and a superb vintage. It is everything it should be, including that it is a little misshapen in its current youth. The same is often said about Corton Charlemagne – and in both cases correctly. What is clear now is the seamless poise among mass, detail and mineral, but it’s always like that. If Grub holds its weight in the belly, Lamm holds its weight in the shoulders and thighs. It’s paradoxically articulate in the littlest glass. Because it has high notes! 

With Lamm the complexity is right there on the surface. It’s as if you had a big massive roast of spring lamb, with an herbal crust with mint and lemon and butter and crumbs, and there was the sweet delicacy of the meat with the zinging restlessness of the crust. 

Not very many white wines can do what this wine does. Let’s look at it over the next bunch of days…

It shows some leesiness the next day. It is a riot in the Jancis. I don’t know many wines with this equipoise of power, delineation and drinkability.

Heiligenstein-Riesling-Kamptal-2019.png

2019 Riesling Zöbing

(12.5 alc. The village wine in the DAC system.)

Begins by smelling like caraway seeds – and lees, and aldehydes. Curious, how it’s only the lighter wines that seem to expel their lees this way. It’s borderline off-putting.

The wine appears to contain two hemispheres, the first being the turbulent leesiness and the second being the classic iris-y Austrian Riesling aromas. Oxygen seems to repair the breech, with some effort.

This entry level Riesling should offer a certain studiousness, a chance to study the basic genre without the …complications of greatness, let’s call them. But those lees are stubborn here. The wine is stormy. I have it in three glasses (control, Jancis, and MacNeil “crisp and fresh”) and the control glass is the friendliest. In all the glasses there’s lavender and caraway and purple iris. It emerges first from the Jancis, but this is a complicated temperamental being, and we need to see what happens over the next 72 hours. That said, for the regular drinker’s sake, you’ll have “issues” if you don’t wait a few years for this, or decant it an hour in advance. It reveals an esoteric beauty in the Jancis, after 20 minutes or so. But who has the patience for that? Not to mention, why would a wine demand that degree of patience? My guess is, this was bottled prematurely.

What I cannot know is whether this wine is stunted in some basic way, or whether it’s simply squirming in its chrysalis. Open three days, tasted many times, the enigma persists.

Gaisberg-Riesling-Kamptal-2019.png

2019 Riesling Ried Gaisberg                                                     +(+)

(alc 13%, full name Zöbinger Gaisberg, the terraced hill on mica-schist, granite, amphibolite and other primary rock derivatives)

In general, Gaisberg sits just a little in the shade of its neighbor Heiligenstein, but in any given vintage at Hirsch it’s a toss-up which of them is “best.”

This seems to be the fecund/stinky earthy side of Gaisberg – which I love! Sometimes you get the ethereal blueberries and other times you get the “funky-iris” side and god help me I love them all. But three minutes in the glass…appearances may be deceiving.

Can we agree that many (most?) “natural” wines are said to require – to insist upon – time in the glass to shed their….well, the things that need to be shed, let us say…. ? And if we do agree, then let’s take the same attitude here. Only with the proviso that what lies below the skin-deep issue is something truly beautiful….

And also subtle, and allusive. It’s best from the Jancis, and in two days it will be screaming from any damn glass I pour it into, and even now if all you do is sniff it, you’ll be transported to the WTF space with wine (How can anything possibly smell like this?), but give it a couple days for the palate to catch up., because when it does – and I know it will – a rare pleasure is waiting for you.

Jancis is too adamantly explicit, but the tall Spiegelau is the bomb, at least here and now, and into the second day also.

But what’s with the “second day” shit anyway? How many of you make a practice of not finishing a wine the day you open it? Believe me, I drink them bad boys up. But here I’m engaged in a different business. I want to offer more than a superficial a-la-minute “tasting” impression of these wines – because I can – and because some wines don’t reveal themselves out of the gate.

I used to wince inwardly when I had to subject a grower’s whole year of work to the glancing skim I was forced to offer when I sat there under time pressure and social pressure, and tried to make sense of the wines. I learned how to do it, and called it “professional,” (as indeed it was) but it was a necessary imperfection I don’t have to accept today.

Heiligenstein-Riesling-Kamptal-2019-1.pn

2019 Riesling Ried Heiligenstein                                                    ++

(alc 13%, full name Zöbinger Heiligenstein) 

 

This is the Romanee-Conti of the Kamptal, and one of the very greatest Riesling vineyards on earth – just sayin’. This fucker (and no other word will do) is blazing from whichever glass I slop it into, and without laboring the point, here we have an instance of, um, terroir making itself known.

Even from the “little” Spiegelau this wine rocks the world. Do you know the smell of really fresh ground sweet Paprika?  Inferentially, do you know the smell of Espelette pepper? It’s kind of the same. But then Heiligenstein is a site beloved of associations, and you could gather a few dozen if you collated everyone’s tasting notes.

There’s a sense in which it isn’t even “Riesling” any more. Except what else could read this terrroir so clearly?

Jancis rocks this wine. The mineral underpinning shows, and you get a hint of where the wine will go in a few years. It’s wonderful to taste now but also absurd to drink now. I’m not pouring another glass for three days. To drink it now is like listening to someone reading a poem while the TV’s on. Turn it off and listen, or forget it until all of you is there.

It is the classic wine that defies the craving for explicable, instant gratification. You’d need to be into wine. You’d need a decent cellar, and a modicum of patience. But I’m not sure you can fathom what waits for you on the other side…

2022

2022 – CURRENT RELEASES FROM WEINGUT HIRSCH KAMMERN, KAMPTAL

This was the second range of (mostly) 2020s – Alzinger was the first – that I found to be essentially incomprehensible. These were more than moving targets; they were barely even targets at all.

 

There was A LOT TO LIKE within this range. But if I had suspended my tasting notes on any given day, you’d have received a false impression of those wines. The actual impression is a multiplicity of impressions, adding up to who-knows what. Here’s an example. As you know by now, when I’m “tasting” I am experiencing the wines from different glasses, indoors and outdoors, with and without food, at varying temperatures and in varying sequences, because this is the only way to establish whether the wines show a through-line, and if so, what it might be. It’s a complicated way to taste but you get used to it. Usually a wine’s “true” nature emerges from all the inputs, and when there’s more than a single “true” nature, all the better.

 

The process typically takes me 4-5 days. As it did here. When I’m satisfied that I’ve heard whatever I can hear from the wines, I declare myself finished, satisfied that my aggregate impressions are much closer to the truth than any single impression could be, no matter how good a taster one is.

 

Now I have a bunch of bottles with anywhere between three to four inches of wine remaining, and I’ll drink them down until the bottles are empty. I hate wasting wine. (If something is really unpleasant, at least to me, I’ll reserve it for cooking as long as it’s basically sound.) I’m going somewhere with this, so stay with me. I put the Hirsch leftovers in the fridge though I’d tasted them as close to cellar temp as I could contrive. You will note I referred to tannin or phenolics in most of the 2020s I tasted, an impression that persisted in all the ways I tasted them. But! When I drank the wines more or less right out of the fridge (say around 42-44º) to my surprise the phenolics disappeared. I cannot account for this. I have never experienced a white wine showing less phenolic the colder I drank it – usually the opposite. I wasn’t surprised to see the cold suppress any dubious aromas – not that there were many of these – but to act upon a wine texturally in this way….that was new. If any of you have evidence of this in your own experiences, kindly share!

 

I also faced a choice. When a group of wines is as all-over-the-place as these were, it’s tempting to redact the “process” notes and just show you the conclusion. It reads quicker, it gets to The Point, and who’s really interested in my process anyway? Alas, I can’t help thinking that the process, the journey through all the byways of wine as it makes contradictory gestures and is maybe on an errant path, actually isthe point. Wine, after all, isn’t inert. Neither are we. And I want the grower(s) to see how their wines expressed, and how I attended to them while they revealed themselves.

 

So I will leave the notes as they are, and show you the wines as I found them, over and over.  But do bear in mind, as you read about tannin and phenols (as you will) that these impressions were obliterated when I drank the open-5-days wines at fridge temp. And finally, please know that EVERYTHING IMPROVED except for one wine, which I’ll identify in its note.

 

Overall it was a scrupulous lineup from a grower who’d flirted with some of the unsavory elements of “natural” flavors but who seems to have outgrown this. When it appeared now, as it did with a couple wines, I’ll point it out, but overall the problem is highly diminished, and none too soon.

 

I’ve been reading about “three great vintages in a row” (19-20-21) but a taster/commentator I trust completely, and who has long deep experience with the wines, has demurred about 2020, which he feels is good, sometimes very good, but prone to be overrated. Over the next months I’ll taste the “serious” ‘20s and see how I myself feel. With Hirsch I found the basic wines to be really delicious and deft. I can’t demand more from Riesling than his 2020 “village” wine (Zöbing) offers.

 

Remember, he is Respekt certified bio-dynamic, and is blessed with parcels in the Grand Crus Heiligenstein and Lamm, and the 1er Cru that should be a Grand Cru, Renner.

Hirschvergnuegen-2021-2.png

2021 Grüner Veltliner “Hirschvergnügen”

The entry-level “estate” GV is estate bottled. Historically it tended to be the most polished and silky among the basic GVs, exchanging (say) the crispness of Gobelsburg’s for an umami all its own.

 

The ’21 smells somewhat rudely peppery – not a bad thing! And it has that slight (and sometimes more than slight) Jura touch many of ‘Hannes Hirsch’s wines have been showing. It’s spritzy and rather adamant on the palate, with a middle note of loessy legume and a bitter snap of nettle and mustard greens. Oxygen is likely to be genial to this wine, and I’ll taste it many times over the days, but at first glance it does its job in a particular way, maybe due to the vintage or maybe due to a change of approach – or maybe there is no reason – but as much as this is squarely in the Zeitgeist for snappy bone-dry white wines, I confess to finding it admonishing.

 

Outdoors (on a fresh mild summer day with low humidity) and from the Jancis glass it’s more nuanced, yet the overall effect is like eating undressed arugula leaves. Perhaps an everyday wine could be more accommodating? I don’t mean pandering or “commercial” but maybe a bit less particular in its attack. Still, let’s see how it looks with food and with air.

 

We had it as an apero as dinner was cooking, and it was better, and now I’m tasting it again 48 hours later, fridge-cold, and from a Jancis glass. I want to encourage its high notes. And I must say, it does help. Paradoxically it also places toasty low notes forward, and today there’s no bitterness in sight; just a straightforward easygoing snappy GV.

 

Palate is a curious thing. I remember an afternoon prospecting in Champagne, and everywhere I went the wines were oddly bitter. By the third visit I had to consider that the distortion lay with me. I’d had a quick lunch, and figured that my salad aux gruyere would be harmless, but I didn’t reckon with the half-pound of raw shallots they included. I stopped after two bites, but it was too late.

 

I owed those growers better, and so I woke up brutally early the next day so that I could visit them again, explaining that I’d gotten a false impression. As indeed I had. Two of those growers became part of my first offering, and ever since then I became a total asshat about what I’d let myself eat on a tasting trip. Thus my current hypothesis – that none of these GVs are as bitter as I thought.

Kammern-GV-2021-1.png

2021 Grüner Veltliner Kammern

Now the village wine from a mélange of soils. It smells lovely, in the vetiver and wet cereal and wild meadow flower idiom. And with just a half percent more alc (12.5 versus 12 for the foregoing) it is really another world. 

 

There’s a textural paradox whereby it’s both creamy and yet also phenolic. But I think a palate-check is called for, so I ate a couple tarralini and drank some ice cold water, just to see if I was fit or whether I might be oversensitive to sourness. (Last night’s dinner was a lot of fried chicken, and by that I mean a lot of fried chicken, and who knows how it could have despoiled my poor palate.) I do appreciate the wine’s classicism. It’s not re-imagining the GV template. The fragrance is really attractive. It likes the Jancis glass.

I’ll be surprised if I don’t like it even more in a day or two.

 

On second viewing it is much the same. Its textural richness is played false by a gritty scape of tannin that’s simply out of place. We had it with food when of course it was better, but you shouldn’t need to use food to correct an “issue” with a wine. And while the Jancis glass encourages a certain silkiness, the finish remains shrill.

 

Until, finally, it didn’t! Like all the GVs, this drank quite well as I was draining the bottle, and I was reduced to head-scratching.

Ried-Gaisberg-GV-2020-1.png

2020 Grüner Veltliner Ried Gaisberg

 

Again, this is the Kammerner Gaisberg, where the hill swings around the corner – not the Zöbinger Gaisberg, which sits contiguous to the Heiligenstein.

 

The leesy aromas are appealing; refined, radishy, a little sweated shallot; the palate is taut and mineral with a yuzu/shiso tang and a lovely finish of marjoram and cardamom. I tried it from the rounder stem I use for “inferential” whites, and the expression was ideal. (It’s one of the very few times my basic Spiegelau “control glass” doesn’t work.) But this wine is fundamentally succeeding in a way the first two didn’t. Is it the 2020 vintage (which shows more sedate and coniferous compared to the nervous energy of the ‘21s) or is it the classified vineyard, or is it the extra year of vinification? Or all or none of these? Whatever it is (or is not) I like the focused cut of the texture astride the green sap of the flavors, more wintergreen than Sencha.

 

Kudos to ‘Hannes for crafting the wine to show sweet lees without lapsing into flor or other dubious elements to which extended lees-contact wines are vulnerable.

 

Still, this is something of a GV outlier, and if I were tasting it blind the first place I’d think of is Greece. It would appeal to a palate that prized a strong herbality and mintiness and that was at ease among the crags. Maybe this vineyard shines best in the “golden” vintages?

Ried-Renner-GV-2020-1.png

2020 Grüner Veltliner Ried Renner                                                

Should you ever have wondered, this is what I mean by the Grand Cru aroma.

 

It’s as though your nose had an altered mind. It is simply improbable (if not unfathomable) to smell a thing like this. I could leave it there and that would be enough. But: it’s a sort of big-tent aroma that includes the GV pepper but also mimosa blossoms, vetiver, apples, meyer lemons, and something I will call an allspice pudding poured over cold stones. It just screams with joy in the Jancis glass.

 

I took it outside, and a bee had found its way to my spit bucket and was crawling around on the rim. And crawling, and crawling….I wonder if the little guy is getting drunk?! In ee-bee-ated. A wasted wasp. I can’t bear to  roust her as she seems to be pretty absorbed. I’ll let you know if she starts flying in circles.

Back to our program in-progress – Renner joins a small circle of vineyards from which it can be hard to identify whether the wine is GV or Riesling. Achleiten, Steinertal, Loiser Berg are others, rare instances of variety being subsumed into terroir.

 

This masterly wine is still a little reticent today, but I’m certain it’s less diffident than it appears. Thus far all of Hirsch’s wines have cried out for oxygen, and oxygen they shall duly have.

 

Two days later, punctuated by a half-glass with dinner (grilled eggplant, summer squash, sweet yellow peppers, trumpet mushrooms and lamb loin chops) I’m finding the wine either unchanged or actually even more clipped and diffident. Clearly you can’t lift the glass to your nose and be unmoved by the sensational aromas, and clearly those aromas translate into flavor – but where is the flavor hiding? Having tried everything else, I think I’ll chill the wine and see what happens at 40º.

 

It improved. I can’t explain why or how – it just did.

Ried-Lamm-GV-2020-1.png

2020 Grüner Veltliner Ried Lamm                                              

Clearly a great vineyard, but whether it is greater than Renner is….debatable. In any case, this wine starts out quite funky. A gathering of thiols. Will they know when to go home? A case could be made for decanting, but there’s some strange part of me that doesn’t want to have to fuss that much with a bottle. That is, I pause before telling a customer (and now a reader) that they’ll enjoy the wine as long as theydecant it. 

 

In five minutes it is better behaved, and actually shows remarkable elements. I think the umami of Lamm is arm-wrestling with the green-tea notes of 2020, but that isn’t necessarily awkward. It might just be fascinating. And my round-bowled glass accelerates the breathing process, so that the wine makes better sense now. It’s just an infantile rendition of a wine that promises to be outstanding and remarkable, given the time it requires.

 

Lamm doesn’t lend itself to explication. I say this, notwithstanding the articulation of most vintages of Gobelsburg, which seem to get the square peg into the round hole by a kind of magic trick. The great vintages of Bründlmayer are all wines of center, of the soft meatiness in the middle rather than the outlines at the periphery. This can be elevated to the sublime, and I doubt that anyone has equaled the best of Bründlmayer’s Lamms. In that light, its showing from the explicative Jancis glass could seem to be counter productive – but it actually isn’t. The wine obtains a somewhat medicinal finish, but up to then it is wonderful in all its Spanish olive oil richness.

 

The wine is in fact wonderful. It took ten minutes, but it’s humming from all three glasses I’m using. This Lamm has risked being over the top in clement vintages, but here it is compelling because there is an argument at its core. The vintage wants to pull it down into its herbal shade but the wine insists on being its grainy/meaty self. This I find exciting. Animating, must-see-TV. I’d lay a wager, that ten years from now when people have the two vintages side by side – ’19 and ’20 – everyone will think “20! Who knew?!”

 

That said, I found the wine best on first glance, and do not suggest keeping the open bottle around for days.

 

Oh, and my little bee has flown off. God speed, tiny soused one.

Zoebing-Riesling-2021-2.png

2021 Riesling Zöbing                                                                          +

This village wine hails from the terraces where Riesling grows, and because I know that Hirsch doesn’t have any mundane vineyards, I infer this is mostly young vine material from the Crus.

 

It smells lovely; it smells like excellent Riesling. It smells like Austrian Riesling. And the wine is beautiful. Rarin’ to go. Jiggling its leg, restlessly. “Can we leave now? We’ll miss the previews.”

 

I’ve known this wine over 20+ vintages. At times it has been ungainly or inexpressive, but when it’s good it is a small miracle no less miraculous for being small. Everything we love about these wines is available here, fundamentally, with no need of exaltations or fanfares. It has an arc of flavor; it has a conversation among florals and mineral; it has a finely probing finish; it is sprightly and buoyant, and if you’re at all synesthesic  you’ll see a whirligig of purples and grays. It is a classic example of the rewards of attending to the actual way a wine tastes as opposed to how much thrust or torque or “intensity” it may have. It’s also very much in the minty-herbal family, and recalls some of the finer Chinese green teas.

 

It’s been four days now. To conclude, I’ve tasted this wine three times and had it at the table twice. It works in every setting, but I must say it does reward close attention. It certainly “does the job” with food, and doing the job is more than enough in my world, but – it’s a shame to miss the nuances. And they are many. Perhaps the compromise is to have a glass or two by themselves, and then finish the bottle with lunch.

 

You don’t drink wine with lunch? Why you philistine!

Zoebing-Riesling-2021-2.png

2020 Riesling Zöbing                                                                        +

 

A half percent higher alcohol in the ’21, interestingly. Did I taste this last year? I am deliberately not consulting those notes until after I’ve tasted through these new arrivals. In any case, this smells inviting in a different way than does the ’21. Here we are less explicitly dialectical, “sweeter,” less overtly mineral and certainly more herbal. Tenderer, in short. I’ve been drinking new high-altitude Taiwanese oolongs (a Lishan I brewed yesterday was plucked in May) and there’s a lot of this in them, or them in this. An incipient sort of sweetness that’s absorbed into a charming vegetality and that creates a kind of wildness that isn’t feral but is actually exquisite without being bloodless.

 

I must say I don’t think ‘Hannes made a better wine than this in 2020. More inferential than the ’21 (which is clearly more overt), this wine has the signal virtues of all indirect wines; it stimulates reverie and hands you off to the oneiric. It isn’t a “better” wine but I love it more. It is the way I most like to feel when I’m experiencing wine. It calms me. It reminds me that for all my squirmings and cogitations and deconstructions of this wine and that one, there is a world of peace and dreams, and when you are there none of that other stuff matters.

 

I hope you get to drink these side by side as I did. They will teach you about your mind, and your heart.

 

This was the last wine I tasted on day-1 and the first I’m tasting on day-2, to lead me into the Riesling Crus. We takers-of-notes don’t talk about sequence often enough. It stands to reason that ones first sip of wine in a given day will land on an unprepared palate, but if you’ve already tasted six or seven wines your palate is habituated to receive wine, not to mention its pH has been altered by everything you’ve tasted. The endgame of course is “palate fatigue,” and that is real, but it’s not what I’m talking about here. I am saying we need to account for the ordinary alterations of palate in the face of a volley of samples, because who you are, tasting after wine #10 is different than when you began.

 

In any case, the externals of this wine are unchanged. I still love it. It’s more vivid, in a way, and that makes me love it differently, yet I remember how it was yesterday and now I can love it two ways at once.

 

Both this and its forbear have held up impeccably over four days. There’s some silvery pebbles in this wine’s interior that I didn’t notice before. Do you play music? The ’21 is a sprightly clamorous D-major, while this is a calming, affirming C-major.

Ried-Heiligenstein-Riesling-2020-1.png

2020 Riesling Ried Heiligenstein

At first it shows the Jura note again. Up to now the range has been more inside-the-lines than I expected to find it – and I approve. And Heiligenstein is a vamping succubus in any case. At times its complications can tilt toward the feral, as it does here – at least at first, before growing more refined. (A little reduction is certainly forgivable in this instance. Though it persisted with each new pour, and lingered for a minute or two.)

 

The first palate impression, curiously, is pepper and mint. Pickled ginger isn’t out of the question. It is literally spicy (cardamom, nutmeg) and to the extent it is (typically) tropical, it’s less mango/papaya than guava/soursop.

 

But Heiligenstein is a cloud of flavor. It can appear vast and powerful but it’s actually airy and buoyant. It never quite comes to the point. It surrounds you; you breathe it as much as taste it. This is mitigated by different growers’ styles, but I know it well from four growers (and casually from several more) and the wines don’t indicate a text as much as play a particular music. You enter the center of a nimbus. With this wine the actual discrete tongue registers little more than saltiness and a pleasing sharpness. Everything else arrives as vapor and surmise. The wine also offers up a bit of resistance, as if a writer might demur from letting you read her first draft. It’s early days yet, but a tone can be gleaned, and that is less regal than other growers’ wines might be, and concomitantly more rural and earthy, by which I don’t mean to criticize. It’s a good way to experience the Great Site. And the wine has many more cards to show.

 

Okay, tasted multiple times etc., but it proves to be inert. In some vintages it’s better than Gaisberg, but I don’t think this is one of them. It has a tannic texture in common with the GVs, and while it shows many of the elements we admire in Heiligenstein, right now I can’t praise it more than faintly.

Ried-Gaisberg-Riesling-2020-1-1.png

2020 Riesling Ried Gaisberg                                                          +

First a note: this and the vintages that follow are ALL COMMERCIALLY AVAILABLE, as a means of offering late-released wines that have “found themselves” to a degree they cannot in their turbulent youths.

 

Most observers would place Gaisberg as the little brother to its neighbor Heiligenstein, and the “official” classification will reflect this. It’s in effect a 1er Cru. As a rule you taste it to lead you in to the Heiligenstein. And yet: there are many vintages where this is the better wine at Hirsch (and at least one where it was the supreme Riesling at Gobelsburg).

 

It smells lovely, showing the Gaisberg blueberries and the moony white gauze that contrasts with the sunstruck Apollonian command of its neighbor. At first glance it’s tight, high-toned and mineral, which can lead us to underrate Gaisberg for its abstemiousness and reserve. Such fruit as there is says a hasty farewell on the finish, leaving a wash of petrichor and stones. Ones teeth respond to the wine’s phenolic attack. It offers few elements we’d call “pleasing.”

 

Yet there is something here, like a truffle hidden within a maze, that you sniff fleetingly and that keeps you pushing on. The question is, will the excessive rectitude one feels now dissolve into something kindlier over time? Because this is a more interesting wine than the Heiligenstein, albeit it’s the opposite of hedonic.

 

It shows a little reduction from the Jancis glass. But there is also an enticing glimpse of something locked away in the wine’s core, something that urgently hopes to blossom. Thus my “plus” is more aspirational than actual. Food will tame the phenols, but this wine asks to be left in peace for a while. I’d buy it and keep it for five years. If you must approach it now (just to see WTF I could possibly be talking about) then use a Jancis glass please. (If you use a Zalto “Universal” instead, I will personally come over and kick you hard in the shins.)

 

Finally a truly odd observation. If you keep this wine in the center of your mouth, literally over the tongue but without spreading it around, it is both markedly better and way less phenolic. It shows a searchingly complex nuance also present in the empty glass. This wine will have the last laugh.

Ried-Gaisberg-Riesling-2020-1-1.png

2017 Riesling Ried Gaisberg

The gold color tells you to expect botrytis, and botrytis you shall find. This is my first “true” look at the wine, as it was forbiddingly closed when I tasted it in May 2019. And while the wine is more approachable now, it is also more….”straightforward” is a better word than “one-dimensional,” because it is a very nice glass of good Riesling, though not especially redolent of Gaisberg. 

 

It is again phenolic, though I have to take care to ensure these aren’t echo-phenols from the 2020 still milling about in my mouth. (And most growers would wish to avoid skin contact in a botrytis vintage.) The wine is “rough” enough to do good service at the table – I’ll test this theory in a few hours – and overall it registers as a slice of Gaisberg put into a toaster and left a minute too long, so the edges are charred.

 

It was effective at the table, where its martial assertiveness could shimmy with the meal. It’s a coarse sort of thing, compared to the other wines in the vertical, but there’s times when coarseness is called for. It may not have an “inside-voice” but it has plenty to say, and offers a kind of clunky fun. It neither improved nor diminished over the days.

Ried-Gaisberg-Riesling-2020-1-1.png

2016 Riesling Ried Gaisberg                                                                 +

The color is normal again. I like ’16; this should be good. But let’s establish a few things:

 

First, ’16 is a vintage for the cerebral, and though it is sprightly (and even witty) it isn’t what one would call affectionate. Second, Gaisberg in essence is a Riesling for lovers of the variety’s introverted side. It does not gush or froth. It summons you into a detailed little puzzle; it wants you to think. So if I say “this should be good” I am referring to a beauty more covert than you may be used to.

 

And indeed the wine offers a fine satisfaction but not a rich one. I like it a ton. It is a crisp and clever explication of this terroir, whippingly dry, cool but not aloof – it has too much to tell you – but it reads its intricate text without seeking to charm you. Curiously it is kindlier from the regular Spiegelau (which illustrates what juiciness it might have) whereas the Jancis makes it rasp a bit.

 

A good, subtle, refined Gaisberg approaching its adolescence, so if you get it please hang on to it. It stays within the classical perimeter but wants, perhaps, a little more brilliance to make it feel less ascetic. That said, the aromas wafting from the glass after ten minutes are really exquisite, especially if there’s some quiet around them. But please bear in mind, for some people the wine could feel slight or constricted.

Hirschin-Riesling-2015.png

2015 Riesling Gaisberg                                                                  ++

This was before the decree that “Ried” had to appear before a site name in order to indicate that it was a site name.

 

The color is nice lush straw with green flecks. The vintage has been perplexing. It seemed outstanding out of the gate, and then a few wines seemed to collapse after five years or so, which made zero sense, and then there was a general sense that the crop had been overrated, and yet the wines I have in my cellar have been well-behaved (notwithstanding one dramatic exception from which I was warned away by the producer himself) and this wine smells really fabulous.

 

Brother, this wine is really fabulous. While it shows Hirsch’s particular “structure” (i.e., a relishing of the phenolic) it has such juicy generosity and such textural density that I am happily persuaded. And still it is in the nature of Gaisberg to revert to its firm verticality even when it’s showing so generously as it does here. And make no mistake; this is a crackle of stones and salts yet in a texture as fleshy and firm as it can ever be.

 

Though it is present in a way that eludes the ’16, I still wouldn’t hurry to drink it. There are years in reserve. Want some cognates? If it were German it would be a Rheingau, and if it were Alsacien it would be one of the “strict” ones from Andlau or Ribeauvillé. But a firm wine in a fleshy vintage is always a hoot – and this one has fun in its nature.

 

It only got better over the days, finally establishing a nuttiness that recalled one of Spreitzer’s (Wisselbrunnen) GGs, plus the smell of brown jasmine rice cooking.

2021
2022
bottom of page