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Tasting Year

With a single exception (the Muskateller) all of the wines tasted one way and “sipped” another. This was repeated over three nights, with almost weird consistency.


My first impression of the three GV and two Rieslings was that they were driven by aggressive acidity, especially the Veltliners. I tasted them from Spiegelau and Jancis. Allowing for the “screwcap distortion” (whereby many white wines are constricted by sulfur until they get some air) I drank bits of all the wines while dinner was cooking, using the MacNeil Fresh & Crisp, which elevates the hedonic. Having warned my wife to beware of “expressive” acidity, she said she wasn’t noticing it, and as I sipped, neither was I. Was this the stemware, or the exposure to air, or both or neither?


On the second day I jettisoned the Jancis and did MacNeil and Spiegelau (which sounds like a law firm; “Use the wrong glass? Our lawyers are standing by to protect you from litigious sommeliers…”), and I’ve incorporated the results into the notes.



2021 Freiheit Grüner Veltliner

“Freiheit” is now a trademark for what used to be a Grosslage-labeled wine, one up from the bottom of the winery’s range, but the “basic” wine sold in the U.S.. Alcohol can range from 11.5% in light years to 13% in superripe ones. This is right in the middle with 12.5%

It smells superb, and you can smell it halfway across the room. I was taken aback when a sample I tasted at a trade event last June was pyrazine-y, but no hint of that here. Spiegelau is more citric, MacNeil more meadow-flowers. 


The palate is taut, salty, intricate and acid-driven, but what was spiky on day-1 became minty and peppery the next day. The round shape of the MacNeil gave breadth for the nuances to appear more vividly – but it also shrank before the wine’s imposing acidity. As always it’s in the loessy lentil direction, but my goodness, the diction of this wine! It comes on seemingly slim but billows on the mid palate to encompass Darjeeling tea flavors, with some of the lyric clonal notes of 2nd flush and some of the taut herbal notes of 1st flush. Then it has a beautiful sting on the finish.


Is this too racy and snappy for the use it will be put to? It purports to be a casual glass of wine, but this guy has attitude. The wine over-delivers, but the thing it over-delivers isn’t necessarily what its customer looks for. The crashing energy is huge fun, the complexity is greater than you dared to expect, and then you decide if you relish the stiletto pointedness of the finish.


It is, by the way, downgraded from Kremstal to the more generic Niederösterreich, for reasons I cannot explain, or even fathom. 

It is, by the way, downgraded from Kremstal to the more generic Niederösterreich, for reasons I cannot explain, or even fathom.


2021 Piri Grüner Veltliner

Piri is also a trademark now, but we’ve been promoted to the KREMSTAL appellation. I understand “Piri” to be (or have been) a grosslage encompassing most/all of the Senftenberg hill.

The primary-rock GV aromas are scrupulously detailed and transparent.  The landing impact is cressy and snappy. While Piri is often more lapidary than Freiheit, these ‘21s seem animated and jittery. This in fact is a curiously lovely wine, showing an odd sort of calmness in the middle of a beehive of activity.


Minerality and greens, herbs, fir and conifer, tansy, scree, those kinds of things. A silvery kind of wine, yet not nearly as serene as that moony languid image suggests.


I’ve written a lot about Nigl, using images like tweezer-food and micro-pixilation and flavors seen under a microscope, all of which are present now, driven by a galvanic acid drive which can’t quite subdue the serenity at the core. Have you ever had a perennially tardy companion, and if you try to rush him along he makes a big point of going slower, as if he’s rubbing your face in his galling calm? This wine is you going “Come on! We’ll be late!” while he just hums and pauses, deliberately, trying to decide which blazer to wear.


It’s also a lesson in the things we place value on. This wine also has 12.5% alc, it’s no riper nor more intense than the Freiheit; to the extent it is “better” it’s because it has a finer flavor. But this is subtle and requires your attention. If Nigl has a reputation for chiseled, cerebral wines, this would justify it. I find it admirably fascinating and not remotely delicious.


With both of these wines, I suspect they were bottled too early.


2021 Alte Reben Grüner Veltliner                                                      +

My shorthand for this aroma is “wax beans,” but you could also say romanesco or even sunchoke or salsify. It’s polished, not really herbal, more yielding than the primary-rock wines.


The palate is curiously both generous and aloof. The fruit recalls the 2013, but that vintage had nothing like this one’s acidity. I think it’s a bit of a cacophony at the moment, but hoo boy, that fragrance….


For all its incipient intricacy, it’s better in the less “expressive” Spiegelau white-wine glass. Jancis exaggerates the wine’s starker elements, but the implosive complexity doesn’t need assistance; it needs juiciness.


Some wines you just know; this is a classic, and should develop classically. This isn’t such a wine. Here it’s “This is demanding and turbulent and amazing and it isn’t easy to drink right now but it’s crazy fascinating, and I have no earthly idea how it might develop.” The aroma of the empty glass, usually a reliable predictor, is as complicated and ambiguous as everything that preceded it.


Having tasted everything twice and sipped once, I must say my tasting impression is consistent, for whatever that is worth. This trio possesses up-front attributes with which it’s easy to be impressed. They only falter in the final act, in which the residue of all that complexity dissolves abruptly and leaves a caustic acidity in its wake. The answer, I guess, is to eat.


2021 Urgestein Riesling

13% alc, Kremstal, not sure if this is the artist formerly known as “Dornleiten,” but if it’s the basic Riesling, one is struck by that 13%.

This I must say is of another order than the Veltliners. It has zing and whip-energy but it doesn’t have the overweening acids of that group. It also has Nigl’s usual focus and calligraphic precision, along with a swell of mineral and the typical fragrance of irises.


The overall vibe is on the stern side, but the flavors are absurdly (and elegantly) described, as if it were a transcription of the soil, and of the many little flowers that grow along and among the vines. The Jancis glass brings forth scents of hyssop and fennel seed.


This, too, is a little strict in its gestalt, but the nature of the material is compelling enough for me to forgive some austerity. You may feel differently, but I’d wager you’ll agree that it’s crazy that wine can taste like this. That said, it’s a severe sort of pleasure, mitigated a little by the blandishments of MacNeil’s glass.


2021 Piri Riesling                                                                                 +

Also Kremstal and also 13% alc.


The restaurant Michel Bras made famous a dish with 32 vegetables (give or take) in a mystic simmery braise, and the folks at Nikolaihof serve a salad of 17 herbs. Add a potion concocted from 41 different stones and minerals, and finally add water and stir. I mean, you really don’t know which complexity to let grab you and wheel you around the dance floor, the herbal one or the mineral one, until it’s like “OK, whatever, let’s just dance.”


This, alas, is as good as it gets for me today. The top wines from Pellingen, Goldberg, and Hochäcker shimmer away out of my reach – but if those didn’t exist, I’d still be impressed with this beauty.


The texture is more sedate now, though you wouldn’t describe it as calm (or “somnolent”), but you would – and will – notice that you stand in the vestibule where you glimpse the first attributes of greatness, as if you hear their voices on the other side of the wall. At the conclusion the finish is still chewy, as has been the case with all of these. Yet you delight, because you’ve been plunged into the arcane depths of primary-rock Austrian Riesling for a price you can afford, and as the mints and peppers linger into their gradual farewell, you get to be pleased at the world and all its probing, delicious questions.


2021 Gelber Muskateller                                                                      +

Bounced back down to “Niederösterreich” and sporting its usual 11.5% alc.

I doubt that Martin Nigl looks at Müller-Catoir as a deliberate “model” for this wine, but they share a certain resemblance, which I’d call “precise basil and a cattiness that isn’t feral.” And way curiously, for all its fervent spiciness and brash aromas, this is the most yielding of all the wines structurally.


If perfectly ripe Austrian Muscat goes all the way to elderflower, this one stops at lemon blossom. Until day-2, when it zoomed past any known thing that blossoms, and entered the Platonic perfection of blossoming itself.


For all the usual Muscat noise, this wine has an incongruous and silky silence at its core.


For all that such a wine is a “line-extender” for Nigls, it expresses them as well as any of their wines do, I think. It is meticulous, giving but not gushing, extroverted but not cloddish, and in the context of the emphatic variety, wonderfully refined.

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