The Secrets of the Schützner Stein: Rock, Wind & Brilliant Winemaking.
Updated: Jun 25, 2020
On a cool crisp November evening in Bolgheri, my girlfriend (and soon to be wife) and I sat down to a meal in a quaint little restaurant with a terrace and wine list featuring some of Bolgheri’s finest red wines. After a wine-soaked week of tasting wines across Tuscany from the likes of Isole e Olena, Antinori, and Il Poggio, we knew precisely what we wanted to drink: Cabernet Franc. While the Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon based wines of Tuscany had left us deeply impressed, even mesmerised, we were both awakened to the magic of Cabernet Franc as a single varietal wine. Boasting rich and creamy blackberry and raspberry fruit with a spiciness framed by soothing notes of eucalyptus and graphite, these were soaring expressions of a Mediterranean Cabernet Franc – a Cabernet Franc that seemed perfectly at home in the limestone and Aeolian soils of Bolgheri – a home much different than the tuffeau of Champigny or the maritime influenced climate of St Émilion with its alluvial gravelly clay soils. As I wept over an exquisitely cooked meal accompanied by an indescribably beautiful Italian Cabernet Franc from Le Macchiole, the question that leaves one dazed and sleepless for days, even weeks, arose in my mind: how can a cultivar so famously known for producing peerless wines from Bordeaux and the Loire be so damn good here? Some place it was never meant to be. Remember, this is the cherished land of Sangiovese. Then it struck me. It struck me that something most unusual was going on here. Something much more than faultless winemaking and well-tended vineyards bathed in warm Mediterranean sunshine. Could it be that even before great wine exists in the bottle, it exists first as an idea, a vision, dare I say a dream, in the minds of half-crazed geniuses determined to bring forth something new? Afterall, who on earth would even dare to plant Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon, for that matter, in the Kingdom of Sangiovese? Such a person must have been mad. Or perhaps one of the boldest, most poetic and uncompromising souls imaginable. To cut through centuries of tradition and culture, to ignore the barbed jibes of sceptics and conformists, to break all the rules that bind you to the ordinary – that is no easy task. To never stray from your chosen path when everyone and everything is aligned against you and your vision of bringing something new and wondrous into the world – well, this requires not only incorruptible beliefs but also an indomitable self-confidence. From this refusal to bend a knee to the banal and ordinary, great things are born. Great wines, too.
The most memorable wines that stay with us through thick and thin are the wines made by winemakers stepping away from the wine rather than stepping in. They leave a very light footprint, as if they were ghosts. In order to give the wine every opportunity to speak with its own voice, winemakers will eschew the reassuring infallibility of modern technology, of reverse osmosis or cryoextraction and the like, in favour of very simple vinification techniques. They also respect the potential and natural influences a particular site can have in shaping the development of the grapes in situ. How its soils, rocks, hills and forests, even its winds, all have critical roles to play in preserving crisp acidity while pushing the fruit into gorgeously full-blown ripeness. These are wines that are granted the space to speak the language of a place and the indomitable unfolding of time, of its lashing rains and unrelenting winds. Of sun-baked rocks and the insatiable thirst young roots endure in the peak of summer. Truthfully, I don't think you will hear the din of the marketplace or feel the cold concrete machinations of mass production in these wines. In fact, if you listen closely, you will hear something quite remarkable. You will hear whispers from the past. They will rise as faint echoes, like those nearly silent ripples on the surface of the water that fade into oblivion after a dozen heart beats. If you listen closely, you will discover the greatest secret these wines can reveal. You will discover that they speak of both the past and the future for they hold within themelves the liquid embers of the relentless pursuit of perfection. They are wines mysteriously alive with the endless possibilities of the unknown, silently waiting for someone to hear them. Silently waiting to ripple into the future in the hands of the next indomitable winemaker.
And so, as if it had already been preordained by the unknowable, impenetrable forces of destiny, I found myself two years later, not in Italy but in Austria, standing together with my wife on the top of Ried Goldberg, the most glorious vineyard on the highest point of a forested hill in the Schützner Stein. To the south, on gently sloping hills were Ried Sinner and Ried Steinberg. To the southeast lay Ried Seeberg with clear views of Lake Neusiedl and Illmitz on the other side of the water. Vibrant green vineyards soaked up the afternoon sun. But here there was no Zweigelt or Grüner Veltliner. Blaufränkisch, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Blanc were thriving here in the white limestone soils sparkling with Glimmerschliefer, or mica schist. Cabernet Franc and Pinot Blanc in Leithaberg? Up here, you could hear the voices of the past whispering in the breeze as it tussled our hair and chilled the bare skin on our arms. Here was a site where the potential for producing wines of unsurpassed quality and character were buried deep within the soils and the bedrock, waiting restlessly for someone to set them free with just the right cultivar.
“I had to smuggle in the first vines of Cabernet Franc from Italy in 1987,” Stefan Zehetbauer Sr. revealed with a mischievous smile. “Back then it was illegal to have Cabernet Franc in Austria; it was not a variety that was permitted.” After falling under the spell of Cabernet Franc in Friuli, Zehetbauer was consumed by the idea of growing Cabernet Franc in the Schützner Stein. And he knew exactly where he could grow it – Ried Steinberg.
The Zehetbauers arrived in Schützen am Gebirge in 1705. They have been passing on vineyards and winemaking expertise from grandfather to father to son for 10 generations now. The house where the winery is currently located was built in 1850. In the 70s and 80s, the Zehetbauers were producing their own wines from 5 or 6 hectares and trading in bulk wines, selling massive quantities of swill to companies and countries in Eastern Europe. After the wine scandal of 1985, bulk wine sales became more important as Austrian wines where shunned by the world. These were exceptionally tough times for every winemaking family in Austria. “It wasn’t positive after 1985,” recalled Stefan Zehetbauer Jr., “so we were used to fighting, fighting for every bottle sold. We were always the underdog.”
The Zehetbauers persevered through the darkness, however. When Stefan decided to pursue a degree in winemaking in 1999, the father and son joined forces with a clear vision for breathing new life into the winery. Empty vineyards were replanted, and the cellar was renovated with new stainless-steel tanks and new oak barrels. Early on, however, the decision was made not to chase after trendy wine fads or hot selling varieties to restock their bank accounts with easy made cash. “In the 90s when everyone was making new blends with international varieties, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot,” Stefan recollected, “my father and I decided we didn’t want to make any blends. Or take the rise of Sauvignon Blanc or Gelber Muskateller over the last two decades. We could have planted more of those varieties and sold several thousand bottles easily, but it wasn’t us. Our focus is on the terroir, on the soils and the region.”
Signs pointing to the fact that Ried Steinberg was considered an exceptional site for growing Vitis vinifera long before the 19th century are impossible to miss. Three striking white bands of schist stone terracing rise gracefully at the peak of the hill near the heart of the vineyard before descending gently on the southwestern side towards the town of Oslip. The terraces, rebuilt by the Zehetbauers in 2008, are believed to be the remnants of the sweat and toil of the Old World’s greatest vintners – the monks of the Cistercian Order. There are tales of the arrival of the Cistercians dating back to the 11th century. As in Burgundy, where they meticulously identified and delimited sites they believed possessed exceptional terroir by enclosing them behind stone walls, or clos, the presence of Steinberg’s stone terraces are striking reminders that the monks had discovered something exceptional on the windy inclines of the highest hills of the Schützner Stein. What they discovered was a vintner’s goldmine: limestone and schist.
The first voices you hear on the Schützner Stein are from the water and from the Leithakalk or Leitha limestone left behind millions of years ago. These are voices you will not hear anywhere else in the world. More than 11 million years ago, the Leithaberg region was covered by the waters of a sea teeming with marine life. With every passing eon, the remains of marine animals – from sharks to snails – accumulated on the bottom forming a sea floor of calcium carbonate. Eventually the weight of decaying shells and exoskeletons compacts the shell fragments closer and closer together, diminishing the space between the fragments, squeezing out any remaining water. As the fragments are cemented together, the process of diagenesis takes over, forming the soft sediments into rock. Over time, layers are transformed into horizontal sedimentary rock beds.
Here is where sedimentary rock like limestone really shines: after millions of years of crushing and squeezing, porous openings in the rock are created allowing water to both flow freely through the pores or remain inside during drier periods. For winemakers, this translates into a natural irrigation system beyond reproach. Wait, it gets better. Leitha limestone is also abundantly rich in calcium and magnesium – two macronutrients that all plants, including Vitis vinifera, need in large quantities. Calcium, for example, facilitates the intake of nutrients whereas magnesium is a key component of chlorophyll (the molecule that gives leaves their green colour) for the process of photosynthesis and the production of sugar – the fuel that plants live on.
In the early 1990s, many landowners and winemakers in the Schützner Stein, still reeling from the after-effects of the scandal in 1985, began selling their smaller and harder to work vineyards on the hill to buy larger vineyards on the plains. Stefan Zehetbauer Sr., however, chose a much different path: he started buying everything he could on the hill, especially vineyards on Ried Steinberg. The Zehetbauers have owned land on the Steinberg for almost 130 years but most of it was unplanted. The opportunity to buy more in the 90s to add to the 1 hectare they already owned could not have come at a better time: the bulk of the newly purchased vineyards had been untouched for decades. They were well rested and overflowing with vitality.
“When we planted Cabernet Franc in Steinberg,” recounts Stefan Sr., “the young vines grew enormously high! After a few years you thought they were 5 or 7 years old. The trunk was thicker than my index finger after one year.” So miraculous was the growth that many believed that the Zehetbauers must have dumped tonnes fertiliser in the vineyard. “People accused my father of adding massive amounts of fertilisers!” added Stefan. “Truthfully, we didn’t do anything. There was just so much energy in the soils.”
The Zehetbauers planted Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Blaufränkisch in the Steinberg. They have amassed 6.5 hectares over three decades. Staying true to their original vision of producing wines of quality that speak to their place of origin, they are producing what can only be described as pure terroir-driven wines of crystalline purity. “What I want to achieve is purity and clarity,” Stefan explained. “Pure clarity where nothing distracts from the soil, from the region.” Indeed, Zehetbauer’s wines express the terroir’s nuances beautifully. The Pinot Blanc dances with fresh, vibrant minerality. The Chardonnay evokes the smells and textures of cool flint and sun-drenched stones after an afternoon rain shower. Gripping notes of graphite and spice unfurl effortlessly in their Blaufränkisch. The Cabernet Franc pulses with vibrant black fruit and pristine alpine leafiness. Most remarkable is the body and structure of the wines: they are compact and sleek with superb power and concentration. These wines do not fall apart; the core remains solid yet mysteriously permeable. “For me the goal is to have this limestone and mica schist characteristics in the wine,” revealed Stefan. “And always nicely blended. You have this loud expression from mica schist, very outgoing but you have a very nice compact body framing from the limestone. First it feels very warm and very extensive, and after it comes together again with a long finish.”
Much like the Leitha limestone, Steinberg’s mica schist is porous and therefore adept at both retaining water and providing reliable drainage. The mica schist found in the Steinberg vineyard also contains a much more valuable intrinsic property: it retains and reflects heat back into the vines. This is a critical feature of the schist on the Schützner Stein where cold and very strong breezes can prevent grapes from reaching full polyphenolic ripeness. This unique microclimate where heat-retaining mica schist and cold northerly winds collide on the Steinberg builds a salient tension in the wines, a tension that uncoils on the palate with a captivating innate power and beguiling charm. Zehetbauer’s Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, for example, reflect this terroir perfectly: both wines are liquid bundles of energy, where juicy acidity and crisp, clean citrus fruit is framed in solid structures of great precision and firmness. And yet they are still wonderfully warm and inviting. The hard angular edginess and nervousness of acidity have been gently rounded-off by the sultry warmth of the mica schist. “What mica-schist is for me in the whites, is that it is really more playful, it’s more charming; it dances. There is this dancing vibrancy from the Steinberg.” Stefan’s father was not the only one dancing to a different tune in Schützen am Gebirge after the crisis of 1985, however. Engelbert Prieler was also convinced that the best wines in the region could only come from one place, the highest hill of the Schützner Stein. The Goldberg.
Let’s be clear, standing at 220 meters, Goldberg is more hill than mountain. Despite the German name “Mountain of gold” and the fact that it is just shy of the prerequisite 300 meters in elevation to be classified as a mountain, this vineyard is incredibly rich in something much more precious than gold: mica schist. To own vineyards planted in Goldberg is to be a lucky winemaker indeed.
As Austria plucked itself from the rubble of WWII, modernization was sweeping across the countryside. Farmers embraced the new technology of mechanized agriculture and acquired tractors and plows. Winemakers ceased the moment with the realization that they could harvest more at lower costs, but the land had to be flat. One winemaker was thinking much differently, however.
“In the 50s and 60s when there was industrialization,” recalled Georg Prieler, “everyone sold the little parts on the hill to get bigger parts on the plains to make more wine and my grandfather was very smart: he was buying the smaller sites when he could. My father did the same during the wine scandal in the 80s.” Today Georg Prieler is the proud owner of some of the finest sites in Schützner Stein, if not all of Burgenland. He is also making some of the most remarkable Pinot Blanc and Blaufränkisch in the world.
The Prielers proudly trace their history in Schützen am Gebirge all the way back to the 14th century. Georg’s grandfather Georg was the first to bottle wine from the family’s holdings. He also planted Pinot Blanc in Ried Seeberg roughly at the same time – an intuitive decision that would pay off handsomely more than 90 years later. In the 1970s, Engelbert Prieler, Georg’s father, was at the forefront of the Blaufränkisch revolution in Central Europe. Casting aside the traditional view that Blaufränkisch was a run of the mill variety without pedigree, Engelbert set about transforming his Blaufränkisch from a table wine into an elegant, complex wine fit to stand beside many of the best wines in the world. After two decades of hard work and zero compromises on quality, fate intervened in the guise of a terrible accident. “My father had an accident in the cellar when a barrel was dropped on his leg in 1999,” said Georg. “He was gone for one year so my sister went to the winery and I joined her as her assistant. I think we talked to him from his bed for about one year.” Silvia, leaving behind her studies in microbiology, joined Georg at the winery to forestall a potential disaster. After the accident, Georg and his sister worked closely together from 2004 to 2010. In 2012, Silvia returned to her studies in microbiology while Georg honed his skills in Argentina and New Zealand, returning home every year for the harvest. Georg assumed head winemaking responsibilities from 2012 onwards.
“I am a luxury child, I think,” confided Georg. “We have three great vineyards on the hill because my father and grandfather wanted to make very high-quality wine. My father showed people he could produce very good wines. He made Blaufränkisch and left it on the skins. He used new barriques but he never made wines like Napa, more like Ornellaia and Sassicaia. He made wines that reflected the vintage, the temperatures, the rain and the soil.”
Blaufränkisch is the most important red variety on the western side of Lake Neusiedl. While it is difficult to fix the exact birthplace of Blaufränkisch or when it was first grown in Austria (the name Blaufränkisch only appeared in print in 1862 at a grape variety exhibition in Vienna), it is generally accepted to have been here for centuries. It is early ripening and late budding, so it does prefer warm soils and a long ripening season. It seems to reach its very peak of expression in the multitudinous soils of Burgenland, especially in the Leitha limestone and schist. Moreover, with a continental climate that marks Burgenland with its cold winters and dry summers, only a cultivar that is slow-ripening and unusually hardy can flourish in this environment.
Standing on top of Goldberg you can feel the bracing cold winds from the Leitha Mountains to the north. Surrounded by trees protected by the UNESCO world heritage nature preserve designation, it feels downright alpine. What is most striking, however, is the fact that vineyards on Goldberg have a north-south orientation, toward the Leitha Mountains. This means cold muscular winds pummel the vineyard day in and day out. The Goldberg, however, is planted with Blaufränkisch and the Blaufränkisch here is the perfect cultivar for expressing such an intricate, intimidating terroir.
Open a bottle of Prieler’s Ried Goldberg Blaufränkisch and you are immediately taken by its seemingly ethereal qualities of perfectly ripe red and black fruit, spice, and super fine tannins. What truly stands out is the wine’s ability to deliver rich, concentrated fruit with tremendous finesse. Blaufränkisch grown in the loess and loamy soils of Mittelburgenland, on the other hand, is characterized by richer, earthier, darker fruit with a hint of chocolate. In Eisenberg, the wines are even cooler and sleeker with notes of iron and blood in the background. The Blaufränkisch from Schützen am Gebirge, however, is distinctively charming, harmoniously balanced, even delicate. Please do not misunderstand the word delicate here because these wines are by no means fragile.
On the contrary, they are robust and multi-layered, with a firm, highly chiselled structure. In short, these wines are built to last. After all, they are shaped by the cool northerly winds and warm mica schist of Goldberg, two natural factors that create a large diurnal range, or shift between daily high and low temperatures that boost acidity and freshness during the evenings while concentrating molecular development for flavours during the day. This intricate dance between mica schist and cool winds during high day-time temperatures resonate in Prieler’s Blaufränkisch through pristine acidity and satiny tannins wrapped around a backbone of burnished minerality. “I think Goldberg is like a prima ballerina,” said Georg. “The schist is always shining.” While Prieler’s Ried Goldberg Blaufränkisch is a superb terroir-driven wine, it is the winery’s Pinot Blanc that is the most revelatory of all.
Pinot Blanc arrived in the Schützner Stein in the 12th century, approximately two hundred years before the Prielers. The variety belongs to the Pinot family, but somewhere out there in the wild a colour mutation occurred, and the grape changed from black to white. Sadly, it has spent much of its life as an unwitting imposter, mistakenly identified and exuberantly fêted as Chardonnay in Friuli when Chardonnay was taking the world by storm in the 1980s. It was also duping winegrowers in California who pointed with pride at their oldest vines of Burgundian pedigree only to discover they were Melon de Bourgogne. When not being mistaken for something greater, Pinot Blanc has been blended or used to make crowd pleasing sparkling wines, as is the case with Crémant d’Alsace. Rarely has it been given the opportunity to be a thrilling dry white wine. Fortunately, there is an exception.
In Austria, Pinot Blanc or Weissburgunder, as it is commonly known both in Austria and Germany, has been adored by generations of white wine drinkers for its charming simplicity and its uncanny ability to rarely give offense to anyone. With nearly 2,000 hectares under vine in Austria, it often blended with Chardonnay to create some banal but quietly invigorating summer quaffing wines. Steiermark (Styria) and Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), on the other hand, testify to this cultivar’s latent potential for expressing terroir when permitted to do so. Tement or Lackner-Tinnacher in Styria and Rudi Pichler, Jamek and Hirtzberger in Kamptal and Wachau have all created remarkably vibrant Pinot Blanc. In the light hands of a mindful winemaker working with outstanding sites, it seems Pinot Blanc can achieve exhilarating results as a single varietal wine. An intimate knowledge both of one’s terroir and Pinot Blanc’s seemingly secret side are critical to making something sensational, however.
More than 90 years ago, the Prielers found the site they were looking for on the opposite side of Ried Goldberg on the Schützner Stein. On this side a plateau with gently sloping hills lazily unfolds itself towards the town of Oggau. Ried Seeberg was planted with Pinot Blanc on this plateau by Georg Prieler, Georg’s grandfather, in the early 1930s. A second site that joins the first Reid Seeberg was planted approximately 25 years ago. Beneath the yellowish-brown loess rests a giant layer of limestone bedrock. Unlike Ried Steinberg or Ried Goldberg, Ried Seeberg is not protected by forest so it is much more exposed to the elements. In fact, the vineyard places the vines precisely at the nexus where chilly northern winds intermingle with warmer eastern Pannonian winds from Lake Neusiedl. “We have medium altitude close to the lake,” explained Georg, “so we have the warmness from the lake and Pinot Blanc is like the Riesling of Burgenland varieties: It likes warmness, but it can manage coldness, too. And it’s not a problem if it’s a bit drier because it always has enough freshness. If you plant on the hillside you get outstanding wines.”
The Prieler single vineyard Pinot Blanc from Ried Seeberg soars without ever leaving the earth. Citrus fruit, lime, white pear and wild honey converge seamlessly but fully delineated. Splashes of green tea awaken the palate before a second wave of lime and grapefruit finish on a slightly unctuous note of crushed walnuts. The wine is taut but generous. It is also a wine that highlights the truth behind the maxim less is more when it comes to working the wine in the cellar.
“I do all my work in the vineyard so that I can be lazy in the cellar,” said Georg with more than a grain of seriousness. “I don’t want to do too much in the cellar. I don’t even like to move the wine. Skin maceration for 2 or 3 days. Always spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel because I like to work as cleanly as possible, and then I rack to large oak casks, Stockinger. I sulfur like the Romans did – when I’m going to move the wine or bottle it.”
Ried Haidsatz, on the other hand, is where I think Pinot Blanc finds one of its more though-provoking, jaw-dropping expressions in Burgenland, if not all of Austria. Haidsatz sits much lower down on the slope of the hill and is fully open to the north and to the east. The soil is a mixture of schist and loess but the remnant of the ancient ocean that covered this part of Burgenland millions of years ago is also present – limestone. The small lithic fragments of schist on the surface are derived from a massive plate of schist resting underneath a plane of limestone several meters below the surface. The secret to producing sultry Pinot Blanc from Haidsatz, however, is not in the soil; it’s hidden in an unassuming bulge in the vineyard. “I pick the best fruit from the highest part of the vineyard, in the middle or the heart of the vineyard,” declared Georg. “The fruit is just a bit riper with chalky flint notes from the schist and limestone."
In the glass, the Pinot Blanc Ried Haidsatz 2017 speaks the voice of the Schützner Stein with palpable precision and clarity. Crisp alpine notes of pine descend to the forest flower to meet the heady aromas of elderflower, tree fruit, citrus and honey. The wine glows on the palate with the gentlest warmth emanating from its invisible fabric. This is a single-vineyard Pinot Blanc that will change your mind about Weissburgunder forever.
Thinking back on the wines and the people who appear in this article, I hope I haven’t mistakenly misled you into believing that these wines were always meant to be, that they arrived at this moment in time because a few families were fortunate enough to possess some remarkable terroir on the Schützner Stein. There is always the danger that people are left with the impression that brilliant wines are born of great terroir when nothing could be further from the truth. Great wines, wines of authenticity and integrity, are very much the result of winemakers silencing their own voices and egos so that we might hear the wine anew. For the voices they are coaxing from within their wines are not the loudest nor the most boisterous. They speak a language many of us have forgotten or simply refuse to hear. They speak of the quiet humility one feels when walking amongst the giants of the forest, their massive trunks reaching endlessly into the sky. They speak of the winds that come from a place we shall never know nor name. Of the unstoppable movement of time, rock, and shell, shaped and reshaped by primordial forces for millennia. In the end, what you may come to know is that these wines are in fact very much part of the people who make them and the people are very much part of them. They are intricately connected not just to the land and the soil, but to the people who have bled, sweated and toiled for generations in the pursuit of something more than fame or financial reward. These wines are born from the desire to share something deeply personal from someone who has worked in the rain and the mud, in the heat and the dust, to craft something beautiful that could come from no other place. Patience and silence. Beauty and clarity. They carry within themselves the invisible markers of family, of heath and home. Of belonging. The unyielding invisible force of life. Here in the Leithaberg, from the vines planted and nurtured on the Schützner Stein, you will find wines with plenty of magic to see you through even the most unsettling of times. Times much like our own.
St. Zehetbauer Cabernet Franc Ried Steinberg 2016 13.5% abv * * * *
Deep ruby in the glass. Bouquet of dark fruit beckons from the glass with violets, black plums, blackcurrant and black cherries. Bramble and a touch of capsicum. Spice and oak soon follow but they are finely interwoven into the fruit. The texture is gorgeous, supple yet gritty with crunchy fruit. Earthy and brooding but never overbearing. Powerful yet demure. Medium finish. An outstanding wine from a terrific vintage. Spontaneous fermentation. Maturation in 50% new oak and 50% second fill. Will be even more alluring after 2022.
St. Zehetbauer Cabernet Franc Ried Steinberg Reserve 2011 13.5% abv * * * *
Deep ruby with purple reflections. The nose is reticent at first but opens with generous waves of black fruit, subtle bell pepper and streaks of graphite and flint. Faint hints of tobacco. Finely woven tannins and juicy acidity drive the blackcurrant and flinty flavours to a bright, elegant finish. There is enough pure fruit and energy in this wine to see it evolve even more over the next 5 years.
St. Zehetbauer Blaufränkisch Ried Steinberg DAC 2015 13.5% abv * * * *
Ripe black fruit unfolds into cool herbaceous, leafy notes with a whisper of spice and smoke. Coming from a warm vintage, this wine displays a fresh, lively vitality and spirit reminiscent of a cool spring day beneath a cloudless sky. Silky smooth tannins dip this wine into sparkling elegance. Compact and sleek with cool overtones of black cherry, blackberry and spice on the palate. Not yet showing at its peak so a few more years of patience will be required before this wine reveals its hidden magic.
St. Zehetbauer Blaufränkisch Ried Steinberg Reserve 2013 13.5% abv * * * *
Very reticent aromatics at first with morello cherries and sweet oak in the beginning. After some time in the glass, pronounced aromas of kirsch notes, dark cherries and maraschino cherries drift from the glass leaving behind inviting notes of mocha and black pepper. Eventually the oak and vanilla will quietly linger in the background. A touch of cola appears before diving again into dense notes of black cherry. A fascinating canvas of cherry flavors that surprises you at every twist and turn. Excellent concentration. Dusty, chalky black cherry flavours exuding a marine saltiness unfurl across the palate. The wine has verve and a dark energy that is simply entrancing. A truly outstanding expression of Blaufrankisch from Leithaberg.
Prieler Blaufränkisch Ried Goldberg 2016 13.5% abv * * * *
Lovely bouquet of dark fruit, dark cherry with subtle balsamic nuances. Ripe tannins and a harmonious balance but slightly earthier than the 2016. Delicious ripe fruit unwinds across the palate but with a touch of restraint, as if it was not quite fully open to revealing all its secrets. The vintage was drier and harsher than 2015 - a year endowed with plenty of moisture from the rainy 2014 vintage - which means this wonderful wine will still require a few more years before it shows what it is truly made of. Best after 2022.
Prieler Blaufränkisch Ried Goldberg 2015 13.5% abv * * * *
Perfumed bouquet of wild violets, black and red cherries, blackcurrant and pepper amid a field of wet pebbles and flint reveal themselves with precision and grace. As if a summer day in the hills moments after a rain shower was lingering in your glass. There is a lick of vanilla underneath the fruit and spice. The mouthfeel is fantastically supple and round, but it is wrapped around a vibrant core of fresh fruit so pure and deep it seems shockingly impossible. The flavours bursting on the palate with ripe black cherries, graphite and black tea on the medium long finish tell you it is all undeniably real. Drink now but if you can, cellar as many bottles as you can. This is an extraordinary wine destined to be a classic Blaufrankisch.
Prieler Blaufränkisch Leithaberg 2017 13% abv * * *
Boasting very ripe black cherry aromas which flow cleanly and youthfully on the palate, this a pure and light Blaufrankisch that is disarmingly delightful. Soft tannins leave slightly dry notes of black tea on the finish. The medium-long finish is delicious, ending with crushed black fruit flavours and more black tea.
St. Zehetbauer Pinot Blanc Leithaberg DAC 2017 12.5% abv * * *
Citrus fruit and salt join forces in a joyful dance. Invigoratingly fresh and light hearted, this is concise and focused Pinot Blanc with a lively flare. The citrus fruit is infused with a grainy rock salt that keeps the bright splashes of lemon and lime firmly anchored to the earth. Pure sunshine and earth.
St. Zehetbauer Pinot Blanc Ried Satz Leithaberg DAC 2016 13.5% abv * * * *
Exotic aromas of pink grapefruit and lime leap to the front as warm, creamy notes of marshmallow, lemon custard and oak glow in the background. A creamy and round mouthfeel dances on the palate. Wonderfully balanced and solid with plenty of vivacious energy. There is a caress of nutty saltiness in the medium finish. Delightfully charming and exuberant. The freshness and acidity will shape this wine into something sublime over the coming decade. Fermented in steel and matured in used barriques, mostly between 3 and 5 years old. No malolactic fermentation and was racked only once.
St. Zehetbauer Chardonnay Ried Steinberg Leithaberg DAC 2017 13.5% abv * * * *
Bright, crisp green apple emboldened with zesty citrus fruit, mostly lemon pith underlaid with wet stones, vanilla and coconut. There is no room for neutrality here. The fruit is too sumptuously perfect. The palate echoes the same flavours only in a much richer, creamier texture accented by warm, soft caramel notes on a medium finish. There is an arc of nervous, restless energy racing through which should subside with additional bottle age. This wine should come together beautifully after 2022/23. Spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel. Matured in 20% new oak for 1 year.
Prieler Pinot Blanc Ried Seeberg 2019 13.5% abv * * * *
Bright aromatics of pink grapefruit and lime curled around a core of ripe white pear with crushed walnuts magically hovering underneath. The precision and clarity of a lovely summer day continues on the palate where citrus and stone fruits gently collide and dissolve in a plush yet sprightly medium finish. Despite its youth, there are no rough edges here, only gorgeously curved fruit and robust nuttiness. Underneath the tension and humming of the citrus and the acidity you can feel this wine is destined for great evolution in the bottle. Drink through 2022.
Prieler Pinot Blanc Ried Seeberg 2017 12.5% abv * * * *
As if wanting to prove its mettle against its younger sibling, this wine seems to travel a little deeper and farther and with a little more intricacy with vibrant citrus fruit and white pear aromas opening up to lovely dark scents of wild honey from deepen within the forest. After some time in the glass, soothing green tea notes emerge lifting the wine on the palate to an almost ethereal cool mountain freshness. Moments later whispers of dried orange peel dance on the tongue. Despite a multitude of landscapes, there is a remarkable inner harmony and calm at the heart of this Pinot Blanc. Refreshingly beautiful and quietly confident. Fermented in stainless steel but was left on the skins for 2 days prior to fermentation. Matured in large casks on and spent one year on the lees.
Prieler Ried Haidsatz Leithaberg DAC 2017 13.5% abv * * * * *
Delicate, fresh white blossoms give way to elderflower and then lemon pith and freshly cut green apple. A flourish of citrus rises and subsides as pine notes from the cool forest floor emerge clean and true. The mouthfeel is brimming with a rounded warmth that is all-enveloping. Sunshine dipped in pine trees and kissed by ocean spray as salty caramel flavours drive everything to a deeply delicious finish. A warm afterglow lingers for minutes. Breath-takingly spectacular. Spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel and matured in 500 L barrels for 18 months. Glorious.