The Wines of the Wachau Valley
By Franz Scheurer
We don’t often get the chance to taste Austrian white wines in Australia so it
is with great interest that I attended the wine tasting organised by Frankland
Estate at Darling Mills yesterday, showcasing four winemakers and their wines
from the Wachau valley.
The Wachau valley is about 30km long, (1,450 hectares under vine) carved out by
the Danube River, with steep riverbanks on one side and relative flat soil on
the other. From the edge of the slow-flowing waters, steep terraces rise 550m to
just below the wooded hilltops. This stony strip of land between the river and
the forest is one of the most historic vineyard sites in the world, started by
the Romans and continually worked since the 9th century.
The climate is continental, with warm days and cold nights. The cold air from
the surrounding hills collides with the warm airstream from the Pannonian Plain
upstream, and creates a constantly changing, windy microclimate. Due to the
amount of rock and the reflecting properties of the Danube, there is enough
sunlight and warmth to achieve reasonable ripeness, most years. This steady
circulation of warmer and cooler airstreams produces exceptional fruit and
freshness as the berries ripen slowly and gently, until late November.
The result is wines of good concentration of aromas, lots of mineral characters
(due to the soil, composed primarily of rock, loess, gneiss and mica schist).
These bone-dry wines typically have high acidity with lots of fruit, making them
rather fresh and seductive when young, but lush and complex with bottle age.
The main grape varieties are Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, producing excellent
wines, mainly from 20 to 30 year old vines. Muscat of Alexandria, Pinot Blanc,
Chardonnay, Müller-Thurgau and Neuburger are the other varietals planted in this
area and are mainly sold locally to drink immediately.
Vinea Wachau is a regional association, which has set itself the goal of raising
awareness of the unique natural conditions of the region and the challenging
working conditions of the steep terraced vineyards of Wachau. Founded in 1983,
Vinea Wachau created the following three local categories:
This name comes from a local grass, stipa pennata, locally called Steinfeder
(rock-feather). All white wines can be vinified into Steinfeder. The grapes must
have a must weight of 75-82° Öchsle and the maximum alcohol contents allowed is
The name Federspiel comes from the implement used to lure a falcon
back to the trainer’s glove. Falconry used to be very popular in the Wachau
region. The falcon represents the steely elegance of these classic dry wines.
Federspiel wines can be vinified from all white grape varietals occurring in the
Wachau. The grapes must have a minimum grape weight of 83° Öchsle and the
maximum alcohol content is limited to 12.5%.
The emerald green lizards living amongst the vines on the steep slopes
have given this classification its name. Smaragd is emerald in the local
language. Smaragd wines must be made from good vintages only, from late
harvested grapes with perfect physiological ripeness of at least 90° Öchsle, and
must be fermented up to the natural termination of fermentation. The alcohol
content must be more than 12.5%.
Look out for some of these wines to eventually appear on the shelfs in
Australia. Some of the names to look out for are:
Weingut Hirtzberger - especially their Hochrain Riesling and Honivogl Grüner Veltliner
Weingut Emmerich Knoll – Kellerberg Riesling and Schütt Grüner Veltliner
Weingut Franz Xaver Pichler – Steiner Tal Riesling
Weingut Prager – Steinriegl Riesling,
Hollerin Riesling and Hinter der Burg Grüner Veltliner
For more information on the whole region contact:
3610 Weissenkirchen 48