Terry Theise’s 2016 Austria Vintage Report

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Terry’s 2016 Austrian Vintage report is in and we’re very excited about the Austrian offering year – full of elegant and classic wines. Cooler toned rather than rich and unctuous, this vintage is a great counterpoint to the wines of 2015.  “There are incisive wines in 2016; there are intense wines, fascinating wines, quivering beautiful wines, but there are few if any big wines. I heard the phrase “After 2015 it’s back to reality,” but really, what reality? In this case the reality is, Austrian Rieslings and GVs are generally so outstanding that they shine even in (so-called) normal vintages.” writes Terry in the 2016 Austrian Vintage report, which can be read in full below.


TERRY THEISE’S 2016 AUSTRIA VINTAGE REPORT

In style it is not dissimilar to the vintage in Germany. But conditions were different in the latter part of the growing season. The Austrians suffered the same appalling weather everyone in Europe suffered, unremitting rain before flowering, during flowering and into the middle of the summer. Downy and powdery mildews abounded and growers were in their vineyards non stop. But in Germany it grew sunny and dry by mid August and by harvest they were concerned about drought, whereas in Austria it wasn’t so clement.

Yet the wines are mostly lovely. There’s a word that kept cropping up –  sapid – which it turned out I was using incorrectly. It means merely to have a “strong and agreeable taste,” yet what I was fruitlessly trying to convey was a liquid quality whereby the wines felt moist, flowing, almost innocent. Everything tasted like Styrian wine, actually, but that isn’t helpful because few of you know what those wines are like. It is a quality of charm pertaining to  dew. The cool hours at the start of a warm day. The first fresh green when the trees leaf out, it feels like you could grab them and squeeze out a fragrant green juice. It’s more of a feel than a flavor, or a set of flavors. That said, the vintage has identifiable components.

One is high(er) acidity than the recent norm. It’s not enough to even notice in Grüner Veltliner except to the extent you approve of it, but for some Rieslings it tends to clip them, so that they smell good and enter the palate attractively only to finish with an abrupt drop-off of fruit. But don’t go thinking it’s a GV-vintage but not a Riesling vintage, because in truth it depended on the individual grower.

Also, there is a fairly narrow span between bottom and top in 2016. That is, the bottom level is higher than one would have expected – than I myself did at any rate – and the summits are seldom knockouts. There are incisive wines in 2016; there are intense wines, fascinating wines, quivering beautiful wines, but there are few if any big wines. I heard the phrase “After 2015 it’s back to reality,” but really, what reality? In this case the reality is, Austrian Rieslings and GVs are generally so outstanding that they shine even in (so-called) normal vintages.

Botrytis doesn’t seem to have been a problem. This isn’t another 2014.  To the degree the 16s have anything you could call a common problem, it is that a few of them can taste incomplete. There are some small wines. I didn’t select them, obviously, but the vintage entails them. It’s also a year of tangible contrasts between good, excellent and superb land and growers. And also a year of surprises; where did that Schwarzböck vintage come from??? What on earth took over Erich Berger?!?

The growers were also surprised by their reds. They anticipated slimmer wines, but these reds – at least the “basic” ones – were delicious and anything but slight or aloof.

Assume a white wine is a mélange of flavors, among them flowers, fruits, minerals/rocks/whatever, veggies, herbs and spices, and assume different vintages combine these flavors in varying proportions. If I say that 2016 places flowers in the foreground, it doesn’t mean there aren’t other flavors, just that they’re behind flowers in the framework. I’d actually say that ’16 goes like this: flowers-herbs-minerals-fruits-veggies. As far as texture – cold, quick-running stream…sleek, not scrawny, long but a slim line of length, not a big strong beam. As far as structure – high cheekbones, penetrating blue eyes, good looking polymorphs.

As far as the must-buy index, I told you that 2013 and 2015 were both have-to-have vintages, and to a large extent you ignored me, because people don’t really “buy vintages” here the way they do in places they take more seriously. Too bad, but more great wine for the few and the proud (and the smug!). For people who like Austrian wine, who buy some each year, who drink the wines regularly, these wines will please you and charm you and you’ll be happy to have them. A good many of them are superb, some may be great, and a small number may be profound, but this isn’t what one would insist is a “great” vintage; it simply shows how good good can be in a wine culture with such a high baseline.

Lovers of Gelber Muskateller will perhaps share my surprise at how good the ‘16s are. In such a vintage I feared they’d be too skinny and miss the elderflower aroma, but no; they’re really lovely, especially if you don’t mind a salivating acidity.

There aren’t many 2015s left, but they still look good. I wondered if ’16 would make them seem corpulent, but no. I think ’15 will be all I hoped it would be, and right now my sense is it will ultimately exceed 2013, though both are outstanding vintages.

HIGHLIGHTS AND SUPERLATIVES

The winery of the vintage is always a tough call. If I only look at the number of wonderful wines then it tends to go to the usual suspects, and we know who they are. There are also collections that included late-released 2015s, which ought not to be in play. Best perhaps to consider the grower I haven’t stopped thinking about, the wines that cut deepest, the collection that accumulated into the greatest sense of wonder and otherworldliness. It was a fast-paced tasting on a busy Sunday morning, and the poor proprietor was clearly in some stress with everywhere he had to be and everyone he had to greet. Yet those were the wines by which I am now haunted.

And so, the winery of the vintage, is NIGL. Martin’s wines are seldom sensual hedonists, but when they play their hypnotic eerie music like this, you feel like your cells are rearranging, your IQ is increasing, and your fingertips are forming new patterns.

RUNNERS UP include, Alzinger, Ott, Hiedler (those Rieslings!).

The collection of the offering, taking multiple vintages into account, is NIKOLAIHOF, followed closely behind by BRUNDLMAYER.

The wine of the vintage (2016) will be divided between Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. And so:

GV:  the nominees are OTT Rosenberg, GOBELSBURG Renner, and NIGL Alte Reben. The winner is OTT.  That wine is crazed.

RIESLING: The nominees are ALZINGER Hollerin Smaragd, HIEDLER Steinhaus, BERGER Steingraben, BRUNDLMAYER Heiligenstein Lyra, and NIGL Hochäcker. The winner is NIGL. That wine made me cry. (No one saw me.)

The greatest wines in the offering, regardless of vintage, are GOBELSBURG GV TRADITION 2015, and NIKOLAIHOF RIESLING STEINER HUND “JUNGFERNLESE” 2005. There’s also a supernal 2009 GV Smaragd from NIKOLAIHOF that’s only available as one in a mixed-case vertical.

The overachiever of the vintage (as opposed to the “best value” which is coming up), is BRUNDLMAYER GV Vogelsang.

The best value among the 2016s is/are GOBELSBURG’S basic GV (which will surprise exactly no one), but also HIRSCH’s basic GV, GLATZER’S GV “Dornenvogel”, and SCHWARZBOCK’S GV Bisamberg-Kreuzstein.

The best value regardless of vintage or color is GLATZER’S 2015 Blaufränkisch Reserve.

The top Rosé is, by far and without any doubt, HEIDI SCHROCK’S Rosé Biscaya. It is closely trailed by PRIELER.

The best Muscat of the vintage is NIGL for precision and minerality and BERGER for, not to put too fine a point on it, fucking deliciousness.

The most noteworthy reds, regardless of variety and price-point, i.e. the ones I want for myself at home, are GLATZER as mentioned above,  WALLNER 2015 Blaufränkisch Eisenberg DAC, PRIELER (see below), HOFER 2015 St Laurent, and BRUNDLMAYER 2015 Zweigelt Reserve.

The one single wine that most astonished me, that may never be repeated, that has no precedent nor any cause to suppose it would ever exist, is PRIELER’S 2015 Pinot Noir Ried Satz, which you could have poured me as Echèzeaux and I would have believed you.

It was a good year!