Good old Austria… a land with white wines as steely, reserved, and imposingly austere as the (often slightly oversized) architectural wonders that grace its cities and towns.
Let’s wrap up the coverage of my Austrian media jaunt (yes, from back in May 2019… screw you, punky, I’ve been busy!) with a look back in time at how those steely, reserved, and imposingly austere wines get a little bit less steely, reserved, and imposingly austere given some time of repose in the botltle.
Austrian white wine spirit animal
C’mon, don’t you want to know what happens to high-end examples of Austria’s signature Grüner Veltliner over time? Don’t you want to know if they’re worth the time, expense, and patience? Don’t you want to read several extremely similar tasting notes about a single grape variety?
According to manager Vincent Bache-Gabrielsen, that’s the secret behind the revitalization of Saint-Estèphe’s Château Lilian Ladouys.
If Bache-Gabrielsen’s name feels familiar, it’s because he also manages Château Pédesclaux, the Pauillac property that the Lorenzetti family purchased just one year after picking up Lilian Ladouys, and which their team also revitalized. If you’re sensing a theme here, don’t congratulate yourself, because, bluntly stated, the theme is pretty friggin’ obvious. And – spoiler alert! – the results are basically the same: an ailing Bordeaux producer weaned off of life support, and now celebrated as doing the rarest of all Bordeaux wine tricks: over-delivering for its price point (you can find their main red for well under $40/bottle).
Backtracking for a bit of history: the Château Lilian Ladouys property dats back to the 1560s, and was revitalized once before in the late 1980s. Like skinny ties and jams shorts, that `80s endeavor was ill-fated, as Ladouys found few buyers for its at-the-time much-elevated prices. Periods of what Bache-Gabrielsen called “irregular quality” followed, until the Lorenzettis saw potential in Ladouys’ Saint-Estèphe terroir and decided to buy it, with the understanding that to turn things around “we have to work!”
While 2009 saw immediate improvements that Bache-Gabrielsen termed “interesting,” it wasn’t until the soils began to really improve in 2010 that the team felt that Ladouys was turning the corner. They’ve since been engaged in the selling an acquisition of various plots in the region, replanting to maximize proper rootstock usage, and favoring gravelly soils over limestone in an effort to significantly up the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in their blend. About 2/3 of their property has since been exchanged in some form or another, and as of 2018 they now have about 80 hectares of vineyards from which to draw, with half of it devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon (the rest being Merlot, Petit Verdot, and a tiny portion of Cabernet Franc), and 80% of it on gravelly soils.
“It’s really different from Pauillac,” Bache-Gabrielsen told me during a live video tasting, “the subsoil is the same, but you have more clay here, and the limestone is much deeper in Pauillac.” This suits their new house style, which is focused on taming extraction and emphasizing aging potential. “We tend to make epicurean wines,” he explained, ” approachable young but that cab age well. We try to balance the power of Saint-Estèphe with freshness….”
It’s in Israel‘s north, along the borders with Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, where you realize that you’re definitely notin Kansas anymore, Toto, viticulturally-speaking. Actually, let’s correct that – it’s not just viticulturally-speaking, it’s just-about-everything-speaking.
Certainly the rocky hills in the Golan Heights and Galilee speak to Israel’s unique location as a transition zone between the Sahara and Europe, with the requisite variations in soils (from volcanic, to terra rossa, to chalk, to te dessert-like Les), climate, and elevation; you know, the standard grape-growing stuff.
But while that sort of geological and climatic scene is mirrored in many wine regions across the globe, there aren’t many that are surrounded by imposing barbed wire fencing, dotted with even more imposing signs warning of land mines, and sporting the occasional airfield patrolled by very imposing drones.
Welcome to wine-growing, northern Israeli-style. It wouldn’t be for the faint-hearted even without the explosives.
As a wrap-up finale on Israeli wine, here are highlights from my not-so-recent media tour there, which culminated in trips to some of the most promising producers in the Golan Heights and Lower Galilee…
Well, for those in the know when it comes to Bordeaux, this Pauillac producer was dependable for decades… in that one could usually depend on it to under-perform.
Established back in 1810 by the wine broker who gave it its name (Pierre Urbain Pédesclaux), Pédesclaux rose to prominence rather quickly by Bordeaux standards, being classified as Fifth Growth in 1855. The 20th Century saw successions of ownership and neglect; at one point in the 1950s, the estate was tagged for demolition.
In 2009, Pédesclaux was picked up by Françoise and Jacky Lorenzetti (owners of Chateau Lilian Ladouys), who, according to current manager Vincent Bache-Gabrielsen (with whom, through the miracles of modern technology, I had a nice remote online chat) set about to “legitimize” the estate. This started with the vineyards, which were replanted, reworked, expanded, and eventually given a treatment so detailed that they are now classified into nineteen different terroirs (ranging from gravel to limestone to clay), vinified into 116 different tank fermentations, and aged in barrels from nine different coopers, all to make about 270,000 bottles of just two wine labels.
The aim now is to surprise with a bit of over-performance, even at the $50/bottle price tag. Bache-Gabrielsen put it this way: “The idea is to have freshness, tannins that are just mature, and to make you salivate and want another glass.” Pédesclaux now puts a borderline-obsessive amount of effort into their Grand Vin’s texture. “We want precision in our tannins,” Bache-Gabrielsen explained. He describes their harvest as “al dente” (now my new favorite term for picking ripeness).
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