Prager Riesling Achleiten Smaragd 2018
“Prager’s 2018 Riesling Smaragd Ried Achleiten is clear, fresh and lemony on the nose that displays a concentrated white stone fruit aroma and a touch of botrytis, or at least over-ripeness. Not as brilliant as the Veltliners from the Achleiten. Intense, dense and concentrated on the palate, this is a dense and juicy, very fruity yet also tightly structured Riesling with fine tannins. However, the wine didn’t sing when I tasted it at the domain in September 2019. Drink: 2020-2040. 92 points
“The 2018 vintage is more or less like the 2015 and also the 2017 vintage,” thinks Toni Bodenstein, from Weingut Prager in Weissenkirchen, the western part of the Wachau. Bodenstein presented me a sensational series of Grüner Veltliners, against which the Rieslings were strangely without a chance, although still excellent. “We had rainfall in 2018, though not much, but always at the right time.” According to Bodenstein, photosynthesis functioned continuously until October. “There is virtually no malic acid, but the tartaric acid content of the 2018s is unusually high. Fortunately, there was no assimilation stop during the day in 2018 like [there was] in August 2015; that vintage just barely turned the corner.”
The 2018 vintage was nevertheless quite stressful. There was little moisture in winter and flowering at the end of May and beginning of June was extremely early and finished within a few days, a good two weeks earlier than the average. Pruning the leaf wall is of course an important, albeit very costly, cultural intervention. The later it was cut, the better it was; after all, the aim was to use as little water as possible. The harvest began early and was finished by the end of October instead of mid-November as usual. “The Grüner Veltliner then had hardly any malic acid left, but 90% tartaric acid,” says Bodenstein, “yet with pH levels that were in the upper range due to the stress situations during the summer.” For Grüner Veltliner in 2018, Prager measured 3.3-3.4 pH instead of the usual 3.1. “High pH levels, however, have hardly any reduction potential, so that one has to sulfur more at higher pH values than at low ones.” The Riesling was more like 3.2 instead of 3.1 pH, and it maintained its acidity in 2018, which is about 1-1.5 grams per liter above the Veltliners.
The processing of the grapes in 2018 was also different than usual. “It was important not to harvest at 30 degrees Celsius [86 degrees Fahrenheit], because otherwise the fermentation would have already started in the harvest boxes. We went to the vines early in the morning and stopped picking when it got too hot.” Normally, the grapes at Prager receive a maceration time of up to seven hours. “But in 2018, we preferred a whole-bunch pressing to preserve the acidity. This is reduced by about 1.5 grams per liter during maceration, which could lead to premature oxidation at high pH values. Therefore, we pressed immediately but slowly over four hours and at low pressure (maximum 0.8-0.9 bar). The shortcoming was, of course, that we had less extract. We compensated for this with longer aging on the fine lees. But we had to be careful here too because of the still-high pH levels and possible malolactic fermentation.” Bodenstein kept the Smaragd wines on the fine lees until the third week of April, which is considerably longer than usual.
His 2018s are less characterized by exuberant fruit aromas and pure opulence than they are by depth, structure and complexity. This becomes clearer with the Veltliners, for which I initially had little use when I tasted them from a normal wine glass. Bodenstein offered me a number of alternatives. I chose the huge Zalto Burgundy glass—suddenly, I had completely new wines in the glass, which completely captivated me and had little to do with what is otherwise known from the Wachau. They could have been wines from the Côte Rôtie, so full and complex, so fine and elegant. I did not taste any better Veltliners on the Danube last year than Prager’s brilliant 2018s Wachstum Bodenstein and the two selections from the Ried Achleiten. So intoxicated, I asked for older vintages and promptly tasted a whole series of older Veltliners, which I will have to rethink from now on, at least if they come from Prager, whose Rieslings I have always found great anyway. The vertical of the Wachstum Bodenstein showed impressively how terrific this wine, whose mixture of genetics grows on top of the Achleiten in a rather cooler spot, can be in warm years such as 2018, 2015, 2011 and 2007. In this decade, the wines from vines planted in 1997 have reached a level that is rivaled only by the very best wines in the Wachau and along the Danube River.”
Stephan Reinhardt, Wine Advocate (03/20)