Austria’s wine consumers are obsessed with having the youngest vintage in their glass. One winemaker told me some of his customers are already asking for 2014s, which seems rather like standing over a new-born calf holding an axe and a frying pan. This is frustrating for producers who know their wines age well—and not just reds; even unoaked whites can gain in complexity and body given an extra year or two to develop.
Luckily for me, my significant other has made a habit of squirreling away bottles in her parents’ old Styrian cellar, with near-perfect temperature and humidity conditions for storing wine. Because we no longer live in Austria, on return visits we sporadically raid the cellar for anything that looks like it might need to be drunk up.
I wasn’t expecting much from Karl Breitenberger’s 2004 Sauvignon Blanc, a humble €6 wine, probably designed to be drunk within a year of the vintage, likely at the family’s buschenschank—a Styrian term for a heuriger or rustic wine tavern selling only the owner’s wines and simple cold plates.
Pulling the cork was telling—that there was a cork to pull at all. Austria has fallen in love with the screwcap, to the point that a certain reductive character in young wines is seen as a stylistic choice, but it wasn’t always thus. Karl Breitenberger was using Nomacorc corks in 2004—a good choice judging by the condition of this wine.
Not only was the bottle immaculately preserved, with no unwelcome signs of aging (mushroomy aromas or overtly oxidative character), it also had racy acidity and intense fruit: citrus, gooseberry, papaya. The aromatics in Styrian Sauvignon can get a little “sweaty” in youth, but there was none of that here. Subtle notes of almond and dried herbs were the only clue to the wine’s age.
It was a superbly taut and lively Sauvignon Blanc by any standards—and proof that given a reliable closure, anything’s possible.