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Weingut Schloss Gobelsburg

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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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