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Weingut Schloss Gobelsburg

Tasting Year

2021

Well, that was some week.

The estate is observing 850 years of existence this year, and as you can imagine this is an august occasion, in the context of which my little opinions about this wine or that can seem like the cavils of a tiny tin god. Yet, it is a winery, and even if this year’s offerings resonate with the profundity of all those centuries, eventually there’s a glass and there’s wine in it, and we drink that beverage per se – or we try to.

I often had to wrest myself away from a prevailing sense of lofty solemnity in order to simply attend to the wines. It didn’t help one bit that some of the wines embodied the lofty solemnity, and then I had to ask myself whether I could yap about the wines without being ungrateful. It was as though I took the resonant-loveliness and put it in a side room and said “Now you just sit here and wait.”

I also felt a gathering of what I might call a beautiful seriousness, as wine followed wine. Even banishing (or attempting to banish) “the centuries,” I was very much mindful that something superb and precious is taking place right now, and for that alone Schloss Gobelsburg is an estate of great consequence. I have had proximity to that consequence since my friend “Michi” arrived back in 1997, and I sought to be worthy of the gift, and equal to the task, as I do again here.

I love the estate. Often I revere the estate. There’s a deep and reverberating conscience around and beneath it, and if one wine or another isn’t working the way I’d happen to wish, that’s fine. It doesn’t efface the beauty of the enterprise as a whole.

The revelations of the tasting are the vividly excellent quality of the sparkling wines. They have always been good, but they’ve reached another level the last couple years. The trio of NVs made me glow with pleasure.

The wines I tasted were essentially the wines that have been available in the U.S., so I didn’t taste everything.

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2018 Zweigelt (Schlosskellerei Gobelsburg)

Remember, the Schlosskellerei is in essence a second-label (though this wine is estate-bottled), offering “everyday” wines in commercial quantities for such elements of the trade where those things are needed.

The wines have always, without exception, punched way-y-y above their weight, which is a boon for us all, though the standard they set is improbably high. As a merchant I was proudest of any really high-achieving “normal” wines that the “normal” wine customer could easily afford, and that would over deliver. This wine is one such.

You can go two ways with Zweigelt. You can exploit its gushing fruit and make an addictively tasty glugger, or you can ease it into a “claret” direction, with darker flavors and dusty tannin, less seductive and more vinous. I like both styles, each in their own ways. This bottling reminds me a little of Setzer’s, with its dark smoky fruits and berries, and its sense of an amalgam of Syrah and Petit Verdot. It’s a multiple-layered wine though it’d be a stretch to call it complex.

I have it in the Riedel Chianti Classico alongside the Jancis glass, and not surprisingly the Jancis pushes the wine toward its Blaufränkisch parent, all that mint and violet, while the Riedel shows more dark-chocolate. In both glasses there’s a charmingly cressy bite on the finish.

These are a lot of words for a “simple” wine. But there is nothing simple about the achievement such a wine entails. Michael “Michi” Moosbrugger has done (and is doing) great things, but I submit to you that none is greater than to offer this quality at this price-level, just to share the love with all the people who, unlike me and you, aren’t obsessed with wine. Who ever treats them with this level of respect? The word I’m looking for is: honor.

SPARKLING WINES

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Blanc de Blancs  Brut, N.V.                                                             +

At first there was just one, and then there were two, and then an “RD” vintage wine, and now a Rosé, and Gobelsburg has to be counted with the best Austrian Sekt producers, which as a group are among the finest sparkling wines in the world that aren’t Champagne.

This was disgorged 15 Dec. 2020, and it’s made from Chardonnay, Welschriesling and Grüner Veltliner. It’s method champenoise though it’s forbidden to use that term. It’s 100% cuvée, with tirage beginning only after six months in old casks. The assemblage is 2017/16.

The wine is thoroughly lovely. It has every bit of the texture and polish of Champagne, with a set of flavors entirely its own. These run in the warmed-straw direction, moving toward a wood-sorrel, hyssop, and sweet fern direction on the end palate; for synethesiacs it’s straw transitioning to a silvery-green and then to a deeper green on the final finish.

It is the very definition of class and distinctiveness.

In the second encounter, the most charming woodsy element started appearing. It’s exquisitely silky from the Juhlin, and more overt from the MacNeil

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Brut Reserve, N.V.                                                                           ++

 

Deg. 9/2020, an assemblage of Pinot Noir, Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, including fruit from Lamm, Grub, Gaisberg and Heiligenstein (!!); as with the BdB it is all cuvée, “met-champ,” and tirage after six months in cask (of local oak). I don’t know the proportion of PN, but it’s decisive to the fragrance and palate.

It has always tasted more Austrian than Bründlmayer’s NV Brut, which is no snub to the fabulous Bründlmayer. Michi’s wine is more angular and sinuous, and in some way seems to offer a more vibrant dialectic without being at all tense.

It has the fluid, chlorophyll-y green of new spring leaves, the delighted lash of lemon balm and verbena, a nuance of white peach (hi, Riesling!), a ridiculously perfect poise of dosage, and something of a velouté of the sweetest green peas. It took all my will-power to spit it. I did, but I hated myself afterwards.

It also has a remarkably clinging length and seems to grow more concentrated toward the finale, so that it starts out gauzy and gets weightier and denser without sinking into heaviness. It feels like a wine Jean-Paul Hébrart would make from this raw material.

Second encounter is even better, more Pinot coming through, more sheer allure, and more of that elusive critter called charm. There will be tasters who find the dosage too high, but I do not understand those people. 

It triumphs in any glass I use, and it has to be counted as a ginormous success in an “everyday” echelon.

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Brut Rosé, N.V.

Still a base of 2017/16, deg. 12/2020, and an assemblage of Zweigelt, St Laurent and Pinot Noir.

Despite the native-grapes in the blend, this smells uncannily like a pink Champagne. It shows a sophisticated and seamless balance of fruit, silk and body, with – again – perfectly judged dosage. I haven’t yet tasted the vintage wine, but among the three NVs, this is both the fruitiest and also the most polished. Nor is it merely fruity. It has a cool composure, but it’s by no means aloof.

With air it seems to focus its particulars, and feints toward the “Pinot” (with St Laurent as a fellow traveller) rather than Zweigelt’s hedges and berries. When I taste it again I’ll use MacNeil’s fresh and crisp  glass, which tends to make such things explicit. Using the Juhlin (as I am) tends to make a wine “dress up good,” like a guy who looks surprisingly spiff in a suit. One begins to wonder whether this estate is capable of a false step!

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Vintage 2010,  Extra Brut

This is a Coeur-du-cuvée from an assemblage of Pinot Noir, Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, tirage only after a year of cask aging, followed by at least ten years on the lees. Deg. 9/2020

It has that “papery” quality of certain mature sparkling wines, at least at first. 2010 is (if you recall) a very particular vintage, and initially this seems the most subdued and “quiet” among the Sekts.

 

Correct, monolithic; some wines can be paralyzed by having too much to say, and this may be one of them.

Rather than continuing to cajole it here and now, I’ll taste it again tomorrow, and use a range of glasses. I’m also aware that below-threshhold TCA can suppress fruit without smelling/tasting corky – but the cork smells fine. I am also aware that might be irrelevant.

Mañana dude.

OK, a day has passed. The wine is more open, but a fellow taster refers to a “cheesy, lactic” thing, and the MacNeil glass encourages my speculation about TCA.

STILL WINES

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2020 “Cistercien” Rosé  (Schlosskellerei Gobelsburg)

In my portfolio (or “former portfolio,” if you insist) there were a bunch of quirky rosés along with two classics; this one, and Caroline Diel’s. Both were commercially successful, this one especially, and it made me glad to see such robust acceptance for two rosés you honestly could call elegant.

2020 gives the impression of being highly aromatic, brisk, and somewhat matter of fact. At least for the early-released everyday wines. They bite a little on the finish, but it’s only “the taster” who has to pay that kind of attention. The drinker, which the taster also is in her private life, doesn’t worry about such things. Food will wipe away the end-palate sharpness, and if food doesn’t, conversation will, and if these things don’t work then the taster is taking his work home with him, and should stop.

The blend mirrors the sparkling rosé: Zweigelt, St Laurent and Pinot Noir. The stated aim is for the wine to be sleek. It is, in the very best sense, ephemeral; it sets about to perform something brief and beautiful. It’s not so much “fruit” as a vision of fruit.

Grüner Veltliners

It’s important to note, especially in the context of long deep tasting, that nearly every one of these GVs improved markedly over time. Bottles I emptied a week after opening were “joined” and lovely, and I questioned any doubts I was harboring. And yet, this is of limited value, because you’re not opening the bottles and drib/drabbing them out over seven days. Mostly you will open and drink, as I would. So if I tell you, the wine got better over time, that may or may not pertain to your experience. But it needs to be said. It suggests that wines that may seem asymmetrical fresh from the bottle will knit into harmony, given time. I want to be faithful to the wine as well as useful to the reader, so forgive me. I suggest you decant or otherwise aerate all these wines, as is often recommended for GV in any case.

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2020 Grüner Veltliner (Schlosskellerei Gobelsburg)

Michi writes: “We are trying to reflect the Kamp valley including (almost) all aspects of the appellation. Grapes from lower altitudes and warmer sites with higher maturity, from higher altitudes from cooler places with higher acidity and freshness, different soil, etc.” 

A perfect, and I mean perfect young GV fragrance; it’s what is meant when the word “lentilly” is used, but there’s also something freshly-mown about it, a fecund green savor that suggests sweetness without sugar. It is a masterpiece of candid clarity, varietal purity and brisk energy – brisk enough to have a little kitten-teeth on its salty finish. As a sort of tabula-rasa for the variety you could hardly ask for more.

I remember many years when I’d sit with Michi tasting this wine, my eyebrows raised as if to say Really? You’re offering this quality at this price? While he shrugged as if to say I tried to make it worse but I couldn’t.

 

Two days later it’s aggressively cressy and much of the ending sharpness is faded – but not all. Having tasted the sibling Riesling in the interim, I’m thinking ’20 may be better for Riesling than for GV.

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2020 Grüner Veltliner Langenlois

Michi’s stated aim for this wine is  “We try to show the warmer aspect of the appellation. Langenlois at the lower end of the Kamptal. We are using beside others also Ried Spiegel 1ÖTW or Thal for this wine. Still it is a typical Kamptal, but showing a slightly warmer and expressive style of the appellation.

So, A village-wine in the new system, essentially in this case a cuvée from loess.

(A quick note for completists: I am aware the estate makes many lighter wines, but I’m only commenting on the wines normally available in the U.S., and thus I apologize to my international readers for the lacunae herein, and to all my readers for “lacunae herein.”)

Several producers wrote to me, “You’ll like the ‘20s, Terry; they’re classical,” and with this wine I see what they mean. The wine is light-footed, forthright and salty, quite the lentilly charmer until its phenolic finish. Food will help in cases like this. And I’ll follow the wine over the coming week, alert for travel-stress, and I’ll keep it at (current) cellar temp (62º). Mind you, I’m not at all displeased by the wine! I’m a fussbudget for tannin/phenols and have learned to attend when my teeth yawp at me. So we’ll watch what happens.

The next day it was like Puy lentils braised in an oxtail broth. There is still a pointedness to it. The finish is deliberate and quite ferrous. I’m using a glass that generally suppresses such attributes, but they’re still present.

Now tasting for a third time -  the bottle is open 72 hours. As seems to be happening generally, the “sweet” elements come forward but the gnarl on the finish never quite disappears.

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2019 (Grüner Veltliner) Ried Steinsetz

I have put (Grüner Veltliner) in parentheses because it does not appear on the front label, and only in small print on the back. This is part of Moosbrugger’s conviction that Place should prevail over variety, a conviction I share, but only when everyone knows what the variety is. After all, it took centuries before most wine-people knew that “Meursault Charmes” was Chardonnay, and Moosbrugger seems to want to bring that about by compressing the centuries into a decade or so.

 

I’d love it if he were right.

I’m like an old dog in my geezer years; whenever I visited the estate I always took the same seat in the tasting room, the one that looked out the window to the Steinsetz. Briefly, it’s (Danube) river rocks deposited by the retreating river, overlain by loess. But perhaps more saliently, it’s a breezy plateau that can be picked late with little concern for botrytis. Always a particular GV, in its young days it was a radishy beast, but it grew deeper as the vine roots sank deeper, and these days it’s a 1er Cru with a curiously adamant brassy profile mitigated by ever more prominent juiciness.

I have it in two glasses, one that will emphasize the peppery sting and another that will subdue it.

 

The emphatic glass tells the Truth about the wine while the other glass tells a more pleasing version of the truth. That one – the tall Spiegelau white wine stem, brings out a lovely note of cordyceps. I know, WTF are they?!? It’s an edible fungus that’s incredibly good for you, and the purest way to encounter it is in its dried form, which you can obtain from Far West Fungi. The liquid you get from soaking your cordyceps is culinarily precious; you can make a really haunting risotto with it. You’ll also find it in tinctures and suchlike, if you have money to burn. 

Back to Steinsetz!

I think we ought to decant Steinsetz, just observing what happens as it gains air. Instead, I’ll leave it in the cellar and taste it repeatedly. There’s a lot to marvel over in here, and I want to see if it gets more swoony in the next bunch of days. The unfolding aroma suggests that it will.

OK, two updates. At the dinner table last night the wine was pungently exotic and tasty, so it tastes one way and drinks another. But tasted again the following day it feels like it has more muscle than it is currently managing. Perhaps this has been exposed by the developmental stage it’s in – or it’s travel sick. There are many compelling things about this wine, but its components aren’t interlocked, at least not here or now. Yet every third sip is so good I feel like a fool, to cavil as I’m doing.

 

Something tells me the wine will have the last laugh. But until then, I’m bemused by the scorched-pepper finish.

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2019 (Grüner Veltliner) Ried Renner                                        ++

(With the symbol for Grand Cru next to the site name.)

Here’s an oddity. This bottle and the Steinsetz before it each had a curious smell of maple-syrup on the lip as I was pulling the cork, suggesting some tiny residue of goo that usually means the bottle was heated at some point.

So, OK, Renner. My favorite. Has been since forever. For me this is one of the great GVs anywhere, and one with very few equivalents. Steinertal comes to mind (thanks to Alzinger) but even those gorgeous wines don’t quite reach the polyphonic heights of this one. My inconvenient opinion is, the great GV masterpiece of Schloss Gobelsburg is Renner – even more than Lamm. “Inconvenient” because Lamm is the Chambertin of the Kamptal, and if you have it, it’s your top GV – understood. (And quite often justified.)

I have written (and written) about this in  catalogue after catalogue, and the flavor associations for this wine would fill your biggest suitcase. Let me try to squeeze it down. Renner is GV for people who love Riesling. It’s GV that lived amongst the Rieslings and went home speaking with a Riesling brogue. It has buoyancy, lift and minerality, and that curious sense of “sweetness” that isn’t sugar, but culmination.

I fantasize about a composer who thinks “I’m going to write a triple fugue, but instead of Bach’s divine mathematics I’m gonna do it full-bore romantic, and we’ll see if intricacy and sentiment can coexist!” 

Because Renner will tax you, ecstatically, but demandingly. Everything about it is beautiful but nothing about it is easy. Renner is a rapture, but it isn’t necessarily sublime. This vintage has some of the assertiveness of Lamm, actually, along with its insane minerality and rampant sweet-corn flavors. Don’t get me wrong, I’m blown away by it. But I have a subversive thought….

The vintage was identified as great based on tastings a year ago. I know those tastings; the wines are blasting with primary fruit and psychedelic complexity and of course they’re great. But I’m seeing the wines a year later. Some might say, at the “worst” time. I’d simply observe, I’m seeing a lot of muscle now, which can be good if there’s mind and kindness behind it. Still, that argument probably doesn’t belong with this wine, because this wine is stunning by any reckoning.

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2018 (Grüner Veltliner) Ried Lamm                                            ++

(Grand Cru) And I applaud the estate for giving this an extra year of aging pre-release. This is sometimes a silver-lining of the pandemic.

Lamm is both a mystery and a simplicity. It is large. In Bründlmayer’s hands it makes a mighty wine that’s as graceful (and as sweet) as an elephant. Moosbrugger’s wines are taller, stretch-ier. Giraffes,  basketball players. Great, they assuredly are. But great in what way, exactly?

MacNeil’s “creamy and silky” glass does its job exactly – it makes the wine creamy and silky. It emphasizes the darker spectrum of the aromas. It also highlights the wood.

The Spiegelau “tall” glass – usually perfect for a wine like this – throws every bright aroma the wine displays right into your face. It’s enormously satisfying and impressive.

The Jancis glass tells you that a possibly-great wine is at hand. Every scintilla of nuance is on full display. Sometimes this glass seems to say “Now let me explain…” but this time it let me see a kind of yielding quality I might have missed.

Lamm, when it works (which is almost always), is intense without being musclebound. Its signatures have been explicated often in my catalogues, but essentially it’s rusks, fennel seed, grass-fed lamb, toasted rye, a bit of the “wet-cereal” thing we get from loess. It’s intensely savory. And incidentally, in Gobelsburg’s hands it is an object-lesson on the proper use of cask. And this wine is an unlikely mingling of detail and succulence.

Austrian wine close-observers may consider, Lamm  has a cousin in Achleiten, while Renner’s cousin is Schütt.  I know – inside-baseball. But interesting for all that, for minds like mine that like to catalogue.

For those who may want to contemplate a (probably) great Austrian white wine that’s as far from the “grape variety” as possible – even while the grape is always present – this is where I’d send you. For me, as a long-time observer, I find this 2018 Lamm to be entirely lovely. It could be the best since the 2013. It has authority and intrigue. It takes you into a sweet, sweet field. If you’ll let me be totally crazy, it’s like grass-fed lobster – if that could ever be!

Rieslings (or as Michi prefers it: “appellation wines based on Riesling”

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2020  Kamptal Riesling (Schlosskellerei Gobelsburg)

Typically a cuvée of young vines – less than 15 – from Gaisberg and Heiligenstein, whereby fruit is intentionally in the foreground. But “fruit” is something quite different in Austrian Riesling.

 

Privately I call this “green and funky” and I mean it as a compliment. Green like herbs (tarragon and lemon verbena in this case) and funky like irises at their purple pungent best. It also smells like schnapps from mountain plants, and like juniper; I wish I had the Dautel Riesling around to taste alongside it!

The palate is frisky and then some! Dazzling and generous yet with the bracing breezes of these ‘20s, and also with the gravelly phenols on the finish – but compared with the GV this is  - or feels – riper, less scraping, though the wine is snappy and crackly, with mid-palate rock-dust and suggestions of chervil and anise seeds. Such attack as it does have is mitigated by juiciness, heightened by the smaller glass.  The more I tasted it the more I liked it.

The same is true re-tasting, and there’s a physio-ripness here that doesn’t exist in the equivalent GV – that, or maybe even a stealthy couple grams of RS to lengthen and round out the finish. It’s a loveable beast, and not without its edges and angles.

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2020 Kamptal Riesling, Zöbing

Now all funk, and even a little feral. I’m tasting this on an indecently pretty June day, one of those 24-48 hour respites we get before the summer sultries descend stickily over us, and in the midst of this euphoric weather is a wine that is  deeply, powerfully of nature, but nature at her least adorable. There’s a part of Scheurebe that isn’t grapefruit or cassis or sage, one you could call “darkly catty,” and I’m thinking of that now.

I admire a wine that doesn’t ingratiate, but this Riesling swings pretty wide on the hinges. I like the finish in its burned-resin saltiness, and I like the caraway character of amphibolite wines, but I confess I wouldn’t mind a sideways smile from this Riesling.

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2019 (Riesling) Ried Gaisberg (Grand Cru symbol)                  +++

While this warms in the glass, a thought; of all the great (or near-great) Rieslings I know, Gaisberg is the most Gregorian of them. It is placid and quiet and feels like it emerged not from a winery but from a cloister. We who love Riesling love this one almost in secret, and we’re not sure we can meet its cool purity with our own. The Gaisberg from this estate is a kind of apex of riesling’s introverted poetry.

And with all that said, this wine is ludicrously beautiful. Carried away by the elusive and ethereal perfumes, I had all these images of a pre-dawn birder on a dewy cool morning, hoping to spy an elusive little bird, blue and trilling…you know, that stuff. And then I took a sip.

An eerie clarity. Those colorful ice-clouds you sometimes look up and see. Frost on the ground but a mild day in store. Then comes the generous part, a riot of bee-balm and white nectarine and blueberries, and then just when you think it may be too ethereal there’s a wave of saltiness and wild fennel fronds, and it seems to quiver with intensity yet it’s all in the higher registers, and you can’t be sure you understand it all.

I am sure of this; people who love this sort of wine are rare people, and this is a rare gift. You can taste a thousand Rieslings and not find another one that’s rare in this way. It’s Riesling in the form of irisation. A keening, salty ghost. One who ate a lot of mangoes in her life, and misses them.

Earthly things emerge with air and warming in the glass, and the wine grows more tangible.  You get to decide which profile of greatness you want; the ethereal one (at cold temperature) or the fruit-divinity mango-jazz one. It’s wonderful to watch the shape-shifting. The whole thing is heart-rending. Please don’t confuse my three plusses for the kind of wine that puts on a big clamorous show for you, but also please understand, for me and maybe for others who love Riesling in its seeker-of-divinity profile, this is as profound as it can be. 

And it’s not only the greatest Gaisberg I’ve ever tasted from this estate; it’s the greatest I’ve ever had.

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2019 (Riesling) Ried Heiligenstein (Grand Cru Symbol)         +++

It certainly takes it place on a list of the world’s 20 most profound Rieslings. And 2019 is said to be a great vintage. So!

It is wilder and spicier and more visible than the Gaisberg. No interstellar dust here. It’s the first Riesling that really required the Jancis glass; my poor little Spiegelau was too small. On successive days the wine got all serpentine and slinky and push-pull and smoky-salty. I like an exciting wine!

When Heiligenstein works – and face it, you have to go to some trouble to make it not work – it is a big lush polyphonal chord with low tones and medium tones and high tones and the shimmer of their proximities and just when you think it’s one way oops it’s another way and even if you’re a wine big-shot like me you’re frozen in your tracks remembering this is what complexity means and you’re so happy it’s all there before you – to be seen and loved.

There is nothing wrong with explicit complexity. At their best, Heiligenstein makes you want to sing with gratefulness, while Gaisberg makes you want to pray with longing. In one, you lift your voice. In the other, you still your voice.

Please see my most recent catalogue for a contrast between the two vineyards.  Of the several great (and many excellent) Heiligensteins I know, Michi’s is the most deliberate, explicative and filigree. Of the many things he has achieved, the daisy-chain of greatness this wine has shown through the years counts as among the most profound.

And if you think there’s a better white wine on earth than this one, do be so kind as to share it with me.

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Tradition “Heritage” Cuvée 50 Years                                     +++

Last year just before Christmas Michi sent a letter to a few of us, explaining how the following wine came to be. He wrote: “ in Summer [2020] the abbot came to visit the construction site [for the new cellar: TT] and I was already considering what would be the appropriate wine to celebrate 850 years, so I asked him if it would be imaginable to use some stock of the library for such a project and he instantly agreed that we can use whatever we feel is usable for such a wine. So we started to make a few trials and from September on we took around 3000 bottles from the library, opened them, tasted and emptied the bottles first in small containers. From there we blended them into 300 lt casks and from there in 2700 lt until we made the final blend. This is something really untypical for us, but I have to admit, that it was not only interesting, but something that was worthwhile doing.

The wine will be bottled in January and released in March / April.”

 

OK, I took off the black wrapping paper and there was the label and the band atop the cork (with its wax seal) and I thought I should play 16th century chants or at least some John Taverner. But when you start out solemn you end up in a fudge, so I’m trying to play it cool.

 

The color is surprisingly pale. It looks like a 20-something wine, more green/straw than gold.

 

The smell is one I know well. It’s the scent of a healthy cellar. I’m finding it beautiful that it’s just “old” wine in general and not any single one in particular, because then I’m not thinking about vintage or variety or site. It’s just wine, plus time, plus love.

 

Obviously it is what we’d call contemplative. But what’s truly amazing is how fabulously good it is. The taste is younger than the aroma, and the first thing I thought was “this was blended by a genius.” It has a surmise of that “physio-“sweetness….actually, for all I know some of the wines in the blend were sweet, as they often were back then. It felt cruel to spit such a thing, so I didn’t.

 

I am mindful that a wine like this is in my wheelhouse for my most effulgently emotive/mystical wanderings, and I’m trying to pare them down. See what’s left. We know the burnishes and atmospheres and something I can only call the “ripe vapors” of wines like these. A lot of tasters who never wrote poetic tasting notes will write poems for this wine. I hope they let us see them. We could use more hearts on more sleeves.

 

Right now I am thinking, I’m glad I lived long enough to have tasted this. It is a benediction. I’m thinking, also, what one thinks at such times. Have I been kind enough? Did I love the way I wanted to? Thoughts like those.

 

But Michi, my friend, wanted a wine that might in some way embody a tradition of 850 years, that might suggest the dignity, the sweetness, and perhaps the sheer unknowability of such a rope of time. I wonder where those threads might join, his and mine. Could it be said, that an abiding human regret, throughout all time and for each of us, is that we weren’t as kind as we might have been? Even the monks were not as kind as they might have been. And so maybe, just maybe, the echoing music of the centuries, sitting in my glass just now, is that no kindness is ever regretted. Oh, I would like to think that.

 

We wash up on a far shore, finally; we sought to serve the cause of love and too often failed, and now we are shipwrecked and yet there is this sweetness. This sweetness. How in the world do we account for it? It must have to do with the kindness of dogs. Otherwise I can’t make sense of it.

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2017 Riesling Tradition                                                                   +

This is the last one; that is, the last to be varietally labelled and vintage dated. In the future there will be 3-year, 10-year and possibly a 20-year “Tradition” and these will be varietal blends, the point being time rather than variety or vineyard. 

 

I will say that as long as this idea persisted in this way, the results were often deeply beautiful. Both the wines, and the idea behind them, this shape-shifting into the mentalities of cellar-masters who didn’t have the technical options of today, and who worked with what they did have, and whose relationships to their wines were defined accordingly.  Michi’s curiosity to enter that ambience was and remains an inspiring thing.

 

This one is one of the Traditions powerfully expressive of its tertiaries. Saliently, it is only Riesling because we know it is, but otherwise it’s the breathing of the casks and the abiding fragrance of the cellar. I think it’s a fine, savory vintage of this wine, but you need to pay attention lest you think it is merely oxidative. It also comes back and jabs on the finish, but not in a bothersome way.

2022

Late arrivals; insofar as these shipped last December and reached me two weeks ago (Sept 2022).

 

We begin with a FEW REDS in the “reserve” echelon. All tasted at 62º.

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2018 Pinot Noir Reserve

Before I get into the wines, a not-surprising development. You’ll see I was relatively tepid toward this and quite warm to its St. Laurent companion. This was true while tasting, and remained true when tasting again after a few days. But the two wines flip-flopped at the end, and especially at the table, where the PN began to shine and the SL acted brutish. And so I repeat, with apologies, the bromide that wine is one way when it’s being tasted and judged and another way – sometimes another way entirely – when it’s being used. 

 

Obviously this isn’t the estate trying to glom on to a “trendy” grape variety; PN has a long association with the Cistercians, who surely will have brought it to Austria with them. Vinification is traditional, aging is in local oak and filtration is “only slight.”

 

Wood feels prominent, at least at first. I have the Spiegelau red-wine stem and the Jancis, from which the aroma is subtler and more fruit-driven. The palate, too, is substantially better, and I think I’ll stay with this stem.

 

It’s hard to know what is a reasonable expectation for Austrian PN. The Bründlmayer I wrote about last year was as refined and (in the best way) as “interior” as could be desired. But I’ve encountered such wines only sporadically. This one, from the hot 2018 vintage, is expressive, a little incoherent, with a clamor and force that’s maybe not supported by the mid-palate, but it’s got loads of sweet fruit. Overloads perhaps. I suspect I’d have preferred the “regular” quality, though that’s just conjecture.

 

Often PN will locate its mid palate richness with time and air, so I’ll defer a final judgment until I’ve tasted it a few more times over a few more days. That said, this first-impression is valid and faithful to my feelings right now. And the fifth (and final) sip was the best one yet.

 

It became an accommodating and gracious companion, finally, with food, and I was sad to see it go.

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2017 St. Laurent Reserve                                                                    +

 

From the site Haide, a high-elevation wind-blessed site on tertiary gravel – St. Laurent needs air movement to counter its tendency to rot, as the clusters are tight and the grapes thin skinned. Michi Moosbrugger is a believer in this challenging variety, and one of the (very) few in the Kamptal who grows it. It’s aged in 600-liter casks, again from local wood.

 

Its aromas are more fulfilled, complete and of-a-piece now, and the palate follows. This is bloody excellent wine, and “bloody” is apropos, as it has all the wonderful animality of SL without  a scintilla of the reduction that can mar so many. It’s earthy, sophisticated and gorgeous – all at once.

 

This time the Jancis exaggerates its typically smoky char, placing it front and center and making the wine less delicious. There’s more umami and integration in the Spiegelau. Obviously this is a different variety (than PN) but my sense is, this wine grasps what the PN was struggling to reach. When SL is this good it is uniquely original and satisfying. Put it this way: you’d drink the PN with eggplant you sautéed, and you’d drink the SL with eggplant you fire-roasted, or left on the grill a minute too long.

 

Coffee drinkers and people who like dark chocolate will be at home among these flavors, but I am no lover of either and I feel totally familiar with what’s going on here. As always, SL is spherical (like PN) and a little charred (like Mourvedre) and that call-response is singularly interesting and delightful. For a “rural” sort of wine, this has the smarts and grace of Gobelsburg’s white wines at their typical best. And the right food will keep it singing its lusty heart out.

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2016 Zweigelt Reserve

Also from the Haide, and also aged in 600-liter casks of local wood, this is mature enough to have shed nearly all its primary fruit. As that fruit is certainly the most enticing element of Zweigelt, what remains now?

 

It’s claret-like, almost cedary;  Weinviertel grower Hans Setzer’s Zweigelt often shows this idiom also. If you toss fresh herbs into a hot skillet, an aroma arises that’s sort of generally resinous, and this wine is certainly herbal – summer savory and marjoram – and also darkly floral, as though you’d warmed violets on a cedar plancha. It is also…opaque is too strong; perhaps translucent or allusive. From the Riedel Chianti Classico it is quite inexpressive, albeit there’s a general vinosity that doesn’t offer any details. The Jancis curls it open but also reveals some tannin and a certain rusticity.

 

It’s that rarest of creatures, a Zweigelt that needs time and should open up in perhaps another 3-4 years, when it will reach a decade. It’s certainly earnest for Zweigelt, asking not for a pizza but for a roasted shoulder of lamb.

 

Or so it seems on day-1.

 

Three days later the fragrances, while still dense, are much more expressive. There’s also a newly arrived (and subtle) reduction to contend with. Michi Moosbrugger feels that Zweigelt is the victim of a vicious circle: because it is assumed to be trivial it is planted in mundane land, and because it’s planted in mundane land it gives (mostly) mundane results. This he seeks to remedy.  “The more people claim that they never had a serious Zweigelt in their life, the more ambitious I get to prove the contrary, “ he says. Now admittedly, there are other ambitious Zweigelts in Austria, but very few in Lower Austria and even fewer in the Kamptal. It’s worth asking, or wondering, what might the ceiling be for this unfortunately attractive variety? This overachieving 2016 is a gesture in that direction. It mixes the blackberry side of Syrah with the sweet fruit of Cab Franc (minus the peppers) and has a berried quality like a mélange of rose hips and cassis. I think it is most viable today on day-3, actually, and we’ll finish the wine with dinner tonight, and I say that because below all the richness there’s a surmise of decadence that I don’t want to let grow. It’s more apparent from the Jancis, as is its precursor, a tasty smokiness.

 

I like the wine, and admire Michi’s dogged commitment to raising the profile of the variety.

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Schloss Gobelsburg SEKT, Vintage 2010 “Grosse Reserve”      ++

Disgorged September 21, 2020. 

I tasted this among the other sparkling wines from the estate – uniformly superb, by the way – and found it just papery enough to wonder whether it was A) the nature of 2010, B) below threshold cork, or C) a shock in a group of much younger wines. I queried the winery how they felt the wine “ought” to show, and they kindly sent me another bottle. Which I taste forthwith, aided now by my new Juhlin 2.0 stem, from which I have preferred every sparkling wine I’ve poured in it since May. I have the original Juhlin also. Say what you want about Mr. Juhlin; his glasses work.

 

All right; this is indeed a different wine, and I think cork was the culprit before. It is also magnificent sparkling wine by any standards, and I wonder whether anything greater has yet to emerge from Austria. It was acutely painful to spit – so I didn’t.

 

There’s a lot to say. It’s both incredibly fetching and superbly complex and also entirely integrated and whole. There’s no varietal marker, such that anyone would say “This definitely isn’t Champagne;” I rather think tasters would twist themselves into conniptions trying to figure out which Champagne it could possibly be. It does not have the severity and acidity typical of many 2010s, nor does it suggest even the slightest decadence. The dosage is perfect – very low, and just enough. It is entirely Special Club quality, and it leaves a fleeting but haunting finish in which, for the first time, one glimpses a fruit note that takes one away from Champagne.

 

That fruit also emerges in the glass, recalling perfectly ripe mirabelles but also with a delicately saline note of langoustine and semolina. It has the dream and swoon of great fizz. And as it breathes, it does assert more of its own identity, and becomes easier to distinguish from Champagne, though it’s good enough to give many Champenoise  a few nights of uneasy sleep.

 

I want to be responsible and to taste this multiple times over the coming days, but believe me, it’ll take every bit of will-power I possess not to drink it empty tonight. Ah, the austere offices of the careful taster….

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2020 Ried Steinsetz (Grüner Veltliner)

Alc just 12.5%. As you know, this is a plateau site on ancient rocks carried by the primordial Danube, and as you also know, the grape variety appears only on the back label, as Michi believes it should be de-emphasized in favor of the site name.

 

The fragrance is lovely and classic Steinsetz, radishes and nettles and Sencha and mustard-greens. Some recent vintages have also displayed warmer yellow-fruit notes, but I’m not finding them here – at least not at first.

 

The wine is crystalline and classy. In common with many ’20 GVs, it surrenders a bit of vinosity on the finish and shows both phenolic and bitter. “Bitter” is a hard word for wine writers to use, because it reads unhappy, and yet there are times it’s an attractive quality, as I acknowledge, though I myself have a problem with it. My faithful Spiegelau renders it juicier and saltier. It’s too exposed in the Jancis. But from both glasses there’s a coarse sort of capsicum heat at the end, having nothing to do with alcohol, but rather as if it had a knob of wasabi in one of the vats.

 

A curious beast, this is. While its textural rough edges are exposed in the Jancis, there’s also more nuance and dialogue, whereas it’s both simpler and more comely from the Spiegelau. A pleasing note of wintergreen emerges, and this shape-shifter may have a few tricks up its stinging green sleeve.

 

Three days later I’m examining it from the MacNeil Crisp & Fresh. I want to see if grows less angular and more hedonic, and in many ways it does. It’s both tastier and more coherent now. No bitterness in sight. It seems to have hoarded Austria’s entire Strategic National Reserve of rotundone.

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TRADITION Heritage, Cuvée 3 Years                                               ++

The best way to taste (or to drink) these is outdoors, if you possibly can. First you want fresh air. Then, if you have a deck or someplace that’s yours where you can sit, it’s lovely to pour the wines and then sit still. After a few minutes the local critters get used to your being there, and they resume their business. Eventually some of them may approach you, out of simple curiosity, like the woodpecker who perched on my deck’s banister to check me out. He was maybe three feet away, sat quite still, and just looked at me. You don’t have to “let” it all come to you; it just does. You realize how fine it feels to be lambent, to be included in the world. Even your little local world has all sorts of things going on.

 

You might also perceive it’s a good way to receive wine, and certainly this kind of wine, the breathy contemplative kind. After a while I realized I had started to swallow. I wasn’t taking notes. It was internalized, and accessible when I returned to the task of description. I think it would be hard to drink these wines when there was noise and activity. I mean you could but it would be like someone reading a poem while everyone else was singing Happy Birthday.

 

Please see my previous report on Gobelsburg for details on this series, which I will summarize here. It seeks to enter into and emulate the frame of reference of the pre-technology cellarmaster, whose relationship to his wines was not mediated by machines and who worked with the tools and materials at hand, and formed a frame of reference on that basis.

 

At first the “Tradition” wines were varietally directed, a GV (usually from Renner) and a Riesling (usually old-vines Gaisberg), but as the 850th anniversary of the domain approached, Michi sought to de-couple these wines from varietality, and also to offer them at various stages of development. Thus we’re not addressing “vintage” or “variety,” but instead we look at the effects of development as-such.

 

Last year I tasted the 50-year bottling, a once-in-a-lifetime wine if ever there was one. Here we sit with the “merely” 3-year fellow, and the truth is, it’s a gorgeous and mysterious being. Its relative “youth” is honestly not a factor.

 

What is a factor – and excuse me for being polemical – is that this wine embodies all the affects and ambitions of the Naturalistas  without demanding you accept many and varied flaws. It’s both meditative and sweet-natured. There’s a fine painting by Thomas Eakins called “The Thinker, Portrait of Louis N. Kenton”, that’s on the cover of the nyrb-Classics edition of Stoner, the magnificent novel by John Williams that you really should hurry to read. Everything about that paining is living inside the fluid of this wine.

 

But it resists being depicted in tasting-note form. I won’t even try.

 

The wine is above all redolent; it doesn’t queue a bunch of flavors into a receiving line for you to greet. It indicates a reality. It’s a pensive ambience; it refers to things long lived-in, lived in clothes, lived in rooms, the keen sort of triste when the autumn fields are a melancholy brown but the harvest is in the storehouse. It’s done, it grew, it’s there, and now the land is empty, and snow is on the way…

 

What other wine is like this? None I can think of. Now and again maybe something from Nikolaihof, at least the aldehyde-free wines. I have a weird image of a Manzanilla Sherry that someone forgot was in a cubby in the cellar, and that grew old gracefully. But what’s really captivating here is the sense of lostness allied to a sense of sweetness and approval. Really, this is a loving wine!

 

It’s fair to observe either the presence or the inference of a small bit of sweetness, and in any case the wine is peachy, alongside its more ethereal attributes.

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TRADITION, Heritage, Cuvée 10 Years                                        +++

The color isn’t so much darker as more  deeply golden. The bouquet is both more profound, more earnestly determined, and more Sherry-like.

 

I don’t have them side-by-side, this one and the 50-year, but as best I can recall, I love this even more. Nor can I fathom how a wine can be any more beautiful than this.

 

But there’s a kind of beauty that praises the divine, the inexplicable, and the sublime. Usually it is incandescent. It can make us sad, but it doesn’t entail sadness. This beauty, on the other hand, is like little birds sitting on hundred year old gravestones, keeping company with the departed. The wee chirping finch who’s living now, for a small while. Songs and sorrow, little lives and lost lives, that’s what this wine gives us, and you don’t have to feel the things I do, obviously, but if you don’t stop your onrushing and urgent agenda for the few seconds it takes to hear this, then please buy a different wine and don’t waste this one.

 

Almost unfathomably, there’s something paradoxically fresh in here, even more so than in the “younger” wine. It shows up about midway through the palate, just as you’re contemplating every woeful thing you ever knew, and it says “Oh no you don’t!” and pulls you into a glow you don’t quite consent to.

 

Too much imagery? I’m sorry; it’s really hard to find accurate cognates. I’ve had very old Chablis that showed similarly. I’ve had really old Riesling that conveyed the nut-oil thing you’ll taste here. I cam imagine ancient Hermitage Blanc acting a little like this. But as you see, I can’t answer the question “What does it taste like?” Unless that answer can be It tastes like nuts, mysteriousness, and all the loved ones you’ll miss as long as you live.

 

A wine like this seems to speak from the other side of the grave. It says that death is a rearranging of the ingredients of life and it lives hard with you, with all of us on this side of the ground. And if I’m honest, I don’t know whether to believe that. I need something not so nebulous. But I don’t mind chewing and rubbing at the question, living with it for a while, as this wine walks the cloisters of the heart, reciting its quiet vespers.

 

You might imagine that an “old” wine like this would be fragile. It’s not. It is in fact the opposite; if you leave the last drop in your glass, you go back to it a half hour later and it’s only gotten sweeter. No oxidation, no acetification, just a kind of Lux Aeternaof splendor and trouble.

2023

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2021 Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal (Schlosskellerei Gobelsburg)

Reliably among the very best everyday GVs you will ever find, this wine punches so far above its weight one fears becoming spoiled. Thus it’s curious to see the wine as a yearling, from a vintage not conspicuously kind to the “little” wines.

It smells precisely as it should. The “circus-peanut” aroma of baby-GV has retreated, leaving an articulate voicing of what might be called the bare essence of the variety. Snappy and peppery, as the basic ‘21s are, it shows a certain rectitude that’s always crouched in the background behind the layer of loessy charm. In the Jancis glass it’s an entire mesclun salad mix, for which one pays with a more raspy texture.

But I find I like its rudeness, its candid wildness. It does not yield, it isn’t comely, yet its honesty, however bracing, is delightful – if paradoxical. I’m imagining a world without Grüner Veltliner, and this is the first one to exist, and experienced tasters are thrown back on their heels thinking What ungodly stuff is this??  If it really was a case of tabula rasa, we’d be talking about green apples, sorrel, undefined citrus, unripe green melon, pepper, peanut shells, mustard greens and mineral salts. Someone in the room will observe “This will change the wine world,” and I will nod in agreement.

Just as I did sitting in the garden at Jamek as the place filled up with the lunch crowd, back in 1992, with a glass of GV Steinfeder in my hands, and my wine world turning on its head.

After sipping this a couple times while dinner was cooking, I’m “tasting” it again four days after the first time. It stays snappy and pure, and gains a little juiciness, and still finishes….briskly, in the ’21 manner. While there’s much to admire here, I’m sure the ’22 will be better.

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2021 Grüner Veltliner Langenlois, Kamptal.                                         

The village-wine now. More color than I expected, but it smells enticing. As a merchant I feared this wine would vanish into the anonymous middle, between the everyday and the serious, and I assumed I wouldn’t offer it. Alas, it won me over.

I think I will always be sad about these orphans in the middle. Their only sin is to taste wonderful, but they lack the commodity values of either the everyday bargains or the exalted “serious” wines. 

In the few vintages this wine has existed, it’s shown a consistent note of unripe plum and culinary lavender, along with an urgestein smokiness and fervently expressive pepper – Tasmanian in this instance. It isn’t a charmer. A certain kind of drinker will note the amazing wash of mineral scree as the wine takes its leave, and find this richly satisfying. It has the crags and corners of Hiedler’s Schenkenbichl, and like that wine it craves a physiological “sweetness” to take it from prose to music. In place of that, we have an acid-driven juiciness, which is fun in its own right.

But ’21 isn’t that kind of vintage. It doesn’t play ambiguous chords. It is the Nth degree of one single thing, mint and mineral in this case. And so I like this wine enormously, but I don’t love it. It speaks to the cerebral side of my nature – which is great. I like being engaged and fascinated, and it pleases me no end, and it stops at admiration. Not a bad place to stop, but there is farther to go….

On repeated exposures, the wine (like most ‘21s at this point in their lives) is grateful for oxygen, and there’s somewhat more savor and vinosity now. Yet there’s also a greater phenolic attack, and the drinker to whom this will appeal is someone who appreciates a strict wine, which a different drinker will experience as forbidding. Me, I fall somewhere between the two, or in other words,  I’m an incoherent mess.

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2021 Ried Steinsetz, Kamptal (Grüner Veltliner)                               +

Remember that Michi Moosbrugger wishes site to be paramount, and grape variety in the background (in this case inconspicuously on the back label). Remember also that Steinsetz is atop a plateau on an atypical soil, and can be picked very late as there’s no risk of botrytis. Among the great sites of the Kamptal, this one is singular.

It has tended to show best in warm friendly vintages, where its solid pointed pepperiness is a striking counterpoint. In theory, the ’21 could risk being much of a muchness – yet it isn’t, for all its sinews and stretches. It is (if you will) redeemed by a wonderful juiciness and an umami typical of the Crus (though hard to describe), one which is tangible and which anyone would taste, yet one gropes for words beyond “There’s just more to it.” There is more to it, but what is the “more?”

 

But language remains stubborn and fuzzy. “Lemons and hard crackers” will appear in my notebook, but I doubt anyone but me will know what I meant. There’s a sourness that’s actually pleasing, like the char marks on meat you cooked over a fire. The wine isn’t loving, but it is erogenous. It unfolds happily with air. Tomorrow’s note will be quite different than today’s. I feared that 2021 might take this already pointed wine and make it too sharp, but it hasn’t. Instead it shows a spectral sort of beauty that feints toward severity but returns to an essential (and complex) juiciness and depth.

In fact this unfurled dramatically over the days, and it’s one of the successes of the vintage, gaining mid-palate depth seemingly with every sip. Steinsetz has arrived at its mature form, and looks like a reliably superb 1er Cru

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2020 Ried Renner, Kamptal (Grüner Veltliner)

 

Quite a bit of color here. And aromas suggesting either botrytis, oxidation, or both. The cork smells fine, but my guess is that it “failed” in some way, and admitted (too much) air into the bottle.

Bearing in mind it’s hard going from ’21 to ’20, and bearing in mind the reverence with which I approach Renner – probably my favorite among Grüner Veltliners – I can see why there are doubts about certain ‘20s.

I didn’t taste this at the domain last May. (The ’21 I did taste is potentially great.) It seems to be a troubled bottle, or a troubled wine, yet it’s not without a certain odd beauty. First, the decadent notes retreat, which is a relief! Left in their wake is a fervently persuasive minerality, riding along with a slightly vegetal green-bean flavor. But the usual Riesling-like lemon blossom and graciousness are absent.

Regardless of what virtues may yet emerge from this – and some will – I wouldn’t wait to drink it. It will probably premox, as did a couple of the estate’s 2015s. In the interim, and for all its rather blatant virtues, it’s an ungainly bottle of wine.

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2020 Ried Lamm, Kamptal (Grüner Veltliner)                                      +

A deep but less troubling color. One also notes the “mere” 13% alc, unusually moderate for this wine. The initial aroma is correct, which is to say striking and wonderful.

Now I really do wonder if that bottle of Renner was “correct,” because this wine is thoroughly lovely. It has the gritty finishing texture of seemingly every 2020, but everything leading up to it is fine and compelling.

Yet it’s also atypical, more like a Bründlmayer wine than the usual Gobelsburg in its shape and texture and outline. Put simply, Michi’s wine is usually firmer, crisper in gestalt, while this one has little external contour at all, showing instead a rich vein of umami-driven juiciness like a consommé of GV.

But what do we want from Lamm? We want an elegantly contained power, we want the particular taste of the Cru, we want a clearly visible “stature” and we want the indefinable and paradoxical thing that tells us something remarkable is happening.

And what do we receive here and now? We get a rendition of the taste of Lamm that is both unusual and yet also correct and particular. We get a different structure than usual, more pliant. We get a marked articulation if Lamm-ness that feels singular to ’20, and we’re thankful for that, as we are for all singular expressions. We get a truly wonderful clarity of mineral. In short we get a worthwhile edition of this (Grand) Cru, one that adds to what we can know of it, and in the end we also get a somewhat fleeting wine that feels like it should finish for hours, but only lasts for minutes.

The question of what we’ll get ten years from now is….open. Something tells me this wine will have a second life, and might show the brilliance shown by some of the 2014s, similarly dismissed in their youth (by me among others). Pretty to think so. This bottle remained markedly unchanged over the days – more than any of the others.

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(NV) Cuvée Tradition, Heritage, 3 Years (edition 851)

The cork says “2019,” whatever that might mean. Interestingly, the color here is fresher than the Lamm and much fresher than the Renner.

I have spent a lot of affect on earlier renditions of these wines, and repeating that language or groping for new language doesn’t seem useful except as an exercise for my own ego. Can we leave it here? I think old wine is deeply beautiful, I think the visions it engenders are precious and irreplaceable, and I dote on 40-year old Amontillado Sherry. Is this wine “better” than the cuvées that preceded it? I’d have to have them side by side.

Which I think is beside the point. With this 3-year old we obtain a haunting ghostly freshness. The 10-year (which I’ll taste tomorrow) is more antique and differently complex. 10-year is a matter of complex esters that set you down calmly in a dream, while this little dickens makes you lurch beautifully back and forth between animation and repose, between wit and reverie, between force and surrender. And just when you start getting lost in the thickets, the wine asserts a ridiculous deliciousness. It’s like the ethereal echo of sweetness we sense in old brown Sherries, the kind that casts you back into your past and makes you hope you remembered how to love.

I’d be surprised if you tasted this – if anyone did – and wrote the “usual” notes. The wine asks you to dream. Say you were a music lover; would you write about a piece of music, one that moved you, in terms of its harmonic theory and rhetorical contours, or would you yield to the things you’re feeling and try to address them?

Gobelsburg has made a gift of these wines to us; access to the gravity and reverie of old wines without having to scour the world for them. I confess I do miss the telling contrasts between the “new and old” vinifications based on vintage and variety (of which the final vintage was 2017) but maybe Michi felt he’d gone as far as he cared to go. Here we have a wine detached from all markers, as calm as a Buddha, inviting you to sit nearby and think whatever thoughts arrive. That is quite enough.

I add, because I am me and this is what happens when I drink these wines, that all of us have lost selves, shy or hidden or unwelcome, and to the extent we let them in, we become more loving. A wine like this dissolves the membrane quite easily, and it seems a great pity to forcibly exclude all the tenderness scratching at the door. Go on, say you’re sorry; you’ll feel better.

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2021 Riesling, Kamptal (Schlosskellerei Gobelsburg)

Delightfully blatantly aromatic – I mean three-feet-from-the-glass aromatic. Did I mention it also smells marvelous?

I love Grüner Veltliner dearly, but ’21 is a vintage wherein Riesling establishes (or reinforces) its primacy. And there have been more than a few such vintages in the last decade. This wine, while snappy and bracing in the ’21 “type,” is a rare success in the everyday echelon. It prefers the basic Spiegelau glass because it needs all the juice it can get; the added nuance from the Jancis is (alas) paid for with a rather forbidding sourness – and we don’t like sour wines.

But lots of “ordinary” ‘21s reside in a liminal zone between (what might be called) “saltiness” or even “minerality” and just-plain sourness. The big wines have enough material; the vintage was made for them, clearly. The wine leads with verbena, lemon balm and hyssop; it’s more herbal than precisely mineral, and it’s rocking those juniper notes we see in some of Christian Dautel’s Rieslings. It shows a sort of macro-terroir of Kamptal – of Austria overall, really – and while the weight and outlines are sleek and cool, the flavors are purely Austrian.

It's another wine that held steady over the days. It has some of the “scrape” of ’21 but in the context of its rampant flavory attack, this is acceptable. It’s also the kind of wine I call “coniferous,” (or fir when I’m being literal and Christmas Tree when I’m being colorful…)

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2021 Riesling Zöbing, Kamptal.                                                                   +

This village wine would appear to be made from young vines in the Crus (Gaisberg and Heiligenstein) since I am unaware of any Zöbing Riesling from other sites. It adds quite the whallop of smoky weight to the above.

If I didn’t know it was Kamptal I’d be wondering whether it was one of Nigl’s Pellingens, as it has that powerful smoke and pepper and underlying green herbs. The wine isn’t “pretty” but it’s highly forceful and expressive, even turbulent, and approaching the feral.

I appreciate these attributes and I’m properly impressed by the wine’s power. I don’t need it to be loveable, and yet it isn’t, and so it must suffice for it to be impressive, and to derive its stature from the roar of its engines.

You get a lot of spicy radish-y Riesling for a modest price. I’m also mindful of the trough many ‘21s are passing through, a rather pitiless stage in which the absence of primary fruit is keenly felt, and the presence of tertiary flavors can only be surmised. It’s nervy and complicated in the best ways, but it’s not an “easy” wine. Still, full respect to this toothy beast. I’ll be glad to taste (and drink) it again.

Having now done both, the wine makes a persuasive statement. Whether it is ineluctably “Zöbing” I’m not sure I can say. It’s certainly pan-Austrian Riesling, gorgeously green and stubborn.

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2020 Ried Gaisberg, Kamptal (Riesling)                                            ++

Gaisberg may be having a “moment.” The 2019 from here was the greatest wine I’d ever had from this Cru; the last couple vintages from Hiedler have been rapturous, and the wines, sometimes aloof and even diffident, are singing with new voices.

This is about as beautiful as a Riesling can smell, a concatenation of blueberry and wisteria and lilac and osmanthus; “white” aromas, for my friends with synesthesia. Gaisberg, at its best – and it’s at its gorgeous best here – is esoteric and mystic without being intangible. Its structure is sleek and crackly; it’s flowery without being sultry or blatant; it’s mineral without being obviously crushed-rocky; it’s sweet the way fresh bay scallops are sweet; and finally it’s haunting, like the way you feel awakening from a dream of a long-departed loved one.

It has a spirit-kin on the Nahe, where the great Kupfergrube vineyard makes wines along these lines. They share a cool incandescence that wiggles down below your skin, whispering something you always dreamed of hearing, but the words aren’t clear and all you feel is the breath against your ear. 

Finally what lingers just on the edge of the unknowable with Gaisberg is this remarkable accord between the angularity of shape with the exquisiteness of florals, like little Alpine flowers that grow above the tree line and bloom for three days, emitting a fragrance like nothing else in the world, distracting you as you walk the rocky path. I’m in thrall to this wine, and what I love most is that it doesn’t quite yield. It hasn’t set about to please you; it just can’t help being beautiful.

Yet it’s neither fetching nor gorgeous, at least in 2020. It gives what it’s willing to give. It stands as an apex of Riesling’s ability not to add up. Yes, you can see into its nuances, and you can (if you want to) delineate the thousand flavors and maybe also the way they perform together. What you can never do is to sum it up or put a bow on it. There is always something out past your view, or hovering and flashing near but not visible even peripherally. Such evanescence is the pre-requisite for greatness as I perceive it. 

The next wine I’ll taste is the Heiligenstein. Can it possibly be better?

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2020 Ried Heiligenstein, Kamptal (Riesling).                                      +++

Well can it?

If Gaisberg is “cool-mystic” then Heiligenstein is “warm-mystic.” But I have also known it to stutter at times, when directly compared with the Delphic lines of its neighbor. So, what have we here?

First, it is quite different. Obviously! Its always different. Yet this duo of ‘20s are barely recognizable as siblings or neighbors. You might say, Gaisberg is calligraphy, tap-dancing, top-sounds, upper register, blue eyes and chiseled cheekbones. Heiligenstein is all middle, the core of the body, savory, baking and buttery and spicy and exotic.

If that’s all it was, the vineyard would be valued less highly and our jobs would be simpler as tasters. Alas, no. We have to sing for our supper.

But having written so many times about the fascinating and oblique tandem of the two vineyards, I fear either repeating myself or else ratcheting my prose into incoherence simply in order to say something new.

But I can offer this: If Gaisberg has a cousin in Kupfergrube, Heiligenstein has one in Felsenberg. (Before I “retired” I wanted very much to do a vertical tasting of the two sites côte-a-côte and I still think that’s a great idea.)

When Heiligenstein is great, as it is here, it combines things in a way that’s entirely unfathomable. It’s beyond even my principle of paradox as a marker for greatness. Paradox? You can’t conceive of a universe where these things coexist!

We lovers of Riesling sometimes play a game, what are the best 10 vineyards for Riesling? It’s hard! You have to cull out sites you know are great. Oddly the top-5 game is easier, at least for me, and I bring it up because Heiligenstein is categorically among them. (I think incidentally, that monopole sites don’t count, because we have to see the actual capacity of a site with multiple proprietors in order to know whether it is great.) Finally, a supernally great vineyard must offer something incomparable, something without cognate. Nothing else is like Heiligenstein.

 

Nothing else is like (Forster) Kirchenstück or like Hermannshöhle, yet plenty of things are “like” Wehlener Sonnenuhr, great as that vineyard is.

But I’m losing the thread, in part because I am simply blown away. For this wine to exist in a troublesome vintage like ’20 is a miracle, and in the presence of miracles, the ego had best shut the hell up and dissolve.

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NV Cuvée Tradition Heritage, 10 Years                                               +++

(Again, edition 851)

I don’t know if these were the wines I tasted a year ago, and if they were, I don’t know whether there were multiple bottlings. I suspect not, because these are as I remember them.

The 10-year old is, simply put, as great a wine as can be obtained if you are not obscenely wealthy. 

Compared to the 3-year, this is more “papery” and estery. It loses the counterpoint of antiquity and fruit-freshness in the 3-year. It is all the melancholy sweetness of age now. Yet each phrase that comes to mind seems to crumble in my mouth. The “dignity of age?” The “gravity of time?” The “mystery of life passing?” No, not exactly.

The problem is that it’s useless and absurd to fuss over the words you use to delineate the flavors of a wine like this. A dab of color on the page, and then stop trying.

If you allow the wine to lead you down into the underworld of all your uncomfortable feelings, you end up scraping aside what you assumed was “your life” and confront the shipwreck sitting on the floor of your ocean. For me, it is terribly easy to write over the top at such a moment, because partly it’s the air from which I have been exiled, or have banished myself from, and I doubt that I am adequate to describe this place.

I’ll try. 

If you add it all up – the years and your memories and also the things you remember incorrectly, and also the things memory distorts – plus the gratefulness that you’re still here, and in decent shape – plus the accumulated losses and the grief that attends them, and (if we’re really being honest) the little nyah nyah, I’m still here and you’re not that is an unacknowledged part of how we mourn the dead – plus our shedding of all the crap we thought was so damn important – plus our desire to slow time down, since we’re aware of how little of it we still have – plus the daydreams and reveries we never got to have – plus the regrets for the kindnesses we might have shown but didn’t – plus, at last, the love we’d better give now, while we still can – the sum of these things, turned into liquid, is the essence of this wine.

You can drink it, or let it drink you, as you prefer. If you own any very old dry Sherry (VORS Oloroso or Palo Cortado) you have some notion of the feeling-tone of a wine like this. I think it’s lovely that Michi, who sought to get “inside” the sensory language of 19th-century wines, ended up awakening the ghosts of the meaningful life, and I hope that when he drinks a bottle, he has his own vision of  all the years passing in their dark sweetness,  and of the place where he stands amidst the beautiful aching flux.

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