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Barbara Öhlzelt
Austria in flux?
the new Grand Cru

{ Alzinger, Hirtzberger, Knoll, Pichler, Prager...Let us add another name to this most elite roster: Barbara Öhlzelt }
sold out

We try and avoid excessive hyperbole, the italicized ALL-CAPS-BOLDED-AND-UNDERLINED lines that end with exclamation points and drastic, "must-buy-now" calls to action!!!

It's effective, we're sure - but it's just not our style, for better or worse. (Our style seems to be more about 1,900-word treatises about Saale-Unstrut and Kabinett Trockens?)

However, there seems to be no other authentic way to approach the three Grand Cru wines from the small, overlooked grower Barbara Öhlzelt than to write, simply: THESE ARE AMONG THE GREATEST AUSTRIAN WINES WE'VE HAD IN A LONG TIME AND (yes) THEY ARE A MUST BUY!, assuming you care about Austrian wine or world-class dry Riesling and Grüner Veltliner.

In over twenty years of tasting Austrian wines, I have simply had few wines that flaunt such extreme energy, precision, lift and focus.

Barbara's top wines in 2020 are simply that good - maybe even better.

Challenge yourself: open any of these wines next to Alzinger or Knoll and see how they fare. For me, all three wineries are somehow able to shape the power and force of this more southern locale (at least from our normal northern perspective up in Germany) into wines of transparency and lightness.

I recently took Barbara's Kogelberg Grand Cru to a rather serious tasting of dry German Rieslings, including Keller and Emrich-Schönleber - the bottle easily and truly held its own.

I have loved Barbara's wines for many years, yet 2020 is simply a break-through vintage for her.

In this vintage she managed to capture the full expressive potential of these three famous sites, while also reducing everything down to only what is most essential. Every element, every sharply defined facet of the two Rieslings reverberates with citrus oils and mineral - the sensation is almost tactile. The Rieslings are angelic, they have thrust and incredible attenuation - a density and concentration pulled into something fine and silken, yet also structured, gripping. The Grüner from the Lamm site shows a similar depth, yet it is obviously broader and more powerful.

While both the Heiligenstein and the Kogelberg seem to me to have something in common with the sharper German Rieslings from the Nahe, Pfalz and Rheinhessen, the more natural comparisons all come from the Wachau - thus our list above. This is interesting, however, because Barbara is farming only a few hectares in the Kamptal - a region long in the shadow of its more famous, more dramatic neighbor.

Is the Kamptal the new Wachau?

I genuinely have no idea; I don't understand fully how the various microclimates play out and what the realities of climate change mean for either of these appellations. It is, all in all, a cooler region, tucked further away into the valley of the Kamp river, away from the Danube, with the cold northern air of the Weinviertel washing over it. This coolness, this energy - you can taste it.

It could also be that Barbara has just been quietly honing her craft - and only now we're beginning to pay attention. With the 2020 Grand Cru collection, you cannot not pay attention.

At least I cannot not pay attention - and I can't stop opening these bottles. 

More notes on Barbara's small winery, on the Kamptal, below. 

Barbara Öhlzelt, the Kamptal and why have you never heard of her?
This is a complex question, and not a particularly easy one to answer. The first, and perhaps most obvious answer is that Barbara has only been farming for about 15 years. She has been learning her craft and, as I wrote above, 2020 is for me a break-through vintage. However, it's worth noting that this region - the Kamptal - has been dominated by a number of larger estates for many decades. Most of the estates we know in the U.S. are 20-60 hectares in size. In many ways they simply control the discourse in the U.S. The scale is important: Barbara is farming less than 7 hectares in total. Taking all of the parcels Barbara farms in all three of the Grand Cru sites discussed today comes to a grand total of only about one hectare! Beyond the history and scale, I think there is also something of a change coming to the Kamptal. Where once the warmest parcels of the Heiligenstein defined the region, as perhaps the only places able to shape wines of depth and power, with the changes in climate it seems to me that many of the cooler sites tucked into the valley are only now beginning to shine. Going forward, they perhaps have as much or more potential as the Wachau? Yes, there is a new "lightness" coming to the Kamptal. If Barbara is one of the standouts of this new, more crystalline and transparent style, other producers such as Jurtschitsch are also shaping wines of similar elegance and fine-ness.

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