Bründlmayer 2021 Chardonnay Reserve Langenlois Austria 95
by Robert Millman
At a recent event I had the opportunity to taste a wine I had never experienced before: Bründlmayer’s Chardonnay made like all their other wines in the Kamptal region in north east Austria. The trilogy of Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal are by far the most famous source of Austria’s two best white wines; Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. Chardonnay plays a distinctly minor role in these three districts. But not at Bründlmayer where it accounts for 10% of the plantings in this large 90 hectare estate. Most experts consider this to be the finest estate in the Kamptal. Its most famous holdings are in the grand cru Zobinger Heiligenstein which sits on a bedrock of 250 million (!) year old Permian sandstone and volcanic siltstone. Their Grüners and Rieslings are intense, broad shoulder wines which age magnificently.
It seems that a Bründlmayer Chardonnay from the 1980s once won a competition tasting of the “Best Chardonnays in the World” at the Vinitaly wine fair, launching world-wide interest in Bründlmayer wines. The Chardonnay is planted on a complex soil of loess, sandy loam on a schist bedrock. The complexity of the wine, which I will describe shortly, reflects the many terroir components which come together in the making of the wine. The fermented juice goes into 300 liter barrels for six months and is then racked into 2500 liter barrels for 6-10 months of aging. Alcohol rarely exceeds 13%. The first thing that struck me was the fantastic smoky, spicey bouquet with pulsating overtones of oak and tobacco. The bouquet alone is with the price of admission! I was able to compare the wine with two California Chardonnays and a Meursault Charmes. The Bründlmayer seemed much more diverse and varied in structure and expression than the other Chardonnay wines. On the palate the wine is both tight and focused yet expansive and palate-saturating at the same time. Hints of stone fruits suffused with lime and nutmeg added to the taste of the wine. It certainly does not resemble limestone-based Chardonnays. The density of the wine seems to pull together its diverse elements. Retailing in America for around $65 it is one of the most remarkable white wines I have tasted in 2023. The 2021 is exciting to taste now. I suspect it will age for at least a decade. Drinking window: 2024 -2034.
Duckhorn 1997 Merlot Howell Mountain Napa Valley California 95
by Ian D’Agata
There are wines that are absolutely didactic in making many different valid and incontrovertible points at every sip. In other words, wines that teach you just how difficult it is to be an accurate, credible, and competent wine writer. The Duckhorn 1997 Merlot Howell Mountain Napa Valley from California is just one such wine.
Deep, lively ruby-red with only a hint of garnet at the rim; like any self-respecting Merlot wine, this is really quite deep in colour even at almost twenty-four years of age. The very deep, perfumed nose offers captivating aromas of dark berries, black plums, cedar, earth, coffee and violet. Then rich and layered in the mouth, sporting outstanding fruit/acid/tannin balance, this multifaceted, layered and deep red wine lingers impressively on the long smooth finish with flavours that echo the aromas. In one word: Outstanding. Even better this almost quarter century old red is still amazingly young and will live another fifteen years without problems. Congratulations are in order to the whole team at Duckhorn in 1997 for this beauty: this is a wine they can all be proud of. Drinking window: 2024-2038.
So how is this wine didactic? What points does it teach? First of all, it says a lot about just how inaccurate drinking windows are in most wine writeups (mine probably too, from time to time). Fact is, it’s just hard to guess estimate a wine’s longevity; but in the case of this Duckhorn wine, people missed by a country mile, if not more. If you were to look back at estimates of this wine’s longevity or when it would have been best to drink, reports of the early 2000’s spoke of this wine drinking best over the following five to seven years, or that it could stand “short-term cellaring”. Clearly, those assessments were completely wrong, and not by a small margin. This wine is still drinking beautifully and still has a long life ahead, if kept in a good cellar.
Another point worth making is just how good Howell Mountain Merlot wines can be. I get it that California lives and dies of their (often laughably overrated) Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines, and that every wine writer in need of a free trip will always have something nice to say about those two grapes and their wines first and foremost; but fact is, I have had many examples of outstanding Howell Mountain Merlot wines over the years, so the great showing of the Duckhorn wine in this report cannot be viewed as a lucky accident and certainly does not surprise me. Howell Mountain is quite simply a terroir suited to the variety. (And yes, I realize few of these “Merlot Wines” are ever 100% Merlot, but have varying small percentages of other grapes included; but still.)
I happen to know the Duckhorn 1997 Merlot Howell Mountain well, having bought a case and drunk it regularly over the last ten years. It’s a wine I have always loved, and this brings me to a third learning point. Many, wine lovers and wine writers alike, are now aware that elegant, refined, California wines were routinely scored low and heavily underrated by the wine press in the early 2000s, a sad time in wine writing in which it seemed only wines that had more in common with liquid fruit jam had any chance of garnering a high score (I can’t even begin to tell you how many California Cabs from those years I have poured down the sink over the years after the first sip at dinner, moving on to another red altogether). And so it was with this beauty from Duckhorn, one that took home a bunch of scores in the 80s. Sometimes it’s good for all of us to remember that keeping one’s mouth and running the risk of looking stupid is a whole lot better than opening it and confirming the fact.