An old map of Wagram's Feuersbrunn slope showing Spiegel and Rosenberg in the center

Great Grüner: Ott, Gobelsburg and Prager

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We get as excited as anyone by the exotic, the unfamiliar, the new and intriguing. This is no less true in the Austrian department than anywhere else in the store. Want biodynamic field blends from Vienna? We have them. How about late-release Gelber Muskateller that has spent almost two years maturing in cask? Look nowhere else. Little-known varieties such as Neuburger? But of course. That said, we also love the classics of any given region; the wines that helped to put a country on the vinous map; the reliable stalwarts that are balanced, age-worthy and true to themselves. Wines that taste so much of a certain place that you can't imagine anything similar coming from anywhere else. Grüner Veltliner was once, for some wine-lovers, seen as merely an exotic curiosity.  For us, it's always been something more, and it seems as if general opinion is beginning to move in our direction.

Besides its clear utility at the table (few wines are as useful in difficult pairing situations, epecially with strongly-flavored vegetables), Grüner nearly approaches Riesling in its ability to act as a conduit for miniscule variations in soil-type. In the right hands it can be beautifully elegant and racy and while the past three vintages (09-11) have left us scratching our heads, 2012 is a welcome return to form. Lively, cool-toned GVs with attractive acidity and seemingly limitless potential to develop with age have returned. The strongest collections we've yet tasted come from Schloss Gobelsberg, Bernhard Ott and, of course, Prager.

At Gobelsburg the wines are improving by leaps and bounds with each coming vintage. We always love the ethereal Tradition bottling (regardless of vintage), made utilizing pre-war methods that would have looked awfully familiar to the Cistercian monks that lived at the estate, but the single vineyard wines such as the Lamm and Renner are achieving greater heights than we've yet seen. Bernhard Ott also had a knockout vintage across the board, from his surprisingly remarkable entry-level Gruner Am Berg all the way up to his single-vineyard wines from the various top Wagram terroirs and his amphora-aged masterpiece, the Qvevre. Prager, of course, needs no introduction and if you have even a fleeting interest in the wines of the Wachau, these belong in your cellar. -jfr

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Schloss Gobelsburg 2012 Kamptal Grüner Veltliner Lamm

As much as we'd love to be able to tell you that Lamm takes its name from flocks of sheep that graze the vineyard, in fact the word is local patois for the loam-based soil that characterizes this site. It's actually on the same slope as Heiligenstein, one of the most famous hills for Riesling in Austria, but it's downslope where there's less primary rock and more loam and loess. The conventional wisdom in the Kamptal and Wagram these days is that Grüner Veltliner grows best on loess-based soils while Riesling works better on rockier terrain. As far as flavors, here the green fruit and herbs take on more precise notes, with even hints of chervil and parsley lacing around green apple and melon bass notes. This is more deeply salty than the Renner, and it's an example of Grüner Veltliner at its most stately and chiseled. One of the great successes at Schloss Gobelsburg. -jfr

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Schloss Gobelsburg 2011 Kamptal Grüner Veltliner Tradition Reserve

While the central point of this offer is to celebrate the terrific Grüner vintage of 2012, we just had to include the newly released 2011 Gobelsburg Tradition. Here the graps are gently pressed, transferred to large 2500-liter casks, fermented without temperature-control, racked instead of filtered and left alone for 18 months to mature in cask. All the fruit comes from Renner, so if one wanted to compare this with a wine made somewhat more conventionally, it's certainly possible. Compared to the '12 on offer, this is rather explosive aromatically, with intensely savory notes of yellow fruit, straw, celery, mint and stone. This is baroque Grüner but not over the top. Interestingly, this is less oxidative than previous vintages, for those keping score. We love it, though. -jfr

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Schloss Gobelsburg 2012 Kamptal Grüner Veltliner Renner

Lamm is the most famous site for Grüner in all of the Kamptal, but Michi Moosbrugger will tell you that he almost always prefers Renner to the more exalted cuvée. 2012 Renner is all about focus and delicacy, but with full, long and persistent flavor. The finish is seamless; brilliant, really. Vintage-appropriate green apple and honeydew melon notes are here in abundance but complemented by cool-toned herbs and spices. Zippy, lithe and spicy, but with great concentration. The soil is loess over primary rock (urgestein), with vines that run north-to south, below the area's famous terraces. -jfr

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Ott, Bernhard 2012 Feuersbrunn Wagram Grüner Veltliner Am Berg

Am Berg is one of our best-selling Austrian wines and deservedly so. There's simpy no better entry-level Grüner Veltliner. There's a certain amount of purchased fruit that goes into this bottling and while Bernhard laments that it can't all be biodynamic, he assures that nevertheless, he won't purchase any grapes that aren't farmed organically. Deliciously salty, textbook Wagram GV with great acidity and rather surprising depth for a wine of this level. -jfr

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Ott, Bernhard 2013 Wagram Grüner Veltliner Fass 4

Fass 4 comes from 5 small parcels that surround Ott's signature Rosenberg site. The aromas are subtle at first but with a little air the piercing stones and gentle florality quickly emerge. While the acid isn't quite as pointed as can you'd find in the Am Berg, Fass 4 is more streamlined and is a total vehicle for minerality. -jfr

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Ott, Bernhard 2012 Kamptal Grüner Veltliner Stein

Stein is at the far western reaches of Wagram, practically in Kamptal, in the village of Engabrunn. The soil is a bit different here from the main slope Ott farms, with gneiss, white sand and red sand as well as the ubiquitious loess. The vintage's herbal characteritics are on full display here with bright notes of rosemary, lemon and thyme. Whereas Spiegel is salty with red fruit notes and Rosenberg is green and stony, Stein strikes me as the most tightly wound with yellow fruit and pure, focused flavors. -jfr

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Ott, Bernhard 2012 Wagram Grüner Veltliner Spiegel

Spiegel, or the Mirror of Feuersbrunn, is a site just downslope and west of the Rosenberg. Spiegel's hallmarks this time around are intensity, depth, and length. Here Ott starts to buck the vintage's trend toward cool-toned green wines with a distinctly red berry-tinged note along with bursts of yellow citrus. In fact, I could almost be convinced that the wine came from 2011 excepet for its impeccable balance and restraint, traits one doesn't associate with that vintage. Spiegel is mainly a loess-based site but there's a good deal of red gravel mixed in as well. -jfr

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Ott, Bernhard 2012 Wagram Grüner Veltliner Rosenberg

If you were going to pick one Ott wine to age, this is it. The wine smells purely, almost singularly of stone, although chervil and parsley do make quick appearances. Bernhard told us the numbers and I have a really hard time reconciling the facts with what I'm tasting (5.2 grams acidity and 8.5 grams RS). In the glass, thought, the wine is all structure and all stone. Where's all that RS? Shockingly, it's kept in balance by the sheer intensity of mineral extract and tactile freshness. This wine is absolutely insane and has to be tasted to be believed. It's Ott's flagship wine and he really rocked it this year. Ott owns 8 ha of Rosenberg and 1.5 are 55 years old and form the basis for this cuvée. -jfr

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Ott, Bernhard 2012 Wagram Grüner Veltliner Qvevre

We haven't tasted the 2012 Qvevre yet since it was still underground when we made our tour of Austrian estates last June. We did taste the 2009 and 2011, and they were both some of my favorites that anyone in Austria produced in those ripe vintages. The grapes are placed in Georgian amphora, sealed and buried underground and allowed to ferment. What sets this apart from many other "orange" wines is that there is no pressing when the wines are dug up; after 8 months underground, the settled wine is remarkably clear and pristine, thus no filtering is required as the clear juice is drawn off and the solid material is left behind. It's much less tannic than many other orange wines due to the lack of a pressing, and the sense of delicacy and beauty here are really breathtaking. -jfr

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  • Biodynamic

Prager 2012 Wachau Achleiten Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Stockkultur

Stockkultur is Tonti Bodenstein's most interesting project, featuring very, very old vines in rocky Achleiten, with much genetic diversity and many vines trained on single stakes like in the Mosel (although trained much lowers to the ground). One of the most deft yet concentrated Grüners of the vintage. We love Prager! -jfr

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Prager 2012 Wachau Grüner Veltliner Hinter Der Burg Federspiel

Hinter der Burg means "Behind the Town." The town in question is Weissenkirchen, and sure enough, Hinter der Burg is a low lying plot of vines just to the northwest of the village center. Classic Grüner flavors here (savory, green veggies and lemon and lime zest). Exceedingly long finish, with a thrust of dark-toned minerals; a real winner this vintage in that it has as much complexity and length as a Smaragd Grüner but much more freshness. -jfr

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