Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 3

3 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I get a strong sense of deja vu. A distinct feeling of coming full circle, of the universe working in mysterious ways, a feeling that perhaps the space-time continuum is not linear but rather cyclic. You see, my very first post on this blog (indeed, my first wine blog, period) detailed a Gruner Veltliner, also on Day 3, in last year’s Bricks Advent calendar. Never mind just that, I also became Pop and Pour’s de facto Austria correspondent for that entire 24-wine run, drawing every bottle from this country in the calendar and becoming an even more ardent fan of Austria’s wines in the process. This just feels right. It is great to be home.

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Gruner Veltliner remains my favourite white wine grape one year later, despite some clear inroads by Riesling: many of these have involved sneaky guerilla actions with accurate laser beam weapons of acid and floral aromatics, while a few have involved full on armoured assaults bearing the insignias of Rheinhessen and the Pfalz. Nevertheless, Gruner remains ascendant (for now). It is safe to say that my view of what constitutes a good Gruner has evolved. Where once I sought sheer weirdness, now I yearn for clarity, distinctiveness, balance, and complexity. I want a sense of place coupled with unambiguous varietal character, although these can sometimes be at loggerheads. Gruner can be high-yielding, leading to blurry tepid wines, or it can deliver a rude slash of acid without enough aromatics to entice or tantalize. It is no longer enough merely to smell like a compost bin or root cellar, although I shall never stop craving the peppery “funk” that is this grape’s signature, the one that initially captivated me. Fortunately, the present wine region has rarely let me down.

The Kamptal, named after the river Kamp, is known for Gruners that are typically described as “pure mineral wines”, food friendly and sometimes suitable for a long rest in the cellar. One of the five Districtus Austriae Controllatus (DACs) where Gruner is permitted (along with Riesling), these wines are made in either a fresh, dry “Classic” style or a richer, more opulent “Reserve” style that often enjoys some barrel fermentation and/or aging. The best vineyards occupy steep terraces that can also be rather wide, each with its own microclimate. This feature, coupled with the presence of at least four distinct soil types (gneiss, loess, sandstone loess, and gravel), allows much room for expression of terroir, but important wine-making constants include ample sunshine as well as a key interaction between easterly hot breezes from the Pannonian plain and relatively cooler air blowing in from the Waldviertel to the northwest. A combination of warm days and cool nights preserves acidity in the grapes but also permits them to attain full physiological ripeness, delivering those all- important delicate aromatics but not at the expense of structure. Although I feel that some winemaking variables can get undue emphasis as determinants of fine wine (looking at you, low yields), diurnal variation is not one of them. This is truly where the magic can happen. Nevertheless, to many Kamptal ultimately embodies freshness.

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Enter Willi Brundlmayer, who was deemed “best Austrian winemaker of the last 25 years” by Wine & Spirits magazine in 2009. A truly iconic producer, Willi has always made Gruner the most important variety in his portfolio. The grapes are never de-stemmed or crushed, with the exception of a miniscule proportion that are de-stemmed and macerated for 12 hours, which Willi uses as a blending component to add “seasoning”. Only organic fertilizers are used in the vineyards and no botrytis is ever tolerated. Importer, author, and wine hero of mine Terry Theise describes the present Gruner as the product of “young vines in top sites, plus scrips and scraps of small parcels that would be unrealistic to vignify separately”. Sounds slapdash. Not so, however. I believe this wine is intended to convey two things at once: a sense of place, yes, but also a classic archetype of a fresh Kamptel Gruner. A deliberate attempt to capture a winemaking ideal while simultaneously letting some individual character seep through. Although wines of place and wines of a classic style seem to represent opposing approaches at times, at other times a synthesis can be obtained. Indeed, as exemplified by last night’s Haut-Medoc, style can be the place. Was this the case here?

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The Kamptel Terrassen sees only stainless steel and minimal skin contact. Pale lemon in the glass. My first impression on the nose? Freshness. Something subtly wet and earthy like petrichor and rain barrels, along with wet stones and an altogether-Gruner note of locker room mixed with flint and those red rubber utility balls. The funk is contained, though; this dance party has a chaperone and won’t be getting too wild. Nor should it, although that lovely rotundone-driven white pepper note is opening up with air. No, this is a concentrated yet precise lance of heirloom apple and pear (sour ones for cider rather than for eating out of hand, although there could be a slightly custardy Cox’s Orange Pippen somewhere in the mix), lemon and lime pith, peach, apple blossoms and more than a whisper of pineapple and starfruit and ripe slick mango, because these grapes did get some sun. Just a little green around the edges, fresh bean and kohlrabi. A malty element like Corn Flakes or maybe Grape Nuts emerges mid-palate and extends right into what is a surprisingly long finish. This is a telecommunications cable just barely starting to fray, sending lovely messages directly to my wine-loving limbic system. Varietal character? Check. Sense of place? Check. Connectedness? Double check. Three in and this calendar is bloody singing.

90+ points

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Stelvin Rating: 7/10 (Great colour choice, and the nation’s flag coupled with the crest and numerals all add up to something official yet lively).

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