It’s not often that I blog about a single wine. That’s not to say that there aren’t single wines worth focusing on. I mean, everyone was writing about the new vintage of Krug a couple of months ago, but that’s the point – you don’t need me to tell you about a wine like that when the real wine writers are all over it. The wine I’m going to tell you about today warrants attention not because it’s famous or expensive. It may be rare, in that Newcomer Wines in Shoreditch Boxpark might have sold out of it by the time you read this, but it’s getting the spotlight here for a different reason. By a very long way, it is the weirdest wine I have drunk this year, indeed, perhaps for several years.
The wine is an Austrian pét-nat, made by the méthode ancestrale, from a blend of Riesling and Grüner Veltliner near Hollenburg (in the Kremstal, not far from the famous abbey of Stift Göttweig). The producer is Christoph Hoch. Christoph is an interesting guy. He makes still wines from his five hectares of chalky vineyard, but he’s got all sorts of interesting ideas about making sparkling wine, and this has led him to forge great friendships with some fine Champagne growers, principally Benoît Tarlant, and the Laherte and De Sousa families.
I’m fairly sure that even with these friendships, those Champenois would be fairly shocked at Christoph’s Kalkspitz. The first thing you notice is the crown cap seal. It’s common among pét-nats, and of course common in Champagne for the first fermentation. But Kalkspitz, in line with its production method, is not disgorged, so that the sediment of the first fermentation remains in the bottle. But it’s not the sediment as such which is shocking.
It’s quite common now for producers of pét-nat wines to offer two options for consuming them. The first is to stand them up for a few days so that the sediment falls to the base of the bottle. Careful opening and pouring will give a relatively clear and clean-tasting wine. Option two is to chill the bottle horizontally, or to invert the bottle before opening. The wine will then be cloudy, with the sediment being distributed in suspension. This gives an altogether different experience – the wine will taste a bit more yeasty and will have a very different texture.
Well, in for a penny (did you expect less?), I went cloudy. The bubbles are nice and small and the wine smells a touch yeasty, but there’s also a clean citrus nose as well. On the palate the wine is fresh and palate cleansing, but also there’s a chalky texture (some might say earthy). On the one hand I can imagine Newcomer having some problems with this, despite their adventurous customer base. It’s clearly wine, but I described it at the time as a cross between wine, cider and beer (the cider comes through as an appley note and the beer perhaps from the yeast, the “wheat beer” look and the froth on top). And as to the look of it? Well, see the photo – is just looks wrong by most standards. In some countries they would not have allowed its release, but Austria isn’t as vinously conservative as you may think.
Yet saying that, there are no negatives about this wine, for me at least. In some ways it’s a simple wine, but it also has hidden depths. Whether you’d call them complexity is open to personal interpretation. It’s obviously made by someone who is experimenting from a position where he knows what he’s doing. What Hoch has made clearly pushes the boundaries of pét-nat winemaking just a little further than most people whose wines I’ve tasted. Kalkspitz won’t be for everyone, but for the adventurous it’s just something else to stimulate the palate.
Regular readers will know I do like my musical puns. This one was felt too obscure to use as a title by the “editorial board”, but I can’t help it – Kalkspitz reminds me of Spizzenergi’s 1979 classic, Where’s Captain Kirk (“the best Star Trek song ever” – John Peel). It’s not just the name. It’s quirky and bursting with energy and life, if a little rough at the edges. For the new kind of wine drinker, that’s pretty much a fine recommendation in itself. But for the more conservative, approach with caution.
Christoph’s current project, due for release in 2017, is a méthode traditionelle sparkler with no non-wine additives (ie no added yeast or sugar). Can’t wait to see how that turns out.
Kalkspitz 2015 – Christoph Hoch, Hollenburg, Kremstal, 10.5%, Méthode Ancestrale. Contact Newcomer Wines via the web site link above (opening para) for UK availability.
Spizz Energi and a Pet Nat! I get the link act.
Cloudiness is matter of personal choice I suppose, I have got used to it in the natural world. I don’t think it’s a virtue but I can see the point. Austria is such an exciting country, MUST go there.
I’d go to Austria every year if I could but there are objections voiced when I suggest a third year in a row. Lots of meat is one objection cited. But the wines are indeed so exciting, and not yet fully discovered by even adventurous wine lovers.
Having read your note, David, I now wish I had bought one on passing by last week. But not to worry – I must admit that I really don’t know Austrian wines nearly as well as I should, and perhaps exploring the foothills is more suitable.
Ian, Newcomer will send wine to you so consider a mixed six. Alpine wines also have some lovely Austrians. Would be happy to suggest a few but Heidi Schröck is a favourite. Winemakers Club also have some superb Austrians but they are towards the outer reaches.