Following upon my noble and mighty struggles figuring out how to use words to describe Johannes Hirsch’s wines, this report will be easy to write.
Valerie Kathawala interviewed me for her magazine TRINK, and a couple questions didn’t fit in her “Ten Questions For…” format. One such was whether Karen Odessa and I had “house wines,” and the fact is we do not. There’s too many wines to explore to drink the same ones again and again. But! If we did have house wines, I told Valerie, the red one would be Erich Sattler’s basic Zweigelt, a wine that answers every possible desire I can bring to wine drinking – short of the lofty ones.
One such longing is when a wine is so good that I nearly weep with pique if I have to spit it out. That just happened. If my neighbor hadn’t been directly at his nearby (open) window, I think I would have let go of a frustrated moan.
Sattler makes just a few wines, bless him, mostly reds and almost entirely Zweigelt and St. Laurent. Each of these is offered in two tiers – a basic one without wood, and a “reserve” one with wood, though not reeky with new oak. If the crop size lets him (and if the quality warrants it) he’ll do the sporadic single-vineyard bottling. That’s it, except for a little sprite of white wine he sells locally, and a lusty rosé he sold a lot of to me, and still does to my successors.
Let’s jump in.
2019 Zweigelt glug-glug-glug and then some!
(tasted from Riedel Chianti Classico and Spiegelau “white wine 2.0” which I actually prefer for fruit-driven reds. 13% alc. It’s a tic more tannic from the latter, whereas the Riedel does its all-cream-all-the-time thing)
Sattler once drove over to Göttlesbrunn to show me his wines at Glatzers, as it’s a substantial detour to Sattler’s place, and he’s also a nice guy. It was fascinating and wonderful to see the two groups of wines together, from the two Great Masters of fruit. Sattler’s wine reflected its hotter environs, showing roasty and robust, but just as addictive the best of Glatzer.
David Schildknecht and I considered the question of whether the experienced taster could ever return to the Eden of her wine beginnings, and recapture that primordial innocence. At first it’s like you and the wine are connected by a ground-wire with no interruptions to the current. Then over the years that elemental accord is clouded with the accretions of your experiences and memories. Most of us accept the bargain.
But I wonder whether we have to. And I think the key that unlocks this question is called FRUIT, and I also think that when you drink fruit directly, with no occlusions or byways, you can feel a pleasure that may take you aback. It’s been so long! Wine can make you feel like this.
Sattler’s basic Zweigelt, which I’m tasting at a perfect 62º, is in the best way elemental, unimpeded by the need to make any “point” except to be effing gorgeous. And it’s not like Zweigelt is simple – no sir! It may be direct but it’s far from mundane. It has an innate complexity, which Sattler’s stainless-steel cellar-work allows us to see transparently. The sweet top-notes of Syrah thing we often encounter in Zweigelt are on clear display. The raspberry twang also. The side-glance of pepper, the bathing in violets. The happiness so vivid you almost laugh out loud.
2019 St. Laurent +
(tasted from the aforementioned Spiegelau and also the Jancis glass. 13% alc)
I introduced the Jancis glass for fear this would show the usual SL reductions. It does not. What it does show is every positive element of this “challenging” variety, and again, here, in one forthright gesture, Erich shows us why growers insist on working with this difficult vineyard diva.
This one is spherical and roasty and smoky, all the things it can be at its healthiest, but it also has lift and a fresh silvery spine that I swear “feels” mineral. There’s also a sophisticated and articulate tannin, just after the mid-palate and before the finish, and you think “This wine isn’t simple at all…” The refined fruit of Zweigelt is replaced here with a char-marked lustiness.
I worked with these wines for nearly twenty years, and dear reader, this is the best vintage I have tasted, for this duo of not-at-all “basic” wines.
2018 St. Laurent Reserve
(tasted from the same two glasses. 13.5% alc)
You’ll recognize the more “serious” fragrance. It smells a bit like Ribeira Sacra, the graphite nuance. Naturally the wood shows, but not in the way of Rioja. In fact there’s an improbably flowery note here that’s kind of irresistible, though it pivots over to a note of char that’s as bitter as char-marks always are.
I once described St. Laurent as like “blackened Burgundy,” and this wine shows why. It’s a paradoxical deliciousness. Food would stop that end-palate bitterness before it got to you, and if you’re drinking it with a cassoulet (and you didn’t know what wine it was) you’d be pardoned for thinking “I can’t recall such a drinkable Chateauneuf-du-Pape.”
“And yet it’s not light,” you’d say.
“No, not light at all,” your pal would continue. “It just doesn’t whomp you upside the head.”
I waited two days to taste it again, and used the MacNeil “bold and powerful” stem, which was probably conceptualized for even bigger wines. It’s quite sumptuous and round now, but if I’m judging sternly I have to wonder about the oaky char, which in turn is part of an overall sort of crustiness that’s just short of “rustic.” Hot years can do that. I’d recommend drinking it when you open it, and enjoy its fruit-sweetness and layers.
2018 Zweigelt Reserve
(back to the Riedel along with the Jancis. 13.5% alc)
This is rather stern for a Zweigelt, intensely concentrated and what wine-folks often call “tight.” It’s so raspberried you’d think he added a few percent eau-de-vie to the cask. Ever notice the curious celeriac note in some super-tightly wound reds? I notice it here. I also notice an exquisite note of earth and fruit on the finish, that seems to hint toward truffle and tobacco and Ceylon tea. This catatonia of youth is looking for time to extend its rigid limbs. I’ll report back in a few days.
It’s 48 hours later now, and again I’m using the MacNeil “bold and powerful” stem. The earlier celeriac note is yielding to a kind of funky violet, and a degree of pepperiness that could be confused with Blaufränkisch, or even more for Lagrein or Lemberger or Teroldego. The wine is good, albeit a bit of a polyglot.
2020 Zweigelt Rosé
(alc 13%,though his website says 12.5% and tasted for shits-and-giggles from the basic Spiegelau white and from the Jancis glass.)
As a selector I wanted rosés to be interesting, to have some quirk or angle that would lift them from the merely “pretty.”
I made a partial exception for this one, because while it is pretty, it also shows a substance, length and arc of flavors that made its generosity something worth receiving.
It’s May 20th today, and in normal circumstances this wine would have come and (mostly) gone. He doesn’t make a ton of it and we tended to buy the whole tranche at once. The wine is effusive but not merely effusive. It’s like wild king salmon in liquid form. (Prieler’s is more like sockeye…) All of which is to say I don’t know whether or where you might find it in the logistical turmoil of 2021 – but it’s worth the search. Among all the affectionate rosés you’ll encounter, this is among the smartest.