The Wachau: Preserving Centuries-Old Terraces and Their Brilliant Wines

Photos and text by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

“It hasn’t always been this way.” And it may not stay this way, either”, Emmerich Knoll answers gravely, with an emphatic pause between sentences. We’re driving along the north bank of the Danube River a couple of hours west of Vienna. Above us, vines cling to breathtakingly steep slopes along narrow terraces that follow the sinuous contours of the hills overlooking the river. It’s already May, but the spring has been cool and there’s only a few inches of green pushing out from the arms of these short, rugged vines, leaving the meter-high, dry stone walls that contain the terraces visible from the road in the oblique afternoon sunlight.

I had just remarked to Herr Knoll, a leading Wachau grower, on the extraordinary effort required to farm these sites, where everything must be done by hand, shuddering at the cost of production. Knoll still remembers the time when his grandparents and parents sold their entire production through the extended family’s local tavern and inn, the Loibnerhof across the street from the winery, in unlabeled bottles.

Times have certainly changed. The top wines of the Wachau, Austria’s most revered white wine region, today command prices that begin to make the effort financially worthwhile (and the Loibnerhof is one of the region’s top restaurants serving traditional cuisine, with a Gault Millau toque). But, as Knoll has pointed out, the high prices now commanded for these singular wines are relatively recent, and the future is never guaranteed.

You needn’t travel too far back in time to reach an era when the very existence of these vineyards was in peril. In fact, Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus, a local growers’ association of which Knoll is the current chairman, was created in 1983 essentially with the aim of ensuring the future survival of these challenging terraced vineyards. Founders Josef Jamek, Franz Hirztberger Sr., Wilhelm Schwengler, and Franz Prager recognized the precarious existence of such visually arresting but frighteningly expensive to farm sites. It’s plain to see why they were concerned. In an era when competition was based principally on quantity and price, this demanding region, where costs are high and yields are low, would never be able to compete with other parts of Austria, not to mention the rest of the world.

The founders of Vinea Wachau believed that by establishing an uncompromising production code they could raise and maintain the quality mean, and thus bring greater respect for Wachau wines. Prices, too, would logically follow suit. Membership was, as it still is, open to all Wachau winegrowers, provided they agree to follow the rather strict Codex Wachau, which outlines wine production. Among the main principles of the Codex is adherence to purity: no adulteration is permitted (chaptalization, concentration, fractionation, or aromatization, including obvious oak), in addition to guaranteeing origin (no grapes from other regions are even permitted in the cellar).

To start, 24 wineries took up the gambit and joined the association. Now Vinea Wachau counts nearly 200 members. And the initial aims have largely been met. The Wachau remains the most famous Austrian appellation, and enjoys sustainable prices that far exceed the national average.

The future of this remarkable physical landscape has also been given institutional protection. The entire Wachau region was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, recognizing that the “architecture, the human settlements, and the agricultural use of the land in the Wachau vividly illustrate a basically medieval landscape which has evolved organically and harmoniously over time”, according to the official inscription. 

1000 year-old cellar, Weingut Nikolaihof

1000 year-old cellar, Weingut Nikolaihof

Medieval is accurate. Terraces have existed in the Wachau for over a thousand years, first carved out of the hillsides for the cultivation of vines by monks of Bavarian monastic orders sometime around the 9th century (even if the Romans before them had planted grapes and made wine). The terraces were necessary both to prevent erosion in an area that sees substantial rainfall, as well moderate the steep pitch of the slopes, the steepest of which would set even the hearts of extreme skiers racing. These slopes are where most of the Wachau’s top wines originate, benefiting from better damage and warmer nights, less vigorous soils and less frost damage and botrytis. But it’s fair to say that if these terraces hadn’t already been built, no right-minded businessperson would ever even conceive of creating them today.

Spitz Valley-based winegrower Peter Veyder-Malberg counts three to five times more man-hours per year to farm his terraced vineyards, compared to those in the flatter sites closer to the Danube (and another five to seven times more to farm them organically/biodynamically, as he does). “Farming the terraces is more like gardening on a large scale”, he says. But although far more laborious, “at least you can treat each row, each vine, differently. It’s a manual form of ultra-precision viticulture.”

Achleiten Vineyard, Wachau

Achleiten Vineyard, Wachau

As for Rudi Pichler, he spends up to 2000 hours a year to farm his particularly steep and stony parcel of the famed Achleiten vineyard in Weissenkirchen, with a slope gradient up to 77%, and just a few hundred hours in his flatter Kirchweg vineyard with a maximum slope of 4%. Grape prices naturally reflect these differences in labour cost. Erich Pichler-Krutzler pays five to six euros for a kilogram of grapes from the precipitous Kellerberg in Dürnstein (65% slope), and just 1.5 euros for grapes from the Fraunengärten just a little further upriver (2%).

The additional cost is not simply related to the extra time required to spray, weed or harvest by hand. Part of those work-hours is devoted to maintaining the dry stone retaining walls, a feat of craftsmanship in itself. Being mortar-free, the walls are elastic and can disburse water pressure evenly, allowing it to drain through small gaps in the stones and prevent erosion. As a side benefit, the stones also moderate the microclimate of adjacent vines, absorbing and releasing heat, providing an extra nudge of ripeness.

Yet the walls’ elasticity also means that they need occasional repairs, an expensive necessity. Roman Horváth, managing director of Domain Wachau, the cooperative that controls nearly a third of the Wachau’s vineyards, calculates over 520 euros (c. $750 CAD) to repair a single square meter. Considering that there are several thousand kilometers of walls in the region, the price of this stony artwork rises into the millions of euros, a cost not on the balance sheet in so many other regions. And to make matters worse, the skilled labour capable of making the repairs is in short supply. Convincing anyone to work in these vineyards is a growing challenge.

Looking West to the village of Weissenkirchen from the Achleiten Vineyard

Looking West to the village of Weissenkirchen from the Achleiten Vineyard

In any case, consider this unique and beautiful landscape the next time you’re sipping wine from one of these great vineyards. For me, it’s a particularly bittersweet sensation to take pleasure from another’s grinding efforts, and I’ll gladly pay the price to experience them. The wines, after all, are worth it. Besides, if we don’t, they may just disappear. That would be a tragedy.

Wachau: The Regional Details

The Wachau wine regions covers about a 30-kilometer stretch of the Danube between the town of Krems in the east and Melk in the west. It counts some 1350 hectares of vineyards, ranging between 200 and 450m above sea level. Ownership is highly fragmented – it’s rare to find parcels larger than a single hectare – and vineyards are shared between some 650 growers. In practical terms, control of the acreage is almost evenly split between top family estates, the 250-odd members of the (excellent) Domaine Wachau cooperative, and growers producing wine destined for local distribution, mainly in the region’s heurigen, or wine taverns.


This stretch of the Danube sits at the confluence of two major climate influences: the warming Pannonian Plain to the east in neighboring Hungary, and the cooling continental influence of the Waldviertal forest to the north-northwest. Thus average temperatures drop gradually as you move from east to west. Topographic features such as side valleys, which allow cool air to funnel down from the north as at the eastern side of the Kellerberg vineyard in Dürnstein, break up this neat pattern. But the generality remains.

Looking up the Spitz Valley from the Singerriedel vynd, with the Tausendeimerberg vineyard on the left

Looking up the Spitz Valley from the Singerriedel vynd, with the Tausendeimerberg vineyard on the left

According to Rudi Pichler, there’s “up to two weeks difference in ripening time from the warmer east end of the Wachau near Loiben, to the west around the town of Spitz, as the warm Pannonian influence diminishes.” Indeed, Spitz was once considered too cold for fine wine production. “Fifty years ago, even in the 1970s and 80s, it wasn’t worthwhile to produce quality wine”, Franz Hirztberger Jr. divulges surprisingly, in reference to the Singerriedel vineyard, which today I would count as one of the single greatest riesling vineyards in the world. No one here doubts the existence of climate change.

The Spitzer Graben, or Spitz Valley, which runs north from the Danube at the town of Spitz into the mountains of the Waldviertel, is even cooler. Peter Veyder-Malberg, whose winery is tucked near the village of Viessling several kilometers up the valley, reports an even greater ripening lag time between sites: “There is about a three week difference on average between my warmest site in Dürnstein in the east, and my coolest site in the Spitz Valley”, he reveals. Indeed, when he established his operation in Viessling in 2008, other growers in the region thought he was crazy. “’Grapes will never ripen that far up the valley’, they said. They told me to forget about it”. Historically, Veyder-Malberg tells me, locals farmed mostly vegetables in the Spitzer graben. But as the climate warms, all that is changing. “Now people are scrambling to acquire vines here as the rest of the valley gets hotter.”

While the overwhelming majority of the Wachau’s most celebrated vineyards lie on the north bank of the Danube, facing south, no less than about 1/3 of total acreage is on the south bank. Tougher access to market explains in part the south bank’s lack of notoriety: the railway line from Vienna was established on the north side of the river, which regularly ferried in a large, ready-made market of consumers. Life was made easy for producers, giving them more money to invest and improve their operations. (Vineyards around the village of Mautern on the south bank are an exception, thanks to the first bridge across the Danube built there, which increased access, but also in no small measure to the widely admired Nikolaihof estate and their exceptional wines from vineyards like the Vom Stein and the Weingebirge.)

Danube Bridge to the South Bank at Mautern

Danube Bridge to the South Bank at Mautern

Although topography is less dramatic on the south bank and slopes far more gentle, climate and geology are similar. And with a warming climate, the south is poised to become a hot spot, or at least another source of top quality wines. Land prices are already reported to be on a steep rise as the rest of the Wachau becomes almost untouchable.


As varied as the geology is, there are two principal soil types. Wind blown loess and alluvial matter feature prominently in the flatter vineyards down by the banks of the Danube, while more pure loess fills the leeward, east-facing crevices of the hillsides, deposited there by prevailing west winds. The upper hillsides, by contrast, scoured by erosion, and west-facing sites, swept clean by the winds, offer very little topsoil – here vines plunge almost directly into what the locals refer to as primary rock, essentially variations on the acidic, magmatic-metamorphic rock gneiss. 

The Grapes

Most of the region’s plantings date from shortly after WWII, meaning the average age of vines is quite high. It was about this time that the Wachau’s two main grapes, grüner veltliner and riesling, began to dominate vineyards. Prior to that most vineyards were field blends, as they were elsewhere in Austria and Europe. Small quantities of other varieties are still grown, but riesling and grüner are the region’s twin calling cards.

That grüner is important will not surprise anyone; it leads acreage in all of Lower Austria, while riesling occupies just 4% of the total. But fully one-quarter of Wachau vineyards are devoted to riesling, the highest percentage of any Austrian region. Even more tellingly, the leading family estates often dedicate a much higher percentage of their acreage to riesling. Nearly half of production at Knoll, for example, is riesling, while at Präger it accounts for 60% of production. “In the Wachau, riesling is at least as important as grüner veltliner”, says Horváth.

Riesling is planted almost exclusively in the higher, drier, primary rock terraced sites. The variety holds more potassium and calcium in its leaves than grüner veltliner, which enables it to withstand water stress more ably. It also delivers lower yields than grüner on average. “Riesling’s intrinsic tendency is to produce quality”, says Horváth, “while grüner needs more coaxing and care”.

Grüner is a more vigorous variety, and importantly, is more sensitive to drought. It reaches its maximum expression mainly on the lower terraces and riverside vineyards, with their deeper, more water retentive, loess and flood sediment-influenced soils, also richer in calcium carbonate and with higher in pH. Grüner also dominates on the south bank for these reasons.

Wine Categories

Vinea Wachau has registered trademarks for three distinct wine styles, unique to the region, which apply to both grüner and Riesling: Steinfeder, Federspiel, and Smaragd. Only members of the association can use the terms.

According to the association:

Steinfeder: “Fruity charm and a stipulated maximum alcohol content of 11.5% by volume characterize the lightest style of top Vinea Wachau wines – the Steinfeder®. The name itself refers to the typical “Steinfedergras” (Stipa pennata), a grass which grows near the vines in the Wachau´s terraced vineyards; it is light like a feather, and fragrant – just like the wine named after it.”

Federspiel: “This classic dry wine is distinguished by a strong, nuance-rich character. Federspiel® wines feature… an alcohol content of between 11.5% and 12.5% by volume. The name Federspiel refers back to the times of falconry, when this favourite form of noble hunting was practiced in the Wachau.”

Smaradg: “Smaragd is the name for the best, most treasured wines from the Vinea Wachau members. The alcohol content of these wines begins at 12.5% by volume. This, along with the highest grape ripeness and natural concentration are what make this world-class designation possible. Emerald-coloured lizards – also known as Smaragd – are at home in the terraced vineyards of the Wachau… – the perfect symbol for the absolute top Wachau wines with full physiological ripeness.”

Unlike, say, the official German classification of wines (Kabinett, spätlese, auslese, etc, in increasing levels of ripeness at harvest, Vinea Wachau members cannot declassify wines (i.e. label a Smaradg-level wine as Federspiel), as both minimums and maximum alcohol are stipulated. The categories are intended to convey a consistent style to consumers.

Additionally, Steinfeder and Federspiel must be dry, with maximum four grams of residual sugar. Smaragd can have up to nine grams of sugar, as long as the acidity is within two grams, i.e. at least seven grams of acidity for nine grams of sugar. In practical terms, Steinfeder is a disappearing category. “Steinfeder is losing ground”, says Román Horvath. “With changing climate patterns, we find that grapes aren’t fully ripe [in terms of flavor development] at sugar levels that low”. I’d also add that economically, it makes far more sense to wait a few extra days and harvest at Federspiel or Smaragd levels since these wines sell for much higher prices.

Association Flak

Not all top growers are on board with Vinea Wachau’s categories. Erich Krutzler, for example, not a VW member, doesn’t agree with the concept of making both a lighter and a heavier wine from the same vintage and vineyard. “Would you make a Montrachet light and a Montrachet heavy?”, he asks rhetorically.

Peter Veyder-Malberg, too, has issues with the classification: “according to Vinea Wachau, rieslings must be dry. But what do you do in a cool vintage?” Veyder-malberg finds his wines are better balanced in some years and from his cooler sites by leaving a few extra grams of sugar. He also holds back his wines in the cellar longer than the average. “Smaragd can be sold from the 1st of May [following the vintage], which is too early. These wines should only be sold after a year and a half.”

But Emmerich Knoll defends the categories: “In some ways, all vineyard classifications are based on ripeness. Vinea Wachau is just more forward about it,” he explains. “The grand crus of Burgundy for example, were designated as such because they produced more reliably ripe grapes than other sites”, he continues. “But I stress that ours is not a quality classification, just a weight classification.”

Emmerich Knoll

Emmerich Knoll

Wine Style

Philosophical discussions aside, in my view, top Wachau rieslings are among the finest examples on earth. Unlike Alsatian and German versions (and anywhere else, for that matter,) they are reliably dry, unless otherwise labeled, and as we’ve seen, guaranteed to be so if the producer is part of Vinea Wachau. They also fall on the more powerful, full-bodied end of the varietal spectrum, especially Smaragd examples, with 13-13.5% alcohol. The examples from the stonier, higher elevation vineyards are tight, racy, extremely stony, quivering with tension and energy. The lower vineyard and deeper loess sites make for slightly rounder, riper, softer rieslings, yet still tension-filled.

Grüners, too, follow the same patter. Those from the heavy loess sites are among Austria’s most powerful, rich and full-bodied versions. Wines with over 15% alcohol were once commonplace, though lately there’s been a return to less opulent, baroque styles. The more rare examples on primary rock sites show more delineation and acid character, proving that grüner can also translate vineyard character, if not quite as transparently as riesling.

One point of difference among producers is their tolerance of botrytis, even in dry wines. Some accept a small percentage, believing it adds both body and complexity. Others avoid it assiduously, fearing that botrytis flavor will override the nuances of vineyard site.


It’s increasingly common to find village designations on the labels of the entry-level bottlings (similar to the VDP association’s “ortswein” – village wine –category in Germany). And as of recently, all vineyard-designated wines must bear the word “Ried” (“single vineyard”) before the vineyard name to distinguish them from bottles with fantasy cuvee names that might be confused with a single vineyard site. There are currently 124 recognized vineyards, but no official vineyard classification is in place yet.

Which Wines To Try

Check out my Wachau Buyer’s Guide below for reviews of some of the region’s best, including wines from: Alzinger, Domäne Wachau, F.X. Pichler, FJ Gritsch Mauritiushof, Franz Hirtzberger, Jamek, Knoll, Lagler, Machherndl, Matthias Hirtzberger, Nikolaihof, Pichler-Krutzler, Prager, Rudi Pichler, Tegernseehof, and Veyder-Malberg. All wines were tasted in May 2017, during winery visits and in general tastings organized by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board.


First Leo Alzinger Sr., now Leo Jr., have been crafting sharp, precise wines since 1983 from their base in Unterloiben, across the street from Knoll. Grüner Veltliner and riesling feature elegance over power across a collection of village and single vineyard wines.

94 2009 Alzinger Ried Steinertal Riesling Smaragd Wachau

Steinertal is in the eastern Wachau, a particularly cool site in a side valley prone to cold winds out of the Waldviertel. It’s considered the signature wine from Alzinger, very much in the house style, straight, linear, never opulent, one of the most elegant producers from this end of the valley. The 2009 is very floral with attractive caramelized citrus-lemon and lemon custard aromatics, and honeyed, white flowers. Lovely palate, elegant, fresh, maturing perfectly. Superb length. Really marvellous. Tasted May 2017.

Domäne Wachau**

This Wachau cooperative brings together about 250 growers covering 400ha of vineyards, nearly 1/3 of Wachau total, including all of the top crus. Fortunately for the region, this is one of the best run co-ops in Austria, and among the top in Europe; quality is high across the range while prices remain relatively reasonable. Managing Director Roman Hortváth attributes success to “intense relations with our family vintners, and a very strict vineyard program”. Harvest decisions are determined by the co-op management, and are harmonized between growers in the same cru., i.e. seven families supply grapes from the Kellerberg vineyard, and each is asked to harvest on a specific day and between specific hours in order to deliver and vinify lots together at the Dürnstein cellar. It’s this sort of attention to small details that makes a big difference.

93 2009 Domäne Wachau Riesling Ried Achleiten Wachau

This 2009 example, a ripe vintage, is quite mature now with a touch of botrytis it seems (2009 was a big botrytis year), very ripe, with tropical fruit and honey character. It’s showing well on the palate, fullish, creamy rich but still balanced and nicely composed. Excellent length, high minerality and smokiness. Tasted May 2017.

F.X. Pichler*** 

4th generation winegrower Franx Xaver Pichler is one of the Wachau’s best-known vintners, and has contributed in no small measure to the region’s current enviable reputation. Son Lucas manages the cellar while F.X. manages the vines, exclusively white varieties, in a collection of top terraced sites. Pichler’s wines are broad and powerful, rich and unabashedly large-scale, always one of the last growers to harvest in any given vineyard. Winemaking is minimalist, and the wines are magnificently ageworthy.

94 2004 F.X. Pichler Ried Loibenberg Riesling Smaragd Wachau

This 2004 is a study in contrast: on the one hand, 2004 was a delicate, leaner year, cold and wet. On the other, Loibenberg is one of the warmest vineyards in the Wachau, and this wine shows how well a warm site performs in a cool vintage. Acids are still shrill and a little green, but this has evolved slowly and beautifully. Lemony-citric more than hard malic acid. Superb length. I’d be tempted to forget this for another 3-5 years in the cellar, and certainly longer. Tasted May 2017.

FJ Gritsch Mauritiushof*1/2

A family operation since 1799, with a fine collection of vineyards mostly in and around the Spitz Valley (also with parcels in the Loibenberg and Dürnsteiner Burg). Already producing impressive wines with abundant forward fruit, this is an estate to watch in the future.

94 2013 FJ Gritsch Mauritiushof Riesling Ried Tausend-Eimer-Berg Smaragd Wachau

The “Thousand bucket” vineyard (historically, the approximate amount of grapes harvested each year), is one of the steepest and most visually arresting vineyards in the western Wachau in the commune of Spitz, with a commanding view over the Danube. Mauritiushof’s 2013 rendition has very pretty, forward aromatics, quite floral, with perfectly ripe peach-apricot fruit in the classic register. The palate, too, is equally pretty, very elegant and finely detailed. Light lees notes emerge on the finish, but this is clearly a fine wine and a top site. Tasted May 2017.

Franz Hirtzberger*** 

Universally considered in the top echelon of Wachau producers, Franz Sr., and now Jr., are pivotal figures in the region. Franz Sr. is one of the founding members of the Vinea Wachau Association aimed at keeping quality standards high, leading by example. Strict yield control, intensive canopy management, harvest over several passes through each site, and rigorous selection are just part of the Hirtzberger approach to quality. Although grapes are picked at high ripeness, he admirably manages the difficult balance between power and freshness, achieving marvellous elegance across the board. Wines are bottled quite early, usually around February, to maintain fruit purity and freshness.

97 2015 Hirtzberger Ried Singerriedel Riesling Smaragd Wachau Surely one of the top riesling vineyards in Austria, a west-facing site overlooking the town of Spitz, this almost 10 hectare cru is believed to have once belonged to the Singer family, and “riedel” translates essentially to a long-stretched hill, hence the name. More poetically perhaps, another theory has it that the name derives from the abundance of the singing, noisy crickets in the evening. Whatever the case, Hirtzberger, who owns 1/3 of the cru, is also its maximum interpreter, known for his wines of density, power and ripeness, yet never overly heavy, even if a small percentage of botrytis is accepted according to vintage conditions. Within the estate’s superb range, it’s “always the most mineral-driven, tension filled, highly ageworthy riesling”, according to Franz Hirtzberger Jr. The 2015 is surprisingly open at this early stage, clearly ripe and perfumed, moving into the tangerine spectrum. But the palate has amazing tension and depth, salinity and power, creamy texture but pitch perfect balance. Extraordinary length; a near-perfect wine of pure crystalline clarity. Tasted May 2017.

97 2005 Hirtzberger Ried Singerriedel Riesling Smaragd Wachau

This 2005 amply establishes the amazing longevity of the Singerriedel vineyard, an excellent, warm, dry, clean, healthy vintage to be sure. Like all of Hirtzberger wines, this is given relatively short aging on lees and early bottling, usually in the spring following harvest. It’s powerful, intense, maturing nicely now and showing some honeyed character, but the palate still has amazing vibrancy and life, and even seems to have a little CO2 prickle remaining. Terrific depth and breadth of flavour, savoury, racy. 14% alcohol. Near perfect. This is glorious. Tasted May 2017.

96 2006 Hirtzberger Singerriedel Riesling Wachau

Another brilliant Singerriedel cru riesling from Hirtzberger. I love the still-fresh and youthful, gorgeous nose, so flowery and citrus-driven. The palate offers terrific acids, so elegant and refined overall, and with a very long future ahead for the patient. Drink or hold another dozen years or more. This is brilliant. Tasted May 2017.

Hirtzberger's Singerriedel Vineyard

Hirtzberger’s Singerriedel Vineyard

92 2016 Hirtzberger Hochrain Riesling Smaragd Wachau

The Hochrain offers a little more loess topsoil, a “heavier site”, yielding generally more bold, ripe, stone fruit/apricot-dominated riesling, forward in youth but still capable of ageing well. This young 2016 is terpenic and grapefruit-inflected, shifting into softer and riper passion fruit, tropical fruit, and tangerines in syrup. On the palate, too, acids are a touch soft (relatively speaking), but length is certainly very good. One of Hirtzberger’s more open, gentle and approachable wines. Tasted May 2017.

92 2015 Hirtzberger Ried Axpoint Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Wachau

Axpoint is a fairly deep loess, moderately sloped site, which reaches a reliably high degrees of ripeness every year, especially in a warm vintage like 2015, and gives a sweet impression in youth but tightens up in time. Nevertheless, I find this quite closed at this stage, even if dominated by ripe but fresh fruit, while the palate is generous and rich, with a vaguely sweet impression indeed, in a full, bold, and amply proportioned style. There’s an impression of fat and cream, though balanced overall, with warming alcohol on the back end. Impressive to be sure, true to the vineyard site, albeit less minerally and refined than other wines in the range. Taken off the lees in Feb. and bottled early. 14% alcohol, 3.5 grams rs, 5.0 acid. Tasted May 2017.


Joseph Jamek was a pioneering leader in the Wachau. He was among the first to bottle and label single vineyard, dry wines, and adopt stainless steel fermenters. He also co-founded the Vinea Wachau association, among other important contributions to Wachau history. Daughter Jutta and husband Hans Altmann now run the 25 hectare estate featuring top crus like the Achleiten, Klaus, and Pichl.

91 2013 Jamek Ried Klaus Smaragd Riesling Wachau

Jamek’s signature Klaus vineyard riesling in 2013 is a deeply coloured, more inward looking, powerful, and ripe wine if not quite over the top, though clearly harvested late when the peaches were just starting to grill. This is extracted and dense on the palate, with palpable tannins, a slightly sweet impression (7.4 grams rs), but also high acid. Jamek really went for it here. Generally powerful style. Turning honeyed and barley flavoured on the end. Tasted May 2017.


Another pivotal figure in the region and co-founder of Vinea Wachau, Emmerich Knoll remains a among the region’s leading vintners. All grapes crushed but not destemmed, and given up to six hours maceration before pressing and blending of free run and press juice. “I’m looking for a little balancing tannin, to bring tension and tautness”, says Knoll. Wines are neither Baroque nor lean, nicely pitched in the middle of the scale with clear vineyard expression, and in some cases extreme stony-mineral character. You can easily spot Knoll wines on store or restaurant shelves – the estate has one of the most distinctive labels in the wine world, the only one used since wines were first bottled in 1961. It depicts a second century Pope and patron saint of winegrowing, and was modeled after a painting by a well-known Wachau artist who lived and painted in the Knoll family Loibnerhof inn and restaurant.

Weingut Knoll

Weingut Knoll

95 2015 Knoll Riesling Ried Dürnsteiner Kellerberg Smaragd Wachau

The lightest of the single vineyards bottled at Knoll, from the cooler east facing valley side of the Kellerberg, at higher elevation. It’s clean, laser sharp, crystalline and pure, botrytis free, with terrific acid twang and length. Love this lean and precise jolt of energy. Outstanding. Tasted May 2017.

94 2015 Knoll Riesling Ried Pfaffenberg Selektion  Wachau “Selektion’ is the riper version (Smaragd) of the Pfaffenberg riesling kabinett, and a beautiful wine to be sure. So sharp and tight, firm and minerally, not as reduced as the ’16 kabinett, but certainly chiselled and stony. Great tension and length. Tasted May 2017.

93 2015 Knoll Riesling Ried Schütt Riesling Smaragd Wachau

A little more shy on the nose, with underlying inward, dark and stony character, like the grüner from this vineyard. Great texture and length, a little more broad than the Pfaffenberg, but still with excellent tension and cut. Just a step below. Tasted May 2017.

92 2015 Knoll Grüner Veltliner  Smaragd Ried Loibenberg Wachau

Stony here again, though from the loess soils of the cru. Some outcroppings of primary rock (c. 20%) 13.5% alcohol. Not an overly rich style – genuine crispiness and mineral character. There’s a generous amount of flesh and weight, though, with excellent length. This has held on to balance admirably well. Easily drinkable, sapid and saline. Tasted May 2017.

92 2015 Knoll Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Ried Kreutles Wachau

Really pretty, floral, fresh yellow fruit, daffodils. Fleshy, clean, bright acids. Long finish. Classic style. Absolutely textbook. Tasted May 2017.

92 2016 Knoll Ried Steiner Pfaffenberg Kabinett Kremstal

This is the Federspiel style wine from this great vineyard, though can’t be labelled as such obviously since it’s made outside of the Wachau. I love the wild ferment ‘stink’, the sulphidic character,  even though this is inoculated, Knoll tells me, but this site has a tendency to reduce every year (higher amphibolite content in the soil?). In any case, it’s really appealing. The palate is full, stony, bone dry, with high acid, great cut, class and tightness, like a top Mosel kabinett.  Tasted May 2017.

92 2013 Knoll Riesling Ried Kellerberg Dürnsteiner Smaragd Wachau

Practically no botrytis, but this is a little more honeyed and exotic than the ’15. More mealy, oatmeal, yellow fruit. A touch richer, thicker skins, RS slightly higher, acids lower. Tasted May 2017.

91 2015 Knoll Riesling Loibner Beerenauslese Wachau

Lovely, clean botrytis here. Full. Apricot and quince character. Very clean. Sweetness tempered by acids. Fine length. A little VA shrill on the back end. Acid is high to be sure, 12.5% alcohol. Needs time to lose the shower curtain character. 3-4 years. Tasted May 2017.

90 2016 Knoll Grüner Veltliner Ried Trum Federspiel Wachau

Trum is just below the great Schütt vineyard, on a rocky, crystalline outwash from the valley. Darker, riper character, more mineral. More cut and spice, more interesting.  Tasted May 2017.

90 2016 Knoll Loibner Riesling Federspiel Wachau Clean, crispy, with bright green apple fruit, citrus. High acid, very bright and tension filled. Solid length. Infinitely drinkable. Fully dry; 12.5%. Tasted May 2017.

89 2016 Knoll Grüner Veltliner Ried Kreutles Federspiel Wachau

A loess driven site on the foothills. Classic grüner nose here. Lighter, more floral, lighter fruit character. Relatively plump and juicy with no acid shortage. Tasted May 2017.

87 2016 Knoll Grüner Veltliner Steinfeder Loibner Wachau

Light, crunchy, fresh. Low alcohol, high acid. Perfectly serviceable, a bit malic. Tasted May 2017.

Lagler *1/2

A solid Spitz-based estate, member of Vinea Wachau, with an excellent collection of cru vineyards in the portfolio. A producer to watch.

92 2015 Lagler Ried Steinborz Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Wachau

Lagler’s Steinborz parcel has a gneiss and paragneiss substrata under about half a meter of topsoil, which allow roots relatively deep penetration to 4 or 5 metres. 45-50 year old vines also help to mitigate vintage extremes and achieve full ripeness with lower potential alcohol and high acids, making this a consistent wine in the portfolio. It’s harvested late but without botrytis, resulting in a really clean, fresh, ripe, arch-classic grüner. The palate is medium-full, with crunchy-fresh acids, precise and linear, neither heavy nor light, with excellent length. This should age very well indeed. Tasted May 2017.

92 2005 Lagler Tausendeimerberg Riesling Smaragd Wachau

You have to walk up 150 stairs to reach the first vines in this steep site overlooking the Danube in Spitz, and another 300 to reach the top. (There are only stairs on this hillside as it’s too steep for roads.) 25 year old vines, picked in November. Lovely, perfumed, floral riesling, finessed and elegant. I love the delicate, fresh but ripe acids. 7.5 sugar, 6.5 acid. Sleek, stylish, elegant, saline.  Tasted May 2017.

Tausendeimer vineyard, Spitz

Tausendeimer vineyard, Spitz


The inspiration for Erich Machherndl’s lean, bone dry, briskly acidic wines (in a positive way) come from his love for drinkability. “I drink way to much wine, so I try to make wine that keeps me entertained. That’s the reason for the bone dry wines. You can drink more”, he tells me with a smile. Machherndl took over the family winery in 1998, stopped using herbicides a decade ago, and is in his third year of organic sprays, noting lower natural yields and more stable vines overall, less reactive to weather extremes. Acids are also higher and more stable. He

gives all wines some skin contact, a minimum of 2 days, believing it increases ageability, ferments with wild yeast and bottles unfined. He produces an unwieldy range from just eight hectares total, a playful playground of a winery, so expect an extended tasting if stopping in.

92 2016 Machherndl Grüner Veltliner Ried Kollmitz Wachau

A loess-based site in Joching (from 5 parcels, 2 on gneiss, 3 on loess). 3 days on skins with spontaneous fermentation, though cleaner than the average. It’s bone dry, firm and upright, lean in an attractive way, nicely chiselled. I like this. Real depth. More classic to be sure, but excellent depth, and fantastic length. Tasted May 2017

92 2013 Machherndl Riesling Ried Kollmütz Smaragd Wachau

Much more precise, no botrytis here, with lovely acids and great length. Very fine, sharp and precise, and also great complexity and definition. Still a long way from prime drinking. Best after 2020. Tasted May 2017

91 2016 Machherndl Grüner Veltliner Federspiel  Ried Kollmütz Wachau

This is Erich Machherndl’s signature wine, the business card of the winery, from older vines, 45 years on average. It’s quite grapefruity off the top, but changes rapidly in the glass. The range of aromatics increases, bridging from citrus into riper orange and pear-orchard fruit. Lots of mineral. Bone dry, sharp but not tart. Very fine length. Not dramatic, but highly drinkable. Revisit this after 5 years minimum. “It’s the best grüner veltliner I’ve ever made”, says Erich Machherndl. Tasted May 2017

91 2014 Machherndl Riesling Ried Alte Reben (Kollmütz) Wachau

The last vintage labelled “Alte Reben”; from 2015 on the label will name the cru, Kollmütz (not to be confused with Kollmitz), from which this hails. It’s a “little princess” says Machherndl, wild fermented. Love the crackling, energetic acids here, tightly wound, just developing into a honeyed golden expression. Terrific length and depth. Tasted May 2017

Looking West in the Danube Valley, from Kollmitz to the Kollmütz vineyards

Looking West in the Danube Valley, from Kollmitz to the Kollmütz vineyards

90 2016 Machherndl Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Ried Hochrain Wachau

From 4 parcels, half of which are young vines, from loess to gneiss (the least expensive wine in the range). Slightly reductive, wild ferment flinty character. I like this: bone dry, very citrusy, early harvest, still sharp and tart. Needs time. Sharp and salty, succulent acids. Tasted May 2017

90 2014 Machherndl Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Ried Höll Wachau

Höll is a small sub-parcel at the top of the Kollmütz slope with slightly sandier soils than the rest of the cru. It yielded particularly healthy grapes in the challenging 2014 vintage, late harvested on November 26th. Really intriguing nose here. Very grüner veltliner, like an essence. 80º oechsle on average, fermented on the skins. The main challenge was that outside temperature was about 2ºC, so it was tough to get spontaneous ferments going. In any case this is very clean, with no volatile acidity noted. Aromatics are reminiscent of crab apple and essence of pear, very white pepper-driven and spicy. Really ripe berries, low sugar. A wine unique to the vintage to be sure. Not particularly phenolic. Really like this but not for everyone. Tasted May 2017

90 2015 Machherndl Grüner Veltliner Steinwand Auf Maische Smaragd Wachau

The Steinwand is a valley vineyard in Joching, next to the Jamek winery. It’s not special in terms of soil, also frost sensitive, but these are old, low yielding vines. Fermentation is on the skins, and this is nicely flinty in the typical wild ferment expression, and bone dry in the house style, on the more oxidative side, sharp and lean. Love the flinty-matchstick character here. Appley. A more experimental wine in the range but successful I’d say. Tasted May 2017

Looking East in the Danube Valley at Joching village

Looking East in the Danube Valley at Joching village

Matthias Hirtzberger

2015 is just the 3rd vintage for Matthias, son of celebrated grower Franz Hirtzberger, though he’s quickly developing a solid reputation. Wines are more tightly wound and reductive, generally lighter than his father’s.

90 2015 Matthias Hirtzberger Riesling Ried Kollmitz Smaragd Wachau

The Kollmitz cru has quite deep loess topsoil, growing more shallow further up the hill where his parcel is located closer to the gneiss bedrock. It’s crafted in a lightly reductive style with plenty of grapefruit up front. The palate is fullish, powerful and ripe, very terpenic, turning more tropical on the back end. Acids are quite hard, and residual sugar is noted (4.8 grams listed on the tech sheet). I find it a bit awkward at this point, though it will surely improve. Length is very good in any case.  Tasted May 2017.

Nikolaihof **

One of Austria’s, and Europe’s, first biodynamic wineries, since 1971, the highly-regarded Nikolaihof estate sits on a Roman settlement, later a monastery, before being deconsecrated and sold off by the state in 1803. The Saahs family, current owners, bought it in 1894. A visit to Nikolaihof is like a trip back in time; most of production from 22ha of vineyards is aged in the ancient roman cellars in large old casks, up to 12,000l, each named after one of doyenne Christine Saahs’s four children. Son Nikolaus has been in charge of the cellar since 2005, but one gets the sense that not a great deal has changed here in many years. He attended Geisenheim University for winemaking but didn’t finish the program. “I learned what I needed to learn, and then moved on”, he says. “I wasn’t interested in all of the technological manipulations they teach”. Biodynamics permeates the entire family philosophy. Sister Christina is an anthroposophic pediatric doctor, and brother Martin runs a biodynamic cosmetics company. Wines spend years in cask, sometimes decades, lending a distinctively oxidative tone across the range, burnished by time and oxygen into complex, smoky-earthy, dried fruit expressions.

Nikolaus Saahs, Weingut Nikolaihof

Nikolaus Saahs, Weingut Nikolaihof

94 2011 Nikolaihof Riesling Klause am Berg Kremstal (Niederosterreich appellation)

Originally called the Klauseberg, now Klause am Berg, this is a fairly recent acquisition, a Nikolaihof monopole (the rest of the vineyard goes under the name Gaisberg), priced higher than the Steiner Hund bottling – the adjacent, slightly lower vineyard – mainly because the parcel is smaller, but Nikolaus also believes that it is slightly better. The first harvest was in 2005, from young vines, as most was replanted by the Saahs family. This is pretty, floral, very fresh and lively relative to other wines in the Nikolaihof range. There’s genuine density and palpable tannic presence here, but depth and length are amazing. What staying power, what a wine. Flies in another dimension. Timeless. So mineral. Tasted May 2017

93 2000 Nikolaihof Riesling Vinothek (Niederosterreich appellation)

The 6th vinothek edition. 16 years in a 3.5k litre barrel. From the Vom Stein vineyard, Smaragd level ripeness. Again some sherry like qualities, evolved, earthy, fruit has faded. Melted butter and blond caramel emerge, though obviously not from wood. Caramelized citrus. Terrific length and palate presence, a testament to the durability of these wines, even if not pure pleasure. Turns a bit bitter on the finish. Tasted May 2017.

93 2010 Nikolaihof Riesling Steiner Hund Kremstal (Niederosterreich appellation)

Bottled in 2014. This is lovely, really fresh still, fruit holding on. Super salty. Gorgeous. Very fine vintage. Drinking well now but will surely hold. Fruit is not the main event here to be sure. Excellent length. Tasted May 2017

92 2016 Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner Zwickl Wachau

Zwickl is the Austrian name for unfiltered beer; the same wine as the Hefeabzug but unfiltered (it doesn’t get state approval, so doesn’t bear the appellation on the label), the third vintage of this wine. There’s innovation even in a 2000 year old winery! Cloudy, slightly creamier, but not a substantial difference from the Hefeabzug. Though if anything, I prefer the extra texture and salty character in this version, even if less precise and chiselled. Tasted May 2017

91 2016 Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner Hefeabzug Wachau

Mainly Wachau, but from several parcels, bottled straight off the lees (hefeabzug means essentially ”sur lie”). A very stony, non-fruity but fresh and youthful expression, mid-weight, with crunchy acids and leesy character on the finish, very persistent. A fine vintage, for acid and stone lovers, like me. Tasted May 2017

91 2016 Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Wachau

A vineyard in Mautern on the opposite side of the Danube from the majority of vineyards in the Wachau, first mentioned in 511 AD. Mainly loess, with flourishes of primary rock.  An official town. A lean and stony GV, with solid mineral cut and chiselled, firm acids. straight up and with decent length. 11.5% alcohol. Clean. Tasted May 2017

91 2016 Nikolaihof Riesling Vom Stein Federspiel Wachau

Vom Stein vineyard: on the south side of the Danube, 3-5 meters of loess over river deposited stones. Could also be a grüner site, but Nikolaihof has only riesling planted here. Lovely clean, pure nose floral, perfectly ripe fruit, neither over nor under. A pinch of rs here to balance, about 2.5 grams, but seems a touch higher. Great length. Lean and tight.  Tasted May 2017

Weingut Nikolaihof

Weingut Nikolaihof

90 2013 Nikolaihof Riesling Vom Stein Smaragd Kremstal (Niederosterreich appellation)

2/3rds of the harvest usually goes to Federspiel; the Smaragd is harvested up to a couple of weeks later. This spent 2.5 years in cask. Funky, mushroomy, wet earth, smells like an old cellar and an old cask. Med-full body, fleshy-salty, still with tangy acids and very good length. Leesy, but filtered before sent into cask, just a soft filtration. Stinky odour. Wines from another era. Very sapid and savoury. Tasted May 2017

89 2010 Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Wachau

Aged for 6.5 years in the “Martin” cask of 10,000l (named after one of the brothers) bottled two weeks ago. Just a shade of acetone off the top, alongside old wood, varnish character. I find this a touch over the hill, more buckwheat honey and dried out fruit than anything, with some sherry-like character. Tasted May 2017

89 2008 Nikolaihof Riesling Vom Stein Federspiel Wachau

Bottled December 2015. This is funky, honeyed, well aged, burnished by time, a decidedly oxidative style, brown apple, mashed autumnal fruit. Dry, bone dry, with sharp acids and high VA but still within bounds. Long finish. Interesting, unique, singular, out of the mainstream to be sure. An antique relic. Tasted May 2017


Erich Krutzler, originally from the Sudburgenland region, married Elizabeth Pichler, daughter of F.X. Pichler, and moved to Dürnstein where they launched their own label in 2007. Today he makes about 80,000 bottles from 11ha in the Wachau, split between estate vineyards and long-term contracts (as well as a small amount of wine from his family vineyard in the Eisenberg, Burgenland). Estate vineyards are in conversion to organics. The house style is pure and balanced, very clean, certainly lighter and more lithe than his father-in-law’s wines. Krutzler does relatively warm ferments (for white wines, up to 20ºC), and extended ageing in cask on lees (all large, Austrian oak casks, untoasted), with no batonnage. Malolactic fermentation is prevented by the cold cellar and use of SO2. An excellent address.

Erich Krutzler

Erich Krutzler

97 2015 Pichler-Krutzler Riesling Loibenberg Trockenbeerenauslese Wachau

Evidently loads of botrytis here, and 240 grams of sugar, from the warm Loibenberg site. This is highly smoky, mushroomy, with tobacco leaf and saffron, honey and wet rock. Extremely complex, reminiscent of top aszueszencia. Outstanding length. Brilliant, generous, satisfying through and through; this should live forever. Tasted May 2017

97 2015 Pichler-Krutzler Riesling Pfaffenberg Trockenbeerenauslese Kremstal

Lovely, pure, succulent, fruity, very clean. Intense, very sweet but balanced by bright acids. 195 grams. Perfect pitch. Less smoky than the Loibenberg. Tasted May 2017

95 2016 Pichler-Krutzler Riesling Pfaffenberg Alte Reben Oesterrich (Kremstal)

From a parcel planted in the early 1950s, harvested a bit later than the regular Pfaffenberg. Very small bunches. Great nose, and even better palate: dense, powerful and rich but not at all heavy. Terrific length. Outstanding wine. Should age brilliantly. Tasted May 2017

94 2016 Pichler-Krutzler Grüner Veltliner Ried Kellerberg Wachau

The Kellerberg is a cooler, east-facing site, harvested a couple weeks later than the Loibenberg. I like the cut and definition here. Very precise, ripe acids, comfortably fitting onto this mid-weight frame – c. 13% alcohol. Nicely salty here, not a fruity wine by any stretch. Great depth. Tasted May 2017

94 2015 Pichler-Krutzler Riesling Kellerberg Wachau

An extraordinary riesling from the great Kellerberg vineyard, blending freshness and weight, power, density and precision. Excellent length. Shifting into ripe yellow fruit. Tasted May 2017

93 2016 Pichler-Krutzler Riesling In der Wand Wachau

A west-facing extremely steep site, in which all work is done by hand, climbing up and down by steps, directly overlooking the Danube where it takes a bend. “You have to work this vineyard in the morning, 5am-10am is the best time. It’s beautiful then (and cooler)” There are two rows of vines per terrace. The name “In der Wand” is now trademarked by Krutzler. (Kummersthal is the original name).  This is lovely clean, clear, very precise like a clarion call. Also really lovely on the palate, with astonishing depth of flavour despite the relatively light body – this reverberates on and on. Slips into the yellow fruit spectrum, but still very linear and tight. Outstanding. Tasted May 2017

93 2016 Pichler-Krutzler Riesling Steiner Pfaffenberg Oesterrich (Kremstal)

Krutzler does not participate in the DAC Kremstal so this wine can’t be labelled as such, even though it would qualify. It’s the first vineyard beyond the Wachau border, in the far west side of the Kremstal appellation. “It should be part of the Wachau, but politically it belongs to Krems”, says Krutzler. This is from four parcels, “some of the best places we have in Austria”, at 300-400 meters, partially terraced with a high plateau. The nose is a little closed, though the palate is explosive and fruity, tightly wound, linear, precise. Great purity and transparency. Great length. Tasted May 2017

93-94 2016 Pichler-Krutzler Riesling Kellerberg Wachau

Very fine and precise, lean and sharp, more edgy, from this cool east-facing site. A lighter style that will take some time to flesh out and gain in depth and structure, but it will be a marvellous wine no doubt. Tasted May 2017

92-93 2016 Pichler-Krutzler Grüner Veltliner Ried Loibenberg Wachau

Tank sample. This parcel is mostly on loess soils, 50 year old terraced vines.  Fermented in cask, already racked and sitting in steel. SO2 added; will be bottled before the next harvest. Quite thick and dense overall, though leaner and sharper on the palate than the Supperin, even if analytically acids are lower and alcohol is higher, near 13.5%. Picked relatively early. “Harvest too late and the wine gets very baroque, says Krutzler, “like F.X.’s wines” [his father-in-law]. Krutzler is among the first to harvest. FX Pichler is always the last man standing. Tasted May 2017

92-93 2016 Pichler-Krutzler Grüner Veltliner Ried Supperin Wachau

A gently inclined vineyard on sedimentary and primary rock, up to 80 year old vines. Cask sample. A little muddled yet on the nose, but the palate delivers plenty of salty minerality and exceptional depth. “A terraced vineyards in the flats” same soil as the steep sites.  Excellent length. Tasted May 2017

92 2015 Pichler-Krutzler Riesling Pfaffenberg Alte Reben Oesterrich (Kremstal Stein) A full and very rich vintage for this exceptional wine (no botrytis here) full and generous in a relative way, with excellent depth and length. Tasted May 2017

92 2016 Pichler-Krutzler Riesling Ried Loibenberg Wachau

Tank sample. From the top of the vineyard, where there is more exposed rock, an ideal site. 60% fermented in large cask, racked off the gross lies two weeks ago, still on the fine lees. This is still considerably fatter then the previous, even a touch phenolic. It’s a warm place no doubt, even though Krutzler picks as early as possible. Tasted May 2017

91 2016 Pichler-Krutzler Riesling Ried Rothenberg Wachau

Rothenberg is a sub parcel of the Loibenberg, harvested separately, in the middle part of the hill on very stony soils. A little more residual sugar is kept here in general, 17 grams in this case. Lees aromas noted, white chocolate. Pleasantly off-dry (no botrytis, very healthy grapes), no late harvest character. An usual wine for the Wachau. Tasted May 2017

90 2016 Pichler-Krutzler Grüner Veltliner Ried Klostersatz Wachau

A sedimentary sandy vineyard; vines planted in the 1970s. 30% fermented in cask. There’s a little more depth and definition on the nose, a broader range of riper fruit flavours, moving into the orchard fruit camp. Pear and white peach, and notable classic white pepper notes dominate. Tasted May 2017

89 2016 Pichler-Krutzler Riesling Trum Wachau

A fairly flat site, on gravelly soils, similar to Knoll’s Schütt vineyard just below, in a valley between Hohereck and Loibenberg. Picked early, under 12% alcohol. Clear and precise aromatics, lifted, pretty, clean. Lean in the right way, fresh, crunchy. 6 grams residual. Fine length, if not as dramatic and deep as other wines in the Krutzler range. Tasted May 2017

88 2016 Pichler-Krutzler Grüner Veltliner Frauengärten Wachau

From sedimentary sandy soils near the Danube. Light and fruity, clean and fresh. All stainless. Crispy and crunchy. Federspiel level ripeness. From next year this wine will be labelled as a village Dürnstein. Tasted May 2017


Franz Prager was a co-founder of Vinea Wachau. This important estate is now run by daughter Ilse and husband Dr. Toni Bodenstein. Bodenstein, a biologist, geologist and historian, spent years studying the geology of the region and working on preserving genetic diversity of the local varieties. He produces wines of substantial structure and weight, concentrated essences of vineyard expression.

93 2007 Prager Ried Wachstum Bodenstein Riesling Smaragd Wachau

2007: early budbreak, hot early summer, wet August; facing early harvest but late rains pushed the harvest back several weeks. Harvest thus came late when the cold moved in. Elegant, straight wines, though less acid than say ’13 or ’15. Clean , maturing, fruity, attractive, still fresh. Equally elegant palate, juicy, very inviting. Great length. Lovely white acacia flower honey. Talc-y texture. Surprisingly light for Prager. Tasted May 2017.

Rudi Pichler**1/2

Third generation Rudi Pichler (his son is the fourth) took over the family vineyards in the early 1990s and slowly enlarged holdings to the current 15 hectares of vineyards, split into 50 different parcels. Strict attention to detail is evident across the range; Pichler prefers a later harvest style, leading to generally lower acids across the board, and soft and creamy textures. Balance is achieved via skin contact for all wines, providing some phenolic grip to freshen wines up and build texture. Stony-mineral character is in the fore.

Weingut Rudi Pichler

Weingut Rudi Pichler

94 2016 Rudi Pichler Grüner Veltliner Achleithen (the old spelling of Achleiten, that Rudi prefers) Wachau

From the western side of Achleiten, the stoniest part, with low pH soils and almost pure rock right at the surface. It’s the most classy and mineral of Pichler’s three crus, an atypical Grüner if you consider other loess styles, much fatter and richer. A very sophisticated wine in any case, with lovely creamy texture firm up by ample rocky-stony character.  Tasted May 2017

94 2016 Rudi Pichler Riesling Smaragd Ried Hochrain Wachau T

his is showing really well already, with extreme mineral character. It’s more inward and dark than other wines in the Pichler range with exceptional length and excellent depth. Acids are chiselled and sharp but rounded and ripe again. Average 45 year old vines. Really superb. Tasted May 2017

93 2016 Rudi Pichler Grüner Veltliner Hochrain Wachau

A little less aromatic and developed at this stage it appears, relative to the more forward Kollmütz, from a blend of 5 parcels in the cru, with both rocky and more loess soils. Loess grapes need less skin maceration or the wines risk getting too broad and fat, whereas the rocky soils need to have the maximum minerality drawn from the skins, according to Pichler. I like the tightly wound nature of this wine. The palate is lightly phenolic, powerful and deep but well cut, with some citrus freshness, and a herbal lift. Excellent length. Tasted May 2017

93 2008 Rudi Pichler Grüner Veltliner Hochrain Wachau

Evolving nicely now, with smoky, grilled peach, wet hay flavours. Even in this cold vintage, acids are still mellow. Oxidative notes are creeping in, but still this is fresh enough. Again (pleasant) phenolic bitterness emerges on the finish. Reaching peak. Lovely. Tasted May 2017

93 2016 Rudi Pichler Riesling Smaragd Ried   Achleithen Wachau

Closed. Tight. Extreme stoniness on the nose, but the palate is a little softer than expected. Ripeness is perhaps a touch over the top, but a fine wine to be sure. Tasted May 2017

92 2016 Rudi Pichler Grüner Veltliner Kollmütz Wachau

A lovely, sharp and reductive, stony nose leads off, while the palate is quite broad and rich, round and creamy again, with a pleasant bitterness emerging on the finish to keep things in balance. Very good length. Tasted May 2017

The Cool, Upper Spitz Valley

The Cool, Upper Spitz Valley

92 2016 Rudi Pichler Riesling Smaragd Ried Kirchweg  Wachau

A rare, top quality parcel at the foot of the Hochrain hillside, but particularly stony. A large outcrop of rock corralled rocks washed down by erosion, so whereas the surrounding vineyards lie on Danube deposited sand and silt, this is unusually stony. Vines also planted parallel to the river rather then perpendicular, like most other parcels nearby. This has a fine and slim-stony profile indeed, with great acids and excellent length. I like the saline character here. A cru-level vineyard in the flats. Tasted May 2017

91 2016 Rudi Pichler Grüner Veltliner Terrassen Smaragd Wachau

A blend of terraced vines, small parcels, a little riper and fleshier than the Federspiel, also softer acid. Creamy texture, clean and very well made. Stony character emerges on the finish, and with air in the glass. Quite solid extract. Nicely representative of the house style, ripe, and fleshy, a touch soft. Tasted May 2017

91 2016 Rudi Pichler Riesling Smaragd Terrassen  Wachau

Closed, relatively. A definite step up in minerality. This has genuine ripeness and depth, flesh and bones, acids and alcohol. Fine depth, palpable tannins. Acids are very ripe and a touch soft in the Pichler house style, but a very fine wine nevertheless. Tasted May 2017

90 2015 Rudi Pichler Grüner Veltliner Auslese Achleithen Wachau

This is made from a selection of overripe berries picked out of the bunches destined to make the Smaragd bottling, which allows the latter to retain freshness and cut. Pichler describes it as “a negative selection”, i.e. the priority is the Smaragd. It has 19 grams RS, 14.5% alcohol, in a medium-dry, fullish style, surely concentrated and generous, but less mineral than the Smaragd version. Tasted May 2017

90 2016 Rudi Pichler Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Wachau

The “basic” wine of the estate, a blend of different sites, also the most important in terms of volume. “It should show Rudi Pichler’s intention to make a down to earth wine, which represents the philosophy of the estate”, says Pichler, meaning not made in the cellar but rather in the vineyard. It’s clean and fresh, delicate, ripe but lively, pure and pristine. Really nicely expressive, with lovely pear and lemon-citrus fruit plus a touch of green. Very good length. The door opener for the winery. I’d drink this all day. Tasted May 2017

90 2016 Rudi Pichler Riesling Federspiel  Wachau

Open and fragrant, fresh and floral-fruity-herbal, with ripe acids again but fresher and sharper than the GV. Rather classy and sophisticated for the calling card, entry level wine of the winery to be sure. Nicely detailed and vibrant. Tasted May 2017

90 2016 Rudi Pichler Roter Veltliner Wachau

Distinctive character, some Botrytis noted in the smoky character, alongside ripe apricot. Quite serious wine here. Full, fleshy, dense, though the length is only modest. Moderate + acids. Tasted May 2017

90 2016 Rudi Pichler Weissburgunder Ried Kollmütz Wachau

Fun, soft, fruity, lots of acid, citrus, green orchard fruit, plenty of stoniness here again, solid length. Delicate and long.  Tasted May 2017

Tegernseerhof *1/2

5th generation Martin Mittelbach leads the winery based in Unterloidben in the heart of the Wachau, producing powerful wines from an excellent collection of crus.

Terrassed vVineyards, Wachau-7806

Terrassed Vineyards, Wachau

92 2015 Tegernseehof Riesling Ried Kellerberg Smaragd Wachau

From several parcels on the Kellerberg, including some of the warmer and slightly cooler east-facing sites, offering a nice balance of power and elegance. There’s considerable ripeness (13.5%), and the palate mixes fruit with stony character in a straight up and pure, highly pleasing style. Drinking nicely now. Tasted May 2017.


Peter Veyder-Malberg is one of the few leading Wachau growers not from the region. Born in Salzburg, he worked in the advertising business in the 1980s, eventually coming to wine through passion. He quit his job in 1990 and travelled extensively in Austria and Germany to taste and talk with winemakers before moving to California for a year to learn winemaking, both hands on at Pine Ridge Winery and through evening classes at the Napa Valley College. He later worked in cellars and vineyards in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and New Zealand, and in 1993, joined Graf Hardegg in the Weinviertel as managing director where he converted the considerable estate to biodynamics. He launched his own operation in 2007. 

It was the terraces that first attracted Veyder-Malberg to the Wachau, believing that the soils would be in perfect shape, never having seen a tractor. Reality, as he later found out, was different; soils were in terrible shape. He has since converted all of his 4.5 hectares to organic/biodynamic, and has quickly moved to the top ranks of the Wachau. “Soil health is everything. We know little about what’s going on under the surface, yet we live from what’s in the ground, from the micro-organisms that live there. There’s the equivalent of 35 cows worth of living organisms in a hectare of vines, in the just the first 30cms of soil”, he says with evident conviction. 

The style is light, elegant, and ultra-refined, with sharply delineated acids. “Sugar for me doesn’t mean ripeness. I’m not interested in high sugars. Low pH and high acidity are critical. It’s better for ageing and drinkability.” He’s aiming to make wines as they were made a century ago, using modern equipment like old equipment, for example simulating an old basket press cycle with his pneumatic press, up to eight hours, longer in low pH years, shorter in high pH, low acid years. Grapes are crushed but not destemmed, and does warm (up to 25ºC), wild ferments from oxidized juice to make for more stable wines in the long-term. The entire range is superb.

Peter Veyder-Malberg in the Upper Spitz Valley

Peter Veyder-Malberg in the Upper Spitz Valley

96 2015 Veyder-Malberg Riesling Elsarner Brandstatt Wachau

A very cool site in the Spitzer Graben, one of the coldest in the Wachau, east-facing, higher than the Bruck, picked two weeks later, yet with both higher sugar and higher acidity. I love the perfume here, more classically riesling in style, with acacia honey and smoke. The palate is super salty, with perfect balance, 12.5% alcohol. Revisit in 2022. Tasted May 2017

95 2015 Veyder Malberg Riesling Ried Elsarner Brandstatt Wachau

The westernmost vineyard in the Wachau in the Spitzer Graben, at the marginal edge of winegrowing. Really pretty nose, bright and fragrant, floral. Such finely chiselled acids, fine flavour development, consummately finessed and elegant. Fresh herbs, sweet, savoury-botanical. Excellent length. A wine lovers’ riesling, totally uncompromising. Tasted May 2017.

95 2015 Veyder-Malberg Grüner Veltliner Weissenkirchener Weitenberg  Wachau

From 66 year old vines, the oldest in the stable, the first vineyard Peter bought in 2008. This is the old grüner clone, less productive, looser bunches, lower yielding. Mostly gneiss rock, above the loess parcels. I like the nose here, not particularly fruity, much more spicy, wet hay, honey and earth-driven, inward looking, with an autumnal feel. The palate is fullish and fleshy with crackling, energetic acids and excellent length. Superb minerality. Lovely wine.  Tasted May 2017

95 2015 Veyder-Malberg Riesling Viesselinger Bruck Wachau

From three parcels, a mix of old and young vines. Quite high ripeness here, with fruit moving into the oxidative, yellow-fleshed spectrum. Skin contact done. Honeyed, but still juicy, crackling acids and energy, tension, life force. Excellent length. Another stunner from V-M.  Tasted May 2017

93 2015 Veyder-Malberg Grüner Veltliner Wösendorfer Hochrain Wachau

From the loess part of the Hochrain vineyard. A classic, broad, ripe, loess grüner  profile, textbook, full of white and yellow fruit and some celery root. The palate is med-full, succulent and juicy, with tingling acids and a real sapid, saline character. Succulence in spades. Tasted May 2017

Flat vs. Terrassed Vineyards, Wachau

Flat vs. Terrassed Vineyards, Wachau

95-96 2016 Veyder-Malberg Riesling Brandstatt Wachau

To be bottled in September. Hard to believe this tasting is from a sample half bottle that has been open for two weeks – there’s no sign of oxidation here, an extraordinarily stable wine. Branstatt has rapidly become my favourite riesling at V-M, so salty and tight, fresh and sapid. Great length. Tremendous underlying sapidity. Tasted May 2017

93-95 2016 Veyder-Malberg Grüner Veltliner Weissenkirchener Weitenberg  Wachau

Barrel sample. Superb saltiness here again, this is a great vineyard, and great old vines. Tasted May 2017

92-94 2016 Veyder-Malberg 2B Riesling Wachau Frost killed most of the fruit in the Bruck vineyard this year, and the Buschenberg vineyard was so far behind in development than usual that it was tasting more like Bruck, so Veyder-Malberg decided to blend the parcels together, hence “2B”. In any case, This is great, I prefer it the pure ’15 Buschenberg riesling, sharper, finer more detailed. Tasted May 2017

92 2015 Veyder-Malberg Grüner Veltliner Alter Native Wachau

Barrel sample. A skin-fermented grüner Veltliner, about 3 weeks, aged in barrel. Amazing nose here, very botanical, like tonic and gin, surprisingly clean and pure for an “orange” wine. Acids are high (technically low, around 5 grams, but it doesn’t taste that way), and the palate offers palpable grip from notable tannins.  Will be filtered and sulphured before bottling. Will be excellent. Tasted May 2017

92 2015 Veyder-Malberg Riesling Weissenkirchener Buschenberg Wachau

Half century-old vines, a much warmer terroir then the Spitzer Graben;  budbreak and flowering are always early, yielding a generally powerful wine with high degree of ripeness. This 2015 is surely ripe and full; the floral aromatics have burned off, leaving a ripe yellow fruit profile in place. But acids on the palate are still crunchy, ripe but salty-fresh. Excellent length. A little too powerful for me, but impressive. 13.5% alcohol. Tasted May 2017

91 2015 Veyder-Malberg Grüner Veltliner Liebedich Wachau

The only “brand” in the range, mainly from the Kreutles vineyards, in the flats of Unterloiben, plus some small terraced parcels that don’t fit in any of the single vineyard bottlings. Lightly oxidative in an appealing way, rich, quite fruity, yellow fruit dominates. The palate is quite fresh, lots of acid here, especially for the warm vintage. Very good length. This is a very solid entry level wine. Tasted May 2017