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Emmerich Knoll Riesling Ried Loibenberg Smaragd 2013

Emmerich Knoll Riesling Ried Loibenberg Smaragd 2013

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"Scents of zesty fresh lemon, curry powder and crushed stone form the pungent introduction to a bottling of bright primary juiciness. Just-ripe white peach and Crenshaw melon are tinged with the elements already noted in the nose along with ginseng, peach kernel and white pepper. Firm but glossy in feel and infectiously juicy, this finishes with penetration, complexity and focus, as well as with levity and transparency that one doesn’t often experience in a Smaragd, much less one from the Loibenberg. Drink: 2015-2025. 93 points.

Emmerich Knoll Senior’s wines have long served as a Wachau benchmark. A superb set of vineyard holdings is certainly a key to quality here, but patient and intuitive viticulture and cellar work are as well. Knoll was still maturing most of his Smaragds in large casks through the summer at a time when scarcely any of Austria’s practitioners of Grüner Veltliner or Riesling were any longer doing so. (One could claim that Knoll was a major force behind the welcome recent return among so many growers to bottling more leisurely and letting their traditionally latest-vintage-fixated countrymen howl.) Emmerich Knoll Junior has taken the leading role here in the course of the past decade, during which there were a number of collections that I found excellent but not as compelling as in past years. Happily, while the 2013s here fail to capture the vintage’s potential for excellence in lighter-weight and introductory-level bottlings, those offerings that one usually thinks of as candidates for complexity and ageability are imposingly successful. (And the 2014s here are almost shockingly successful!)

Wines from the Knolls’ impressive Riesling holdings in the Steiner Pfaffenberg, traditionally considered part of the Wachau but now officially in the Kremstal (and representing nearly 9% of estate acreage), get labeled in hybrid fashion. “Kabinett,” nowadays fallen from favor among Kremstal and Kamptal growers, is used to designate the lighter of what are usually two Pfaffenberg bottlings, while the fuller-bodied rendition is referred to as “Selektion,” a term utilized occasionally in various parts of Austria to designate ostensible high quality. The Knoll “Vinothekfüllung” cuvée represent multi-site blends that father and son think will age especially well. They also nearly always issue from fruit with the highest must weights, which often involves botrytis. I must admit that I have only occasionally tasted older examples of these, because although during the 1990s I bought more wine from Knoll than from any other Austrian estate, I was seldom convinced that these Vinothek bottlings quite approached the expressivity or balance of their single-vineyard siblings, which were in consequence the wines I selected and now regularly open with enormous pleasure.

In addition to their classic Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners, the Knolls routinely render ravishing Muskatellers and Traminers, the latter from the yellow strain of that cultivar associated with—and in this report described more fully in my account of—the Salomons’ Undhof). The Knoll estate is also justly renowned for its nobly sweet wines, produced with greater frequently and in larger volumes than at any other top Wachau estate. Like F. X. and Lucas Pichler, the Knolls only recently expanded into a new cellar after having, despite their notoriety and size—16.5 owned hectares plus 4 of purchased fruit—vinified for generations in ancient quarters beneath the family domicile. But there is an interesting twist at Knoll to that saga. Fermentation and aging will continue to take place almost exclusively in the old cellar. Why tinker with a winning ambience for élevage? Reception area, pressoir, blending tanks, bottling line and bottle storage, though, have all moved into new spaces. And like the Hirtzbergers, the Knolls have finally also constructed a tasting room.

“The Rieslings in 2013, unlike the Grüner Veltliners, stubbornly held their acids,” related Knoll Senior. We had some doubts--‘is this going to work or not?’—but the younger generation was keen on not de-acidifying, and in the end we didn’t.” Picking began here already in the first days of October, but especially for Riesling it stretched past the middle of November. As at other addresses that experienced significant botrytis this year, it was reportedly less of a factor in Grüner Veltliner than in Riesling. And while my impressions did not always correspond with Knoll Senior’s accounts of just where botrytis appeared, some wines in the present collection are quite voluminous and high-toned while others retain a remarkable sense of lift and clarity. “My impression,” concluded Knoll “is that the best 2013s can hold their own against any of the best wines of recent vintages.”"

David Schildknecht, Vinous (11/15)