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  July 22, 2003  
  A SECOND LOOK & NEW PERSPECTICES (particularly Müller-Catoir)  

I've just returned from 11 days in Austria and Germany with many of my colleagues at Michael Skurnik Wines, during which I had the chance to retaste many of my selections in situ and at leisure. This is very different then the distorted impression one often receives in our mega-tastings to launch the DI.

In most instances I was confirmed in my earlier impression; in a few instances I saw I'd underrated on first pass.

This was an unusual year. The wines were about two weeks "later" than a year earlier, i.e. they were picked later and finished fermenting later; thus what I tasted in March was in fact younger than I'm used to. This was especially true in Austria, where I visited two weeks earlier than my norm. I am relieved to have underrated many wines - it's certainly the better of the available misjudgments! And I'm again humbled by the slippery art of predicting a wine's development based on an infantile cask sample.

Beginning with Germany, I'll tell you a few highlights.

Müller-Catoir: This was perhaps the most instructive 2nd-look of the trip. The wines were an entirely unknown quantity; new cellarmaster, different style, and a politically fraught visit. Four months in bottle improved every one of the five wines I selected, and I dare say I'll regret not having selected more. Still, who knew? Martin Franzen (the cellarmaster who replaced the legendary Hans-Günter Schwarz) continues to impress me both professionally and personally, and I feel a growing confidence he will find his way and make wonderful wines at Catoir.

They'll be wonderful in his way, not in the ways of his predecessor, and I look forward to tasting enough of them in the coming years to see what makes Franzen tick.

This much can be said right now. The Muscat remains lovely and prototypical. The Riesling Spätlese Trocken was far more integrated, gentle and suave than it appeared in March. The regular Riesling Spätlese has also amalgamated its elements and showed minerally and elegant. The two Rieslaners, also, had found a pleasing tenderness to give gravitas to their varietal strength.

If I had it to do again, I'd have given the dry Riesling one star, the Rieslaner Auslese one star, and the Rieslaner BA two stars.

Franzen told me I'd seen the wines at "the worst possible time" and he was philosophical about my mea culpa, (because of course I told him I felt I'd underrated his wines), admitting that he too was finding his way.

If you avoided purchasing Müller-Catoir by dint of my having damned them with faint praise, I ask you to reconsider, as I am. There isn't very much wine, and you'll regret not having it.

Dönnhoff is everything I said it was. I underrated the Hermannshöhle Auslese.

Kruger-Rumpf was dramatically better than my catalog text indicates. The wines have remarkable complexity and authority. This could be a watershed vintage for Stefan Rumpf. The Pittersberg "Selection" was superb, certainly 1-star quality, and the regular Dautenpflänzer Spätlese is sensational.

Hexamer, as usual, had a range of wines that were still busy fermenting in March, but which have now become jazzy in his iridescent style. There's a **Spätlese and two gorgeous Eisweins. There's also a deranged Auslese with some crazy-ass acidity which even I'm not sure has the body to withstand it. This wine will need epochs of time, or a young palate with implacable tooth enamel. I'm not selecting it, but look for that Spätlese and the two Eisweins in a later offering.

Meßmer impressed with the development of his 2002s, which had fleshed and smoothed out, showing more authority of fruit than they had in March.

Wittmann is going to be wonderful, especially the dry Grand Cru Rieslings, which are gaining it seems each week. Look for new selections from this superb grower, including a "reserve" Spätlese.

Carl Loewen continues to impress, especially his terroir-wines from the Ritsch and Herrenberg sites, the latter of which he calls "Maximiner", and which I ought to have given a star to.

Ditto the wonderful Auslese from Schmitt-Wagner.

Finally, at Ansgar Clüsserath, Eva Clüsserath's Kabinett is indeed as "sensational" as I hoped it would be.

Austria was perhaps more homogeneous. Which is to say my impressions included few surprises, and those few were pleasant ones.

Mantlerhof was consistently better than I'd indicated. The wines showed greater fragrance and authority.

Niglremains for me the standout estate of the vintage in my portfolio.

Salomon's basic Kögl Riesling is perfect in its way. The Pfaffenberg seems to be in what Bert Salomon says is a temporary funk.

Schloss Gobelsburg is just screaming! The basic Riesling is three times better than it seemed in April. The Steinsetz GrüVe is the best vintage ever of that definitive wine.

Otherwise, all was as I'd anticipated. With one huge exception. JAMEK.

Wow, I knew these were bottle-sick when I saw them in April, but what stunning wines they're turning out to be. There's a 2002 Achleiten Grüner Veltliner Smaragd I'll be very happy to ship when the 2001 sells out. The Riesling Freiheit Smaragd deserved a star, and the nearly devastating Riesling Klaus Smaragd vies with Nigl for Riesling-of-the-vintage honors, exactly as it did in `01. Now I'd give it two stars and stay awake wondering if three were indeed called for.

Again, though I "led" the trip in a certain way, what I really did was to hang back and let the growers and the land do their things. As they always do. When I was a young pup just getting into wine the first growers I visited were German. I was amazed at their kindness and generosity, and naïvely thought all growers around the world were just like them. Wrong. For some reason, German-speaking vintners seem to be a breed of their own, and it's become a keen pleasure to watch my colleagues, many of them veterans of umpteen wine trips, get caught up in the spell. If you've never been to Germany or Austria, and you think you've seen-it-all in the wine world, think again. You haven't. You ain't seen nothin' Jack. Get over there are have, literally, the time of your life. And if you don't believe me, call anyone at Skurnik and try to make a liar out of me.

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