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Weingut Schloss Gobelsburg

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.


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.


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.


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.


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….


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.


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.


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.

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