Baroque furniture, heavy curtains, a gramophone playing classical music.
The stereotypical evening with the Viennese aristocracy goes like this or something similar. You stand on the balcony, smoke a cigarette and look out over the Danube. Suddenly the record scratches, everyone turns their heads towards the room, puzzled. And there they catch sight of a group of people dancing in a kind of trance to obscure underground techno. Unexpected? That's the right word for Muthenthaler wines.
After leaving Vienna against the current of the Danube, we reach the geographical wine jewel called Wachau. Now it's time to leave the Danube behind, jump over the boat and put on our hiking boots. We will hike into the Spitzer Graben.
The Muthenthaler winery is located at the end of the Spitzer Graben (and we can also say at the end of the Wachau) under the impressive slopes of the Bruck. Here the Danube no longer plays a role: the climate is harsh and cold even in summer, the vineyards are high and rooted in almost bare stone. It is what one would call "heroic viticulture", woven of strength and perseverance.
In the wines of Martin Muthenthaler you see his almost stubborn insistence on making them in his own style, and at the same time the strength he inherited from the people who worked the soil before him. A perfect metaphor for this are the terraces made of stone walls. They are part of the characteristic landscape of the Spitzer Graben. Without them, it would not be possible to grow vines on these slippery hills. They are part of the tradition, created stone by stone as a tribute to this incredible terroir. And yet you need your own perseverance to walk up there to your place, whose name has been passed down orally by the older farmers for centuries.
To understand why a man does all this, you can simply taste the wines. This is the place for great Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners: the cold weather and stony soil give them a deep and well-integrated acidity, combined with some smoky aromas that come from the slate. Each vineyard is special to this confusing area, but all the wines have that earthy, mysterious and deep touch (which I can only associate with an ash heap or the memory of alchemical rites) that dances perfectly with a lively and satisfying freshness.
MY WINE NOTES
Grüner Veltliner Spitzer Graben 2018
Intense straw yellow with a very rich nose, immediately marked by smoky notes of flint and gunpowder, followed by lychees, honeydew melon, nectarines, wisteria flowers, some herbaceous hints of pine and spices such as white pepper and cumin. In the mouth, the smoky notes are confirmed, enriched by incense, cardamom seeds and white lilies. Long, well balanced between a broad roundness and a spicy acidity that cleanses the finish and invites the next sip.
The intense yellow in the glass already announces the richness of the wine. Unexpected are the smoky notes of gunpowder and flint that emerge on the nose and reappear in the mouth. It is an envelope of ash that helps all the other flavours to unfold: lychee and honeydew melon along with spices like cumin and white pepper, to some green balsamic notes of pine. On the palate, the ash is not stifling, but smoothing and balancing the spicy, inviting acidity of this fascinating Grüner Veltliner.
Grüner Veltliner Ried Schön 2018
Intense golden yellow colour with a first nose of ash and flint that opens with green notes of birch wood, apple, orange zest and a delicate white rose. The first sip is dominated by spicy notes of white pepper, radish and liquorice stick with a nice bitter finish of fresh almond. Long, full-bodied and with a perfectly integrated acidity.
This golden yellow wine is already subtle and sharp on the nose. Smoked notes of ash and flints are the gatekeepers of a delicate forest where we walk through birch trees, sometimes pausing to pick one of the few apples we find along the way. The mouth can only confirm the lack of fruit, in favour of an engaging spiciness of white pepper, radish, liquorice sticks with a final bitter note of fresh almonds. There is no room for compromising juicy notes here, we are walking on a rocky mountain with cool air in our lungs. This hike will take some time, but the view from the top will be priceless.
Grüner Veltliner Vießlinger Star 2018
Golden yellow in appearance, has something persistent right after pouring, a few animal notes. The nose quickly turns into refreshing notes of chalk, kumquat, cardamom, green pepper, nettle and dandelion, without forgetting delicate and round apricot aromas. On the palate, one recognises the "Muthenthaler touch" in the smoky aromas in the background, together with spicy notes of caraway, green pepper and aniseed. The still-present acidity hints at the long life this wine still has ahead of it. A complex Grüner Veltliner "off the beaten track".
There are wines that we love because they suit our taste or because we consider them to be "perfect examples" of their kind. Sometimes something unexpected impresses us or we associate a wine with a certain moment that is important to us. And then there is "that certain something", a quality that we cannot really define. "That something" is a good definition for Muthenthaler wines in general, but here it took me to another level. After seeing the golden yellow colour in the glass, after finding hints of chalk, exotic citrus and common green that I had seen in the fields of my childhood, after sipping the wine and smiling, after finding the smoky notes that are now a signature of this winery for me... I could not be more relieved. This "something" is still far from being defined in this wine, which is definitely Grüner Veltliner, but different. There is the terroir and the philosophy of the winery, for sure. But there is more, and at the moment I am happy enough to call it a fascinating, satisfying taste of things to come.
This article is illustrated with drawings by the artist and interior architect Marcus Körner. The artist has completed the journey imagined here himself - from Vienna to the Wachau, where he now lives and works. Marcus has been working as an architect and designer for several vintners in the region. He will be exhibiting his works in Vienna on 02.12.21 and at the Schiffahrtsmuseum Spitz from April to September next year. More information at www.quadratur.at and www.wachauzeichnung.com
Text: Jonathan Gobbi
Drawings: Marcus Körner
AD: Dimitri Taits