Terry Theise’s 2015 Austria Vintage Report

Terry Theise's 2015 Austria Vintage Report 3

We heard reports as early as January of this year that 2015 would be a great vintage. When the Austrian Wine Marketing Board rated 2015 a “Historic Vintage”, we were cautious, but optimistic. After tasting through the 2015 vintage with all of our growers several weeks ago we’re convinced that 2015 is indeed an extraordinary vintage. There don’t seem to be any ordinary wines, let alone bad ones, and I suspect we’ll be debating which is the greater vintage – 2015 or 2013 – for many years to some.” writes Terry in the 2015 Austrian Vintage report, which can be read in full below.

When we first started tasting the early bottled and landed “little” wines from 2015 here in the states, particularly the 2015 Nigl Freiheit, we were very excited. The wines were delicious, but not excessively ripe, as some folks feared they might be, after such a warm summer.  This vintage has density without being heavy, and lots of fruit, but not at the expense of mineral or savory components. “It has all the terroir and “minerality” a vintage can have, but it is always driven by ripe deliciousness”.  2015 seems to be the juicier, fraternal twin to the more sleek and linear 2013 vintage. Across the range, these wines are truly superb and deserve attention.


An amazingly even, substantive and charming vintage. There don’t seem to be any ordinary wines, let alone bad ones, and I suspect we’ll be debating which is the greater vintage – 2015 or 2013 – for many years to come. Speaking of white wines now, 2015 excels in the quality German-speakers call dicht, which roughly translates as density but  really denotes a richness of texture where you don’t find any holes in the wine, any place it might sag, any interruption of structural richness. This capacity was so omnipresent among 2015’s that even the smallest wines were endowed with it. Our basic GrüVe liters have never been better. Entry-level wines such as Nigl’s Freiheit GV and Glatzer’s basic GV are absurdly good. It’s almost impossible to say whether GV is better than Riesling, except that Riesling always stretches higher, all things being equal. The Muskatellers are superb also, with all their angular nettly spiciness but also with the balancing elderblossom flavors that give them extra dimensions. Basically, every white wine I tasted was gifted with the vintage’s fine generous concentration.

NIGLBut not only that. 2015 tastes as if it went to charm school. It excels in fruit. It has all the terroir and “minerality” a vintage can have, but it is always driven by ripe deliciousness.

Sounds almost perfect, right? It is almost perfect. For ambitious growers it is too perfect, because every lazy sod could make good wine, and there’s less way for the truly fine to stand out. One could argue that vintages like ’15 set an unsustainable standard; they spoil us. Be that as it may, it’s a vintage to buy and buy again, because it will make friends.

The wines are so consistent and so genial that I had very little curiosity about the weather that created them. I heard the prevailing stories about heat-spikes in the Summer, about drought in some vineyards, about interrupted assimilation in stressed vines, about timely late-Summer rain, about a good proper Autumn and a happy harvest, where you could pick with a master-plan and the weather went along. I tasted almost zero botrytis and I only rarely tasted over-ripeness. I doubt we’ll see many north-of-14%-alcohol bruisers, and I doubt we’ll see bitterness.

Faithful readers will notice an absence of caveats and qualifiers in these remarks, and less of the light-and-shade I usually delineate when I describe a vintage. There was no need for such things. The vintage is reliable; it doesn’t indicate a common “flaw” and it doesn’t tell a story of a challenge surmounted whereby this guy did it but that guy didn’t.

One thing 2015 was, was cruel to 2014. That vintage obtained a dubious reputation by irresponsible members of the press – not the wine press but the popular press – who told stories of awful harvest weather and who basically poured a lot of garbage over the vintage while it was actually being gathered. So inside Austria, 2014 was infra-dig, and when the first ‘15s entered the market it became impossible to sell any remaining ‘14s. Thus defenders of that vintage – among whom I belong, with qualifiers – were digging out of some deep holes.

I offer a few ‘14s here. I love every one of them, and several are truly excellent wines. I was never “forced” to buy up the moribund ‘14s to gain access to the gleaming ‘15s, and no selections were made as “favors” to the grower. When the wine was good, I was glad to be helpful, but only then.

If there is anything to say about ’15 it is, maybe, this: it tended to favor growers who normally make slim-bodied filigree detailed wines, as opposed to growers who make juicier more analog wines. Accent on tended! About mid way through my nine days tasting I thought “This will be a great year for Nigl,” as indeed it was, though in several surprising ways. I also thought “This type of year doesn’t play to Hiedler’s strengths” and yet Ludwig made a stunning group of Rieslings, many of his best ever.


Not easy this year! The entire vintage is a highlight.

As I mulled it over, I thought I’d bring you into the process instead of just blurting who made the “best” this or that.

So – who is the winery of the vintage? Is it HIRSCH, who has his best collection in years, and who really seems to have taken a big leap forward? Is it GOBELSBURG because basically who is any better than they are? Is it ALZINGER because the wines are not just stellar but heart rending, though there isn’t much to be had?

If you look only at the most aching beauty, it has to be Alzinger. Wine does not get better than this.

If you look at a sustained level of excellence across a large range, with very high summits among them, it has to be Gobelsburg.

 But if you look at the surprising, the improbable, the WTF happened here?? then it HAS to be my in-the-zone pal Johannes Hirsch, whom I think has never shown me a finer more consistent group of wines.  But! This is based on tasting pre-bottled wine to a greater extent than at Gobelsburg, and so I hesitate……

The winery of the vintage is – the vintage!

The wine of the vintage is another conundrum. Candidly, the “best” wine may be something I only get 30 cases of (often less) and even if I’m telling the “truth” I am also perhaps inciting demand I can’t fulfill. In that spirit, I will again share the process.

From Gobelsburg, the twin peaks are Grüner Veltliner Renner, and Riesling Heiligenstein. These are truly great wines and there’s enough to be had.

Alzinger’s Riesling Höhereck Smaragd was the wine that most moved me. If tears were the criterion, this would be the wine. But the amount will be tiny.

This surprised me, but Hofer’s Grüner Veltliner Kirchlissen is the best GV Hans ever showed me, a wine I wouldn’t be shocked to have tasted at Nigl.

Even more amazing, Glatzer’s regular Grüner Veltliner was an absolute mind-fuck in 2015; by no means as “great” as the others in consideration, but the greatest vintage of the 26 I’ve tasted, and there’s PLENTY of it.

 Finally, the wine perhaps closest to my soul, the stirring meditation-on-beauty that is Nikolaihof’s Riesling Vom Stein Federspiel.

 If I chose on the basis of my own pure response, then Nikolaihof. If I chose on a more “professional” basis then Alzinger and/or Gobelsburg. If I let sales-politics into the criteria, then Glatzer because it’s the wine I have the biggest supply of. If I look at the pure genius of 2015, then Hofer because when has he ever made a wine like that?

I’ll indulge myself. NIKOLAIHOF.

 GV GlassThe wine of the offering, which takes other vintages into account, is an entertaining choice. Ready? Give it up to Hirsch 2014 Heiligenstein Riesling. Get ready to be entirely gob-smacked by the truly wacked-out amazing 2004 Sekt “R.D.” from Gobelsburg. Mustn’t neglect the murmury and soulful Hiedler Grüner Veltliner Familienreserve 2007. The most unlikely great wine in the offering has to be Bründlmayer’s astonishing 2014 Heiligenstein Riesling Alte Reben.  If we include sweet wine then certainly Schröck’s 2014 Ausbruch “Turner,” which is the greatest she has ever made.

So, for excellence we had no reason to have expected, for beating the odds and creating true greatness from out of the morass of challenges of 2014, I am lost in admiration for Bründlmayer’s  2014 Heiligenstein Alte Reben Riesling, certainly the greatest Riesling of that vintage in Austria.

But for sheer WTF-value, the silly-good 2004 late-disgorged bubbly from Gobelsburg.

 The best Muscat this year – among a great many – is a tossup between Nikolaihof and Schröck, so I’d say to take Nikolaihof if you want something lyric, mineral and charming and Schröck  if you want something more inferential and atmospheric. Oh shit, just take them both.

The best low-end GV is, sheesh, all of them! But especially noteworthy are Ecker’s Stockstall, Nigl’s Freiheit, Hofer’s Von Den Rieden, and the aforementioned Glatzer. I am deliberately omitting members of this category that are always star performers, but suffice to say the Gobelsburg and the Hirsch will make you very happy indeed.

The best Rosé is Prieler for complexity and vinosity, and Ecker for animal deliciousness.

The most noteworthy reds in various price-points and along lines of stature, might include these guys: GLATZER’S 2013 Zweigelt Dornenvogel, Sattler’s 2013 St. Laurent Reserve, Prieler’s 2014 Blaufränkisch Leithaberg, Setzer’s 2014 Zweigelt, and Schwarzböck’s 2014 Zweigelt.

Of these, the single greatest, and the one you must not miss, is the PRIELER  2014 Blaufränkisch Leithaberg.