Schloss Gobelsburg (Austria) Brut Reserve NV (Michael Skurnik Wines, $35): I first had this bubbly at an informal tasting of Austrian wines, where it stood out to me as a star. But I don’t put a lot of stock in the impressions that I take away from walk-around wine-tastings, and I decided to taste the wine again -- this time blind, in the company of similar sparkling wines. It was my favorite.
This wine comes from the acclaimed estate of Schloss Gobelsburg, situated in the Kamptal region of Austria. (It cannot carry the Kamptal appellation because that designation applies only to still Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings.) Schloss Gobelsburg dates back to 1171 and is still owned by monks. Since 1996, however, Eva and Michael Moosbrugger have had a two-generation contract to operate the 86-acre estate and winery for the monks and already have earned it acclaim as one of the finest wineries in Austria. The winery produces five Grüner Veltliners and four Rieslings from its vineyards in renowned sites such as Heiligenstein, Gaisberg, Lamm and Renner, as well as a few red wines and an Eiswein. In other words, Schloss Gobelsburg is a normal wine estate, not a sparkling wine specialist -- which makes this Brut Reserve all the more impressive.
When you prepare to taste an Austrian sparkler, you don’t know which grape varieties to expect: they could include aromatic white varieties such as Riesling or Grüner Veltliner or non-aromatic varieties such as Pinot Blanc or Chardonnay, or red grapes such as Pinot Noir or even native Austrian red varieties. The color of this Brut Reserve, a fairly deep golden yellow, suggested Grüner Veltliner or a red variety, and in fact the wine contains both: 70 percent Grüner Veltliner and 15% Pinot Noir, with 15% Riesling as well.
The wine’s aroma of toast, caramel, butter and a bit of vanilla suggests a big, rich bubbly that has spent some time in oak and is progressing nicely along its development curve. On the palate, the wine is very dry (residual sugar is only 8 grams per liter), full-bodied and flavorful, with firm acidity and lively but delicate bubbles. The complex flavors include mushroom, toast, honey, caramel, ripe citrus fruit and bruised apples, and they continue into a very long, rich finish. The wine’s texture is rather creamy, but it is also crisp because of the enlivening acidity. This is a wine of character and yet of nuance.
Terry Theise, who represents this winery as well as numerous Champagne growers, says that when he serves this Brut Reserve to others blind, they believe it is Champagne. Although the grape varieties are very different, I can understand the association of this wine with Champagne. The winemaking aspects of the wine’s taste (and Champagne is so much about its winemaking) are similar to many Champagnes, such as the creamy texture, the complex, lees-derived flavors such as caramel and toast, and the general structure of the wine, even if this wine is somewhat fruitier than most Champagnes.
In fact, with two exceptions this wine’s production methods are those common in Champagne -- and the attention to detail is worthy of any Champagne producer. One difference is that the blended base wine ages for six months in large Austrian oak casks of 660 gallons (about ten times larger than a barrique) before being bottled for its second fermentation. The other is that the reserve wine, which makes up 20% of the blend, is a multi-vintage blend of wines from earlier vintages that age together, solera-style. After its second fermentation in bottle, the wine receives two to three years of bottle age before hand riddling and disgorgement.
I enjoy drinking this wine in a normal white wine glass, which accentuates its fullness, but it is also delightful in a flute, which brings out its fruitiness a bit more. If you enjoy big, toasty Champagnes, you should definitely try this wine.