A rare opportunity is taking us back to the town of Unterloiben in the Wachau region of Austria for this next feature. Back to nearly the exact same address, actually. Alzinger was the focus of our last Austrian feature. In the same town, directly across the street in fact, is the venerable winery of Emmerich Knoll. (The ‘K’ is not silent.) This must be one of the most talented corners in the entire winemaking world.
Due to some behind the scenes movement, a very special list of wines recently became available. On this list were several vintages of Knoll Gruner Veltliner and Riesling from various different vineyards. I can’t think of another time when we have been able to buy a 4-year, sequential vertical of a single wine of this caliber. This generally takes 4 years of buying and cellaring to pull off.
Here we have the 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 Gruner Veltliners from the Kreutles Vineyard. This vineyard sits at the bottom of the slope that rises behind the town of Unterloiben, just beneath the Loibenberg Vineyard. (You may remember the Loibenberg Vineyard from the Alzinger feature.) The Kreutles vineyard is in the area where the slope starts to level out. It is still hillside, but it is much less steep than the Loibenberg and it has deeper soils. Looking at the two sites it is easy to see why the soils are deeper. One can almost see the topsoil sliding off of the incredibly steep slopes of the Loibenberg and accumulating in the Kreutles.
The grape here is Gruner Veltliner and the wines are all Smaragd level. Smaragd is a designation that indicates the level of ripeness (or more accurately the amount of sugar in the grapes at harvest) and is generally meant to indicate quality as well. Smaragd is the highest level – meaning the ripest wines. They are considered to be the premier wines of the region. The association of ripeness with quality is one I generally have issues with; and indeed many producers make Smaragd wines that I find over-ripe, blurry and often times sweet. The wines listed here are ripe, no doubt, but they have precision and focus and they are completely dry.
Gruner Veltliner is one of those grapes that is hard to mistake. I imagine that many Court of Master Sommelier candidates have been delighted to detect the textbook white pepper, celery, star fruit or grapefruit notes wafting from one of their blind tasting glasses. I am always enthralled by the intriguing blend of fruit and vegetable aromas that I get from Gruner Veltliner. It is the Platypus of phenolics in the wine grape world. Celery salt and ripe stone fruit? Who would have thought of that combo?
Although I love the producer, vineyard and grape variety here, the real treat is the array of vintages. This type of arrangement is called a Vertical tasting. The wines are all the same except for the vintage. Another type of tasting is a horizontal tasting in which the vintage is the same but the producer of each wine is different. These types of tastings are like mini Rosetta Stone opportunities. They allow one to see the magic and mystery of wine more clearly. Nothing is every truly crystal clear in this cloudy realm of wine, terroir, sense of place and personal impression, but these tastings give us some useful landmarks. They lay a grid over our random points of impression and allow us to make references to other impressions and from these references infer something meaningful about a site, grape or winemaker. It is hard to discern from one wine where certain attributes of the wine are coming from. Is it the style of the winemaker or something inherent about the grape or is it something unique to the specific site? One wine does not give us enough reference points to truly deduce these things. But, if we taste through 4 wines from the exact same vineyard produced in the exact same way by the same winemaker, we can start to figure some things out. There will always be mystery, for it is inherent in wine, but vertical and horizontal tastings shed some very interesting light into the vinous darkness.
A few notes about each wine:
2010 – This wine is the most cagey of the bunch. The acidity is very ‘crispy’, as they like to say in Austria. It is quite ripe but the acidity balances the fruit perfectly. It comes across as a medium bodied wine with a lot of energy. Equally about fruit and spice.
2009 – This is the most opulent of the group. It is more dense and ripe then the others. It comes across as oily and tacky on the palate. Lots of concentration here. The spice quality is evident for sure, but it takes a back seat to the fruit.
2008 – This wine is the outlier. There was botrytis in 2008 and it is very evident in this wine. There is a note of honey with herbs and spices along with super ripe fruit and a sharpness that feels like you are smelling the acidity. (This is common with botrytis and sometimes reminds me of burnt honey or honeycomb.) The nose is huge here – it seems as if it could go in the sweet direction, but in fact it goes the other way. The palate is very dry, almost austere. The wine is actually lighter in the mouth than on the nose. This is a very interesting and cool wine. A textbook example of botrytis.
2007 – This wine is the beauty of the line-up. Very elegant and integrated. The extra time in bottle has probably attributed to this, but the vintage is also a favorite of the winemaker. It is very clear and bright – the fruit has a brilliance to it and everything seems to be just right. A very balanced wine.
Posted October 8, 2012 • Filed under Wine
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