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In most wine books, Grüner Veltliner tends to play second fiddle to Riesling in the Austrian sections, but Johannes Hirsch thinks that is missing the point. “The grape variety is just a way to transport terroir,” he says. “One hundred years ago, you might just find the village name on the label or the vineyard and no mention of the variety; it was not so important.” It’s all about the terroir, you see, and the Ried Gaisberg vineyard marries so perfectly with Grüner that it’s hard to know where soil stops and wine begins.
That soil is highly calcareous (i.e. limestone-rich) and those minerals, like lime and chalk, are translated as pure, lighting-like energy that turns the Grüner into a glass of sizzling sunshine, bursting with citrus peel and spice. Now, I’m all for simple Grüner, ideally while sitting outdoors at a Vienna café. But give it top-notch terroir and put the farming and winemaking into the hands of a master like Johannes Hirsch and it becomes something altogether different: world-class white wine. If you’ve been lulled to sleep with lazy summer sippers lately, this is the white that will wake you up!
The wine regions along the Danube west of Vienna—Wachau, Kremstal, Kamptal—are incredibly rich in history, and the architecture and landscape haven’t changed a whole lot over the centuries. Visiting places like the Kamptal really feels like going back in time; Johannes Hirsch lives in a house that was constructed “...when Albrecht Dürer created his famous ‘Rhinoceros’ woodcut and Michelangelo was at work on his frescoes in Rome’s Sistine Chapel.” The Hirsch family acquired the property in 1878, and it remained a mixed-use farm until the 1970s, when Johannes’ father, Josef, began focusing more intently on viticulture. Over the years, Josef—joined by Johannes in the mid-1990s—pieced together more vineyard land en route to the estate’s current dimensions.
Johannes Hirsch runs his family estate with a deep respect for its centuries-old history, farming his vineyards according to rigorous biodynamic principles and producing single-vineyard wines from some of the best sites in Austria’s picturesque Kamptal. There’s a level of refinement, purity, and precision from the top to the bottom of Hirsch’s lineup, and the Gaisberg Grüner Veltliner is definitely near the very top. Hirsch’s philosophy for this bottling is so simple and yet the results are so profound. They harvest their Respekt Certified Biodynamic crop by hand towards the end of September or early October and then press the whole-bunches into a mixture of stainless steel and large neutral casks. Upon completing a natural fermentation, the resulting wine continues maturing on the lees for 6-8 months before racking and then resting in bottle prior to release.
Decant this glistening 2020 for at least 30 minutes and serve it at 45-50 degrees in an all-purpose stem and you will be rewarded with layers of key lime, honeysuckle, star jasmine, peach skin, and white pepper. Of course, there are waves of saline minerals and that delicious, prickly acidity that keeps you reaching for another glass, but there’s also subtle hints of complex umami. It’s the complete package of refinement and refreshment. You can keep it simple and serve alongside an assortment of alpine cheeses and charcuterie, or go the distance and fry up some cutlets for authentic wiener schnitzel. Either way, prepare to be blown away by Grüner!
Calcareous Chernozem, Crystalline Rock, Gneiss, & Loess
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