It was a lot to chew... eh, swallow, but we lined up for it anyway. As comprehensive an overview of the 2006 Austrian Gruner Veltliner vintage as a few weary mortals could put together with the idea of keeping our pocket books, and livers, in some form of reasonable health. It was considered enough that the big boys were collected together to guarantee some form of authoritative stamp: FX Pichler's Kellerberg, Hirtzberger's Honivogl and Knoll's Vinothekfullung. At the same time, a rationed dose of chaos was heartily welcome - young Michael Moosbrugger's Schloss Gobelsburg, wiley Wachau legionaire Jamek, under-the-radar Holzapfel and even the esoteric Setzter, unabashedly seeking top quality in the otherwise maligned Weinviertel. Trestle on Tenth kindly hosted us and did a great job of putting together a thoughtful menu; a great group of people were in attendance, and many thanks go out to all for helping to make the night what it was.
This is going to be an insanely long post, covering both some big-picture issues but also delving into the fine points of the 18 wines encountered. Click below to read the entire post at your own risk.
Big thoughts on the vintage? (1) It's trite to say, but the 2006 vintage in Austria is massive - the big Smaragds (not to mention the late harvest wines of the Kremstal, the Kamptal and just about everywhere else) are dense and weighty - those whose scales are out of whack are unquestionably clunky. At the same time, it's largely a Smaragd vintage - many of the Federspiels and lesser wines feel awkward - teenagers that are much to meaty and sinewy to have much charm, not stately or graceful enough to bowl you over with their calm intensity. There are of course exceptions, Hirtzberger, Nikolaihof and Mr. FX have produced some incredible Feders. (2) While balanced, the calm acidity of some of these wines didn't quite feel up to the task of holding the wines' massive front half - like the Hulk with colossal shoulders perched on meager legs. Again, I don't know that I question the basic structure of the wines - I just wonder how gently the Hulk can navigate certain, more delicate, situations. (3) Gruner Veltliner holds its alcohol well. Whereas I feel like Riesling is so delicate it often flairs up even when the alcohol is not so prominent, Gruner Veltliner is a blanket that wraps up much of the burn of these wines, so beware. On to the wines...
Flight 1: Wachau - Hello Federspiel
Alzinger Muhlpoint Federspiel
This wine had some bite and verve, even for a Federspiel. Gossamer wine - glowing and green with an obvious transparency - extremely tense and nervous, green apple, apple skins, grapefruit shavings, a dash of salt and glossy minerals - piquant, sharply twangy. Here today, gone tomorrow. Enjoyable, laudable and fun with the twang of the first course, but a lot of crashing cymbals to have over the course of a night.
Rudi Pichler Wachauer Federspiel
A definitive step up in concentration - the oily green apple skins of the Alzinger have here become oranges, tangelo, even pears and warm melons. The oil and spice quality of a big Gruner is evident; the texture has taken a sizable step up, we here have some cream with cut. Rudi Pichler makes near-flawless wines, but my sense of this is that it's a Smaragd in a Federspiel's clothes.
Flight 2: Wachau - Hello Federspiel Part II
Hirtzberger Rotes Tor Federspiel
This is the second time I've had this wine - it's the fourth time I've had a 2006 Hirtzberger - each time I have one I become more and more convinced Hirtzberger has made some of the finest 2006 Austrians out there. Immense concentration, just screaming of 2006 - considerable breadth and depth. Feels at once bigger and more sizable than the Rudi Pichler, yet also more graceful, more elegant, and more agile. Yellow fruits, oil, nuts, salt, wax, minerals, finely grained and polished and persistent. Lovely, lovely stuff that I wish I had bought more of when we had it in stock.
FX Pichler Frauenweingarten Federspiel
This Federspiel (as well as the Hirtzberger before it) clocked in at a considerable 12.5% alcohol - nonetheless, its elegance and poise are unquestionable, as far as I'm concerned. To my palate, less deep and complex than the Hirtzberger, more textured - a finely woven midpalate that reminded me of Zilliken's best. Orchard fruit with delineated cream with cut - beautiful acidity and great length. Yes, a big Federspiel, but very, very good.
Flight 3: Kamptal - My name is Moosbrugger
Schloss Gobelsburg Lamm
One of the charmers of the night though I remain nonplussed. Yes, nonplussed. The Lamm especially had an expressive nose of tangerine, smoke, oil, spice, orchard fruits, dried citrus skins, some soft notes of vanilla even... coconut? Absurdly smooth and suave, with a lazy midpalate that washes evenly and extends horizontally, covering every damn taste bud you have. I can't critique the quality of the wine; impeccable balance, a beautifully detailed architecture and not a squeak of wild alcohol. I'm truly not trying to be a contrarian here, but there's something about this soft, eager-to-please, politely in-your-face style that I find disagreeable. (I did take this wine home with me, and on day 2 it did show some heat, though I can hardly claim this to be a real fault of the wine.)
Schloss Gobelsburg Steinsetz
Better. More restrained, sharper, cleaner, more citrus and less coconut and vanilla, yet still of the same effusive, softer, style. Well done, and I think better raw material than the Lamm, but still, not my style.
Flight 4: The Bizarre, Hodge-Podge Flight of Producers I Like
Salomon Von Stein Reserve
One of my favorite producers - I think their 2006s are amongst the best values out there. I was happy to put Salomon into the mix of 2006 Austria and even happier that I felt it showed very well - a bulldog, feisty and unapologetic. All the ripeness and burly qualities of the 2006 vintage, yet absolutely balanced by a textured, stony acidity. Big lemons mashed up with cold rocks - not a wine for the meager but just so full of life and energy and gusto. About as precise as it could be, given it's semi-maniacal energy. Lovely, characterful juice.
Eeeks. Maybe the first wine of the night to have some of the alcohol burn through the wine's skin. Though I had a Brundlmayer Heiligenstein the next day at the Skurnik tasting that I thought was very good, I've never been a huge fan of Brundlmayer. Schloss Gobelsburg-like in their more mellow, soft and gooey midpalates.
I don't think the Setzter 8000 showed quite as well as it has in previous tastings. It could very well be that I just like this wine because the 8000 refers to the vineyard density - 8000 vines per hectare. Maybe I just think that's cool and have convinced myself this wine is great. In the past it's been monolithic, yes, but not clumsy. At this specific showing, the wine was a bit burly and out of whack I thought, though the concentration was fantastic - simple, yet fantastic - and the acidity so well integrated that you just had to give it some credit. Two out of three showings this wine has been very impressive; I'm holding faith that it was just an off bottle, or it's in a weird place.
Flight 5: Achleiten! What'd you call me?
Holzapfel Achleiten Smaragd
How geeky is this? A lineup of three Achleitens - all Smaragds, all... well, Achleitens. Wow. Achleiten is a great vineyard in the Wachau, just in front of the Klaus vineyard and as whacky as this flight was, it has to be counted as amongst the best. The site gives its wines a distinct minerally character - a leanness that was refreshing after some of the bulkier wines of flights past. I have to say, the Holzapfel really impressed me. When I first tried this wine, I actually quite liked it - very dense, compact... elegant, nuanced. A wine that, once you engage it, is actually quite rewarding. That said, I thought in this night of A-list celebrities, it'd be shadowed by the glitz and glamor of the other wines - absolutely not so. As least not in this flight of Achleitens. Great complexity; Gruner from the dark side, though not in a twisted, evil way. A nose of sappy yellow fruit, cream, pungent dark fruit, earth, top soil, a sort of cooked, moist florality, green things (?). The palate showed much more concentrated and expressive than the last time I had it, still that great, dense, compact, finely-knit midpalate, but with a bit more flash and flair. Still very elegant, very persistence. Impressive...
Jamek Achleiten Smaragd
For me, one of the surprises of the night. For a vintage of such ripe intensity, the Jamek was all blue/green for me - a cooling blue minerality with extreme filigree and detail, very pure and clean feeling throughout the midpalate - beautiful delineated fresh green notes, intermixed with great citrus, nuts, oil... so delicately persistent. A beautiful acidity and perhaps one of the best balanced wines of the night. Stunning stuff. Incidentally, based on this experience, I tried the Jamek Riesling Klaus the next day at the Skurnik tasting and thought it was also exceptional. If I can somehow talk Tom into letting me buy more Austrian wine, I will buy this.
Jager Achleiten Smaragd
More in the style of the Holzapfel, at least in its denseness... a bit creamier, a tad less focus I thought. Yellow fruit, green peas, cream, a bit bulky. Didn't show as much expressive orchard fruit as I've had in previous Jagers... Perhaps just not showing well this specific night.
Flight 6: My name is Smaragd, I live on the second floor...
Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Smaragd
Another surprise of the night, though it shouldn't have been. I don't know why I didn't think this wine would show that good in the company of the others - I stand corrected; it's excellent. Absurdly delicate for a Smaragd, yet with undeniable concentration of the cool and creamy kind - moss, cheese rinds, great fresh herbs like dill, creme fraiche, yellow fruits. Don't let all this cheese and cream talk fool you - the wine has serious precision, with an iron-twinged minerality that was just wonderfully centering. Great stuff from this outcast on the southern bank of the Danube.
Rudi Pichler Hochrain Smaragd
A definitive step up from Mr. Pichler - an expressive and near-brooding nose of dark, warm citrus, creme brullee, glowing yellow fruits, orchard perfumes. On the palate, very 2006, warm and heady, with a certain laziness, a calm mouthfilling energy. Great varietal notes of white pepper and herbs - good acidity and minerality. But wow, this is a lot of Gruner Veltliner. Some time in the cellar will undoubtedly help it shed some of its baby-fat weight?
Hirtzberger Rotes Tor Smaragd
All the weight and bulk of the Rudi Pichler, yet somehow with more complexity, more depth, and also much more elegance. An amazing Hirtzberger, in spite of the fact it was showing some alcohol. A bizarre and intriguing dark rainwater nose, some washes of salt, glowing deep incense citrus, melon, underripe pineapple even? Though everything here is integrated and as crazy as it all seems, it works to my palate. A spirit-like quality is here - grapefruit brandy or something... yes, some of it is the alcohol showing, but another part of it is some great, tense, bitter herbs mixed with grapefruit that gives it an almost piquant, bite to it. Still, elegant and persistent. Very good stuff.
Flight 7: Beethoven Symphonie No. 9; Schiller's "An die Freude!"
If I could have controlled the sound system at Trestle on Tenth, I very well might have put the last chorus of Beethoven's 9th on - a maniacal "Ode to Joy" to pair with some of the most glorious Gruners of the face of the earth.
FX Pichler Kellerberg Smaragd
Wildy exuberant, though sort of paradoxically, not showing too much of itself right now. A strong, exuding note of citrus and oil, a warm orange acidity and mineral core that is amazingly dense and shows tons of potential, yet somehow the whole wine feels like it was spun out of silk. While the Hirtzbergers I've had have shown more depth, more incredible jaw-dropping concentration, breadth and depth, FX steals the show for filigreed delicacy. At least at the moment. But no final comments here, this wine has some years ahead of it...
Hirtzberger Honivogl Smaragd
For me, probably the wine of the night, though again, I'm probably taking into account the potential of the wine, and not necessarily its performance that night. Regardless, an amazing wine, somehow taking a bulbous palate filled with everything and the kitchen sink, and spinning it into something integrated, rich, elegant and with certain energy and glide. More of that blue/green thing I liked so much on the Jamek. Like the Nikolaihof, the Honivogl has a undeniable creaminess to it - verbana handcream meets creme fraiche meets citrus skins. This bizarre mixture remains fresh and delineated, like meringues, when you're whipping them... it's that minute they begin to hold their form - making "soft peaks." As the name of the wine suggests, there's certainly a honeyed quality to the wine, though it's in great proportion to the wine. An amazing package; a wine to buy if you can find it and put in your cellar and be thankful.
Knoll Vinothekfullung Smaragd
Hello concentration. Hello length. This wine was as it should have been - infantile, tightly wound and inward looking - though also still massive and expressive. Apricot, tangelo, grapefruit, carmelized fruit skins, dried flowers, a dusting of bitter herbs, salt, rocks. This was another one of those wines that I took home, and on day 2 even the intensity of the nose does not prepare you for baseball bat to the head palate: Sappy sweet melons that you can almost feel on your palate. Gushing and huge, oil and cream... Not quite as persistent as I would have liked, and a bit wild, but what the hell. It's 2006 in Austria - why not? By day 3, I have to say, the wine was beginning to unravel - still impressive concentration and all that, but craters of alcohol were beginning to show up all over the wine... Again, a wine to put down and re-evaluate in 5 years. I don't have enough experience to know whether all this will fall into place, or if the wine is just some sort of extreme sport that's more about the intensity of the experience than anything else. But it seems to me well worth the bet of putting a few in the cellar... I definitely want to check back in on this wine.
With that, I'll end this absurdly long post. Thanks for reading.