St Laurent 'Jungle' 2017
She doesn’t know her parents. She doesn’t know quite where she came from. Not really. There are rumours. There are whispers in quiet hallways that one of her architects was Pinot Noir. There is chatter that she might’ve arisen in Bordeaux. And further whispers that, though there’s little in the way of DNA evidence, she has a lot in common with Gamay. There is gossip around the water cooler of an old romance with Blaufrankisch, and that this romance led to the appearance of Zweigelt. You might also hear of a slow migration through Alsace and further into central Europe via Germany, to Austria and Czech Republic, where finding herself much adored she has laid roots. And for all this, without a known lineage, without a strict sisterhood Sankt Laurent lives on; so named after Saint Lawrence and more particularly Saint Lawrence’s Day, which falls on the 10th of August, the day when grapes (would traditionally) change colour.
And if there’s any reluctance from any drinker approaching this plonk, on first whiff, on first sip, the Jurtschitsch ‘Jungle’ will be sure to change your mind and settle Sankt Laurent somewhere in your thirsty heart.
The ‘Jungle’ is a wine crafted from a once abandoned vineyard in the appellation of Ried Hasel that Jurtschitsch runners Alwin and Stefanie stumbled upon some years after ago taking over their families ‘classic’ Kamptal, Langenlois estate. The 50-odd year old vines of Sankt Laurent were left in the hands of mother nature after their original shepherd passed with no heir and the plantings had grown like jailed snakes seeking escape in all directions: up, round, sideways and skyward. And joining the untrained vines were grasses and plants and other siblings of the genius loci turning what might once have been a manicured vineyard into a kind of jungle; a jungle in which the Jurtschitsch gang were surprised to find healthy berries hanging around harvest time. They self-confessedly ‘stole’ the berries before the birds did and after finding them to turn a juice at once singular and delicious, set about securing the site for their estate, with their first release of the aptly titled ‘Jungle’ in 2015.
It is an undoubtedly cranberry coloured, blue-tinged banger. It arrives in the glass unapologetically and joyous and bursting with sweet spice and cherry tart and though with some of that Beaujolais bubblegum it has more of that light-hearted, wild-berry charm you so often get from the cooler regions typical of Austria where acidity is maxed out and held behind tannic skins in tender flesh and the wine so lifted that it puckers against the palate with sharp kisses you can’t help but come back for more of.
It smells like the getting of roses, not on a special occasion, not on a christian holiday or when you might be sick or someone dies, but those rare times when flowers are tightly wrapped and thrust at you and are beaming and cuddled in tissue paper and their aroma is of something chequered, of something you’d long forgot. There’s a hint of mint or menthol on the nose and red sauerkraut and the sticky blueberries that catch underfoot as you jog through the groves. I even got flecks of peppered charcuterie and cranberry muffins, and the steam of a hot cup of builders tea on a typically cold English day. I swear at some point I could even smell the grease and plastic of cheap takeaway. Or glue? There is something dusty and dark running under the nose though; perhaps it holds the secrets of the old man what tendered it, of the jungle that it spawned, the jungle it flourished in and might even miss.
There is something electric about it. It splashes into the bowl kind of gagging for attention, shooting aroma and spice out the mouth of the glass to reach ones nose with a joy and curiosity of its own. It is almost like the Jungle wine wants you to drink it. And the feeling, as with so many new-wave Austrian bangers, is only ever mutual.
As it runs across the mouth there’s a generous berry bouquet; of ripe rasps and blues and elder and cherry. And then it’s beetroot juice and the aforementioned black tea. The high acidity of the wine (held by cold climate and likely night-picking) slamming against the top palate in waves and running to the teeth and giving the sweet-smelling and sticky-feeling fruit crunch and balance: like a drum kit does to wandering guitar riffs and wailing tenors, like a well placed mirror does to a dark room, like finding a friend at a strangers house party who is as happy to see you as you are them and has a swinging bottle of good pet nat in their hands and is happy to blow the popsicle stand and find a quiet corner to gossip in.
There’s an appealing push and pull to the wine, which I often find as a by-product of whole bunch/whole cluster fermentation that can give a grittiness, a fine grain, a stickiness to a wine and serve to perfectly compliment texture and mouthfeel; aligning itself with acidity and fruit and at the same time repelling them. The ingredients that make it delicious, ie. sugar, acidity, tannin, fruit, smoke, memory, love, hate neither in conflict nor perfectly harmonious but in curious debate with one another; like a jazz band with each instrument on tangents that come together only now and then and you just have to take what the musicians give you and trust that they know better, you just have to watch and listen to them play. For in play there is joy, as any good clown will tell you, and in joy one circles perfection and is only doomed when they achieve it.
The ‘Jungle’ could just as easily accompany grouse & starched waitstaff as hip-hop & dumplings or sex & pizza. It could just as easily satisfy the old guards as appeal to the natty juice-heads of trendy bars and vino haunts relishing their fifteen minutes of (temporary and hard to maintain) street cred. This is the first flower of spring. This is the darling buds of may. This is a wine that’ll tiptoe to your core, or more likely polka. This is biodynamic rhubarb tart and used Austrian-oak-aged vanilla custard. This is compote laced with optimism and good cheer (and I’m talking more about something intangible, something fleeting, not just the buzz of soft liquor). This is the legacy of the old generations and the sprouting flowers of the gardens of Ried Hasel—the fruits of the jungle that, like mother nature herself, will long survive us meagre mortals. This is wine for our times, the lost and left behind, the thirsty and the curious. And with it we toast to the curiosity of the Jurtschitsch family, for without which and without whom the Sankt Laurent jungle may still be growing wild and undiscovered, may still be holding tight to her ghosts, for without which and without whom the ‘Jungle’ would not have made it to the bottle, would have not have made it to my table, would not have made it to my heart.
tasted June 2021