What can I say, I LOVE Austrian wine. Just such a whacky lineup of really profound, kooky wines, everything showing great. We were hosted by Wolfgang and Eddie at Seasonal, a new Austrian restaurant on 58th Street in Midtown that deserves some serious attention. Sophisticated, pure food with contrasting yet integrated flavors. Really worth visiting NYCers - I can't say enough good things about this restaurant.
We had a lot of wines, but I'm only posting on a few because I'm lazy and I didn't take good enough notes and honestly the great wines were just so, so compelling that they sort of overwhelmed the just plain old good wines.
1967 Schloss Johannisberg "Feinste" Auslese
Pre-1971 so we have the "Feinste" language instead of GK, so it goes. This was just a thick, blanketing, billowy, creamy, massive trophy of a Riesling and even if you tend not to like Rheingau Riesling (and I tend not to), there is no denying the impressiveness of this juice. Seriously, this bottle was like a history lesson as to why Rheingau Rieslings eclipsed their skinny little Mosel neighbors for most of the 20th century. The palate was absolute Riesling-velvet, sticky and unctuous with an Amarone-like weight and feel, though still with poise and balance; tiny tendrils of acidity spun out and integrated into this wine gave it enough freshness and zip, so no worries there (though granted, with 3+ hours it did become darker and darker, but to be expected I'd say). A dark cherry nose, edged with menthol and glistening with sap, dried apricot, plums, prunes and washing evenly into beautiful earthen notes like caramel, molasses, tree bark, sweet tobacco and moist earth. A delicate note of green pine-needle bitterness on the finish framed the luscious sweetness well and gave it even more complexity. A wow wine and I tend to like dry wine from the Mosel / Nahe / Wachau, so take that into consideration when I say this wine was just drop dead gorgeous. If you see one at Cost Co. or wherever, jump on it.
1998 Donnhoff Brucke Spatlese
Very, very lovely and man oh man does Donnhoff just do elegance and style like no one else out there. Rich and enveloping nose all spun together into some creamy-almond-lime-green-apple potion of Riesling love. Perfectly assembled, flawless balance and good freshness and lift as you'd expect from the vintage, but still, there's something sort of muddled about the flavors - as if the creaminess is overwhelming the focus of the distinct notes, or at least blending them all together. For this indiscretion, I say only "very, very good" and not "great." I'd still give it like a lot of points. Tons of points.
1988 Knoll Gruner Veltliner Vinothekfullung
Wow is this a beautiful freak and a tasting note won't get anywhere close. A nose that is just absolutely out of its mind with a raw pungency that just about slaps you in the face. Ripe socks mixing it up with jagged rock salt, lime, liquid metals, non-liquid metals (?), iron shavings, meaty charred notes, tea, coffee beans and an edging of raw onions. Somehow, as wild as this is, there's a logic to it and for all the whacked out descriptors, nearly everyone at the table, myself included, *loved* the wine. The palate is super-saturated, incredibly dense and compact with very good definition - there's almost a Riesling-like elegance to the palate though as convincing as it is it probably doesn't quite match the shrieking genius-madness of the nose. What would? Still, great definition and so much fun. An amazing bottle of wine. Note to self: Not that this quite has the perfection of Prager or the pure soul of Alzinger, still, I must drink more old Knoll.
1994 Knoll Riesling Kellerberg Smaragd
Probably the wine of the night and Kellerberg has to be the greatest site in Austria, right? Anyone? (Can someone let Leo Alzinger make a Riesling Kellerberg? What say you Lucas or FX Pichler?) A stunning, stunning bottle with that Kellerberg delicacy, defined edges with just a beautiful, detailed minerality: A fresh core of caramelized lemon pith, verbena cream, crushed oyster shells, melted plastic, smoke, marshmallow smoke, caraway seeds and a wild green bitterness balanced and held in tension by a delicate needle of sweetness that rounded this wine out flawlessly. Certainly the best Knoll I've ever had - these cumbersome beasts really do emerge as swans, though it definitely takes some time. Porcelain in weight, but very saturating and intense and if this wine is cerebral (and it is), it's also just drop dead gorgeous. Go figure.
1993 Nikolaihof Gruner Veltliner "Vinothek"
My fourth time with this bottle and its 2nd best showing. What can I say, this is a complex wine that needs a lot of TLC and patience and probably needs to be drunk under the right phase of the moon, as it's ultra-biodynamic and such. Nikolaihof's "Vinotheks' spend well over a decade just sitting in a big ole wood barrel in the darn chilly cellars of Nikolaihof, so they can be fairly persnickety. Yes, this is the current release - the third "Vinothek" in fact. A glorious bottle that is incredibly fresh and creamy with a soft, green-blue coolness and gentle washes of lemon pith that gives it a tremendous lift for a Gruner. With time in the glass, a gorgeous little mountain stream complexity begins to reveal itself, along with a spring fresh airiness filled with green herbs. Bright and coating and so, so good. Probably even worth the price.
2005 Melusine Gruner Veltliner
Revisiting this cult Gruner for the first time since July. Marion Ebner is super cool and she makes the Melusine Gruner from one single row of vines that Michael Moosbrugger at Schloss Gobelsburg lends her… I believe they're Lyra-trained vines in the Lamm vineyard but I could be wrong about that. Needless to say one row of vines does not produce that much wine and as I understand it only a few hundred bottles come into the country a year. Sometimes I write smart things, it's interesting. On tasting this some moons ago I wrote the following: "This is a big wine, brooding and massive with really incredible concentration. Anytime the Lyras come out, watch out because the phenolics are damn near tangible. Sappy, dark, warm melon fruits, honeysuckle, flowers, powdered dark minerals all backed up and sort of balanced by buckets of stones and with a great herbal complexity including that white pepper snap of Gruner. While this is impressive juice that is well put together for sure, the form does feel sort of monolithic. I'd definitely like to revisit before any massive conclusions are made..."
Well, sure enough, some time has really helped this wine and while all the dense, gushing power is still there, the bottle has for sure gained clarity, transparency and definition. If it felt dark, brooding and a bit hot before, it has re-distributed some of this weight and now feels very well balanced and there is a life and freshness to it that calms down and frames the just silly extract. A very, very good showing - really lovely. I should also mention, again, that the cork is very cool - featuring the stamp of a rather provocative mermaid.
2005 Keller Spatburgunder "Burgel"
Ah... just to make the night complete and well-rounded we blind-tasted a red. Poured from the decanter, with only our noses to guide us the majority at the table seemed to favor Syrah, and maybe even new world Syrah. I thought it was Cathiard for what it's worth, albeit with a dollop of Gamay, so there you go. In any event, sure enough, this was Keller's Spatburgunder. It was definitely from the Burgel vineyard but I don't know if it was the "Cuvee Felix" or if it was just the regular Burgel - I don't even know if there are two separate Pinot Noirs from this vineyard - Klaus-Peter? While I've been lucky enough to drink probably more than my share of Keller Rieslings, this was my first encounter with the reds.
I wish I had been able to concentrate on this a bit more, but by this point there were so many whites already opened and I'm sure my palate was way fatigued, but in general I have to say the wine was very impressive, with a very good concentration and even more important, proportion and size. None of that chunky, clumsy or heavy thing you often get with a German Spatburgunder and though it didn't quite have the polish or elegance of a 1er Cru red Burgundy, it really was compact and very, very well put together, integrated and with a good framing acidity. A vibrant dark cherry, a good amount of spice (probably the reason for the Syrah guesses during the blind tasting) though nice notes too of graphite and even a bit of dry earth. I don't know how much new wood this bottling sees, but it did definitely show more wood than I like, but it also certainly had the concentration to hold this and maybe with time it'll suck the wood up a bit more even. Time will tell - a very good first experience though.