As I’ve said many times before, there’s often more excitement to be found in a $25 bottle of wine than in one costing triple digits. In the same way that many expensive wines are built on artifice and imagery, inexpensive bottles often hide true brilliance and authenticity behind a modest façade.
I find this to be especially true in the classic wine regions of Austria’s Danube River Valley, and especially the vine-carpeted slopes of the Wachau. Today’s 2017 Grüner Veltliner from the tiny Maria Hick estate is a carefully etched, polished little gem—so much more wine than the typical bottle at this price point that we are, of course, compelled to shout it from the rooftops of SommSelect headquarters. Having had the pleasure of floating along the Danube and taking in its stunning vineyard panoramas, I can tell you that this wine takes me right back there. That’s what real wines of place do, and in the Wachau, where so many of the wine estates date back hundreds of years, they’re able to do it at a remarkably reasonable price. Grab some of this electric, mineral, glistening Grüner and take your summer drinking to the next level—it delivers refreshment and personality in equal measure.
The Hick estate, currently run by Maria Hick and her husband, Manfred, is located in the village of Mitterarnsdorf, on the southern banks of the Danube near Spitz. This is toward the western end of the Wachau DAC, which feels a more profound cooling influence from the nearby Waldviertel forest district, and the soils of the area are predominantly comprised of paragneiss—a hard sedimentary rock shot through with bands of quartz, mica, and other minerals. In much the same way that these rocks glisten in the sun, the Grüner Veltliner wines that emerge from these soils have an unmistakable crystalline quality, which you'll find in Hick’s 2017.
Totaling about 6 hectares of vineyards, the Hick holdings include a site called “Stiegelstal,” here prefaced on the label with the word “Ried,” which has become an official prefix for noteworthy single-vineyard sites on labels (not unlike “Vigna” in Italian or “Cru” in French). Although Maria Hick took over the estate in 2003, her family has links to the property that go back more than 300 years, when it was owned by a monastery in Salzburg. Since taking the reins (following her completion of enology school in Krems), Maria has implemented organic farming practices in her vineyards and endeavored to minimize her use of sulfur as well, resulting in wines of tremendous energy and purity. Although she has caught the attention of the Austrian wine press, she’s just now finding an audience in the States—but with wines like this, that audience is likely to grow exponentially!
As defined by the Wachau producers’ association known as the Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus, today’s 2017 is classified as Federspiel, the middle tier of three ripeness levels, which usually translates to a wine that reaches 11.5%-12.5% a.b.v. at bottling (this one is 12.5%). Sourced from the steeply pitched, west/northwest-facing Stiegelstal site, the wine is at once angular and fleshy—a mouthwatering push-pull of green fruits, shards of rock, wildflowers and bracing freshness. In the glass, it’s a bright yellow-gold with silver and green reflections, with an expressive nose of green apple, lime pith, white grapefruit, peach, tarragon, white pepper, and radish. These sensations are confirmed on the medium-bodied palate, which leaves a lasting impact after a wave of freshness crashes ashore and ignites the salivary response. This is ready to pop and pour right now with summer salads, seafood, or as a perfect apéritif—serve it at 45-50 degrees in all-purpose white wine stems and let the good times roll all summer long, keeping in mind that bottles like this always disappear quickly. I got to thinking about the peppery bite of watercress when I tasted this wine and found a salad recipe I think speaks directly to the flavors and textures in this wine. Give it a try—I know I will!
Grüner Veltliner 100%