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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 }
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Barbara Öhlzelt Grand Cru 3-Pack: $145
(includes one bottle of each wine below and represents a 10% discount)
2020 Riesling Heiligenstein Grand Cru Trocken 
2020 Riesling Kogelberg Grand Cru Trocken 
2020 Grüner Veltliner Lamm Grand Cru 

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. Please indulge here - 'tis the season - and then let me know if you don't agree!

Quantities are rather limited on some of the wines, so please give us your maximum request and we'll allocate accordingly. The three-packs we imagine will sell out rather quickly; we loaded up on the Kogelberg as it is, for me, the triumph of the vintage and so if you must try only one, well... The wines are in stock and ready to go, yet because of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, we will begin shipping directly after, beginning the week of November 29th.

More notes on Barbara's small winery, on the Kamptal, and the three wines on offer today, below. As always, if you have any questions at all, just email us.

Thank you so much for the support.

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.

2020 Barbara Öhlzelt Riesling Heiligenstein Grand Cru Dry 
Heiligenstein: This is perhaps the most famous site of the Kamptal, a huge sandstone and loess outcropping that frames the first part of the more elevated parts of the Kamptal, as you move north, away from the Danube and toward the cooler Weinviertel. If these wines tend to be the most plush and powerful, the "fruitiest" of the Kamptal, Barbara's version takes this pungency and shapes it - sharpens it. This is about as fresh and focused a Heiligenstein as I've ever had; the nose is shrieking with a salty minerality and high-toned citrus, lime zest and orange oils. While the fruit is explosive - it is also bouncy, threaded with acidity. There is a bonkers concentration - yet also an airiness to the wine - and expansiveness that feels saturating but not heavy or gooey. This is just superb - unreal. Try this next to an Alzinger or Knoll Loibenberg!

2020 Barbara Öhlzelt Riesling Kogelberg Grand Cru Dry
Kogelberg: This is a less-famous site, situated a bit further up the valley, on the other side of the river Kamp, behind Barbara's hometown village of Zöbing. Yet this site is perhaps one of the best in the Kamptal - it is my favorite, for whatever that's worth. These are among the oldest vines Barbara farms: 60-year-old vines planted so narrowly that no tractors nor machines can be used in her parcels here. The terroir here is much different, it is more a mixed soil with a wide array of metamorphic rocks, including granite, gneiss, quartzite (the metamorphic form of sandstone, as it were) and amphibolite. As it is higher up into the valley, the site also feels more of the cooling winds coming from the northern Weinviertel. Put simply: For me, this is simply Barbara's greatest Riesling, her greatest wine and one of the top wines of the Kamptal and beyond. This is the wine you can put on the table next to Alzinger's Steinertal or Knoll's Kellerberg - try it for yourself. The Heiligenstein, above, feels so tense and nervous and linear... and then you try this wine, and it is even more extreme. The minerality is darker, more bass-toned and mysterious (as sometimes happens for me with metamorphic soils), yet the overall feel here is green and blue, ultra-cool tones, meyer lemon and lime zest, ultra-concentrated orange oils that add a flash of exoticism, restrained, balanced and sharpened by an almost bitter dark green forest note, pine-needle resin at the back end, providing a formidable structure to the wine - an outstanding length. This wine is a masterpiece honestly.

2020 Barbara Öhlzelt Grüner Veltliner Lamm Grand Cru
The Lamm is a small subsection of the Heiligenstein, an outcropping on the southern side. Barbara is farming only a tiny section here, less than 0.3 hectares of this site! This bottling represents one of the last pickings; only the most perfect fruit was used; the wine fermented in four different barrels from France - after fermentation all the barrels were blended together into a larger stainless steel tank so that the wood quality is not too strong. This is, obviously, a MUCH different wine than the two Rieslings - but this is simply a matter of the grape. Barbara's Lamm showcases the most detailed array of dried herbs, for me the signature of great Grüner - freshly cut grass, lemon thyme, dried coriander, cracked pepper, but also a soaring florality. Even the darker-fruited power of Grüner here is lifted by pushing citrus fruit, edging the riper melon and warmer mid-palate, providing definition and energy. Richer, more dense with glycerin, fuller on the palate, this nonetheless has a beautiful energy, it is driven and has great persistence, yet leaves the palate clean and refreshed. Monumental Grüner - if you love the grape it'll remind you why... and if you are in doubt, it will remind you of the potential.

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