© Copyright 1998 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.
Thursday, May 14, 1998
We spent a long and enjoyable day in the Wachau and Kremstal regions along the Danube not far west of Vienna; with Austrian wine writer Michael Pronay and wine enthusiast Bernie Bruckner as guides, we got a quick but thorough exposure to some of the best wines and wineries that Austria has to offer. By day's end, I'm feeling reassured in my opinion that the most exciting white wines in the world today are coming out of the Wachau.
Weingut Leo Alzinger, Loiben, Wachau
Altzinger 1997 Loibner Hochstrasser Grüner Veltliner Federspiel - Bright brass. Melon and distant mango notes; tight, very tart and bright, crisp and dry, with a very long and intense finish.
Altzinger 1997 Loibner Mühlpoint Grüner Veltliner Federspiel - Clear brass color. Delicious mint and mineral scents. Flavor follows the nose, dry and crisp, tart acidity carrying lovely cool mint and stony flavors, clean and long.
Altzinger 1997 Loibner Weingärten Grüner Veltliner Smaragd - A blend of fruit from several vineyards. Clear brass color. Remarkably aromatic, mineral and exotic spice with a hint of cumin. Full, rich, dry and tart, remarkable harmony and balance.
Altzinger 1997 Loibner Steinertal Grüner Veltliner Smaragd - Clear brass. Typical mineral scent with exotic spices. Very rich and full, great structure and length.
Altzinger 1997 Dürnsteiner Liebenberg Grüner Veltliner Smaragd - Light straw color, not as greenish as the others in this flight; subtle, balanced scent, minerals and chestnuts. Tart and stony flavor, prickly, rich and herbaceous; hard to describe.
Altzinger 1997 Loibner Feinburgunder Smaragd - Clear straw color. Applelike aromas and Wachau minerals, along with citric tangerine and grapefruit. Bone dry and steely acidity, delicous fruit. An idiosyncratic, but delicious, expression of Chardonnay.
Altzinger 1997 Dürnsteiner Riesling Federspiel - Pale greenish-gold. Slate and apple butter and herbal aromas; crisp green apples and tart acidity on the palate. Lovely.
Altzinger 1997 Dürnsteiner Hollerin Riesling Smaragd (cask sample) - Light brass color. Delicious citric aromas, tangerines. A bowl of mixed fruit, threshold sweetness cloaked by steely acidity.
Alzinger 1997 Loibenberg Riesling Smaragd - Very pale brass color. Light citric and minty aromas. Delicious citric flavor, tangy and tart.
Altzinger 1997 Loibner Stewertal Riesling "Reserve" - Not designated Smaragd because it exceeds the residual sugar limit, this one's pale brass in color, with wonderful fruit-salad aromas of mandarin oranges and strawberries. Amazing extract, ripe and rich; mixed citrus flavors and steely acidity.
Altzinger 1997 Loibner Steinertal Grüner Veltliner Smaragd - Clear pale gold. Green pea and asparagus aromas. Dry and rich, flavors consistent with the aroma in layered complexity. Dry and tart in a very long finish.
Altzinger 1986 Loibenberg Riesling Spätlese - Clear pale brass color, with rich aromas of butterscotch and hazelnuts. Stony, a whiff of Riesling petrol, steely acidity, seems even more dry than the light (0.85) residual sugar would suggest.
Altzinger 1995 Loibenberg Riesling Beerenauslese - Pale greenish-gold. Botrytis aromas, honey and apricots. Flavors consistent, strong and sweet. Interesting to compare with German Beerenauslese, somewhat similar in style, but at 13.7% alcohol, nearly double the strength of many German BA's, it shows substantial power.
Knoll 1997 Loibner Schütt Grüner Veltliner Federspiel - Light brass color, with lovely mint and conifer scents. Intense fruit, consistent with the nose, mouth-filling and acidic.
Knoll 1997 Loibenberg Riesling Federspiel - Pale brass. Pleasant wildflower aroma; tart and tangy mixed citrus flavors, tangerine and grapefruit; delicious and very long.
Knoll 1997 Kreutles Grüner Veltliner Smaragd (barrel sample) - Pale brass. Closed but pleasant piney and mineral scents, with spicy notes of cumin said to be typical of the Kreutles vineyard. Rich and impressive.
Knoll 1997 Loibner Schütt Grüner Veltliner Smaragd (barrel sample) - Pale greenish gold, with appealing herbal and mineral aromas. Similar on the palate, full and rich. Powerful (14% alcohol), but balanced and elegant.
Knoll 1997 Feinburgunder Smaragd (barrel sample) - Clear straw color. Delicious mint and ripe apple aromas reflect its unusual status as a Chardonnay that sees neither malolactic fermentation nor oak. Rich and balanced flavor with lovely mint nuances that linger in a very long finish.
Knoll 1997 Loibenberg Riesling Smaragd (barrel sample) - Clear greenish gold. Closed but pleasant aromas, pink grapefrut and strawberry. Huge Riesling fruit, bond-dry and steely tart. A delight.
Knoll 1997 Schütt Dürnsteiner Riesling Smaragd (barrel sample) - Pale brass color. Wonderful aroma, peaches and orange blossoms. Flavors follow the nose, delicious fruit and floral notes, rich and full of abundant fruit. Approaching the upper limit of off-dry sweetness for a Smaragd (which may no go over 0.9 residual sugar), but the sweetness is barely perceptible behind the steely acidity.
Knoll 1995 Schütt Riesling Smaragd - Apples and almonds, incredibly complex; rich, perfumed and very fruity, powerful and dry, with lovely mineral and tutti-frutti flavors in a very long finish.
Knoll 1995 Grüner Veltliner Auslese - Bright gold. Toasted almonds and piney aromatics lead into a full, rich flavor with fresh-fruit sweetness, body and power.
Knoll 1995 Kremstal Riesling Beerenauslese - Pale gold. Delicate botrytis aromas and very rich honeyed flavor, sweet and strong, opens up in layers.
More Knoll wines served with lunch at the family's restaurant across the street from the winery:
Knoll 1996 Ried Loibenberg Loibner Grüner Veltliner Smaragd - Clear bright brass color. Melon and slate, typical of the grape; very full and ripe, intense peach fruit, tart and dry.
Knoll 1993 Ried Pfaffenberg Steiner Riesling Spätlese - Bright brass color. Odd but lovely aromas, beeswax, white fruit, mixed spices and mounds of spring flowers. Amazing. Michael Pronay calls it "Schwarzenegger's Mozart." Powerful, intense, inspires evocative but meaningless terms like "shimmering" and "rings like a gong."
Bründlmayr 1997 Ried Loiserberg Grüner Veltliner - Clear brass color. Very minty aroma, spearmint, herbs and spice. Full and rich.
Bründlmayr 1997 Alter Reben Grüner Veltliner - Clear light brass color. Heady mint and tobacco-leaf aromas. Huge extract and power (14.6% alcohol). Ripe fruit over a hulking structure.
Bründlmayr 1997 Ried Lamm Grüner Veltliner - Pale brass color. Light, pleasant honeydew melon aromas. Big, bold and muscular (14.5% alcohol), not fat, with the characteristic power and balance of Bründlmayr's 1997s.
Bründlmayr 1997 Zöbinger Heiligenstein Riesling - Pale greenish-gold. Soft wildflower aromas, delicate and subtle. Full and bright, very dry and tartly acidic; clean and fresh in a long finish.
Bründlmayr 1997 Zöbinger Heiligenstein "Lyra" Riesling - Clear straw color. Light, pleasant mango scent. Big, bold and strong (15.3% natural alcohol!) but very well balanced.
Bründlmayr 1988 Zöbinger Heiligenstein Riesling Kabinett - Pale brass. Peach and petrol aromas, very pleasant. Bone-dry, big and steely, petrol present but in restraint.
Bründlmayr 1985 Zöbinger Heiligenstein Riesling Kabinett - Very bright greenish-gold. Delicious fig and brazil-nut aromas with earthy hints of mushrooms and "forest floor." Mouth-filling and perfectly balanced. A delight.
Bründlmayr 1983 Berg-Vogelsang Grüner Veltliner Spätlese - Bright greenish-gold. Rich aromas of mint, honey and butterscotch. Full fruit, butterscotch and tart acidity. Very rich and long, with such harmony and elegance as to prompt comparison with top white Burgundies.
Mantlerhof 1985 Ried Wieland Gedersdorf 1985 Riesling - Bright gold color. Delicious honey aroma, but no botrytis, Mantler insists. Perfect, startlingly youthful Riesling fruit, dry and tart. Outstanding.
Mantlerhof 1961 Gedersdorf Grüner Veltliner - Presented blind with the invitation that we guess the vintage. Everyone falls far short of the reality, as its clear bright brass color and delicious tobacco, coffee and butterscotch aromas suggest a much younger wine. Flavors consistent with the nose, layers of stone fruit and caramel, ripe and dry. A remarkable wine, it's almost impossible to believe that it's 37 years old.
Mantlerhof 1961 Steindl Riesling - More old-wine amazement: Bright gold in color, with good caramel and coffee aromas, hazelnuts and almonds, honey and just a whiff of petrol. Petrol more evident on the palate than the nose, dry, crisp and bright. Incredible.
Mantlerhof 1997 Weitgasse Grüner Veltliner - Very pale straw color. Light, delicious peach scent leads into a fresh and delicate flavor, dry and tart.
Mantlerhof 1997 Spiegel Grüner Veltliner - Pale straw color. Aromatic, pine and mangoes. Very dry, bright acid, juicy mango fruit.
Mantlerhof 1997 Reisenthal Roter Veltliner - Related to Grüner Veltliner only by the name, there's no close botanical kinship. Very pale straw color, with a light floral scent and simple fresh fruit. Very tart acidity propels it to a very long finish.
Mantlerhof 1997 "Selection" Roter Veltliner - Pale straw color. Mint and wildflower aromas; lush, ripe fruit flavor over piercing acidity.
Mantlerhof 1997 Zehetnerin Riesling - Pale straw color. Tasty, light peach aromas and soft, fresh and fruity flavor.
Mantlerhof 1996 Gedersdorf Chardonnay Trocken-Beeren-Auslese - The concept of a Chardonnay TBA may sound bizarre, but the wine is anything but. Bright gold in color, almost an orange hue. Huge botrytis aromas, apricots and honey. Unctuous, tongue-coating, toothache-sweet, with a core of steely acidity to give it structure. Clean, nectar-sweet finish seems to last until sundown.
Additional notes by Michael Pronay
All winegrowers were extremely friendly and generous, Josef Mantler opening Riesling and Grüner Veltliner (the two grape varieties this day was all about) in parallel from the vintages 1995, 1985 and 1961. Needless to say that -- apart from two cork spoilages, alas -- every single wine was still fresh and living.
Just a few remarks: Alzinger and Knoll both showed remarkable 1997s, Knoll just with that slight extra kick that one discernes the excellent (90/94) from the outstanding (95/100). Bründlmayer made outstanding 1997s too, at natural alcohol levels rarely seen before (are the wines becoming the Turley zins of Austria? :-): 13.3% for veltliner Loiserberg, 14.6% for Veltliner Alte Reben, 14.5% for Veltliner Lamm, 13% for Riesling Heiligenstein, and a stunning 15.3% for his special new Heiligenstein Riesling Cuvée "Lyra" (with 0.73% residual sugar and 9.1 g/l acidity). Still beautifully preserved and lively: Riesling Heiligenstein 1988 and 1985, and a perfect Veltliner Spätlese 1983 Berg-Vogelsang.
Additional notes by Peter Ruhrberg
... A big "thank you" to everyone involved in making this day in the Wachau and Vienna (and the evening before) such an unforgettable experience. Thank you Michael, Bernie, Christine, Thomas, and of course Robin and Mary!
Finally, while I have some individual notes on the wines we tasted during the day, I much prefer for now to give merely a general impression, and not a run through a seeingly endless list of wines, trying to separate the great from the merely excellent ;).
Ignoring the wines from the evening before which were quite impressive, and set the stage for things to come, esp for the Veltliners if I remember correctly, I'd like to remark on Alzinger first: whether these wines are great or merely superb is not for me to decide. I found them absolutely wonderful, enourmously concentrated, with great harmony etc.. my personal favorite was the Gr. Veltliner Smaragd Steinertal 97 with its fine balance and long minerally aftertaste, marrying power with a certain lightness and elegance that makes it to me very special, though others my prefer the bigger, fuller Loibenberg to it (14%). Of the Rieslings the Loibenberg I found most to my liking, with the Steinertal perhaps being the longer term favorite. The Loibenberg Riesling BA finally proves that a Beerenauslese at 13% vol can be perfectly balanced and harmonious, where so many German BAs with such alcohol figures taste heavy handed by comparison (while the more typical German BAs come at around 8% or so, and thus are quite different in style).
Knoll then showed two great GV Smaragds, and a Riesling Smaragd Schütt that I can only describe as perfection in dry Riesling. I have not tasted a finer dry Riesling than this. The wine has everything one can ask for. Fruits and minerals, perfect structure and enormous length. wow! (the 95 also was great) Skipping some great Auslesen and BA, and the wines we had with dinner, the final praise for Knoll's wines has to concern the 1983 GV Auselse. This wine "squares the circle" as Bernie put it. A wine of such greatness that it conveys a sense of timelessness. It proves to me beyound doubt that Grüner Veltliner ranks among the great grape varieties. I had no idea just how good they can be! Can Montrachet be this good ? (I heard some doubts being expressed... ;)
Bründelmayer produced another superb line up of big wines, that invariably managed to carry their heavy load of alcohol with astonishing ease. Another wonderful GV from 83 labelled as Spättlese only confirmed what I had learned by now about the potetial of this variety.
Already feeling somewhat exhausted when we arrived at Mantlerhof I received the final blow: another GV of wonderous quality, and the challenge to guess the age to Bernie and Michl. I was expecting to be surprised by hearing a number in the 7ties, but the unbelievable truth was that it was a 61! absolutely in prime condition, with cinnamon, cedary wood and later coffee notes emerging. a revelation again! followed by an equally fine, seemingly more powerful Riesling from 61 as well...
Wines with dinner at Steierich
Bründlmayr 1994 Brut - Pale gold, with a lasting stream of bubbles. Biscuity, crisp and rich; very impressive sparkling wine.
Sattlerhof 1996 Kranachberg Sudsteiermark Sauvignon Blanc - Pale brass color. Light herbaceous and tobacco-leaf aromas, and good, balanced grassy and citric flavors, clean, dry and tart.
Herbert Neumeister 1997 Sudststeimark Moarfeitl Selektion Sauvignon Blanc - Pale gold color. Good, balanced Sauvignon Blanc, lean and tart and powerful.
Weingut Alois und Ulrike Gross 1994 Ratscher Nussberg Sudsteirischer Morillon-Grauburgunder - Clear, pale gold. Good chestnut and apple aromas; tasty mineral and clean fruit flavors with a firm acidic structure, but oak intrudes. (A Chardonnay and Pinot Gris blend, using old Austrian names for the grapes.)
Umathum 1994 Frauenkirchner vom Stein Neusiedler See St. Laurent - Bright reddish-purple. Odd aromatic quality, perfumed fruit. Good red fruit flavor with well integrated spicy oak. High acidity gives structure, but seems a little odd in a fruity red.
Umathum 1994 Frauenkircher Ried Hallebühl Neusiedler See Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and Cabernet Sauvignon - Dark cherry-red. Shy black-fruit aromas, much more open on the palate, ripe and juicy cherry-berry fruit, tart and dry.
Ernst Triebaumer 1993 "ET" Rust Neusiedlersee Hügelland Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot - Inky dark reddish-purple. Brooding black fruit and light spicy oak aromas; juicy fruit and tart acidity on the palate.
Fritsch 1992 Steinberg Donauland Grüner Veltliner Auslese - Clear, bright gold. wonderful, complex aromas of minerals, white fruit and hazelnuts. Fully dry, big and structured. Its 14.6% alcohol content gives body without heat, making a rich, balanced and focused wine.
Jordan & Jordan 1997 Scharzhofberger Auslese Trocken - Pale greenish-gold. Light peach aroma and slightly off-dry fruit, tart and fresh. This wine seemed much more structured and impressive when tasted in Germany a few days earlier; perhaps recent bottling and/or a rough trip from the Saar to Vienna in the trunk of my car wasn't good for it.
Chateau Phélan-Ségur 1982 Saint-Éstephe - Dark garnet, with a clear edge. Cassis and earthy wild-mushroom notes. Firm, fruity, still showing soft tannins. Mature or near it, but still holding up very well.
Toni Jost 1993 Bacharacher Hahn (Mittelrhein) Riesling Beerenauslese - Clear, pale gold, with full-bore botrytis aromas, apricots and honey, that seem to leap from the glass. Full, unctuous fruit, sweet as syrup, with balancing acidity and layered fruit and honey in a long, shimmering finish.
Additional notes by Peter Ruhrberg
After so many eye opening wines my concentration was pretty much exhausted and I did not manage to take notes at the final culinary climax at the Steirereck. We tasted in particular some leading Austrian reds, and my feelings about them are simlar as about German reds, agreeing with Bernie that these wines get far too much hype compared to the whites. The Umathum St. Laurent was not really my thing, the Cuvee (their top wine appearently) was fuller and deeper, but to me suffered from a heavy dose of oack, and I don't know whether that is just a matter of being too young still, and the final Cabernet while being a fine wine, suffered badly from having to follow the phenomenal Phelan Segur 82. Bernie brought another wonderful GV to the table that went extremely well with the cheese and made my think of what a blissful state it might be to peacfully fall into a slumber over the final sips of the Veltliner ;). But no, dessert loomed, and my Toni Jost BA 93, which performed best with the Griesschmarren and Pear, corresponding with its own maple and pear aromas. The wine lacked the grip and structure of a great BA, and thus coped less well with some of the other delights that piled up on the table. A fine BA nevertheless.
A note on the Jordan: it must have been in some stage of shock, or someone filled Sauvignon Blanc into our glasses rather than Scharzhofberger. I bore no resemblance to the wine I know. Peter, any ideas what may have happened? Bottle sickness? Did we drink a barrel sample the day before?
Alltogether an incredible succession of great wines and great food, taken in in great company in the gorgeous surroundings of the Wachau and Vienna. Austrian magic indeed, and a an experience that will linger for a long time in my memory.
Thursday, May 14, 1998
After a 10(!) hours drive from the Mosel, the small Ford Fiesta carrying Robin and Mary and Peter Ruhrberg arrived at the outskirts of Vienna at 6.25 p.m.
I guided them to their hotel (right next to the vineyards) and headed to my own wine lecture.
I joined the the group later at Grünauer's, Vienna's best "Beisel" (small typical restaurant) featuring traditional Viennese cuisine "with a kick", decent wine, Riedel stemware etc. In addition to us four there were Bernie and his new girlfriend, and Thomas Klinger, Manager at Austria's Wine Marketing Board and brother of Willi Klinger from Freie Weingärtner Wachau.
Food was Viennese, but superb: Boiled beef for Mary, Wiener Schnitzel for Robin, Minced pork's liver for Peter etc.
Wines were exclusively white with a stress on lesser known producers, some brought by Bernie and myself: 1995 Grüner Veltliner Pfaffl (tight, firm, good acidity, very young); 1993 Retzl Zöbinger Heiligenstein Riesling Spätlese halbtrocken 13% (minerally, but with an intensity of apricot flavour in the mouth I've rarely ever seen); 1988 Pinot Blanc Weinberghofhof Fritsch, Oberstockstall (most unusual, "funny" flavor, but straightforward, very interesting); 1991 Traminer Spätlese Salomon Undhof (beautiful nose, intense, bone dry finish -- worked very well with Robin's Schnitzel); and 1992 Pinot Blanc Spätlese halbtrocken (0.62% r.s.) from Ludwig Hiedler, Langenlois: Beautifully crafted, intense, soft, pure harmony, very, very fine.
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