Over my years in the wine industry, I have come to realise that there are broadly two denominations of wine drinker: Those who enjoy a wine in the first flush of youth with its bountiful aromatics, bright primary fruits and crispy crunchy acid, and then a very lucky few who were guided behind the curtain and initiated into a great and wonderful secret – a secret born of patience, care and self-discipline; that, once understood and appreciated, can unlock new dimensions of drinking pleasure. I am, of course, speaking of well-matured wines.
Now before I get too far into this topic, I would first like to give as clear and concise an answer as possible to a question I am often asked. Not all wines are created equal, and deliberately so. Most are made specifically to be enjoyed young and fresh with no real expectation that they will be cellared; these wines are at their best for a few years after release then begin to fall apart. Simply aging an ‘entry level’ wine will not necessarily make it better. Conversely, some of the world’s highest-profile wines are so unbalanced as to be almost undrinkable when they are first released; they are crafted in such a way that all of the million little variables (acid, tannin, fruit) will over the years eventually harmonise and only then show the winemaker’s true vision.
An excellent visual representation of this concept is the Pendulum Wave. Austrian physicist and philosopher, Ernst Mach, built the first pendulum wave machine in 1867 to demonstrate mathematical and physics theory at Prague University. This device perfectly demonstrates harmony and balance rising out of chaos through a combination of deep consideration and expert execution. After reading this article, please scroll back up here and follow this link to a hypnotically beautiful video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsIgubUjTck
Those of us who seek out aged wines have long known how stimulating a well-made and cellared Riesling can be. Australia has a long history of producing world-class Riesling and we are especially good at crafting bottles that will continue to delight for over 20 years. This is particularly exciting for disciples of Gruner Veltliner. Austrian vintners have planted Gruner and Riesling side by side for generations and as their treatment in the winery is also almost identical, this suggests to me that all the things that we love about a well-made and diligently cellared Riesling will also bloom in Gruner.
Let us take a look at three examples of Austrian Gruner Veltliner that we have studiously cellared to see how they have developed.
As a dog person, I have very special memories of my time at Weingut Knoll in the Wachau. I visited their beautiful cellar door in 2017 and was greeted by the ‘four-legged gatekeeper’ who would not let me pass until he had exacted five full minutes of belly rubs out of me. Weingut Knoll is currently under the stewardship of Emmerich Knoll who is an exuberant ambassador for the region and responsible for some of its highest profile and acclaimed wines. The family have been viticulturists for generations and established their own brand in the 1950’s. Today they manage 16 hectares including many of the region’s most desirable blocks.
The 2015 ‘Loibner’ Federspiel Gruner is a wine I have been lucky enough to try twice, first in Austria when it was just released and again here at home just now. This is a tremendous advantage when attempting to extrapolate the trajectory of a well-made wine. When I tried it in 2017, I remarked upon the delicious citrus, faintly honeyed apple and green vegetal characters that were braced by a body and mouthfeel so robust I almost couldn’t believe it was only 12% alcohol. I even highlighted the following line in my note book: “In a few years this wine will break hearts” – and how right I was. In the subsequent five years, this wine has let its guard down enough to reveal beeswax, custard apple and an acid so elegant and graceful that I genuinely resented sharing it. Being happily married is all very well and good, but had I known I would be expected to share so much as a drop of this wine I would have definitely looked into a pre-nup!
The Weingut Rabl family has been farming in the Kamptal village of Langenlois for centuries; by 1900 they were selling wine to local inns by the barrel, and by 1946 they were one of the very first to switch to 700ml bottles. I visited the Rabl winery, underground cellars and tasting room in 2017 and was very impressed. They have embraced centuries of tradition and married it up seamlessly with modern practices and ideas. The team at Rabl has a deep affinity for the land and work hard to make sure they are always in tune with what it wants to say; whole bunches, wild fermentation and time on skins, are all vital for expressing who and where they are.
The term ‘Alte Reben’ literally translates as ‘Old Vines’ or vines that are notably older than those around them. While not a legal definition, it has come to be understood that older vines produce higher quality fruit and it is implied that any bottle with Alte Reben on the label is – in the mind of the winemaker – their premium product; and the 2013 Rabl ‘Dechant’ Alte Reben Reserve is premium by any definition. Made in the Reserve style from the loess-rich Dechant single block, this wine is everything lovers of mature white wine lovers seek. It is rich, bold and chic in all the right ways. Ginger, apricot and custard apple ripple like silk sheets across a bed of acid so delicate but still sure of itself.
The ‘Dechant’ Reserve Gruner is a complex wine that has a lot to say but to like her you must be patient; there are layers to this wine the greedy or rushed will miss and that would be a terrible loss. The longer I sat with this wine the more assured I became that it was where it was meant to be. I loved the gentle tingle of the ripe red apple and delighted in the rich buttery bed of stewed apricot. I have made no secret of my love for the wines of the Kamptal and this wine is a big reason why. I am confident that Gruner will continue to conquer Australia and the early blocks planted in the Adelaide Hills will one day have the seniority and maturity to consistently rival the great Alte Reben sites of Austria. But until then I will happily continue to sip away, take notes and look forward.
Just down the road from the Rabl tasting room is Weingut Brundlmayer, another marquee Kamptal house and one of Austria’s most famous wineries. A founding member of the ‘Österreichische Traditionsweingüter’ and leader in the region’s Sekt (sparkling) category, Brundlmayer has struck the perfect balance between looking forward and back. They work hard to recognise the blood, sweat and tears of those who came before them, and build upon it to create a legacy that will have the region lauded on the global stage.
The 2017 ‘Ried Loiserberg’ Gruner is an excellent example of a wine with pedigree up the wazoo. This wine came from a virtuous family, attended the finest schools and probably still rang its grandmother every Sunday. This is a wine that has been crafted to one day fly the family standard and I am convinced it will do a very good job. Tasting this wine is like looking into a crystal ball; I predict the refreshing citrus acidity and crunchy granny smith apple will mellow with age to reveal layers of nectarine and baked red apple. The acid will gracefully yield and release the savoury white pepper spice that will balance out the whole glass and re-affirm why wines made in this style by people who genuinely care, are so paralyzingly delicious.
The life cycle of Gruner Veltliners and Rieslings that are crafted to age can be analogous to the lives of those who love to drink them. In our youth we are excited and seek attention; then as adolescents we will often retreat to our room and only come out for meals and rarely have anything to say; but once the moody phase has passed, the ultimate product of all the hard work can finally been seen and enjoyed. Like us, if the proper foundation is laid, time and effort spent on the little things and genuine love unreservedly poured in, the results can be inspiring.
So in this spirit, seek out wines that have been intentionally made to age and then try to forget about them. Hide them away until such time as they have matured into the tablemates their parents raised them to be. When it comes to wines of quality, this patience will reward you a hundredfold because in the end: “It’s not how old you are, it’s how you are old” – Jules Renard.