A Massive Collection of Old Austrian Wine - Part 1

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We have purchased an incredible collection of aged white wine from a truly great old cellar in Austria. It is so big that this time we had to break in into multiple emails. As we've said before, these whites are among the most age-worthy and complex in the world, and the wines are so rare that we only come across enough bottles to cobble together an offer once or twice a year. This collection is really something else, though – never say never, but we’ll be surprised if we ever encounter a single group of Austrian wine like this again.

Hirtzberger and Jamek are widely considered to be among the best of the Wachau, and we're happy to be able to offer a wide range of grape varieties from both estates in addition to their reliably excellent Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners. In "Wines of Austria," the best English-language guide on the subject, Philipp Blom points out that Jamek's Weissburgunders often surpass the two more famous grapes in terms of complexity, density, and length.

After spending ten years working at Prager and five at FX Pichler, Högl began bottling his own wines in the early 1990s and has been quietly building a large following since. Prior to striking out on his own, his family's centuries-old estate sent all their grapes to the famed Freie Weingärtner Wachau (or simply, Domäne Wachau), the Wachau's large co-op. We don't have much experience with the Domäne's wines – quality has at times been variable but these old bottles are legendary and come from a particularly strong period in the estate's history. When else would one get the chance to taste fully mature Austrian whites from the 50s and 60s? Likely not in Austria, where the public ignores just about anything other than the most recent vintage (as you'll see below, their loss is our gain).  Look forward to more later this week!

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Hirtzberger 1988 Wachau Riesling Sylvaner Novemberlese 500 ml

The name "November Harvest" led us to believe that this would be a fairly sweet dessert wine so we took a bottle to a dinner recently at Blaue Gans, expecting it to be the proper end to the meal. When tasting it, though, we discovered that while it is ripe, intense and marvelously multi-dimensional, it's also hardly sweet. Fortunately, the dessert that was served was Marillen Palatschinken, or apricot crêpes, that were also barely sweet. The pairing was unreal and we hope you get the chance to replicate it or something similar. You won't be disappointed. -jfr

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Hirtzberger 1998 Wachau Rivaner Trockenbeerenauslese 375ml

We're told that Rivaner is the local Austrian name for the often-derided Müller-Thurgau grape, but we can't help but wonder if it's a name that was invented to avoid that grape's horrible reputation. Hirtzberger has a tendency to take things to the extreme, and a TBA from Rivaner is a classic example. It's higher in acidity than a comparable Sauternes, though, and significantly less expensive than a TBA made from Riesling, yet it's more than capable of serving the same delicious function as either of these. 1998 was an excellent year for sticky sweet wine in Austria, as the vintage went on and on without frost or damage to the grapes and healthy botrytis was allowed to develop for quite some time. -jfr

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Hirtzberger 1998 Wachau Steinporz Weissburgunder Smaragd

This light golden wine was one of the highlights of our tasting. It makes you rethink the aging potential of Weißburgunder. Aromas of white flowers, fruitcakes, thyme, hazelnuts and musky tones are remarkably bright and expressive for a wine of this age. The palate is juicy and weighty with notes of fenugreek and green plums carried by a mouth-watering minerality. A head-turner of a Weißburgunder!

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Hirtzberger 2000 Wachau Steinporz Weissburgunder Smaragd

According to Eric Asimov of the New York Times, "my favorite weissburgunders have come from Austria, where the wine seems to achieve a higher level of complexity than I’ve had elsewhere. They also age surprisingly well. A 2000 Wachau Steinporz weissburgunder from Franz Hirtzberger that I drank recently was absolutely delicious, rich and stony with a faint whiff of licorice."

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Högl 2000 Wachau Riesling Smaragd Loibner Visionen

Aromas of tropical and temperate climes mingle in this expressive Riesling. Tones of starfruit, honeysuckle, and lemon verbena that remarkably vibrant and have kept this an energetic and finely-aged Riesling. The palate is equally alive with hi-toned minerality and notes of green and yellow plums before a deliciously herbal finish.

- David Salinas

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Domäne Wachau 1963 Wachau Rheiniesling Dürnsteiner Hollerin

The 1957 Riesling Hollerin, when tasted recently, was a stunning thing of beauty. This was one of the great, magical periods in the Domäne Wachau's history. While we haven't yet tried the 1963, based on the sublime character of the 1957, we expect it to be a sure thing. The kind folks at the DW were not shy with the sulfur back in those days, and these epic wines were built to last. Be sure to check out the amazing label, with the Austrian flag as well as those of the 4 occupying powers of that time, USA, France, the UK and the Soviet Union. A wonderful piece of history. -jfr

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Domäne Wachau 1977 Wachau Grüner Veltliner Himmelstiege Spätlese

These older Domäne Wachau wines we recently brought in have been uniformly fantastic. We unfortunately don't know much about the history of the estate, but the wines we've tasted from the 1950s through the 1970s have been some of the most compelling and fabulous aged Austrians we've encountered. A 1957 Hollerin Riesling Spätlese was a clear standout at a recent dinner filled with stellar old wines at Blaue Gans, and this, the 1977 Himmelstiege GV was similarly the highlight of another tasting. There's a slight bit of residual sugar here, more than would be found in any Grüner Veltliner made for the table today, but it's perfectly balanced. The flavors are unlike any you'd encounter in the current era and the wine is shockingly, invigoratingly alive. -jfr

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Hinterholzer 1991 Wachau Smaragd Loibenberg Traminer

It's been near-impossible to uncover any information about Hinterholzer, other than the fact that he seems to be in Oberloiben, with his home neatly located midway between those of FX Pichler and Emmerich Knoll. There's no evidence that a wine estate with that name still exists, but we have tasted this wine, and are happy to recommend it. When it first was on its way, we were hoping that the wine would be a true Traminer, the grape which is genetically identical to the Jura's Savagnin, but upon tasting it there was absolutely no doubt, this is Gewürztraminer through and through (Traminer is also a local name for Gewürztraminer in the Wachau...they don't make it easy on us). At any rate, this is delicious, mature gewürz, exotic and lithe with noticeable (but integrated) residual sugar. Sure, Austrian Gewürztraminer with almost 25 years of age on it is a quirky rarity, but it's a lovely one. -jfr

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