Terry’s Squawk Box: The 2013 Vintage in Austria

No reason to be coy. For Riesling and Grüner Veltliner this is a classic vintage, a serious candidate for Greatness, and the best young crop I’ve tasted since the 1999s.

They made me nostalgic, because I was carried back to the days of tasting those 90s vintages, at least the good ones, before everything got overripe and botrytis-y. Certainly there’ve been no “bad” vintages since `99, but you had to tiptoe around and pluck the best wines with your delicate little fingers. And these 2013s behave in similar ways to those great 90s wines I first tasted and fell in love with. They can seem demure when poured, but they blossom lavishly with air. (They have this in common with the German `13s.), They do the delayed-finish thing I first noticed about Austrian wines twenty years ago. You spit or swallow the wine and it seems to be gone. Or so you think. Ten seconds later it returns, having transformed itself into a semi-solid so obdurate you wonder if it will ever leave your palate. And you ask, how can this be?

Often there’s a shadow side even to superb vintages, an issue or a common flaw. But not these. I really can find no fault with them. They give me every single thing I could ever desire from Austrian wines. They are almost gushingly fragrant; they arrive like morning birds, trilling and alive. They’re sappy, as though you could squeeze chlorophyll from them. They remind me of Styrian wines, in fact. They’re driven by clarity, fruit and terroir. They’re focused and full of substance. They have moderate alcohol! They’re clean and hale and chipper, from the little wee ones in Liters to the very great ones from the top sites. They are never self-important, never haughty. They cover you with mama-love, baby!

At the end of the first day tasting I felt, “If the rest of the days are like this, we’re in for a good week.” By day-3 I had given three plusses to seven wines on that day alone, after not quite having reached that ecstatic summit in Germany or Champagne over three-plus weeks in March. A couple days later I watched as Martin Nigl had exactly the vintage he was born to have. Again and again I felt “This is a career-making vintage for this grower.”

It also appears to be markedly excellent for Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. It had mixed results from Gelber Muskateller, some of which were (for fear of botrytis) picked too soon, and which are meager and catty. Some, but not all.

The reds are said to be light. That causes me no great concern, as good growers will make lovely wines unless there’s an essential flaw. We’ll see next year.

It was a late harvest, and the meteorology of the vintage was unremarkable except for the very late beginning and uneven flowering. Cool and warm periods alternated, and as the Fall lingered on there were no issues with rots. The growers talked about high acidity, and by their standards it was noteworthy, but I tasted no wines in which acids were marked. (The prevailing acids for GV run between 6g/l and 7, and for Riesling between 6.8 and 7.8.) But I emphasize there were very few times I felt “This wine is zippy!” but many times I felt What a lovely paradox, so much detail with so much substance with so much liveliness.

There are always worthy wines in each vintage, and our jobs are to find them and see which ones best fit what we’re doing. But this is a vintage to buy as a vintage. This is a year to talk about in terms of “How much 2013 Austrian did you buy?” If you are a younger reader, you have never seen an Austrian year like this, and now you can see the wines at their apex.

You will only demur if you lay high emphasis on a vintage being “monumental.” 2013 doesn’t froth and spume. It is lilting and lively, mischievous and delightful; its gravitas is lyrical, not tragic. And I am aware that a wine needs a certain force and surge to be truly great.. What reassures me about these `13s is, even as the top wines are transparent and articulate – some would say “light” because the alcohols aren’t bellicose – the ordinary wines have amazing substance. The vintage as a whole stands on solid ground.

People will debate whether it’s a Riesling or a GrüVe vintage, and I’d say it’s a classic for both, but that most of the very best wines were Rieslings. As is logical, Riesling being, you know, the best grape.

So, I’ll stick my neck out with “classic,” because I just had one hell of a good week tasting, but I’ll reserve “Great” for the fullness of time.

 

HIGHLIGHTS AND SUPERLATIVES:

…are difficult in a year where there were nothing but highlights and the entire crop was superlative. I’ll let you into the process.

THE WINERY OF THE VINTAGE is often somewhat fraught. If it’s a tiny estate there won’t be enough wine. But I think that shouldn’t matter. As it happens, I have to say it’s a tie between two names you know well. And so….

 

THE WINERIES OF THE VINTAGE:

Alzinger, from whom we’re getting a little more wine, but not enough to supply y’all, but sheesh, you can’t have four three-plus Rieslings in a row and not pay some kind of homage.

And Gobelsburg, who do have enough wine, and whose success was perhaps even more marked across Riesling and GV.

 

OTHER SUPERB COLLECTIONS OF 2013s:

Well, jeez, everyone’s.

But a few growers soared so far above their prevailing norms that attention must be paid. These include, dramatically, SETZER, who showed the best vintage I’ve ever tasted from them, and NIGL, who just had a perfect Nigl vintage, his exact type of wine rendered as perfectly as can be.

 

WINE OF THE VINTAGE:

HEIDI SCHROECK’S sublime, haunting Furmint. She’s never made a better one, and this wine is a bringer-of-soul in any case. But the criterion for this choice is not “quality” as-such, but rather significance. The Furmint is indeed beautiful, among many other beautiful wines. And the experience it offers is more allusive, resonant and gentle than anything else I tasted.

 

OTHER MARKEDLY SPLENDID WINES, ACROSS PRICE POINTS:

NIKOLAIHOF Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Im Weingebirge.
HIEDLER Loess, an astonishing performance for an “everyday” wine.
ECKER Grüner Veltliner Mordthal, the best in many years, and the first in many years to come in below 14% alc.

 

THE WINE OF THE COLLECTION:

Opening the offering beyond the 2013s, and excluding wines offered last year, it’s a tie between BRUNDLMAYER’S profound, supernal 2012 Riesling Lyra, and PRIELER’S amazingly accessible 2011 Blaufränkisch Goldberg.

 

THE BEST MUSCAT THIS YEAR IS:

Berger’s, with a nod to Schwarzböck.

 

THE GREAT ROSE IS:

…of course, Heidi Schröck’s “Biscaya.” But our boy Prieler is coming up fast.

 

THE BIGGEST SURPRISES OF THE VINTAGE ARE:

Schneider Norheimer Dellchen Riesling Trocken, (a markedly expressive wine from this normally opaque terroir, I can barely recall a superior young Dellchen. Dönnhoff’s was also unusually expressive at this early stage.)

Von Winning Sauvignon Blanc, because pyrene-averse little me was quite overcome by how good this was!

 

THE ZANY-HIP WINES:

…any somm would be stoked to have especially if not many othersalso had them, include GLATZER’S single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Schüttenberg, NIGL’S Grüner Veltliner Eiswein, HIEDLER’S Muscat Ottonel – and let’s face it, you’ll be the only somm in your zip-code to have a wild-yeast fermented Ottonel to serve with that uni prep that’s been giving you trouble – and SETZER’S Roter Veltliner Kreimelberg.