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SCHLOSS GOBELSBURG
This Kamptal estate has been owned by an Austrian monastery and searching for management, they approached one of their famous winemaking neighbors, Willi Bründlmayer.  He enlisted a friend to manage the estate and soon Michael Moosbrugger found himself ensconced in the wine-making business, coming from a fancy hotel and restaurant in Lech am Arlberg.  

It's the Zwettl Abbey and it was founded in 1137.  The first recorded references to a Schloss in the town of Gobelsburg was a few years later, in 1178.  The Zwettl monks have owned this property since 1740, a vintage which was well-regarded back in its day we're told.  Today the Monastery owns a huge forest, a fish farm, an agricultural enterprise and this viticultural domaine.   The wines had been made by a fellow who'd been at the helm of the cellar since 1958.   When he was ready to retire, they needed to find a capable replacement.
 
 
 

What a daunting task this must have been for Michael Moosbrugger!   He came to the winery in the mid-1990s with the task of making good wines and elevating a struggling little winery to national prominence.  Not only is it one of the most famed wineries in Austria, the Gobelsburger name is now prominent on wine lists around the world.
 
The property consists of 100 hectares of which 35 are devoted to vineyards.  They also have apricot and pear trees, but it's wine which put their name on the map.

Reflecting on his arrival, Moosbrugger said "It was a time of renovation and modernization.  Many wineries were bringing in stainless steel tanks to 'bring temperature to the wine.'  I thought maybe we should bring the wine to the temperature and so we purchased these large wooden tanks which we have on wheels.  We can move them around the cellar to warmer areas when that's needed and cooler temperatures when that's required."
 

Those big tanks are on rollers as you may be able to see.  "It takes maybe three of us to roll one of those from one part of the cellar to another." Moosbrugger explained.

The range of wines is impressive.  There are numerous Grüners and Rieslings, but also a Rose, Zweigelt, St. Laurent, Pinot Noir and a spiffy bubbly that's made of Gruner with small amounts of Pinot Noir and Riesling.  

The wine is called "Gobelsburger" and it's their entry level bottling.  I was simply delighted by the 2011, as usual.  It's fresh and bright, capturing the zesty, almost spicy nature of Grüner Veltliner.   Even tasting this alongside Gobelsburg's other, estate-grown and more costly wines, I still found this to be amazingly good.  Grapefruit, dill, white pepper spice...think of something like Gewürztraminer-meets-Sauvignon.  You simply have to try a bottle.

Don't miss this, especially while the weather is warm.  It's got a screw-cap stopper, too.

Each wine, though, is a lovely expression of grape and terroir at this cellar.  But there are two wines on the upper end of the spectrum which, if you are in tune with these, will floor you.  

Moosbrugger makes what he calls "Tradition" wines.  

Producing a relatively small amount of both Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, Michael says these are made employing 19th Century winemaking philosophies.  

"Modern winemaking is all about the aromatics and preserving fruit.  We care for the wines to bring about a lot of aroma.  The Tradition wines, though, are made with a totally different idea.  Each wine is brought to a significant point of development.  Like human beings, the wines have to 'breathe'.  The idea here is to bring oxygen to the wine, so it might be termed oxidative winemaking.  To do this we employ lots of rackings to allow the wines to breathe and we do this every three or four months over the 18 to 24 month maturation period."

Well, I'm not much of a fan of wines that are oxidized or the so-called "orange wines" which get a lot of attention from various writers.  But these are wines which are elegant and wonderfully complex.  I'd go as far as saying they're candidates for the dinner table when you might more immediately consider something such as a good White Burgundy.  

I found both versions of Tradition from the 2010 vintage to be stellar.  These are 'serious' wines and intended for good food.
 


Michael Moosbrugger, by the way,  was honored several years ago as Falstaff magazine (Austria's top wine publication) "winemaker of the year."  Not surprised...if the guy can make Grüner Veltliner like this little gem and sell it here for $16.99, he's a magician!
 
Currently in stock:  2012 Schloss Gobelsburg GRÜNER VELTLINER "Gobelsburger"  $16.99
2010 SCHLOSS GOBELSBURG GRÜNER VELTLINER "Tradition"  Sale $49.99
2010 SCHLOSS GOBELSBURG RIESLING "Tradition"  $56.99


In the cellar with some historical bottles and old vintages...

 

 

 



MARKOWITSCH
The Markowitsch name is well-regarded in Austrian wine circles, there is no doubt.
The family traces its roots back to about 1750, or so.  The winery was doing well in the 1980s, but became more 'serious' in the 1990s.  The new cellars, though, were rebuilt in 2001.
 

There are several wine families with this name and one of the top, if not the top is that of Gerhard Markowitsch.  The winery and vineyards are located near Vienna in the Carnuntum wine region.  This is about a 50 minute ride east of the city in a wonderful little wine village chock full of wineries!

They own approximately 40 hectares of vineyards and purchase fruit from perhaps another 50 hectares...Soils, according to wine-meister Gerhard Markowitsch, are mostly limestone.


This fellow is a believer in the vineyards accounting for the quality of the wines.  He has a very modern cellar with wooden fermentation tanks for reds and stainless steel for the whites. 

 
 
Markowitsch is one who strives to make "international quality" but retaining the originality of the Göttlesbrunn terroir.  He finds the conveniences of technology to be tools to be used to "retain" the quality of the wine which starts, of course, in the vineyard.
 
 
The cellars have a lot of cooperage...and these fancy barrels on rollers for fermenting red wines and turning them to keep the skins submerged in the wine...

 



I was introduced to this family by the famous Burgenland winemaker, the late Alois Kracher.  "You don't know the Markowitsch's?" he cried, "Then let me introduce you to them!"  

I was especially pleased to meet these folks, since my mother's family is of the same name!  My grandparents, though, came to the U.S. when they were babies, so we don't know precisely where the family started in Europe.
 


The wines I tasted from this property all are in the well-made category.  The whites are nice and a bit light.  Gerhard produces Grüner Veltliner, a good non-oaked Chardonnay, a light Sauvignon Blanc, a stony "old vines" Grüner and a mildly oaked Chardonnay.
Reds are more interesting...there's a good Carnuntum Cuvee featuring Zweigelt withb a bit of Pinot Noir and Blaufrankisch.
The straight Blaufrankisch is solid and there's a nice Zweigelt that's called "Rubin" (Perhaps 40 vintners in the region use the Rubin name for a locally-grown Zweigelt of full-throttle intensity).
I liked the St. Laurent here, too and it captures a note reminiscent of Pinot Noir.

We currently have a 2009 Pinot Noir...this wine always arouses the curiosity of customers who buy their first bottle based on our 'say so.'  And then they return buy a few more because they now have their own "first palate" tasting impression and know the wine to be good quality and well-priced.

It's a smooth, medium to medium-light-bodied Pinot.  It features the grape more than the barrel and is a delight served at cool cellar temp...

Currently in stock:  2009 Markowitsch PINOT NOIR $21.99




 

 

 

F.X. PICHLER

This winery traces its roots back to 1898.  In the late 1920s, F. Pichler began weeding out over-productive Gruner Veltliner vines and propagating more shy-bearing plants.

In 1971 the estate was taken over by FX Pichler, Franz Xaver.  In 1999 FX's son Lucas took over the winemaking, allowing FX to hang out in the peace and quiet of their Wachau vineyards.  Both father and son are perfectionists and it shows in the wines.
 
 


Many people will tell you the F.X. Pichler winery is Austria's top estate.  And we won't argue with that notion, though certainly there are dozens of really passionate winemakers in that little country.

At a big wine fair a few years ago, I had the pleasure of spending the better part of a day roaming around the stands of Austrian vintners.  All the top players were there, including F.X. Pichler.  I tasted through the wines and the first was great and they got better from there.
The young lady pouring the wines, a family member, spoke rather good English.  I asked her if she had ever heard the term "cellar blind."
She had not.

I explained this is a syndrome where a winemaker or vintner becomes so accustomed to his or her own wine, no other tastes as good to he or she.
"Oh, okay.  I understand." she said.
I further explained, "But you know, in the case of your winery, it's quite alright.  You should feel your wines are superior because, well, they are!"
She was quite pleased with the compliments.

There is nothing hugely special about their winemaking.  The wines, in fact, are merely a reflection of the care and attention to detail paid in the vineyards.  

The grapes are picked into bins, sorted, crushed and returned into those bins for a bit of skin contact.  The juice is then settled a bit before they start the fermentation.  



Pichler wines ARE exceptional typically.  And fame carries a price, unfortunately, so F.X. Pichler wines are in demand and priced accordingly.  But we can say the splurge is usually worth it.

Currently we have a 2010 Gruner Veltliner Federspiel from the Loibner Klostersatz site.  This is a flat place in what was once the Danube River.  Sandy soils.  It's said this terroir produces a lovely, light, crisp Gruner and that's what you'll find in their 2010.  But what they describe as "light" does not mean the wine lacks intensity.  It is quite aromatic and nicely flavorful.  Dry, of course.  
There's a 2010 Gruner of somewhat greater concentration from the Loibner Loibenberg site...it's a steep, south-facing slope producing even more 'serious' quality Gruner.

In Riesling, we have their 2010 Loibner Oberhauser which is a site located within the Klostersatz...nicely fruity, dry, aromatic...
And there's a 2010 Loibner Steinertal Riesling...Eastern part of the Wachau and this site produces a Riesling with great fruit intensity...almost peach and ripe pear notes.


Here's "the dirt" on FX Pichler!

Currently in stock:  2010 F.X. PICHLER Gruner Veltliner Federspiel "Loibner Klostersatz"  $39.99

2010 F.X. PICHLER Gruner Veltliner Smaragd Loibner Loibenberg $59.99
2010 F.X. PICHLER Riesling Smaragd Loibner Oberhauser $49.99
2010 F.X. PICHLER Riesling Smaragd Loibner Steinertal  $65.99
 

 
 

FRANZ ETZ   (PRODUCER OF OUR FAVORITE GRUNER VELT-LITER)

A local, Bay Area importer who's from Austria, had the idea of bringing in some really good quality, price-worthy Gruner Veltliner in order to gain a place on restaurant wine lists.

He figured he might be able to sell his other, more special wines if he had an over-achiever which could be offered "by the glass" at an attractive price for both the dining establishment and the customer.
 
We've routinely rejected wines in liter bottles, not so much for the size of the bottle, but because the plonk most wineries offer as "economical" everyday wine is of dull quality.  Who needs that?  

And the sales reps retort is "Well, it's not bad for its price."  And our response is "Yeah, well, it's not good for its price, either."

So then one fellow, who brings in some pretty good wines, shows up with the newest vintage of his "take me to your liter" white wine and...it's astonishingly good!   

It's not bad for the price.  
It's great, no matter the price!
 
Apparently this importer dabbled in Gruner Veltliner from a region known for its "good value" wines at modest prices and he had a bit of success.  But then he switched producers, finding the Etz brothers in a more upscale neighborhood, the Kamptal.

Yikes!   Seriously good Gruner which highlights the melon, grapefruit and white pepper spice...it's a total delight on all counts and then remember:  It's only $13.99 a bottle and there's 33+ ounces here, not the usual 25!  Case discounts, too.  
 

Currently in stock:  2013 FRANZ ETZ GRUNER VELTLINER (VELT-LITER)  $13.99






ALOIS KRACHER

Kracher is the king of Austrian dessert wines and his reputation amongst winemakers is held in high regard.
Alois Jr. took over for Dad in the 1980s and was certain his region would one day be famous for luxurious sweet wines.  The neighbors all thought Alois had fallen on his head with such a crazy notion, but he had seen the Neusiedlersee (the large lake near his village of Illmitz) and other small lakes in the region helped create a lot of fog.  These conditions are ideal for the "noble rot," Botrytis cinerea, to take up residence on the grapes and concentrate sugar levels.  
He made a wide range of wines, but it's the late-harvested wines that attract the most attention. 

Sadly, Alois passed away at an early age in 2008.  He was a real pioneer and a legendary figure in the Austrian wine industry.


The "normal" style of wines are tagged as "Zwischen den Seen," translating to "between the seas (or lakes)."  These are, generally, lower alcohol wines, somewhat along the lines of late-harvest German wines.

The other wines are "Nouvelle Vague," or "new wave."  These are more reminiscent of a Sauternes-styled wine, being higher in alcohol and having seen French oak.  Kracher then labels these wines with a number corresponding to the level of sweetness that particular wine achieved in a given vintage.  The higher the number, the sooner you'll need to see a dentist.   But the greater number is not a qualitative assessment.

We were amused to hear Kracher speaking about his wines.  He was obviously quite passionate.  The subject turned to Eiswein and Kracher, who makes one, seemed to dismiss this as somehow lacking the artistry or majesty of botrytis-affected wines.  

For eiswein, of course, one need to have reasonably healthy fruit remaining on the vine in the cold of winter.  No brainer.  

For botrytis affected wines, a grower must manage the fruit, watch the weather report and be very selective in what grapes are allowed into the press and what juice is allowed to ferment.

We typically have a few bottles of his wines in the shop.  Almost nobody that is perusing the dessert wine section has even a (nouvelle) vague clue as to these wines.  Since some wine writers tend to gush over these wines (Kracher has been named "Winemaker of the Year" more times than Barry Bonds has been named "Most Valuable Player"), someone periodically brings one of these to the counter in an effort to add to their credit card debt.  

Kracher is also collaborating on a sweet wine project with Jorge Ordoñez, importer of some delicious Spanish wines.  These are being made in Malaga...stay tuned!

The bottles are all "half bottles."
Currently in stock:  
There are various 375ml bottles in stock from the 2005 vintage...$49.99 to $89.99...
and...
MR. K (California Collaboration)

 


Martin Nigl in 2014

WEINGUT MARTIN NIGL
The Nigl family used to deliver their grapes to the local cooperative.  They started making their owns wines only as recently as 1986.  Located in the Kremstal, the family cultivates a fair bit of Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, along with  a tiny bit of Zweigelt and Neuberger, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc and something called Chardonnay.  

The estate comprises some 25 hectares and Nigl's wines are considered amongst the top in Austria.  We've tasted a number of vintages and always find the wines to embody "finesse."  Sometimes the wines are, perhaps, too fine for my tastes or I am viewing them alongside wines which offer more/bigger/flashier elements and these tend to blind me to the elegance of Nigl's offerings.

If you're on the same wavelength as Nigl's wines, you're in for a treat, though.

Nigl is one of those winemakers who seems to consider his work more as a "custodian" than as an artist.  He understands crop management and viticulture as his primary work, with winemaking more as guiding the fruit through vinification and into the bottle.  Nigl prefers to use the wild yeasts for fermenting the juice.  No enhancing the juice with sugar...he farms the grapes properly.    Gravity is used to clarify the wines, as Nigl doesn't "fine" them.  

We have his 2007 Kremser Freiheit Grüner Veltliner in stock.  This is a marvelous wine which seems to have an underlying power, without being really flashy or too strong.  You'll find notes of  Grüner spice and the wine is dry.  I found it to be one of the more enchanting Austrian wines in my most recent survey.
 

Currently in stock:  2007 NIGL Kremser Freiheit Grüner Veltliner  $21.99






MORIC

Roland Velich is making some remarkable Blaufrankisch and his wines are some of the most "soulful" you can find in Austria.

He embarked on what he calls the "Moric Project" some years ago,  feeling that the Blaufrankisch grape was one that had great potential to reflect its terroir and vintage.

While it seems to us that many producers in the Burgenland handle Blaufrankisch a bit like Cabernet or new world Syrah, the Moric wines seem to reflect a more Burgundian approach to grape growing and winemaking.

Velich is not a fan of making bigger and more powerful wines to appeal to those who have to have the same kind of wine, whether it's from Napa, Bordeaux, Italy, South America or Austria.  

His vineyards are in Neckenmarkt and Lutzmannsburg...the former is on the radar of most Burgenland wine drinkers, while the latter is a bit off-the-beaten path.  Lutzmannsburg has volcanic soils, with clay and loam which Velich credits bringing elegance and finesse, along with a measure of tannin and acid, allowing for wines with a good life span.
In Neckenmarkt, the vineyards have a higher elevation so retaining good acidity is easier.  The soil types are varied, though, with limestone, clay, loam and schist, depending upon the particular vineyard site.  

As a result, with a dozen sites in Neckenmarkt alone, Velich ferments each parcel individually to have a better grasp of each vineyard's unique characteristics.  But he's not interested at this stage in  making single vineyard wines, but wines which express the best character of the Burgenland.
By the way, the vineyards he purchased are seriously old and planted at a far greater density (vines per hectare) than typical Austrian vineyards.  This is another piece of the Moric puzzle and the basis for the success of this vintner.

It's clear, when you taste this fellow's wines, that he's got a good grasp of grape growing and winemaking.  The wines have a soulful quality which reminds us a lot of Burgundy and Barolo.  And this seems to be a major distinguishing element in the Moric wines.  

We've brought in a few vintages of his entry level wine.  These are not inexpensive, but the basic bottling has tremendous character with a reasonable price tag.  For us, these have been the best price-to-quality ration performers.

The current vintage is the 2012...and, as we found with other vintages, the wine shows handsomely in its youth.  This has dark cherry notes and maybe a hint of blueberry...there's something hinting at Burgundy, but it's not Pinot Noir...maybe a forest floor sort of character which we enjoy in a good Burgundy?  It's a medium-full red, but not a blockbuster, as it doesn't taste Californian or Australian, for example.  

We feel this is a terrific wine and it merits its price tag.

Currently in stock:  2012 MORIC Burgenland BLAUFRANKISCH  $28.99

 




NEUMEISTER
The Steiermark is home to the Neumeister family and their excellent compound in the town of Straden.

Here you'll find a lovely wine cellar, but also a terrific, small hotel and a noteworthy dining establishment which showcases the Neumeister wines.
We've been fans of Neumeister's Sauvignon Blanc wines.  This region excels with the Sauvignon grape.

 



 
 
 
 
They have 26 hectares of their own, renting another 15.  Grandpa Neumeister got started in 1961 in bottling wine.  Dad's first vintage was 1979.  Now young Christophe runs the cellar and is doing a really fine job.
 
 
We tasted numerous delicious whites.  The Pinot Blanc wines, labeled as Weissburgunder, were especially good.  The 2003 "Klausen" shows wonderful woodsy, brown spice notes.   I also found an outstanding Sauvignon Blanc designated "Klausen." This offers herbal tones and a bit of citrus, along with a hint of pepper spice.  A 2003 Pinot Gris, called Grauburgunder "Saziani" was exceptional.  It has nice woodsy spices, too.  A Roter Traminer from the 2004 vintage was very fine.  They also do a nice job with sweet wines.  

We have their famous Moarfeitl Sauvignon in stock.  This is an intense, deep Sauvignon with nice citrus and herb tones.  

The 2003 Klassik Sauvignon is a fresh, crisp, mildly citrusy, dry white.  Very fine.  
 

Currently in stock:  2001 Sauvignon Blanc "Moarfeitl"  Sold Out
2003 Sauvignon Blanc "Klassik"  Sold Out

Our Buschenschank dinner with Rachel & Christoph at Neubauer.









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