You arrive at Huber’s winery in Matlerdingen to be greeted by the ever affable, genuine and ‘hell bent of doing everything he can to make it the best’ character that is Bernhard Huber. Even though we’re more than an hour late thanks to a ‘solving the problems of the world’ session with Steffen Christmann! The Eurocave where the tasting bottles live is set to 15. The Riedel Burgundy glasses are at the ready. Welcome to a tasting that honours the 700 years of Pinot Noir tradition in the area! As far back as 1285 the cistercian monks brought Pinot Noir to Malterdingen. They planted there because the soils, they’d identified, were very similar to Chambolle Musigny. Clever chaps, clearly. Pinot has been grown there ever since. So if you thought that German Pinot Noir is a new idea, think again! What is newer though is individuals who are taking this history and brilliant terroirs, and putting it to good use. Enter Bernhard, who says Pinot Noir ‘should be dancing at the nose and on the tongue, not too much tannin, must be playful…’. Here’s to that. Forget about over extracted dry reds, these wines scream finesse, elegance, restraint.
Some days you get lucky, and today was one such day as Bengt and I are the first ‘outsiders’ to get to taste the just assembled 2010. I’ll say this now : no-one
yet realizes how great this producer is. I’ve been coming to Europe each year now for a decade but rarely have I been as blown away by a tasting as we were about to be at this one. In fact, the last time was the visit to Huber last year. This only served to confirm things!
Bernhard doesn’t like to taste or bottle wines on cold wet weather day, preferring to wait for high pressure warm weather when the yeasts are more dormant. Makes a lot of sense.
2010 in Baden was a late year, mid June flowering, which by the way ‘used to be normal’. The flowering time very cool, resulting in small berries, many without seeds, which is wonderful for Pinot Noir, and Bernhard says it reminds him of vintages like 1990, 93 and 2004.Wonderful potential! Yields were low – 25hl/ha in 2010, lower than normal, which is around healthy. Organic practices are used, massive rainfall region, 1000 litres per year, so huge fungal pressures. Biodynamics was trialled until 1994, but abandoned. Not say that he’s not considering it again though. To stand still is to go backwards.
2010 Pinot Noir
Vines between 3 and 11 years, 25 days in stainless steel, then a year or so in 2 or 3 year old oak. 15 to 20% whole bunch. Very bright nose, very fragrant, crisp acid, cherry fruits, plenty of juicy flavours, ultra-clean. Notes from last year still apply: Pure, ripe, bright acid. Strawberry and jam fruit notes. This is even better than the 2009 we shipped last year, and we’ll do everything in our power to secure a lot more. Note to Lak!
25% whole bunch, 12 to 25 year old vines, deeper rootstock.
More minerality, all second and third use oak. A slightly more open earthy nose, again lovely crisp acidity, chewy but ultimately supple palate, fresh strawberry, crimson earth, you could really smell this for ages and ages. There’s a lot going on here. Again exceedingly fine and pure fruit, racy acidity, oozing with purity and focus,super delicate but concentrated.
2010 Alte Reben Fassprobe (yield: 35-38 hl/ha). 25 to 40 years old vines. Burgundy-like concentrated nose, showing a little oak, some mushroom under growth forest autumnal notes, quite stony and fine.Really intense fruit in the background here. And as a barrel sample already looks very complete. Who know
2010 Bienenberg GG – oldest vines of all here, parcels planted in 1954, 1956 and 1961
Brilliant crimson hue, a little unfiltered looking. Pretty imposing powerful nose here. Brilliantly clean and fine. Always is the most tannic, muscular. This one is very complete. Bright acid, refined, sumptuous. This looks to have a very long life ahead of it. Very complete. Great fruit, roundness.
2010 Sommerhalde GG
From village of Bombach, 2.5 ks away from Malterdingen, closer to the mountain. Iron, and mussel-chalk, limestone soils. Hence the Chambolle link that the monks were all over. A little higher ph and the wine is a little sweeter.
40% whole bunch, but you see nothing of that, just heightened aromatics and complexity. ‘This is even more charming, with notes of truffle, red-earth so delicate and elegant, great minerality’. Again! Alluring coffee cake nose.
2010 Schlossberg. 70% Whole Bunch. Mussel Chalk.
Very steep, vineyard with ‘Mosel’ feeling. Grapes picked early. Wine has a warmness inside. Given time this will be quite extraordinary, fragrant, supple and elegant as it is now. Very long, tight- fisted flavours at the moment, but real reminder of Chambolle, when it’s really good!
Hint of reduction in the barrel sample which Bernhardt says speaks really well for it’s future. Blows off. Really dense, Vosne Romanee as opposed to Chambolle. This one has a savoury character not so present in the others. Spellbinding!
Bernhard says the 2009 vintage is ‘Everybody’s darling’! Plenty of ripeness, really lush wines, still showing terroir, but on the fuller side. A very complete vintage.
2009 Alte Reben
10 to 11 months in bottle before release, this is really imposing, plump on the palate, fragrant on the nose. Sensational hint of smoky oak just peppering the background. Wonderful intensity, clarity, focus.
You know, I dont think anyone has truly woken -up to just how great Bernhards wines are. I said that in the introduction to these notes and i say it again. Totally ethereal nose here, strawberries, cherries, earth, minerals, spice. Multilayered palate.
2009 Sommerhalde GG
More charming, a little wonderful reduction. Tasting Pinot Noir for 20 years and this would make a compete fool of me. I would be 100% in GC Burgundy if asked the question on this.
2009 Schlossberg GG
Also verb composed, balanced silky, very fine and long, fragrant and supple. Warning density. Mushroom filament. Tannins are a little firm. Again lovely bright acid, really singing. Fine mineral finish….very intense in it’s flavours.
Stuart Piggot’s wine of the Year.
2009 Wildenstein – in Bernhard view this is the best wine he’s ever produced, because of the ultra intense minerality. In the glass it is intensely mineral, plump, fragrant, long in the glass, textural, a little meaty, some earth, and extremely pleasing to drink. Tasted this again at dinner, and even more layers emerged.
We also tasted, Pinot Blanc, Gris, Auxerois and a couple of chardonays ( one, the 09 Schlossberg being the best ‘European but not Burgundy’ example I’ve tried) but those are stories for another day. This ones all about Pinot Noir.
These 2009s will arrive towards the end of the year, the 2010s to follow in 2013.
I can hardly wait….
Securing a spot to taste through the new wines with Lucas Pichler was no mean feat in itself, such was the rugby- scrum of hopefuls surrounding the table. These guys are rock-stars! But timing is everything and as Bengt and I made our move a group where just finishing and were in!
The first thing to be said is that the FX wines are better than ever. And that’s really saying something as they were always, obviously, very good indeed. I asked Lucas if he’d changed much. ‘Not Really’ was the answer, but as we went through and he talked about the wines it became pretty clear that Lucas has definitely been tweaking the winemaking, and the results are superb. If you’ve always thought of FX as wines that were a bit ‘turned up to 11′ on the unctuousness scale, think again. These now have every inch of the finesse that Toni achieves at Prager, but just communicated through a slightly more open, loose- knit framework.
After 2002 floods, where the old cellar filled to the roof, the decision was taken to build a new, above ground winery. 7 years of planning and construction later it was completed in 2010 and is a quite stunning piece of design, with an imposing bank of stainless steel vats, side by side with the old oak fudres that are used for aging but not fermentation. Long maceration times are used – 20 hours for the Skaragds, and bottling is direct from cask, after 8 months or so aging on lees. Production from 20 hectares is between and 14 thousand cases, exported to 42 countries, and selling out pretty much on release each year.
So we tasted at VieVinum and then again – all 14 wines – at the new winery in the quite brilliant raised tasting room that affords panoramic views across the vineyards.
2011 they like very much in Austria, drawing comparisons with the spectacular 2001, or in some cases 1993. Whereas 2010, much cooler, is more like 2002. 2011 is a true ‘ Wachau’ year certainly.
Smaragd – max 9 grams residual
GV Frauenweingarten Federspiel ( womens vineyard, close to the village)
Light sandy warm soil is good for Federspiel , shorter maceration time as grapes come in warmer, so working a bit faster. Beautifully fragrant, soft generous salty, nice peachy length. Plenty of punch here, and a great introduction to the FX style.
GV Loibner Klostersatz Federspiel.
This vineyard was planted by the monks, hence the ‘Kloster’ in the name and is the flat vineyards around winery rich with Danube pebbles. A brilliant start, straight into it here! Fine, tight, mineral. Stonefruit, spiced earth. Great acid, drive. Screwcap. Much tighter and more mineral than FG. Leaner, longer, more precise. More herbal notes.
URGSTEIN TERRASSEN GV SMARAGD ( Smaragd can have a maximum of 9 grams RS, but are usually half that).
The name here refers to primary rock terrace cuvee, not single vineyard.
Deeper colour, Impression of stony earth is the first thing here. Open fragrant exotic. Creamy, white chocolate notes, very approachable.
GV Loinbenberg Smaragd.
South facing warmer larger single vineyard site.
Lucas is not anywhere near as much a fan of botrytis in GV as Franz is when it comes to Gruner Veltiner. This wine is all the better for it. Pronounced ripe spicy fruits reminiscent of baked banana with cinnamon, it is full rich ad satisfying. But everything is perfectly in check, and it’s well this side of being overblown. A very nice statement of where the FX wines are today. Brilliant approachability and finesse. Very driven at the same time. Salty finish, which is very long.
GV Durnsteiner Liebenberg Smaragd.
Haven’t had this wine before, Liebenberg is a cooler site in Durstein, next to the first of the Weissenkirchen vineyards, Achleiten. Its very steep with weathered gneiss and mica schist soils. The wine is tighter and more direct than the Loibenberg, spiced grapefruit notes, and citrussy minerality. Again I see white burgundy nuances here, really approachable and round.
GV Kellerberg Barrell sample – will be bottled in another month…
Totally just jumps out of the glass, beautiful, seamless, blackcurrant, spice, earth, great concentration. One of those wines that actually defies a lengthy tasting note, it’s just so seamless!
M GV Barrell Sample
This is a vineyard cuvee wine, including Kollmitz at Wosendorf, where Rudolphine Pichler (Lucas’ mother) is from, a west facing no botrytis vineyard surrounded by forest and very late picked vineyard. But the main parcels in M ( for ‘Monumental’) are Loibenberg , Steinertal and Kellerberg.
Meursault levels of richness and , batonage, 15.2 alcohol but looks nothing like it, one of the two fudres is new oak, so therefore some more burgundy references. Latest harvest, picked end of November, ripest grapes from diff sites, but co- fermented.
Riesling Federspiel Burgstall,
A flat vineyard of gneiss in Oberloiben, no botrytis issues, windy plateau – hence the name which derives from ‘castle stable’.
Beautiful fragrant open exotic nose, very salty, also pepper, because of the highly mineral soils acidity was not a problem. Very long and fine.
Riesling Oberhauser (close to the house) Smaragd,
On the flats, sandier soils. Very different , warm nettle herbal floral nose. Fine and pure, restrained, supple, approachable . Creamy. This will be good at good value.
Steinertal Riesling Smaragd
‘Valley of stones’ at the eastern end of the Loibner berg
Some Lovely open florals, very expressive, delicious creamy nutty nuances, open, long. Tangy, savoury.
Lucas has bought a new parcel at the top at 380 meters that has been forest for 30 years to give himself some cool Loibenberg to work with as it is the warmest Wachau site. This is now being re-planted.
Here the wine is softer, more creamy, certainly still very powerful, but gentle.
Kellerberg Smaragd Barrel Sample
Brilliant spice earth open nose, very composed and silky. Long. Nutty. Orchard fruits. None of these wines are over the top, far from it! A lot going on for sure, but seamless, focussed , dry, mineral .Really honeyed, intense, power drive. has the minerality of Steinertal, with riper fruits.
Riesling M reserve
11 grams of rs, natural ferment, did not want to push to dry after it stopped. Looks way less than 12, barely appears off- dry, pineapple, pear, peach notes. The sugar is ‘ included’ in the wine. LP.
Baked apple, with the pastry, from the last harvested parcels of Loibenberg and KB.
A grape and berry selection, 80% Kellerberg , 10% botrytis.
A nose that brings together all the notions of top RIESLINGS from Europe.
Not over the top, just massive drive, focus, power. Maybe slightly longer skin contact, 100% aged in oak, 8 months. Vanilla, biscuit, preserved fruits, lemon curd. There’s a never- ending list of descriptors!
On arriving into Vienna some 27 hours since leaving Tullamarine we found the CAT train which whizzed us in ultra-smooth and very quick fashion. There was time for a swift check-in, shower and email download before it was time to meet in the hotel bar with the rest of the visiting Australian contingent. After a well appreciated local beer we set off on what was a delightful 30 minute walk across central Vienna, though a thriving with tourism Stephansplatz square and on to our spot for dinner – a very cute and slightly grungy, for Austria at least ‘Badeschiff’, which believe it or not is a converted transport ship that is now moored on the Danube canal and serves as a restaurant, bar, deck and swimming pool. An informal get-together for guests of Austrian Wine Marketing this was a fun night, with a lengthy but casually served degustation menu of classic and modern interpretations of Austrian dishes, most notably a spicy Asian-flavored soup called Holy Moly, and a dish called Beuschel that consisted of heat and lung slivers from young veal – sounds horrid but was fabulous. Wine highlights included a Weingut Markus Huber Erste Lage Berg Gruner Veltliner 2011 from Traisental which is superbly balanced, textural and flavorsome, and much to my delight the 2010 Brundlmayer Heiligenstein Lyra Riesling, which was wonderfully taught, mineral and complex. Good thing a tiny amount of this wine has just landed in Australia!
Day 1 at Vie Vinum started with a tasting of the ‘top 182 red wines from the outstanding 2009 vintage’. Needless to say we got nowhere near tasting all the wines, but there were a couple of pretty interesting Pinots, even more so Saint Laurent wines, a definitely more and more fine, mineral, terroir-driven Blaufrankisch wines are emerging. Tasting notes to follow.
Later we visited the History Museum, and had a private viewing of a still being installed exhibition covering the history of wine – the philosophizing, growing, making and drinking of it through the centuries. Totally fascinating. A favorite was this ‘drinking game chair’ from the 17th century. When you sit in it clamps spring out trapping your arms and legs; you then had to drink from the vessel, and take the whole serve in one go. Failure to do so would mean you’d get another to drink. And so forth. Clearly, the fun aspect of wine was discovered very early on!
RIESLING SCHOLARSHIP TRIP – AUSTRIA & GERMANY JUNE 2012
In June this year Patrick and Bengt Baumgartner travel to Austria, Germany and on to a sneaky few days in Alsace and Burgundy. Bengt is sommelier at The European in Melbourne and was winner of the 2011 CellarHand/Frankland Estate Riesling Scholarship award. Bengt has already attended the Frankland Estate International Riesling Tasting in Sydney in February this year as part of his prize – and is now about to undertake the second part of the prize – two weeks with some of the greatest Riesling producers on the planet. In addition to attending VieVinum in Vienna, Austria we’ll be visiting, to name a few – Prager, Brundlmayer, FX Pichler, Donnhoff, Wittmann, Breuer, Gunderloch, Heymann Lowenstein, Dr Loosen and A.Christmann and many more. Topped off by a visit to Bernhard Huber to look at his fabulous Pinots and an appointment with one Madame Leroy in Vosne Romanee. For a man cannot survive on Riesling alone. Almost, but not quite!
Stay tuned for regular updates as we travel.