Michael Wenzel

Wild + Free 'Frä​​nk' 2019

00:00 / 06:04

It’s the colour of a juicy bruise against pale skin; the kind that you get when your big brother knuckles you in the thigh or when you come off your bicycle along the canal after too many sherries on a lazy Saturday and the handlebars jab you in the gut on your way down.  It’s that first flush of beauty when the bruise is flowering and the pain is almost gratifying and you can’t help but press on it when no one is watching.  That said, there is nothing but pleasure in this bottle.

I have been to some wineries where the hiss and plop of fermentation makes one feel that they can hear the grapes bleeding; tiny screams bouncing off the tanks and nomblots, a sweet sacrifice for the gluttonous thirst of the masses.  Morbid?  Maybe.  Delicious?  Absolutely!

Michael Wenzel is something of a slow-moving and excitable wizard.  And if you listen to them, his wines are a wonder.  Working in Austria right on the border with Hungary and having taken over from his father, Robert, who had taken over from his father who had taken over from his father (you get the jist)… they were the first family in the region to have a bottling machine, which I can only imagine was like them being the first family on the street to have a colour tv, or a microwave, or a PS4.  I can almost see the kids gathering around the white stoned farmhouse to sneak a peek at the strange new machine, squeezing juice and slamming cork buttons into glass necks.  He is, naturally, a certified Furmint freak; not a naturally-certified Furmint freak, though more or less that as well.  Wenzel makes a fascinating spread with dry and sweet Furmints, Merlots, Pinots, Blaufranksich

(of course) all under the banner of honesty.

 

The ‘Frank’ is a kind of lunch wine; deliberately kept at (or under) 12% so that the best of us daytime drinkers can still do good business over a bottle and get back to the office or imbibe more than a few tankards of Wenzel’s juice without falling down before the sun does.  I could say he works organically, I could say he’s started to remove all metal from the vineyard; posts, twine, warts and all.  I could say he limits sulphur to a bare minimum out of necessity less than desire. I could say all the tropes of contemporary wine writers and mountebanks where the current captains repeat not the mistakes of their most recent ancestors but return to a more traditional-traditional approach; getting their hands dirty, letting things grow wild and not messing with the good and great stuff that nature mostly does herself.  I could say this and more.  Would the words find deaf ears?  Does it even matter?  Does it matter that what I’m drinking is made from vines that were watered only by the seasons, grapes that were harvested by hand, bunches that were pressed whole, yeast that was natively cultivated, juice aged in neutral oak?  Or does it matter that I like it?  That I like what I'm drinking?  That it doesn’t burn a hole in my already hole-prone pockets?

It matters and it doesn’t matter.  It matters because it greatly effects what ends up in the bottle and thus in our gullets.  It matters because it is good farming; good for the juice and good for the earth.  And it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter because are you really going to think about any of that in the trendy dumpling house when your old friend tops up your glass and continues the story of how they managed to get fired from their job as a graphic designer because they left coded anarchic messages in the campaign for a christian clothing label?  As chili oil dribbles down your chin you might take in the fine perfume of the Wenzel and wonder how so subtle a thing as a grape can do so much to the senses.  But it can.  And it does.

The nose is all beauty and charm. It smells a little like a Chinese drug store and a lot like a blueberry jam, there is the soft spice of an over-priced burgundy and the tart freshness and friendliness of a screw-cap Zweigelt.  It is plums wrapped in mortadella.  It is poached puddings dusted with five spice, it is sour candles in posh bathrooms, it is the mystery of a mushroom and powdered musk candy and it bounces from one cheek to the other, tail-coating an unsurprising punch of acidity (as is very often the Austrian modus operandi) with a purity of fruit, a precise line of the dark and the delicious that smacks against the back of the palette and all that with a tiny whiff of that animal funk we all get after a good work out.

The wine stares out at the world, wide-eyed and youthful, with all the elegance and buried nervousness of an adolescent dancer, having trained since her first steps to master an ancient and difficult art.  This is an unexpected duet.  Part pop-song romance, part punk-party album.  Part spiced fruit, part untethered game.  Part Blaufrankisch, part Pinot Noir.  How much of each?  Who cares?!  I only care if there’s any left, because my glass is empty.  The label says ‘Bottled Alive. Drink Chilled.’  I feel ya’ Wenzel.  We are all bottled alive.  We could all be more chill.

 

tasted January 2021

Bradley Tomlinson

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