Wachau Spring Wine Festival (Wachauer Weinfrühling)

The Wachau

Tasted May 4, 2013 by wineamateur with 1,053 views

Introduction

Notes from the Wachau Spring Wine Festival, 4th May 2013.

It's about an hour on the train from Vienna to Krems, and then a very attractive cycle ride upstream along the left bank of the Danube that soon brings one into the glorious Wachau, with its amazing terraced vineyards, apricot orchards and historic medieval towns and villages. We were soon in the two Loibens, Unter and Oben; just outside the latter, we made our first stop - in FX Pichler's funky grey cuboid winery, the letters F and X embossed in the top corner of the wall. Then on to lunch at Jamek, taking advantage of its unusually being open at the weekend, before cycling upstream past Dürnstein (of Richard the Lionheart fame) and heading straight to Spitz, at the end of the major vineyard section, where we stopped at Hirtzberger on the way into town - very much a happening locale, attracting a crowd of Trachten-clad Austrians, many of whom I suspect were down from Vienna for the day.

From Hirtzberger, we turned back on ourselves, and cycled back to Rudi Pichler's modern new winery on the edges of Wösendorf, just in front of the hillside Kollmütz vineyard. Then it was on to Prager's splendid Danube-facing villa in Weissenkirchen, before our last stop of the day in Unterloiben, where we tasted at Knoll and their next-door neighbour Alzinger.

Most properties were showing only their 2012s, but FX Pichler had a mix of 12s and 11s.

Flight 1 - Weingut FX Pichler (6 notes)

White
2012 F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Loibner Klostersatz Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Great tension. Racy. Mineral. € 16. ***++
White
2012 F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Urgestein Terrassen Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Round and accessible. Pears on the nose. A bit flabby. € 19. ***
White
2012 F.X. Pichler Riesling Smaragd Loibner Oberhauser Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Ripe fresh tropical fruit, but racy and mineral at the same time. Very nice. € 23. ****
White
2011 F.X. Pichler Riesling Smaragd Loibenberg Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Lime on the nose, dry, seemed to lack a bit of roundness and amplitude. € 36. ***
White
2011 F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Dürnsteiner Liebenberg Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Citrus and cigars on the nose, a serious wine with a pleasant austerity on the palate, underpinned by a streak of liquorice. € 34. ****
White
2011 F.X. Pichler Riesling Reserve 'M' Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
This has it all. Ripe tropical fruit, underpinned by a racy minerality. Great structure. € 45. *****

Flight 2 - Weingut Josef Jamek (12 notes)

White
2012 Weingut Josef Jamek Grüner Veltliner Marienfeld Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
This bears the Steinfeder designation. It's light and fresh and just a little dull. € 8,90. *(*)
White
2011 Weingut Josef Jamek Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Stein am Rain Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
More oomph than the Steinfeder, mineral, good persistance on the finish. € 10,90. **
White
2012 Weingut Josef Jamek Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Achleiten Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
A big step up in quality. Fresh tasting, with white peaches and an intense minerality; liquorice bass notes. Long. € 14. ***+
White
2012 Weingut Josef Jamek Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Liebenberg Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
A wonderfully clean attach, fresh and fragrant with pears and white peaches. Fills the mouth but finishes a little short. € 17. ****
White
2012 Weingut Josef Jamek Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Achleiten Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
More mineral and more intense than the Liebenberg, apricot fruit, long finish. Top wine. € 23. *****
White
2012 Weingut Josef Jamek Riesling Federspiel Jochinger Berg Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Fresh, round but slightly pithy fruit; a good streak of acidity. € 10,90. **
White
2012 Weingut Josef Jamek Riesling Federspiel Jochinger Pichl Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
More intense than the Jochinger Berg, mineral, nice streak of lime. € 12,50. **(*)
White
2012 Weingut Josef Jamek Riesling Federspiel Klaus Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Slightly animal nose - perhaps a whiff of sulphur. Dry, austere minerality, with a relatively short finish. € 16,50. **
White
2012 Weingut Josef Jamek Riesling Smaragd Freiheit Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Relatively muted on the nose, but with ripe sweet stone fruits on the palate and a strong finish. € 24. ****
White
2012 Weingut Josef Jamek Riesling Smaragd Klaus Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Like the Klaus Federspiel, quite animal on the nose (sulphur?), but all-in a distinctly more impressive wine; intensely mineral, strong limey finish. € 37. ****+
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White
2012 Weingut Josef Jamek Weissburgunder Federspiel Hochrain Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Ripe, amply proportioned, slightly smokey, but a bit dull. € 10,90. **
White
2012 Weingut Josef Jamek Gelber Muskateller Federspiel Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Typical full-on GM nose, ripe and bright but with backbone. € 12,50. ***+

Flight 3 - Weingut Franz Hirtzberger (8 notes)

White
2012 Franz Hirtzberger Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Rotes Tor Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
A whiff of sulphur on the nose, but ripe pears too, echoed on the palate, good length. € 15. ***
White
2012 Franz Hirtzberger Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Kirchweg Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
From a relatively low-lying vineyard below Ried Hochrain, and the other side of the railway tracks on the way from Spitz into Wösendorf. This was a bit muted on the nose, but concentrated and rich on the palate, with peppery fruit and a long, lush finish. Just tending towards oiliness. € 21. Notwithstanding the slightly oily character, *****
White
2012 Franz Hirtzberger Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Axpoint Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
If I've worked this out correctly, this vineyard lies behind the winery on the way into Spitz from the North East. The wine is fresh and immediate and leaps from the glass. It's underpinned by an intense mineral character, liquorice and a peppery spritz, and has a long dreamy finish. € 26. *****+
White
2012 Franz Hirtzberger Weissburgunder Smaragd Steinporz Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
A bit muted on the nose, but a hint of pears and white peaches; jammy and a bit oily on the concentrated palate, but nice. € 23. ***
White
2012 Franz Hirtzberger Grauburgunder Smaragd Pluris Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Smokey, attractive nose; concentrated but a little tart in the mouth; relatively austere. € 23. ***
White
2012 Franz Hirtzberger Riesling Federspiel Steinterrassen Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Ripe and forward, with tropical fruit underpinned by some nice minerality and liqourice. € 16. ***+
White
2012 Franz Hirtzberger Riesling Smaragd Setzberg Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
A vineyard along the valley that runs into the Danube at Spitz from the West. This was perfumed on the nose, with pears, white peaches and apricots. On the palate, intense but lean, with a limey streak and a long finish. € 28. ****
White
2012 Franz Hirtzberger Riesling Smaragd Hochrain Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
From a vineyard just after St Michael as one heads downstream from Spitz. This was delicately perfumed, with a floral nose and a dreamy palate. It was subtle but very persistent, with a long long aftertaste. € 34. *****

Flight 4 - Weingut Rudi Pichler (10 notes)

White
2012 Rudi Pichler Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Light, delicately floral on the nose. Reasonably intense on the palate. A very good Federspiel. € 9. ***
White
2012 Rudi Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Terrassen Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
A bit diffuse on nose and palate, and a slight bitter edge. I prefer the Federspiel. € 14. **
White
2012 Rudi Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Wösendorfer Hochrain Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Lime blossom again, but more peppery than the Kollmütz; notably clean, fresh and delicate on the palate, but persistent. Lovely wine. € 24. *****
White
2012 Rudi Pichler Weissburgunder Smaragd Wösendorfer Kollmütz Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Attractively clean and fresh nose, majoring on pears, but let down by a slightly clumsy feel on the palate and a degree of tartness. € 16. **
White
2012 Rudi Pichler Riesling Federspiel Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
A forward, appealing nose of honeysuckle and lime blossom, and a nice lime streak on the palate. Good value. € 9,50. ***+
White
2011 Rudi Pichler Riesling Smaragd Terrassen Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
A diffuse and rather dumb nose, quite round on the palate but with a predominant and ultimately overpowering taste of bitter lemon. € 14. **
White
2012 Rudi Pichler Riesling Smaragd Weissenkirchner Steinriegl Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
This has a delicately floral nose; the palate is a bit dry for my taste, with yeasty and lime characteristics, but still a nice wine. € 22. ***
White
2012 Rudi Pichler Riesling Smaragd Wösendorfer Kirchweg Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Delicate white peach, pear and blossom aromas; like the Steinriegl, very dry on the palate, with lime and yeast characteristics. € 22. ***
White
2012 Rudi Pichler Riesling Smaragd Wösendorfer Hochrain Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Richer than the Steinriegl and Kirchweg, with a slightly oily quality; lime streaked on the palate; dry. € 24. ***
White
2012 Rudi Pichler Riesling Smaragd Achleiten Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Much more mineral on the nose than the other Rieslings here, with a bit of yeastiness; more generous on the palate too, with a long finish. € 36. ****

Flight 5 - Weingut Prager (6 notes)

White
2012 Prager Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Hinter der Burg Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Racy minerality. Attractive fruit. Round and appealing. € 15. ***+
White
2012 Prager Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Achleiten Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Round and ample, but at the same time mineral and intense; a pronounced beeswax and lemon character on the nose. Very impressive wine. € 34. *****
White
2012 Prager Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Wachstum Bodenstein Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Again, a good 'zing' on the nose, but with richer, riper fruit than the Achleiten (white peaches, pears), some dry yeast extract on the palate, but all in balance with the sweet fruit. Very intense and very long. € 35. *****+
White
2012 Prager Riesling Federspiel Weissenkirchner Steinriegl Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Beeswax and lemon sherbet on the nose; an attractive Federspiel. € 15. ***+
White
2012 Prager Riesling Smaragd Klaus Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Like the Federspiel Steinriegl, a good whiff of beeswax and lemon sherbet on the nose, but more pronounced. Relatively austere on the palate, lemon and lime streaked, well structured, intense, with a dry yeastiness on the palate. € 35. ****+
White
2012 Prager Riesling Smaragd Wachstum Bodenstein Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
More rounded and more fragrant on the nose than the Klaus, with white peaches and a bit of pear nectar. Slightly muted at first on the palate, but opens up to coat the roof of the mouth. Seemed initially to tail a bit on the finish, but leaves a longlasting impression in the lower register. A wine that creeps up on you! € 35. *****

Flight 6 - Weingut Knoll (10 notes)

White
2012 Weingut Knoll Grüner Veltliner Steinfeder Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Attractive - a clean, fresh, uncomplicated GV with a bit of peppery fruit. € 10. ***+
White
2012 Weingut Knoll Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Ried Kreutles Loibner Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
A bit more oomph here than the Steinfeder, with some nice mineral intensity, but not as fresh. € 13. ***
White
2012 Weingut Knoll Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Ried Kreutles Loibner Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Very attractive in a fruit-forward style, with white peach nectar and a nice nuttiness, and a peppery impression on the palate. Very good. € 19. *****
White
2012 Weingut Knoll Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Loibenberg Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Beeswax and hawthorne blossom on the nose, with a more mineral character than the Kreutles, but still lots of stone fruit and a long sweet finish. Lovely. € 24. *****
White
2012 Weingut Knoll Riesling Federspiel Loibner Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
An attractive nose, forward, with pears and white peaches. Quite mineral on the palate, and dry. But well made. € 13. ***
White
2012 Weingut Knoll Riesling Federspiel Loibenberg Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Dumber on the nose than the basic Federspiel, this has a somewhat dry, yeasty palate and a mineral intensity, but I felt it lacked a bit of balancing sweetness. € 16. **
White
2012 Weingut Knoll Riesling Smaragd Loibenberg Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
A forward, perfumed and exotic nose with pineapple, papaya and mango. Delicate, subtle and yet intense on the palate. Very fine. € 26. *****
White
2012 Weingut Knoll Riesling Smaragd Ried Schütt Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
More minerality and lime on the nose than the Loibenberg; open and accessible in the mouth, with pear and apple fruit, but still structured and intense. € 33. *****
White
2012 Weingut Knoll Muskateller Federspiel Loiben Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Nice grapefruit and tangerine fruit on the nose, but a bit staid in the mouth. € 13. **
White
2012 Weingut Knoll Gelber Traminer Smaragd Loibner Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Rich and lush, yet relatively light on its feet; quite perfumed, with a good dash of rosewater. Nice, though not absolute top quality. € 16 (0,5l). ***

Flight 7 - Alzinger (5 notes)

White
2012 Alzinger Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Loibner Frauenweingarten Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Correct, but a little lacking in personality. € 8. **
White
2012 Alzinger Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Mühlpoint Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Open and accessible in an easy-going style, with good fresh fruit. A bit inexpressive on the palate at first, but creeps up on you and finishes well. € 13. ****
White
2012 Alzinger Riesling Federspiel Dürnsteiner Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Open knit, but with a bit of limey zinginess; correct; well-made wine. € 10,50. ***
White
2012 Alzinger Riesling Smaragd Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Another open-knit and accessible Riesling from Alzinger, but reasonably intense and underpinned by a limey zing. € 14. ***
White
2012 Alzinger Riesling Smaragd Dürnsteiner Liebenberg Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
This South-West facing vineyard (if I've got my geography correct) is in the big terraced arena that opens up on the North bank of the Danube at the hairpin in the river between Dürnstein and Weissenkirchen. The wine has an attractive, delicately perfumed nose of white peaches and pears, a streak of lime, and a good bit of minerality. It's a well-structured wine, underpinned by well-integrated acidity. € 17. ****+

Closing

After a wonderful day's tasting, a few concluding reflections are in order.

1. The 2012 Vintage. This has been heralded across Austria as a top vintage of ripe, powerful and structured wines, both red and white. The Wachau largely escaped the late frosts that severely reduced production elsewhere in the country. According to Franz Hirtzberger, as quoted on the Falstaff website, 2012 is 'a very good year - in quantity terms too. Fully ripe grapes brought powerful wines with harmonious acidity.' For Leo Alzinger, '[t]he wines are concentrated, very juicy and extremely well balanced.' These reports were fully borne out by the samples we tasted. It was particularly interesting to taste the 12s and 11s side-by-side at FX Pichler, the only place we tried that did this - though not the same wines from the two vintages. So far as one could tell from the small selection, the 11s there were more mineral in character, and in a more austere style; the 12s riper and with rounder fruit (but not lacking minerality or structure either). 11 was thought especially good for Riesling, 12 equally good for Riesling and GV.

2. My own preference at most places we tasted was for the GVs, which - to my palate - tended to be rounder, riper, fresher and more approachable than the Rieslings; and more powerful too (as Leo Alzinger was also quoted as saying). To be sure, there were some very fine Rieslings indeed, especially from the big names, but some wines from which I was hoping for a bit more came across as a little surly. Perhaps just going through an awkward phase?

3. Talking of the big names, the tasting also confirmed - at least on the day - the established hierarchy in the region, with the "big four" of Hirtzberger, Knoll, FX Pichler and Prager having the most impressive ranges all round, and the most splendid peaks. On purely economic grounds, I had been hoping that the producers from the next rung below would be every bit the match for their more celebrated neighbours, but, though there were some very fine wines from Alzinger, Jamek and Rudi Pichler, I didn't find quite the same level of across-the-board quality. That said, these wines are also a good bit cheaper than the big four's, and there's excellent value to be found amongst them.

4. One final observation. It's easy when tasting these wines to be so seduced by the magnificent Smaragds that one doesn't pay sufficient attention to the lighter wines at Steinfeder and Federspiel level. That would be a mistake. On the day, I was particularly impressed by some wonderful Federspiels - racy, taut, elegant; definitely serious wines - which demand respect on their own terms, and certainly not as an inferior alternative to the Smaragd wines.

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