Weingut Josef Hirsch
Hirsch Flight, from 12 to 40 dollars.
The word “weingut*” found on a lot of German/Austrian (teutonic) wine labels sounds to me like it should be translated as “good wine.” if translated thusly this would take a lot of the mystery out of picking bottles since they would either be labeled “good,” “bad” or perhaps “other.” i also imagined if anybody employed a system like this it would be the Germans, “Ja, das ist eine weingut” they would say, and on my merry way i would go confident in the knowledge that i was buying something up to snuff. (This wouldn’t work of course, as the Germans had a similiar system for films and refused to rate Aguirre Wrath of God on the grounds that it had no merit**) Alas, it isn’t that simple and i still have to try wines before i can proclaim them “gut.”
The main reason that this linguistic misunderstanding came about is the wines of Josef Hirsch, who currently makes some of the most interesting, complex, and thoughtful rieslings and gruners on the market. Upon first trying the Gaisberg, which comes from the Kamptal and is apparently god’s personal riesling vineyard, i thought to myself “they were right, this wine is good, and a few sips later i thought “what is German for fantastic, or amazing, or stunning.”
Johannes Hirsch himself (i will assume Josef was his father) was one of the early proponents of the screwcaps (called Stelvin screwcaps after the brandname) that are now ubiquitous on Austrian whites (he was, according to Terry Theisse, the first to go 100% Stelvin) and he has also recently gone biodynamic (seriously here). Along with the stunningly complex high end Gaisberg, Lamm, Zobing and Heiligenstein wines (which are more affordable than they should be), Hirsch makes the Gruner Veltliner #1, which is almost all things, an eminently drinkable bottle for dirt cheap with a label that is worth buying the wine for on it’s own (each year is a different variation on a stag, which is what Hirsch is in German).
i tasted three wines (wish it were more) from Hirsch, two vintages of their budget GruVes (’05, ’06) and one Gaisberg riesling (’04), tasted in reverse chronological order.
Starting off with the two vintages of the #1, i was struck by the range from one year to the next for a wine that is in the price range of “mechanized” where the wine typically is the same from year to year. The ’06 was the racier of the two, while the ’05 tended towards the meditative food friendly wines i prefer. The ’06 was crisp, mineral and bright, unripe pears and a hint of apple looking sunwards obviously, and the ’05 was a ripe vegetative, fresh green pepper, full low-lying wine. the ’05 was sweeter and more balanced than the bracing ’06. Both are more than worth what we paid for them, and either is going to go with something on your table.
The next (and unfortunately last wine) was the ’04 Gaisberg Riesling which comes across like a church revival in your mouth, and if you aren’t fully converted afterwards you should probably stick to beer. the wine is full petrol and hibiscus on the nose and deep mineral, stony pear and honey (but not the sweet part of honey, if that makes sense) with a long thoughtful slightly acidic finish. It is the preacher’s sermon that starts off by getting the nonbelievers excited, raises everyone to their feet and closes with something quiet for everyone to think of for days.
What to eat: The ’05 GruVe will go great with fall foods, or something with walnuts. The ’06 is a great summer salad wine. for the riesling think rich. i did slow roasted pork short ribs with fennel and potatoes. Simple but perfect.
* Weingut is translated correctly as “vineyard”
** I have never been able to corroborate this, but I heard it from Werner Herzog himself during a lecture he gave.