Terry Theise’s 2018 Austria Vintage Report

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The only proper answer if someone asks me “How are the ‘18s?” is to say “These ‘18s are rocking, but you really had to be selective. Or, I had to be; you don’t have to be because I already was.”

Because everything was ripe at the same time, there’s a huge benefit to you and me. The everyday wines are just insanely good, and very often way better than their “class” and just as often the best they have ever been.

The wines are not markedly particular, and yet they’re hard to generalize about. They tend to run lyrical rather than powerful, and when they’re intense and “important” they’re more incisive than muscular. Each grower had a story, but overall I didn’t feel the vintage favored Riesling or GV, though it certainly did so within estates.



THE 2018 VINTAGE

Well, it’s complicated.

Let me reassure you, there are plenty of excellent wines and more than a few great ones. They don’t seem destined for long-keeping (by which I mean decades-long) but you’re not laying them away in any case, even though you could and would love the results.

In contrast to the generally even-keeled German vintage, Austria is vividly lit and shaded, and nothing could be presumed. Most of my visits were surprising in some way; usually pleasantly, sometimes…not so pleasantly. The same pan-European weather conditions prevailed in Austria – a prolonged warm dry summer – but the Austrians contended with a big rain in early September which upended their harvest plans. Many of the grapes were already (or nearly) ripe and the rain was inopportune. Paradoxically this favored growers in less clement regions, who withstood the rain and picked at their usual times. This was one of a number of paradoxes in the ’18 vintage, which was not only unpredictable from estate to estate but often erratic within estates.

Because everything was ripe at the same time, there’s a huge benefit to you and me. The everyday wines are just insanely good, and very often way better than their “class” and just as often the best they have ever been. That’s a double-edged sword, because I’m certainly not into dissuading y’all from trading up to the top wines, yet this was not invariably justified.

The wines are not markedly particular, and yet they’re hard to generalize about. They tend to run lyrical rather than powerful, and when they’re intense and “important” they’re more incisive than muscular. Each grower had a story, but overall I didn’t feel the vintage favored Riesling or GV, though it certainly did so within estates. The wines are characteristic except for low acidities, which were only occasionally corrected. Terroir signatures are vivid.  For the way y’all actually use them, 2018 is a patently desirable vintage.

When the wines fail they fail at basic cleanliness. “Basic” may be too strong, because some of what I objected to could be elements that will disappear in time. I hope so, but I don’t think so.  The most common difficulties were oxidation and naphthalene, both of which seemed to be tied to excessive alcohol – “excessive” being a matter of opinion, naturally. Yet I sometimes felt, apart from my own preferences, certain wines seeming to collapse under their ripeness, as if they lacked the joints and sinews to support it. Mind you, I am not an expert in wine chemistry, but when a wine smells like Nana’s closet, I write “mothballs” in my note.

While I don’t intend this little report to be any sort of Standard Reference for these vintages, I do find myself in a quandary, because part of what I seek to do is to entice demand, and that sometimes collides with the larger truth. Also, Austria is somewhat impervious to vintage-bumps, or else we’d have had huge sales-spikes when we sold the 2013s and 2015s both of them superb and maybe great. So, I wonder how closely the existing demand really keys off the general quality of the current year. 2018 is an everyday vintage in which a substantial number of exceptionally fine wines were produced, and it’s my job to find them for you. Can we agree to parse this? I want to say buy these wines but it’d be too far to say “buy 2018 as a commodity because it’s outstanding overall” when that isn’t the case. And so, the only proper answer if someone asks me “How are the ‘18s?” is to say “These ‘18s are rocking, but you really had to be selective. Or, I had to be; you don’t have to be because I already was.”


HIGHLIGHTS AND SUPERLATIVES

 

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Ludwig Hiedler

THE WINERY OF THE VINTAGE

Looking only at 2018s – many growers had multiple vintages to offer – the Great Three among everything I tasted were HIEDLER, ALZINGER, and GOBELSBURG.

Among them, Hiedler was the most surprisingly consistent and successful, and I really felt a guiding hand (or hands) at work. Alzinger has a group of wines perhaps less weighty than the typical Wachau range among top estates, but four of the wines have been literally unforgettable; I can’t stop thinking about them and craving to drink them again. Finally, Gobelsburg just goes on being stellar.

Any of these three could take the exclusive superlative. But the one I’m most drawn to is – HIEDLER. First, because I never supposed they would make these wines in this vintage, and also because it heralds perhaps a new level for this already-fine estate. And finally, because you always know tasting a grower’s vintage when they were really in sync with conditions, and attending to the harvest’s most telling elements.

So, hats off to the Hiedler boys.

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Leo Alzinger


THE WINE OF THE VINTAGE (2018)

ALZINGER Riesling Steinertal Smaragd.


RUNNERS-UP INCLUDE:

BRÜNDLMAYER Grüner Veltiner Ried Lamm

OTT Grüner Veltliner Rosenberg

GOBELSBURG Grüner Veltliner Ried Renner

HOFER Grüner Veltliner Weberberg

ALZINGER Riesling Hollerin Smaragd


THE GREATEST WINE IN THE ENTIRE OFFERING REGARDLESS OF VINTAGE (NOTHING ALREADY OFFERED):

OTT 2017 Grüner Veltliner Spiegel

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Nikolaus Saahs of Nikolaihof


RUNNERS-UP INCLUDE:

GOBELSBURG 2017 Riesling Tradition

NIKOLAIHOF 2002 Riesling Vinothek


THE BIGGEST HAPPY SURPRISES:

HOFER in his entirety!

BRÜNDLMAYER Riesling Kamptaler Terassen

HIEDLER Grüner Veltliner Schenkenbichl

ALZINGER Grüner Veltliner Dürnsteiner Federspiel

SCHRÖCK Muscat, “Sauvage”

NIKOLAIHOF 2018 Neuburger

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Erich Berger


BEST AMONG THE LITERS:

BERGER 


TOP VALUES REGARDLESS OF VINTAGE OR PRICE-POINT:

HOFER Grüner Veltliner Ried Vogelsang

GLATZER Grüner Veltliner, “Dornenvogel”

GLATZER 2018 Blaufränkisch

NIGL Grüner Veltliner Kremser Freiheit


THE BEST PINK WINES:

As always, PRIELER for something more “mainstream” (though hardly mainstream) and SCHRÖCK for something more delightfully batshit crazy in her “Biscaya.”


THE BEST AMPHORA WINES:

I do not sell amphora wines.


THE BEST RED WINES:

SCHRÖCK Blaufränkisch Ried Kulm 2018

GLATZER Blaufränkisch Prellenkirchen 2017

GLATZER St. Laurent Altenberg 2017


THE TWO GREAT “STORIES” WITHIN THIS COLLECTION:

The surpassing stellar quality of the few top 2014s.

The remarkable trio of Blaufränkisch from Glatzer.


ANOTHER LOOK AT 2017

Unlike in Germany, the 2017s did not suffer in contrast to 2018. As is common in Austria, there weren’t many left available (except for the reds of course, as they’re bottled and released later) but I found them agreeable and worthy of my early faith in their ripeness and muscle and grace.


AUSTRIAN SPARKLING WINES:

Until we started working with Christian Madl I had no special interest in Austrian bubbly as-such. If one of my producers made them – and if they were excellent – I’d offer them, but I didn’t seek them out.

Then last week I looked at a recent issue of the magazine Falstaff (which is a big deal in German-speaking countries) devoted to all the sparkling wines of the world. In the section for Austria, I glanced at the “top-10” highest-scoring wines, thinking yeah scores whatever… until I noticed I represented 4 of the best 5 wines and 6 of the best 10. (It would have been an even cleaner sweep had Gobelsburg sent samples to them.) It started to occur to my obtuse ass that I had, in this offering, a large tranche of the elite sparkling wines in all of Austria.

They vary stylistically between the classic/impeccable (Bründlmayer above all) to the individualist/idealistic/quirky (Madl), and to Gobelsburg, who splits the difference. Not that Bründlmayer is in any way mainstream, but there’s a tangible thread running from them to Champagne – perhaps because Willi’s wife Edwige is French-born. Madl’s are wines made by a fierce lover of Champagne who has no wish to imitate but rather to emulate, to take the best of his raw material and see how far his tirage can carry it.  Gobelsburg is a kind of hybrid, using native grapes (GV and Welschriesling, among others) but turning them into something so elegant you’d be tempted to speculate they were indeed Champagne but from heirloom varieties even more recherché than Meslier and Arbanne.

I ask you to take these wines seriously, and not only as “Champagne alternatives” but as fine sparkling wines in their own right. If you’re a somm, I’d wince to have a token one or two stuck among “Other Sparkling Wines” on your list. They deserve a section. They are that good, and that distinctive. If you’re already doing this, then my eyes are blinded by your incandescent hippitude.