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Vintage Report for the 2009 German & Austrian Wine Vintage
Surprise, surprise it’s not only Bordeaux that’s performed in 2009. A four thousand kilometre tour in early, snowy March to 22 producers in 3 different countries convinced me that there are some real jewels to be snapped up, whether you’re one for the fuller bodied Austrians or the crystalline purity of German Riesling.
For the Germans, it seems that production of dry/trocken Riesling is now full steam ahead. The crucial difference, Helmut Donnhoff pointed out, being the price the customer is now prepared to pay for this style of wine as opposed to ten or fifteen years ago. Now Helmut’s prepared to pick a higher quality of fruit destined for trocken production and so meet the demand, encouraged by a ray of global warming no doubt; though it must be pointed out that his range of ‘fruity’ wines remain hard to beat.
As to the 2009 Rhine vintage: they, like their close pals on the Danube, benefited from the millerandage-induced effects of a cool flowering (yields down significantly) a mild summer (no heat spikes) and a long dry harvest period, so no panic picking. The result: perfect pitch, clear vineyard definition along with wonderful ripeness & spring-water like acidity. Indeed, so successful was the harvest that it was the first time that Helmut Dönnhoff has ever accumulated all the Pradikats in his cellar; he’s drawing comparisons with the likes of ‘71!
Reinhard Lowenstein offers a fuller more structured expression of Riesling, in the vein of top Burgundy, thanks to vertical 400 million year old calcareous slate soils & long ferments; notably the smoky aristocracy of the Uhlen Blaufusser Lay vineyard and quivering energy of Rothlay.
I was transported back in time by my visit to the classic Merkelbach brothers of Urzig, whose family’s wines were awarded first prize in 1889; that was when they had 1 hectare; now they have grown to an eye-watering 1.9ha having just bought a new vineyard despite ‘getting on a bit’. Their wine & approach echoing Francois Cotat’s (Sancerre): scintillating purity from top sites vinified in a timeless fashion using old 1000 litre barrels!
Johannes Selbach (Oster)’s fine Zeltingen crus of Sonnenuhr, Himmelreich and Schlossberg interpreting the perfect ’09 growing season, with just enough rain and wrapped up in a long beautiful autumn. Up (or was it down?) stream, Katharina Prum, the delightful daughter of Manfred (of JJ Prum) was a picture of refinement and preparation (she studied law till ’03), proudly presiding over an immaculate range of 2009s.
Now on to the Austrians: The quality and character of the Austrian 2009 white grape harvest was shaped by a natural thinning of the Grüner Veltliner crop caused by a cool flowering, triggering millerandage (flowers fail to pollinate so drop off leaving few berries, thicker skins and healthier open bunches) while the later flowering, more abundant, and so vulnerable Riesling was hit hard by two weeks of rain in mid September, blighting the riper (softer skinned) vineyards forcing (top) producers to select hard; in itself not a bad thing. A mild damp summer kept acidities high, irrigation taps turned off while the quality was sealed by a long dry harvest through to early November.
It wasn’t hard to spot or smile at the high quality of the Austrian 2009 wines, a perfect harmony of richness and racy acidity; the Grüner Veltliner delicate yet expansively textured with flecks of white flowers, pepper & stone fruit, while the Riesling wines are compact & confident; especially those of the Lower Austria zones of Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal.
Dare I say that the Veltliners have the edge in 2009? Michael Moosbrugger, the mild-mannered manager of Schloss Gobelsburg, a Cistercian estate, refers reverently to ’09 as being like ’07 & ’05; now there speaks a man who’s in it for the long term having secured a two-generation lease in ‘96! There’s much in Michael that reminds me of Andre Ostertag, not least the quality of his gentle yet profound wines. Toni Bodenstein of Weingut Prager presented an immaculate wine range as ever, drawing on peerless old vineyards (Achleiten, Klaus, Wachstum Bodenstein) and the latest technology.
While the young Franz Hirtzberger, now resident in the ‘manor’ house, struck me as a star in the making. Maria-Angeles Hiedler’s wines at Langenlois, just along from Gobelsburg, re-inforced the quality of Kamptal’s ‘09s (especially her old vine Grüner Kittsmanberg), with their calcareous loess soils. While Austria is better known for its whites (& its glasses), it’s time to check out the quality of the Burgenland red wines, south east of Vienna, in particular the Blaufrankisch grape.
David Berry Green
BBR Austrian & German Wine Buyer