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Weingut Setzer

Tasting Year


A SMALL PROTOCOL NOTE FOR THE FIRST SETZER SAMPLING:  We’re into the 2nd half of May now, and my cellar is no longer at the ideal temperature for pulling bottles and drinking. These bottles were put in the fridge and removed about 20 minutes before I tasted them, so they start out rather too cold and they warm in the glass. Obviously temperature really matters, so I’ll tell you how it affects the wines from opening to warming.

The wines were also tasted on TWO SEPARATE OCCASIONS, TWO MONTHS APART, with the second tranche tasted near the beginning of August.


2020 Grüner Veltliner LITER BOTTLE

(12% Alc) and does this little dickens smell good! Have I forgotten how charming young GV can be? Though it reads “cool” it has aromas or toasted grain, lentil, oat bread, maiitake, but it’s a sleek fellow that contains all them nuances. This aroma makes me indecently happy.

The palate, less so. It flirts with phenolic astringency, and while it’s silly to expect big things from a simple Liter wine, I’d be happier if it were less snippy. Still, such wines aren’t intended for “study” and food will tame the kitten-teeth, as does a warmer temperature. With ten minutes out of the bottle a mitigating juiciness emerges, but this remains on the crisp side of “crisp” and is adamantly dry.

A day later (and from the MacNeil “fresh and crisp” glass), it’s just as riotously aromatic and also a little less tetchy, but it remains bracingly pointed, so if that’s your jam, rock on.

On day-3 it has retreated ever so slightly. Less frisky, more sedate. Fennel frond enters the picture.  I want to call this wine “trustworthy,” and I hope you know what I mean.


2020 Grüner Veltliner “Ausstich”                 glug-glug-glug

(12% alc, “Weinviertel DAC”) The fragrance is a roastier version of the Liter, and this is – perfectly – one of those mid-weight wines that comes along and Does The Job. Beware the baseball analogies please, but this isn’t a .300 hitter with power; it’s a utility player with bat-control who plays the game professionally and reliably, hits the runner over, can lay down a bunt, always makes the plays, gets a lot of well-times slap-hits. For non baseball geeks, a wine like this makes a vivid case showing what wine is for. At least when we’re not preening over it.

I sometimes soak cordyceps and use the liquid to cook rice or Israeli cous-cous. (You can get them from Far West Fungi, and they’re a pantry staple Chez Piper/Theise.) From the tall round Spiegelau this wine has that sweet-wheaty cordycep loveliness; it’s also a seamless mélange of spice, textural juice, sharp greens (sorrel especially) and the curious abiding helpfulness of medium-weight GV at its gluggable best.

Yes, that’s me: I live to hype the prototype.


2020 Roter Veltliner “Symphoniker”

(11.5% alc) This is haricot verts drizzled with walnut oil. If you don’t know the variety I explicated it in my catalogues (easily accessible on this site) and/or you could google it. The salient issue is, it is a rare type that ends up having a small group of growers who champion it. The wines express an element of GV – the fresh cremini-mushroom side – while being less cressy and with less animated acidity.

Setzer makes two, this one and a single-vineyard one he didn’t send.  This is the house-wine of the Wiener Symphoniker orchestra but they had to remove “Wiener” from the label lest the unwary consumer assume the wine hailed from Vienna.

The wine is correct, small but not mingy, innocuous but not slight. I need to reclaim the word “forgettable” for wines like this one. Too often we use it to indicate “Gotta get the hell away from that thing,” whereas it can also describe a wine that doesn’t insist on being remembered. It’s perfectly good, and we move along.


2020 Riesling

I did a naughty thing. I had two of the 2020 Bründlmayer Rieslings open, the lighter ones with 12.5% alc , and I thought it would be “interesting” (or perhaps wicked) to open this and compare it to them. The same 12.5% alc. About fifteen miles separate them, as the crow flies.  Different soils of course, and much different elevations (Setzer being higher).

Compared to Bründlmayer’s “Kamptal Terassen” one immediately notices the stone fruit aroma here, especially apricot but also Anjou pear. On the palate the wine is vivid but not quite “generous.” And yet there are more notes in the chord here; salt bounces off of succulence, herbs bounce off of tree-fruits, and we have an aroma of very fine Matja, and corn, and ginger.

Obviously this isn’t a “competition,” and I love both growers but not in the same way, which is as it should be. I want to see if the contrast is telling, and I think that it is. Here we have more activity but we also have more assertiveness, missing the sense of effortless serenity the Bründlmayer shows. But that’s fine! Setzer’s can be proud of this frisky, contrapuntal, charming Riesling.



SETZER  Zweigelt                                                                                     +

Back label indicates 2021.

This was always a hidden favorite in my portfolio, hidden not from me but from the market, for plausible but futile reasons. Often customers wanted to give their “Austrian red” business (to the extent they wanted to do this at all) to growers who specialized in reds and who may have had name recognition for them. As I said, plausible. Setzer just makes the one red, which could be said to be ancillary, and yet I found it precious.

In effect this is a claret-style Zweigelt that doesn’t insist on notable tannin nor on shushing the fruit. Zweigelt can be boisterous in its magnetic deliciousness, but Setzer’s has always spoken with an inside-voice. Yet it has absolutely wonderful fruit, and that fruit is bound into a cozy sweater-weather personality that’s both reassuring and fascinating.

This ’21 seems more subdued than usual, though I suspect it will open over the days, if I can stand to wait. It’s a sweet natured wine, civil and reasonable. It has the dark cherry and blackberry top-note-of-Syrah element, a big rich core of fruit on the mid palate, a gently dusty finish. The Jancis glass really laces through its nuances; it’s sweeter in the Riedel (Chianti Classico).

There are so many ways for wines to be specious. So many contrivances, so many dubious “quirks” posing as “character” and so much preening from wines that so badly wish to be “important.” And even putting aside the posers, there are legitimately fabulous wines that blow us away, but that do tend to dominate the proceedings. But there are very few wines like this one, quietly walking the middle lane and approaching you with such tactful affection you could mistake it for diffidence. But it isn’t; it’s just a lovely wise affectionate soul who doesn’t crave attention but does delight in contributing to moments that make you feel better. Few things are any more precious. 


BERGER Riesling Sekt, Brut N.V.

I never saw this before; is it new? It’s made for him from his grapes. No other info is provided, and the alc is a rather stiff 13%..

It’s quite good as these things go. It won’t perturb the Gods-o-fizz but it has good fruit, no coarseness, and it would be nice to sip it on the porch listening to the evening blackbirds. And as it is, it’s a useful and charming item. There’s no need for him to attempt anything more serious.

But if he wanted to….longer lees contact wouldn’t hurt, and would let him reduce the (noticeable but appropriate) dosage, and confer more of the polished side of Riesling. As it is, we have an inviting portrait of Riesling’s fruit, and no decent reason to demand more.

I sometimes soak cordyceps and use the liquid to cook rice or Israeli cous-cous. (You can get them from Far West Fungi, and they’re a pantry staple Chez Piper/Theise.) From the tall round Spiegelau this wine has that sweet-wheaty cordycep loveliness; it’s also a seamless mélange of spice, textural juice, sharp greens (sorrel especially) and the curious abiding helpfulness of medium-weight GV at its gluggable best.

Yes, that’s me: I live to hype the prototype.


BERGER 2021 Kremstal, Grüner Veltliner, Gedersdorf  glug-glug-glug!\\

In the clear bottle, like the Muskateller, and a flyweight with just 11.5% alc; I assume this Village wine takes the place of the old Ried Zehetnerin, but I could be wrong. It smells demure, lapidary and calm, quite the reverie for such a wee being. With air the signature fragrances arrive – wax beans, lentils, cress and oyster mushrooms.

The palate has all the ’21 snap, almost shocking after the diffident aromas. It’s classic, with a ton of verve and bite, growing salty and herbal. It’s like a white-meat chicken sandwich you threw together from the leftovers of the last bird you roasted; it even has a mayonnaise twang.

You know what I think of wines like this. I love them. I think they’re perfect. If you’re wine-jaded, they are the tonic. They’ll carry you back to thirst. This one is wonderfully expressive and without an ounce of affectation. It was actually too zippy freshly opened to really glug, but it delivers a jolt of vitality and a big happy splash of honesty. And it is more than a match for the august articulations of the Jancis glass. Modest doesn’t have to mean innocuous.

It’s now six days later and I’m tasting this for just the second time, having slopped down a glass as an apero while making supper one evening. The wine is so perfect of its type, and its type is so perfect for your life, that it seems inane to produce a “tasting note” on it. It’s gotten more sedate with time, but no less appealing.


BERGER 2021 Kremstal Grüner Veltliner Lössterassen

A Burgundy bottle, curiously enough. (Must be the bottle shortage….) This is the paradigm for mid-weight loess-grown GV from the terraces nearer to the Danube. I’ve always loved it except in vintages where it grew too ripe and weighty. No risk of that here.

You can see Berger’s development with a wine like this. It used to be the exemplar for his semolina-dumpling “sweetness,” but now it has a peppery attitude. That, plus a fragrance of twenty five herbs.

It’s a whip-crack of pepper on the palate. I have a Vietnamese pepper in one of the mills that I use when I want a jolt of heat without the palate-numbing effect of the Szechuan. Tansy and mizuna complete the picture. It’s a bit on the hyper side, but that’s the ’21 acidity. It isn’t a songbird but rather the raucous squeak of the blue jay. It’s the probing peppery snap of Tuscan olive oils.

I don’t know whether the wine’s having an identity crisis or whether I am simply bemused that it has changed, but if this is its new profile then you should expect a fragrant and artfully composed mesclun salad before it is dressed

Not as comely as its lighter sibling, it will appeal to drinkers who want more snap and force. And it leads us seamlessly to….


SETZER Ausstich Grüner Veltliner “Weinviertel DAC”

Same 12.5% alc as the above. Just to remind you, the Weinviertel DAC is (for now) applied only to a certain style of GV that typifies the region. It is DAC as paradigm.

It has all the energy of the Berger but with smoother, less jagged contours. It’s peppery but less emphatically so, and there’s more umami and mid-palate richness. And there are also embedded phenolics, whereas all the gross structural elements of the Berger were on the surface.

In other ways it’s a nicer wine, somewhat more complete, yet for all the hype around ’21, I’ve had better vintages of this – many of them. In fairness, it was tasting better last summer when it had its chubby-baby fruit, and it might be in a betwixt moment.

I tested it with food the other night, and am sampling it again for just the second time, after six days open. This time it feels more aggressive than Berger’s wine. Texturally it’s something of a challenge, and the days have been pitiless to it.


BERGER 2021 Grüner Veltliner Optimus terrae                             +

A cask-sample, with 13.5% alc. No shock; it’s quite expressive! (And this is the time I remind you of the truest wine maxim I ever heard; “The wine is always better in cask.”) 

One looks through the periscope to imagine what this will be, filtered and encased in bottle. As it is it is wonderful, ample, even avuncular, with a collagen-richness and long-braised sweetness that are entirely at odds both with the previous wines and with the prevailing cliché for GV.

Imagine you’re leaving on a long trip and you don’t want to come back to moldering veggies, so you throw every one of your veggies into a pot with whatever bones you’ve been saving, and you simmer and simmer and when you strain it you think “This is the best stock we ever made.” It’s like that. It has a carrot-y root-veggie richness with a deep nightshade note like grilled eggplant and a protein note like oxtail marrow. It’s peppery, but there’s nothing herbal or citric here. This is GROONER? I can imagine people saying.

If it retains even 80% of what it shows here, it will be special wine.


SETZER 2021 Grüner Veltliner Ried Kirchengarten                      ++

“DAC reserve,” 13.5% alc. Diam cork. 

And a sensational aroma! Which leads not surprisingly into a splendid wine. Here you start to see why ’21 has the reputation it does. And with that said, you will need to tolerate a back-snap of acidity on the finish, which I think you will, because you’re already blissed out.

You think you’re tasting something like the implied-honey and quince of a Boudignon Chenin, and then you get the insane volcanic snap of an Etna white, and all the while the aromas are getting sweeter and sweeter as though the flowering meadow is breathing back the sunlight. But then, amazingly, the richness recedes in favor of a foamy leafy wave which was hiding in the shadows somewhere, and you’re trying to think “When did I ever have meyer lemons and sorrel at the same time?”

And then – this wine’s not done with you yet – there’s a crazy chord of minerality (especially from the Jancis glass) to complete what already tasted complete. Now it’s all scree and petrichor and yet also chanterelles sautéing in butter. In short, the wine has everything: shape, contour, outline, detail, richness animated interplay among disparate elements, and not to forget, deliciousness. It’s the best GV I’ve tasted from Setzer.

I wrote to Hans, asking about the site. It’s the highest elevation of all his sites, and grows (unusually) on sandstone. It’s a sponti  vinified in steel, and kept on its gross lees until the end of April. It achieves an incandescence that holds with repeated tastings.

It’s a mountain-stream wine, fresh water over wet stones, surrounded by pine trees, but you can smell the sweet hard cheese you put in your pack for lunch.


SETZER 2021 Grüner Veltliner Ried Kronberg                                 ++

An old-vines cuvée, 13.5% alc, “DAC reserve,” diam cork.

The site is sand and limestone and the vinification is the same as the Kirchengarten.

The fragrance is more brash than the Kirchengarten, but no less compelling. Here it is literally spicy and peppery, and the palate leads with mineral.

And what mineral! I can’t recall a Setzer wine that offered this heaving rockslide of minerality, and while it plays in a different register than the (relatively) more hedonic wine above, it is no less generous. Indeed, the sheer power of the mineral expression suggests Riesling as much as GV, and I’m trying to recall when I’ve tasted its equivalent.

It will overwhelm you, but not with flowers or fruits, and not really with citrus or herbs (though both are implied), but with an 18-wheeler load of rock-dust – and the weirdest thing of all is that minerality this concentrated almost tastes sweet.

Consider me blown the hell away. This is a profoundly splendid wine that doesn’t compromise at all. It’s even better the second time, three days later. What a pair!


BERGER 2020 Grüner Veltliner Ried Moosburgerin

Cask-sample, 13.5% alc. Curious to return to ’20 after these scintillating ‘21s. Out of the gate, this is pretty funky.

The palate makes more sense, in a sort of rustic belly-rumble way. It feels like it would please lovers of organ meats and matsutakes (though it’s not as rude as those fungi). I’ve had this wine in other vintages, and appreciate that it’s interestingly gnarly, but while there’s a pleasing element of toast slathered with duck fat (an everyday breakfast at my house, as if) I think I may demur here, because I’m not entirely sure the sample is correct.

That said, an initial reduction does seem to tidy itself up with air, and ends up as a spicy, rather turbulent, peppery beast, with the ’20 phenols but with plenty of Veltliner mojo. It’s like a sautée of maiitakes (in duck fat, obviously) with thyme and Madagascar pepper. Try it!

I begin to think this site makes wines we could call “rural” if you like a bit of the countryside touch, or “rustic” if you don’t.

It’s much the same the next time. My own (ridiculous) shorthand for this site is “pleasantly fragrant mud.” I know just what I mean by it. If you don’t have your own ludicrous cognates, you should really cultivate a few. You won’t pass any tests, but you’ll understand wine real good.


BERGER 2019 Kremstal Grüner Veltliner Ried Moosburgerin

Alc 14%. One theory is that the warmly ripe ’19 vintage can “carry” higher alcohol, though I have never found that this idea bears out in the glass.

The aromas are good, and specific to the site in its tobacco and leaf-mold and sundry other roasty notes. The palate is salty, meaty and in its own way, balanced. It has the top-heaviness common to high-alcohol whites (sort of like white Chateauneuf) but it doesn’t scorch and it isn’t bitter. What heat there is disperses itself properly, so there’s no headiness or capsicum bite at the end.

It’s exotic for the variety, and your first guess wouldn’t necessarily be Austria. (Southern French white, Rhône or Provence would come more quickly to mind) If Erich sent me this in order to demonstrate that a 14 percenter could still be balanced, he has succeeded.

I still wouldn’t drink more than a half-glass (if even that) but there you go; one among my many perversities. Even when the wine “works” I still don’t want such a jolt of booze, because I hope to continue drinking. But credit where due – there’s a lot to like here, especially the clarity of spices on the mid palate and the physio-sweetness overall. Thus an excellent example of a type of wine that’s of limited use to me, but hat’s off for the achievement. It lost a little, but only a little, with a few days’ open, but this is far from despicable (let’s see that on a shelf-talker) even though I personally wouldn’t drink it for pleasure.

While on the subject of 2019…


BERGER 2019 Grüner Veltliner Ried Wieland                         ++

“DAC Reserve” and 13.5% alc.

I like Wieland, and can’t forget Erich’s magnificent (and improbable) 2014, still the best GV he has yet made. And W-O-W, this smells good.

It has the flowering-fields richness of the previous ’19 with none of the earthy elements, so that it is an adumbrated “sweetness” like roasted parsnips along with the rooty focus of vetiver.

The palate is thoroughly lovely, all the cookie-dough, malty business of ’19 – as well as something I’m calling “implied vanilla” – but this has a glide and a creaminess that makes it slip on down, but a reach and richness that make you pause to consider its complexity. It’s an exemplar for “big” GV in a ripe vintage. Moreover, it’s a telling example of a fine rich GV coming from unexceptional terroir. Erich would demur! But we don’t have craggy urgestein nor tectonic layers of loess, and so we see a kind of ur of GV when it’s not pushed along by “significant” land.

I mean, 13.5% is not a “light” wine, yet there’s a poise and suppleness and fluidity here I have simply never seen at 14% or above. For all its generosity, this wine is tactful; it doesn’t force itself upon you, it just shines and shines until you notice the golden light.

Yet tasting in the fresh air – in the middle of a big nor’easter, so don’t question my dedication – an underlying ripe-green element appears, and suddenly there’s the paradox and counterpoint of beautiful wine. A firm minerality acts as an anchor, and it turns out that even this beaming regal wine has discipline and grip. The more I taste it the better it gets, and it was lovely to begin with. 


Now it’s starting to smell like cornbread or hush puppies, or mandarins or langoustines – yes, all that – and we arrive at an alchemy of magnetism and wit, charisma and precision, until we reach the irresistible conclusion that this is bloody gorgeous Grüner Veltliner. The smell of the empty glass is otherworldly. 

I kept my greedy hands off it for four days, and on second look it’s tilting toward its green and away from its yellow/orange. It’s also more firm and vigorous. Is this a distortion brought about by 96 hours’ worth of air, or is it a revelation of a foundation that was obscured by its initial gushing juiciness? This is unknowable, and that is as it should be.


SETZER 2020 Grüner Veltliner “Grosse Reserve” Ried Laa

Much to impart. Thick bottle (won’t fit in my chillers!) with a wax capsule and dressed like a birthday present. 14% alc, as usual; the wine was known as “8000” (based on the unusual density of planting) until the wise deities of the DAC intervened.

Hans Setzer must like me, god knows why, because I have always kvetched about the alcohol with this wine, of which he is quite proud, yet he still speaks to me.

The wine is exotic and impressive. For me that impression is relatively fleeting, but fair is fair – there’s a rare expression here, having only a little to do with its cask vinification. It’s also one of those crossover-GVs that feints toward white Burgundy.

I don’t adore myself for shrinking from wines with/above 14% alc, nor do I permit myself the conceit of assuming I have a “refined sensibility.” As a rule I just don’t like them. I don’t like the (often) medicinal aroma, the jalapeño heat, the crude ripeness, the top-heavy clunk, and finally what I perceive as a distortion of fruit. This wine, worthy as it is, puts on a gaudy show. It isn’t my type.

But let’s take a closer look.

Three days later I’m making it the first wine I taste today. I like how it smells and tastes from the Spiegelau, though I’d still drink it cautiously. It smells too medicinal from the Jancis. It actually conveys a kind of coolness despite its ripe roar. It’s a silky jasmine parfait, remarkably deft considering. Cask vinification does it a world of good, and for a wine that’s not my type, there’s a lot to admire and to like about it. Consider me somewhat abashed.


SETZER 2021 Grüner Veltliner “8000” Ried Laa                                 +

Weinviertel DAC Reserve, and evidently “8000” is permitted again, and this time we have a demure 13.5% alc.

It appears we could have a masterpiece on our hands. Do we?

We certainly have a perfection of aroma. Whether this is the ’21 vintage specifically, or the half percent difference in alcohol (which does seem absurd) I couldn’t tell you. I can tell you that I am sure this is as far as the fruit should go. Beyond this, it tastes bruised and distorted.

It’s a tremendously limestony fragrance, along with tapioca and basmati and white teas. For all its drama, it is oddly fleeting on the actual palate. It has a ton of flavor, don’t get me wrong, but unlike the two crazy-good wines above, this makes a hastier exit. All that aromatic force, only to worry about overstaying its welcome? 

Again, let me clarify. The first wash of finish is proper for the intensity of the wine. Yet only its top notes linger. The swollen richness of the previous two ’21 single-vineyards isn’t evident here, even though the opening volley is louder. There are beautiful flavors here, and I love the risotto richness – and this is perhaps the best vintage of “8000” in many years – yet for all that, valuable as it is, it’s just a teensy bit plausible. Still, I’d drink it for pleasure.

The second look is telling. I like the whippy crispness in contrast to the plumper ’20, but that same bracing energy recurs on the finish and makes it somewhat severe. But the palate, especially in the Jancis glass, has great articulation and braiding of rivulets into a  silvery stream. It has a pachyderm grace and aerodynamic lines for such a strong wine. I’m impressed again. It’s rare to have this ripeness and still have a fresh cressiness riding atop.


SETZER 2021 “Symphoniker” Roter Veltliner

At one time this was the house-wine of the Wiener Symphoniker orchestra; I don’t know if it still is. The ampelography is available with a google search; check it out, as it’s a true “heirloom” variety that few people grow any more.

Nice and light at 12%. Aromas feature an underlying note of gooseberry or underripe ground cherries, a.k.a. husk-cherry. Setzer’s label refers to “almond” but I’m not sure I follow. The wine is sprightly but its vitality derives not from acid-structure but rather from incomplete ripeness, sort of like a demure Sauvignon Blanc. It’s pleasant if you like green flavors but of little consequence otherwise, and I’ve had better vintages.


SETZER 2021 Roter Veltliner Ried Kreimelberg

From a 60+ year old vineyard, this is a wine that makes the case for the variety. The aromas are both musky and redolent of a dozen edible leaves, with some of the soy flavor of shiitakes.

The palate is exotic, even atavistic, intensely walnutty yet with a parsley-root sort of basement flavor. It’s part-way to Neuburger (another authochon) in its nut-butter mussel-y low-tide evocation. A truly strange wine – in a good way. Because I think I’ve never had a wine on one hand so nutty and warm and on the other hand so herbal and celery-like. I’m not sure I even like it, but I’m fascinated. Those components usually take different buses.

I’m very curious to see which faction prevails over the days. Meanwhile, fry up some shiitakes and steam up some mussels, tossing them together when both are cooked; drizzle with walnut-butter and serve on a bed of celeriac. I’d eat that, on a dare….

The second time, it was a cauliflower-water fragrance (less obstreperous than broccoli water but still not gorgeous) yet the palate remained interesting and appealing, in its funky way.

Over the years I worked with a few of the partisans for this variety, and joined the general approval for growers who cherished their autochons. After all, it’s a story we like to tell. What we don’t do, enough, is to consider the corollary, which is to ask whether there were good reasons for the demise of obscure varieties. I don’t mean whether they were financially ruinous to cultivate. I mean how they taste. Because if we can get past sentimentality, I think we’d have to admit that for each time we feel “Yay! A protector of ampelographic diversity protecting ancient obscure varieties!” there are at least three times where  you think “Hmmm, the world would lose nothing if this variety went extinct.”

To be clear; I make this observation while I have an excellent Roter Veltliner in my glass. I’m glad this wine exists, but I wonder what we’d really lose if these wines ceased to be. What does Roter Veltliner add to a world that has Grüner Veltliner and Sauvignon Blanc and Verdelho and (even) Semillon, not to mention Vidal and other hybrids as vinified by the sensational Deirdre Heekin up in Vermont? Of course we are fascinated and of course we approve of the protectors of the neglected – you do, I do, it makes for a kindlier world. But having tried it in Champagne, can anyone insist that we need Arbanne except for its novelty value?


BERGER 2021 Chardonnay

Cask-sample. Erich would pour me his Chardonnay every year, ruefully, usually saying something like “Here’s the wine you don’t like.” And I’d complain that I did like it – I even offered it a couple times – but I didn’t come to Austria in search of Chardonnay.

As a rule I do like his Chard. Sometimes they’re Maconnais and other times (like this time) they’re totally masa harina and roasted corn. This appealing wine smells not unlike….Fritos.

(I can’t wait to see the test-question on one of the wine exams for this acronym or that: “Which wine smells like corn chips and comes from a cask sample in a high-acid vintage grown on the 48th parallel?” Wait! Wait, I know!)

There’s some oak, and it’s deftly deployed. When bottling tamps the fruit down it may not seem so deft, but we’ll see. I mean, obviously this is entirely academic; you’ll never see this wine as a cask sample if you see it at all – I doubt the importer would offer it – so what you’re reading here is an accounting of an abstract idea. It suggests a question or two.

Does Berger actually need Chardonnay any more?

If so, what function does it fill that GV can’t fill?

Is it enough that it’s probably an example of a graceful use of wood to go along with clean varietal fruit and precise flavors?

If it’s a labor of love for Erich, i.e., if he happens to really like it, then by all means keep making it. It’s good wine! I’d be happy to drink it. Must every wine justify its existence to the World-Of-Wine? Of course not. If it sells well, better still. I’m glad he sent it, though I wouldn’t have minded if he’d sent one of his juicy reds in its place – just sayin’.

I had it with schnitzels last night. I make over-the-top yuppie schnitzels with parmesan in the breading and masa harina for my flour dredge and I do not even slightly apologize that they aren’t “classic.” It turns out a gently oaky wine is nice to them. 


SETZER “In Pink”

Guess what this is??? Why yes, the “dreaded rosé.” In this case a cuvée of PN, Portugieser and Zweigelt.

Have any of you tasted a rosé in the last 2-3 years that wasn’t attractive, or at least pleasant? Were there any gnarly ones? Any that were unclean, or weird, or just ugly? I don’t count the innocuous ones, the 97% of merely “nice” pink wines with less consequence than a cupcake. But how many plain bad ones are there, and if the answer is “very few, if any” then I have to question how it came to be that tout le monde seems to be competent at making rosé.

This one’s better than just “nice” because it has a tart element that’s daring in its way. It is very dry. It has some tannin. It’s light, naturally, and has no great ambition, but I like that it doesn’t pander with specious cheerleader-charm.

Of course this is a wee zephyr that ought to have been consumed by last summer, but here it is in my glass and even if it means nothing, what does it mean that it means nothing?

Maybe it means that Hans and Uli Setzer thought, at some point, that “Everybody makes appealing rosés but we’d rather make something with a bit of edge, nothing major like Prieler or Schröck but also not another little-snookums wine that’s like all the rest.” And if my little theory is true then I’d say good for you, guys. I respect your choice.


BERGER 2021 Kremstal Riesling, Ried Spiegel                                +

The “starter” Riesling can be wonderful in hot years when its freshness is a balm and its big brother is too heavy. How will it fare in a crisp year like ’21?

It smells wonderful; the kind of fragrance where you wonder Why do I drink anything other than Riesling? This leads to one of the great vintages of Spiegel, an indispensible wine (because I know how little it costs) and a giddy, extroverted wine that somehow isn’t hyper.

There are nipping notes at the end, the acids and phenols of the vintage, but everything leading to it is like an exegesis on why Riesling is wonderful. It’s also, in contrast to the Veltliners, a Berger wine in the “old” style where you have the banana tapioca-pudding “sweetness, in what is definitely a dry wine, and you think “Why do I forget how nice it feels to be charmed?”

Below what I’m calling the “yellow” notes (synesthesia has entered the building) there are a host of “green” notes, also sweet, along lines of Taiwan high-elevation oolongs and wintergreen and lime-zest, and below all that is a silvery spine of mineral. And yet, for a wine so energetic, its voice is mellifluous and satiny.

“Trocken” notwithstanding, we’re seeing elements here that we’d never see in an insistently strictly dry wine, and I infer a few useful (and miraculous) smidgeons of RS that catapult the wine into a realm of playful nuance and sheer hedonism you wonder why more people don’t insist on. Because what this is, is fabulous.

I drank, ah, a decent amount of it one evening, and am only now (after 3 days) getting around to “tasting” it again. It stays faithful, and is a cogent argument for Austrian Riesling in general, without stacking the deck with Grand Crus. You make the case at the baseline, I think. If I poured this for you and said “This is the state of the art, the wine you can expect at the everyday quality level from a good grower and decent land,” you’d be convinced.


BERGER 2019 Kremstal Riesling Ried Steingraben                           +

This wine has always polarized me. In big years it goes over the top with ripeness and botrytis; in small years it surmounts the vintage limitations and gives a strikingly generous and interesting wine. Never in between.

Exotic aromas. Smells like clean botrytis, and like the buzzing meadow sweetness of ’19. Amidst the regal poise of this vintage, the wine lashes a whip-crack of mint, surprisingly assertive. We have the roasted-corn thing again, and even the “Fritos” thing we found in the ’19 GVs, but here the contours are sleeker and there are white high notes – mints, jasmine, osmanthus – to go along with the malt and apricot.

I’m glad he sent it; it’s easier to “get” than the Spiegel, yet it’s also the kind of wine Riesling-resisters will insist is “sweet” because it smells like so many sweet things, and which is actually dry. There’s a wet-cereal loessy note – it reminds me of a Weingart wine, strangely -  and while there’s plenty to pick through and deconstruct here (the wine is interesting!) the lede is sheer deliciousness.

A salty mineral spine is eked out from below the rampant fruit, but it took a few days. It makes the wine even better. 2019 seems to have the precursor of the malt note I first saw in 1959s and then again in 2003s, and several times since in our warming world. If Riesling could ever be “buttery,” this one is. Resistance, believe me, is futile.


BERGER 2021 Gelber Muskateller                     glug-glug-glug and +

A leviathan of 11.5% alc.

I’d get Muscat from anyone I could. I even went to growers only because they made Muscat. At one point I probably had, what, nine people offering Muscat? And year after year, Berger’s was the fruitiest and most floral among them. (Schwarzböck, while we had them, was a close challenger.)

Take the phrase “simple stupid joy” and consider removing “stupid” from it, so that maybe it changes to elemental joy or something, because unless one happens to hate the taste of Muscat, when these are good there is no reason to resist them. Nor will you be able to, so be careful. You’ll become a Muscat addict skulking into wine shops with sunken eyes and a haunted expression, desperately asking “Has the Berger order arrived?”

One could write a conventional tasting note; there are things to notice as one deconstructs, dimensions and interplays, but think about it: why?? Think of your nose in a honeysuckle bush. Think of  walking among flowering elder. You’re not stopping to deconstruct the essence-of-elder. You loosen your grip and let yourself go; you stand and receive this unbelievable thing. The world!


This Muscat is everything always blossoming around you, and if you’re a praying sort of person, here’s a simple prayer for this moment. Thanks.

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