Terry Theise’s 2017 Austria Vintage Report

Terry Theise's 2017 Austria Vintage Report 25

Unlike Germany, there was no Spring frost, and like Germany it was an early harvest, and unlike Germany the growing season wasn’t especially complicated, and the growers said they had a fairly easy time of it. Like Germany the wines are ripe and strong, in contrast to the tensile yet lissome ‘16s, and like Germany there is light and shade, and it isn’t predictable.

In general, for white wines, 2017 is decidedly a Riesling vintage. That doesn’t mean the Grüner Veltliners are mundane; it means that they are very good but Riesling is often seriously fabulous. The growers showing the best collections of GV are both growers who make very little Riesling – Ott, and Ecker. It’s fair to say that 2017 is not a “collector” vintage for GV – as if “collectors” collected GV, however much they ought to – but it’s an entirely satisfactory vintage with more than isolated high points. In the old days the trade used the word useful as a euphemism for “forgettable,” but I’m going to use it more precisely: the ’17 GVs will do all the job you could ask of them (and the Liters punch absurdly above their weights), but the Rieslings will send your soul flying.

This presents me with a quandary. GV outsells Riesling. By a lot. Riesling is the best wine grape in the world but it seems to confuse a lot of people. People somehow manage to maintain their equanimity facing hundreds of far more confusing wines, but  find impressively creative and incoherent reasons for abjuring Riesling. Reasons they themselves contrive. Barricades they themselves build, before which they stand, defensively bemused. Yet there it is: 2017 delivers a large number of seriously amazing and potentially great Rieslings, all of them DRY (so we get rid of the brainless shibboleth about “How do you know if it’s dry or sweet?”), all of them – not some, ALL – better values than nearly any other dry wine y’all think is great. So OK, my world and its strange windows, through which it seems I must look.

2017, being a strong vintage, will produce lusty reds and big-shouldered whites from varieties other than GV and Riesling. Yet even then it has surprises up its sleeve. The Muscats and Sauvignon Blancs are truly and improbably remarkable. I thought I’d find them brusque, but no; they’re focused, direct and beyond tasty. Glatzer’s basic SB was so exceptional I saw no reason to trade up to his single-vineyard. Nigl’s Muscat is the best he’s ever made.

There’s an anecdote I heard a couple times. Many growers started by picking GV, to get the everyday wines, but suspended picking it because Riesling was exactly a point and they wanted to seize the moment (and the grapes), which entailed resuming the GV harvest when the Rieslings were finished, and this may have been a little too late, and cost the GV some vibrancy. It would also explain why some of the best GVs came from growers with just a little Riesling.

To sum up, 2017 is a vintage of volume and big bones. It’s larger in scale than 2016, more muscular and less fleshy than 2015, much cleaner than 2014, and less elegant than 2013. Riesling often excels in years like ’17 because it so easily resists a tendency to mere brute strength, and ‘17’s Rieslings will (and should) be compared to the greats of ’15 and ’13 for many years.  Close observers may surmise a resemblance to 2012, which would be apropos, though ’17 is more mineral.

Ah yes, the M-word. Minerality is an abiding partner in all the best ‘17s, yet it is never blatant, and it is often more basically rocky or stony than it is mineral. I use the latter word to denote a complex mélange of non-fruit-or-herb-or-flower-or-spice flavors that is deeper and more inscrutable than simple rocks and stones and scree and dust. Minerality in ’17 is like an ingredient crucial to a dish, but which you don’t taste discretely. 2017 leads more with herbs and leaves and iron, and then comes fruit and then comes mineral.

 

HIGHLIGHTS AND SUPERLATIVES
This year it’s hard to identify a winery-of-the-vintage, only because most wineries excelled with one variety or the other but rarely both.

But there is a winery-of-the-offering. There are reds and whites from several vintages to consider. There is also a thoroughly lovely story and a markedly agreeable guy. I will go into detail in his profile, but attention must be paid here, for the full arrival of a young grower who is clearly a peer of the best estates in all of Austria – and so the winery of this offering is PRIELER. Up, down, east, west, everything he showed me was ideal, polished, graceful, expressive, and effortlessly aristocratic.

 

GREAT COLLECTIONS OF GRUNER VELTLINER
ECKER, in his forthright and unaffected echelon, has never shown such a steady hand over his full range of GVs.

OTT, whose wines I tasted on day-1, when I assumed everyone’s GVs would be as good as these were, only to learn that Ott was truly exceptional.

 

GREAT COLLECTIONS OF RIESLING
GOBELSBURG, like that’s a big surprise!

NIGL, coming off the heels of his supernal 2016s, Martin is making a statement these days – no one is better than him at his best.

ALZINGER

 

THE WINE OF THE VINTAGE 2017
It isn’t the “best” wine, but it is the most amazing display of a wine rocketing above both its class and any preceding example. It is also available and not expensive, which should make you glad. So, the wine of the vintage is NIGL’S literally unbelievable Riesling Senftenberger Piri. Yup, just the basic Piri. 12.5% alc – Federspiel weight. It brought me back to a similar selection I made for the German 2008s, when I nominated Von Othegraven’s Altenberg Kabinett, two wines that seem to offer every possible beauty and virtue in the form of bonsai, miniature, indelible.

We have a little music box we splurged on many years ago. It’s a lovely piece and I’d run back into a burning building to save it. Behind the little dancer are four mirrors angled to seem as if there are a dozen of her. She twirls her upper body, and her legs move gracefully. It seems absurd to be as moved as I am, watching her, but first it is so delicate and innocent, and then the miracle that a human being made it, with god knows what painstaking and fastidious care, all that loving effort to produce a music box to delight a small child. I have to be a big ol’ softie, because I have cried more than once watching my little dancer. And I thought of her when I tasted the Piri, everything you’d ever want, and little enough to cup in the palm of your hand.

 

THE GREATEST RIESLINGS (using conventional criteria!)
GOBELSBURG  Ried Heiligenstein Riesling Erste Lage

NIGL Ried Hochäcker Riesling Erste Lage – and amazingly, also the Ried Goldberg Riesling Erste Lage.

HIEDLER Ried Gaisberg Riesling Erste Lage

 

THE SINGLE GREATEST RIESLING IN THIS OFFERING (not offered previously)
GOBELSBURG 2016 Tradition

 

THE GRUNER VELTLINER OF THE VINTAGE
OTT Ried Stein Grüner Veltliner Erste Lage

With high honors to Gobelsburg Ried Renner Grüner Veltliner Erste Lage, Alzinger Ried Steinertal Grüner Veltliner Smaragd, and Hirsch Kammerner Ried Gaisberg Grüner Veltliner Erste Lag.

 

THE SINGLE GREATEST GRUNER VELTLINER IN THIS OFFERING (not offered previously)
GOBELSBURG 2016 Tradition

 

BEST AMONG THE LITERS
(and they’re all outstanding in 2017)

BERGER

 

THE TOP VALUES IN THIS OFFERING IRRESPECTIVE OF PRICE POINT (in the order I tasted them)
ECKER GV “Schotter”

OTT  GV “Der Ott”

GOBELSBURG  GV (from the Schlosskellerei)

GOBELSBURG Riesling (from the Schlosskellerei)

BERGER Riesling Ried Spiegel

SATTLER Zweigelt Klassik

GLATZER THREE wines: the basic GV, the “Dornenvogel” GV, and the Sauvignon Blanc

 

THE BEST PINK WINES
Tied for top honors, two wild-eyed disobedient and downright obstreperous Rosés – SCHROECK’S “Biscaya,” and PRIELER.

 

THE BEST ORANGE WINES
I do not sell orange wines.

 

THE BEST RED WINE
PRIELER  2015 Ried Goldberg

 

THE MOST LIP-SMACKING SEDUCTIVE RED WINES
SATTLER 2017 St Laurent “Klassik”

HOFER Zweigelt 2017

 

ALL THE GELBER MUSKATELLERS ARE WONDERFUL BUT THIS ONE’S THE BEST
NIGL