With Glamour and Gloria
Even Chardonnay can be brought to its knees by too much wood. This is something that more and more Austrian winegrowers seem to be learning.
The Chardonnay Gloria from the Kollwentz Estate brought our wein.pur tasting jury to its knees – in adoration – earning top marks for its elegance, minerality and masterful use of wood.
Chardonnay is one of the greatest white wine varieties in the world. Anybody who doubts this has only to look toward Burgundy or Champagne. But one doesn’t want to let the French have Chardonnay all to themselves, and so the variety has been planted in almost all countries where the vine is cultivated. Unfortunately, the results do not always resemble the fine grands crus of France. In the 1990s there was a movement among wine consumers, a blanket rejection of the variety that went under the motto ‘ABC’, which stood for ‘Anything But Chardonnay’. This trend was most pointedly focussed upon the wood- and alcohol-bombs from the United States – wines overwhelmingly lacking any finesse – Chardonnay wearing so much makeup that its face became unrecognisable.
(Ab)use of the cask…
Fortunately, most winemakers have turned away from this style, and solidly addressed the variety itself. Chardonnay is not an aromatic grape, so it reflects the influences of soil, climate and vinification in a distinctive fashion. It is basically characterised by firm acidity, medium body, fresh fruit of citrus & apple – and in the best cases by mineral-focussed finesse. Chardonnay can bear the use of oak, but it must not be brought to its knees, and most certainly not beaten down with it. Élevage in barrique demands a great deal of intuition and sensitivity.
The area in Austria planted to Chardonnay amounts to nearly 1,600 hectares (3.5% of the total area under vines), and there are certain sites, localities to which Chardonnay is perfectly suited. In Burgenland the calcareous soils of the Leitha Range offer an ideal terroir, while in Niederösterreich the variety feels particularly comfortable in the limestone soils of the Thermenregion. In the Steiermark – where it is known as Morillon – it is considered a traditional variety.
Austrian Chardonnays quite often possess a certain opulence and fullbodied character, with a great deal of ripe fruit. Oak tannins and wooden cask aromas can reinforce the structure of the wine and impart additional complexity to it. But the application of wood must fit the individual wine. When corpulent, sweet fruit flavours become combined with the sweet toasty notes of coconut and vanilla, it too often yields lemonade-flavoured wines, which place a burden upon the palate, rather than offering refreshment.
Among the Masters
One winegrower who works with wood in an outstanding way is Andi Kollwentz, in general one of the most highly regarded growers in Burgenland. His powerful but consistently elegant wines from the vineyards ‘Tatschler’ and ‘Gloria’ hold pride of place for many years now as benchmarks of Austrian Chardonnay.
Andi Kollwentz tells us, ‘When I spent time in Bordeaux and Burgundy at the end of the 1980s, I realised how much I liked the powerful, wood-influenced style of white wine. So we made our start with ‘Tatschler’, and a few years later also planted Chardonnay in ‘Gloria’. For these wines, Burgundy barrels (pièces) are used exclusively, which with their 228-litre capacity are just a touch larger than the barriques (225 l) from Bordeaux.
Kollwentz emphasizes: ‘The vineyard site determines the choice of vine!’ And he continues, ‘From the Leitha Range, it’s got to be Chardonnay. Our limestone-rich soils are really quite similar to those of Burgundy. After the hysteria in the 1990s we had to ride out a bit of a downturn, but today we are placing more emphasis on Chardonnay.’ Alongside the well-established ‘Tatschler’ and ‘Gloria’, with the 2011 vintage ‘Neusatz’ joined the Kollwentz collection, and the first vintage of their ‘Katterstein’ is 2014. In the ‘Katterstein’, along with limestone there is prominent element of crystalline bedrock from the Neogene and Quaternary periods, while ‘Gloria’, the highest-elevation vineyard on the Leitha Range, has a large proportion of limestone.
wein.pur is certainly not the sort of magazine to put a whirl of points-scores on display, but at our current tasting, the 2013 ‘Gloria’ outshone all other Chardonnays, and inspired the jury to the evaluation ‘World-class’ and a score of 97 points. Magnificent elegance, concentrated minerality – those are just a couple of the attributes that distinguish this wine.
Great Character – the Highlights
Winegrower Josef Fritz from Zaussenberg in the Wagram also understands how to use wood with great skill and sensitivity. ‘It is important that fermentation takes place in cask; all components become more better interwoven, so that above all the marriage of the wood-notes with the fruit develops in a much more appealing fashion, and the end result is simply more harmonious.’ His Chardonnay ‘Grosse Reserve Steinberg 2015’ shows beautifully integrated oak despite its youthfulness, and the sculptured structure of the wine reflects the variety’s potential for expressing terroir. The ‘Steinberg’ is a site with rather meagre soils, where Chardonnay grows on Tertiary gravels with a significant amount of calcareous loess.
Chardonnay ‘Grubthal’ from the estate MUSTER.gamlitz in the Südsteiermark is planted in fossil limestone. With the 2013 vintage, Reinhard Muster has created a particularly striking and uncompromising specimen of Chardonnay. This wine makes its statement with mind-bogglingly concentrated and pithy fruit, with challenging minerality, a powerful arc of acidity and a great deal of well-integrated wood. The soils of the hot kettle-shaped site ‘Grubthal’ show a high proportion of limestone. Fossil limestone and sandy loam, along pronounced temperature swings between day and night, collaborate to give a totally distinctive personality to this wine.
Puristic Wines from the Large Cask
The fifth Kollwentz Chardonnay in the ensemble proves the postulate that first-rate Chardonnay doesn’t absolutely demand small oak. The vineyard cuvée ‘Leithakalk’, matured in a large cask, reveals itself for this reason to be a highlight, because its distinctive terroir-character is not at all masked by wood. Even more impressive for its puristic style is the Leithaberg 2013 from Gernot & Heike Heinrich in Gols. Vinified in large cask, the wine demonstrates all the finesse that one expects from Chardonnay; it has a sense of authenticity and precision as well as stimulating juiciness and lots of minerality. Their Leithaberg Chardonnay from the following 2014 vintage is also to be reckoned with – and has been the subject of some discussion. This wine requires time and a great deal of oxygen. Decanting is recommended, and large glasses are a must – for all Chardonnays in the top quality class.
97 Points 2013 Chardonnay Gloria (sold out)
92 Points 2013 Chardonnay Tatschler (sold out)
92 Points 2013 Chardonnay Neusatz (sold out)
92 Points 2015 Chardonnay Leithakalk €19.70
91 Points 2014 Chardonnay Katterstein (sold out)
‘Gloria’ is the highest-elevation vineyard site on the Leithaberg. Its cool nature, thanks to the altitude, is supported further by the fact that the vineyards are surrounded by woodland on three sides. ‘‘‘Gloria” consistently displays the firmest minerality, while “Tatschler” is the most powerful of the Chardonnays’, is the way Andi Kollwentz describes them, and remembers the 2013 vintage: ‘It worked to great advantage in 2013 that September was very cool, and the grapes achieved full ripeness quite late. This is what makes for wines of great longevity’. ‘Gloria’ remained quite impressive for the wein.pur team with its concentrated structure, with its clearly perceptible but wonderfully integrated use of wood, as well as its elegant length.
We also found the Chardonnay ‘Katterstein’ from the cool vintage 2014 particularly interesting, showing great potential in its reductive style. Kollwentz’s vines in the site are not yet very old, and there could be a lot more to come from this vineyard.
The Vineyards – a Short Portrait:
‘Gloria’, ‘Tatschler’ and ‘Katterstein’ were first officially mentioned in the Forchtenstein land register of 1570. The vineyard site ‘Neusatz’ is also by no means ‘new’ – vines have been planted here since before 1750.
Elevation: 300–325 metres, southeast orientation, highest-elevation site on the Leitha Range. Total area: 5.25 hectares (Kollwentz: 3.2 ha). 20 year-old vines. Rocky brown earth with very high limestone content, thin surface layer of 30–40 cm, calcareous stone underneath.
Elevation: 200–240 metres, southeast orientation; kettle-shape site protected against wind. Total area: 12.1 hectares. 29 year-old vines. Crystalline stone of the Leitha Range with light limestone overlay.
Elevation: 220–300 metres, southeast orientation; numerous small vineyard parcels. Total area 28 hectares, 15 year-old vines. Newly-leased parcels are currently being added. Crystalline Leitha schists with varying proportions of limestone.
Elevation: 185–215 metres; a warm southerly-exposed site. A large vineyard site rising from the foot of a slope on the Leitha Range, Chardonnay planted in the upper portion. Soil with high limestone content, much of it coarsely textured.
WORLD CLASS, 5 Goblets 95–100 wein.pur Points
2013 Chardonnay Gloria (sold out)
Attractive and ethereal, Bergamot orange, solidly present and marvellously integrated use of wood. Silky material, endless and salty, world class! Elegance and finesse. Tightly woven with fine acidity. Finely grained, fine texture – simply grand.
OUTSTANDING, 4 Goblets 90–94 wein.pur Points
2013 Chardonnay Tatschler (sold out)
Massive spices, herbaceous and mushroomy, oranges and ripe apples, milk chocolate. Beautifully integrated wood, Mediterranean spices and hay. Enormous power and concentration, but playful like a dancer through the long finish.
2013 Chardonnay Neusatz (sold out)
Smoky bacon notes, plenty of fruit to go with; gunpowder and flint. Elegant bearing, extremely fine tannin. A vibrant wine with noticeable concentration on the mid-palate, a delicately oily note in the finish.
2015 Chardonnay Leithakalk
Smoky yellow fruit, mirabelle plums and apples. Concentrated with a vibrant salty character, quite stony. Already drinking well but still has time. Chalky and gripping tannins, lively Leithaberg freshness imprinted with terroir.
2014 Chardonnay Katterstein (sold out)
Alpine herbs, hops, reductive notes. Firmly structured with powerful acidity and prominent iodine salts. Capers and citrus, spices; has a couple edges to it yet and lots of grip, needs time.