Bernhard Ott is among the finest artisans of Grüner Veltliner in the world, and when wines like today’s hit peak maturity, they become renowned exemplars of not just Grüner, not just elite Austrian wine, but the greatest whites imaginable.
But let’s back up a few paces before entering euphoria because enjoying mature Grüner can be somewhat of a catch-22: While the holy grail is to drink these wines at their peak, they are also wildly enjoyable upon release so most are inhaled with gusto and alacrity. Meaning, you must fight tooth and nail to get your hands on a sufficient quantity of aged Grüner Veltliner! Instead of sulking, we went to the phone lines, called up our longtime contacts, and found ourselves the sole winners of a drop-in-the-bucket quantity of Bernhard’s 2012 “Der Ott.” This stunningly textured gem is the result of blending three of Wagram’s best Erste Lage vineyards (Austria’s most esteemed designation). In the bottle, it’s all about biodynamic fruit, native fermentation, and rich lees aging. Pour yourself a full glass and discover just how dynamic and profound a top-tier Grüner at its peak can be. You’ll be one of the few to do so, and subsequently one of the few that will have discovered one of the wine world’s best-kept secrets. Quantities are severely limited—no one else in America has this wine!
Bernhard Ott is straightforward about his passions: “Ich bin ein Veltliner!” (“I am Veltliner”) is his marketing battle cry, which he backs up with a lineup of some of the best expressions of the grape found anywhere. This is next-level Grüner Veltliner and, in some ways, a throwback: It’s is a mineral-driven wine that focuses on the elite Wagram sites they hail from without neglecting the perfectly plump fruits they yield. Located just east of the Wachau/Kremstal/Kamptal triumvirate, the Wagram (formerly Donauland) sees the same interplay of Alpine air from the northwest and warmer air from the Pannonian Plain to the east. The soils are dominated by loess, a sedimentary soil of sand and silt that is a little deeper and richer than some of the “primary rock” (gneiss, schist, granite) found further west. It is Grüner Veltliner’s preferred soil type, producing richer, deeper styles with distinctive spice characteristics.
The Ott family has been in the Wagram since 1889. Fourth-generation Bernhard Ott took over for his father in 1995, and his first order of business was a total overhaul of the property—including a wholesale conversion to biodynamic farming. His 28 hectares of vineyards, 90% of which are planted to Grüner Veltliner (re: “Ich bin ein Veltliner!”), are now Certified Biodynamic by an Austrian body called RESPEKT.
Bernhard’s “Der Ott” is sourced from their younger vines in three of Wagram’s best “Erste Lage” vineyards: Rosenberg, Spiegel, and Stein. What may sound like a hard-knock law firm to us is actually one of the greatest Grüner concoctions money can buy. After hand-harvesting a ripe crop, it’s simple, clean winemaking back at home base—gentle pressing after a meticulous sort, native fermentations, and aging on lees in stainless steel for added richness. Ott has remarked that the conversion to biodynamics has enabled him to harvest Grüner a little earlier without sacrificing physiological ripeness—something I think is illustrated in this wine, which has the kind of gripping acidity and rich layers that many Grüners lack.
Bernhard’s wines certainly reward short-term aging (2-5 years), but when you creep into his top-tier lineup, their age-worthiness can astonish the best of us. At seven years old and counting, this 2012 “Der Ott” has taken on a brilliant evolution all whilst defying its age. Its freshness is certainly a marvel to behold, but what really sends me over the moon is the combination of savory earth and piquant, zesty fruit. Swirl the glass and ripe yellow pears, golden apples, white pepper, dried herbs, and baby arugula appear, and then swirl again and salted lemon, citrus peel, grapefruit, and quince pour out with an avalanche of crushed stones. These wines are truly special and this 2012 is a near-perfect expression of what mature Grüner can achieve: voluptuous layers, intense vibrancy, and supple piquancy that energizes your entire palate. Seek out sashimi-grade, fatty tuna belly from your local fish market and prepare the attached recipe alongside a chilled glass of “Der Ott.” Just watch this pairing dance!
Grüner Veltliner 100%