Undiscovered Treasures of the Danube part 2: The Cool, Alpine Breezes and Limestones of the Traisental

By John Szabo MS

This feature was commissioned by Austrian Wine.

Ried Rothenbart Inzersdorf Traisental DAC © Austrian Wine / Robert Herbst

East of Vienna, up the Danube Valley in the state of Niederösterreich, lie three of Austria’s most celebrated and historic winegrowing regions: the Kamptal, Kremstal and Wachau. Here, some of the country’s — and the world’s — finest mainly whites from grüner veltliner and riesling are grown. Attuned wine lovers worldwide can rhyme off their top producers, discuss the merits of various single vineyards, and argue over favourite vintages.

Nearby in the shadow of these three giants, however, are yet two more distinct winegrowing areas, overlooked historically for different reasons and left out of such conversations. But it’s in these former fringe regions that a new wave of great Austrian whites is gathering momentum. Beneficiaries of inexorable cultural and climate shifts, the Traisental and Wagram offer new fertile ground for treasure hunters, especially those with a keen eye for value.

Read Part One about Wagram here.

The Cool, Alpine Breezes and Limestones of the Traisental

South of the Danube, opposite the Wagram, Kamptal, Kremstal and Wachau wine regions, the Traisental, or valley of the River Traisen, is among Austria’s youngest and smallest winegrowing areas. It’s the name of the region that’s relatively new; grape seeds from the early Bronze age have been discovered here establishing an uber-ancient wine tradition. But until 1995, the area had been folded under the sprawling Donauland region, without an identity of its own. In that year, the Traisental finally gained its independence, and its name, in acknowledgement of its unique winegrowing conditions — even if the name recognition would take many more years to establish.

“There’s no mass tourism here,” explains Markus Huber, a prominent grower in the Traisental. “It has remained relatively wild and untouched.” Much like Wagram across the Danube, the Traisental was often overlooked by holiday makers travelling out from Vienna in favour of the better-known Kamptal or Wachau regions. Much the same can be said about the Traisental’s wines.

Traisental, Niederösterreich © Austrian Wine / Klaus Egle

It’s diminutive size, just over 800 hectares planted today, compared to the Wachau’s 1340 hectares or the Kamptal’s nearly 4000 hectares, also means that few Traisental wines make it much beyond the region’s popular wine taverns (buschenschank), let alone outside of Austria, to build a reputation. But this once marginal, unfamiliar region looks set to start flaunting its quality potential further afield. And it surely has some unique offerings to contribute to the dynamic Austrian wine scene.

The Traisen River wends its way north from the Alpine foothills to where it joins the Danube northeast of the village of Traismauer. It was once mightier than the Danube itself, having carved a north-south running valley some 4 kilometers wide, the width of the primeval Traisen. And its flow deposited the basis for soils that have no equivalent in Austria: a Dolomitic limestone-rich conglomerate of gravels flushed down from the calcareous Alps.

“This is the only region in Austria where you find so much grüner veltliner and riesling on this type of limestone,” Huber continues as we stop at a roadside cut under the Berg vineyard, a top site in the village of Getzersdorf. He points to the reddish colour of the soils, owed to iron oxides, with genuine excitement. Thick loess overlies many of these unique soils, creating the ideal environment for grüner veltliner, while riesling here, as elsewhere, prefers the leaner, stonier sites, usually near the top of hills. Various calcareous sands, silts and clays complete the geological picture.

Markus Huber pointing out the reddish limestone conglomerate under the Berg crü ©John Szabo

The majority of the Traisental’s vineyards lie on relatively steep slopes or terraces on the hills above the valley floor at up to nearly 400 meters, divided into tiny plots. Huber, for example, farms over 140 different parcels on the estate’s 60 hectares of vineyard. While rainfall is higher in the Traisental than it is north of the Danube, some 700 mm annually, the constant winds blowing down the valley from the Alps help to quickly dry grapevines after rain events and reduce disease pressure, making botrytis relatively rare, and windmills on hilltops rather common.

Ried Hochschopf Nussdorf Traisental DAC © Austrian Wine / Robert Herbst

Although there are vineyards on both sides of the valley (as well as a smattering of vines in the far east and west of the region outside of the valley proper), the highest density of quality vineyards is found on the west side of the valley just south of the Danube, above the villages of Wagram ob der Traisen, Franzhausen, and especially Reichersdorf, Getzersdorf, and Inzersdorf, where limestone conglomerates dominate the soil profile.  

The climate is noticeably warmer the closer you are to the Danube than it is in the southern end of the valley closer to the Alps, where constant cool breezes drop average temperatures. There can be a week to ten days’ difference in ripening between the north end and the south. In fact, until recently, most of the Traisental was considered at the marginal edge of viable commercial viticulture; historically the area had been known as a source of base wines for sparkling wine production, or just for basic, light still wines destined for local consumption, thanks to their high acids. “Acids were always higher than sugars,” says Huber. “But now [with warming climate] ripeness is close to ideal.”

Niederösterreich, Traisental, Nussdorf ob der Traisern, Hochschopf © Austrian Wine / WSNA

The sub-zone around the villages mentioned above is home to all of the top rieden (single vineyards), the best of which have been classified ersten lagen, or “premier cru,” vineyards by the österreichische traditionsweingüter (the ÖTW, or “Traditional Wineries of Austria,” a private association of more than 70 producers). There are a half-dozen erste lage sites in the Traisental: Alte Setzen, Berg, Hochschopf, Pletzengraben, Rothenbart and Zwirch, which are the origins of most of the Traisental’s top wines, though this collection of crus could well expand in the coming years as formerly marginal areas edge into a more clement climate zone.

Grüner veltliner dominates in the Traisental more than in any other region in Austria, accounting for some 60 percent of acreage, followed by riesling at around 6 percent. These two varieties have been labelled as Traisental DAC from the 2006 vintage, under the usual Austrian hierarchy, in order of increasing prestige and minimum alcohol levels, from Gebietswein (regional) wine, to Orstwein (village), and Riedenwein (single vineyard-designated), including the complementary mention of DAC Reserve for wines with minimum 13% alcohol, and in which oak influence is acceptable.

The relatively cool climate and limestone conglomerates conspire together to produce remarkably pure and lean, stony and saline versions of grüner and riesling, with a high degree of transparency and impressive longevity, especially from the top crus.

Other varieties such as weissburgunder (pinot blanc), zweigelt and pinot noir are also grown in small quantities and labelled under the generic Niederösterreich designation. There are as yet just a handful of quality-focused producers, another reality dampening awareness of the Traisental’s potential, as it does in the Wagram, though there are signs of a new generation with quality aspirations emerging. Tom Dockner, for example, who took over his family’s century-old operation in 2007, has spent the last decade revamping the business, and was recently admitted into the ÖTW alongside Markus Huber and Ludwig Neumayer, currently the only three in the association, and by most accounts, the top three producers in the Traisental.

Other names to watch include Viktoria Preiß , who took over winemaking duties from her father as of the 2020 vintage and is shifting focus from tree fruits (about half of Preiß ’s land is planted to fruit trees) to wine production, as well as Karl Brindlmayer, Leopold Figl, Rudolf Hofmann, and Bernhard Steyrer.

While you may not be familiar with wines from the Traisental now, expect to hear much more about them in the coming years, as wines rise to the top. But savvy Austrian wine lovers will act quickly now to buy the top bottlings while prices remain tethered to notoriety, for they, too, are sure to rise.

John Szabo’s Buyer’s Guide: Traisental DAC

Following are recent portfolio reviews of the wines of Huber, Dockner, and Preis Weinkulture from visits in the region in November, including a few back vintages, as well as more limited reviews of Neumayer and Brindlmayer from other tastings this year in Austria.

95 Markus Huber Berg 1ÖTW Riesling 2021, Traisental DAC

Berg is the steepest vineyard in the Traisental, with a slope up to 40%, east facing, forested on the top, with iron and manganese-rich Dolomitic limestone soils of reddish colour. Huber allows no skin contact on the riesling (unlike grüner), but applies instead long, gentle, whole-bunch pressing, up to 6–9 hours, with 4 pressure cycles, which, he believes, reduces both phenolics and TDN (development of petrol aromas, not desired). Huber’s top cru is picked later than the Rotenberg. I like the precision, the strong mineral action, the tighter palate, really energetic, terrific tension and length. A true grand cru site, and grand cru wine. Brilliant stuff, pure and driving. Tasted November 2022.

94 Markus Huber Ried Berg 1ÖTW Grüner Veltliner 2021, Traisental DAC

Berg is the steepest vineyard in the Traisental, up to 40%, east facing, forested on the top, with iron and manganese-rich Dolomitic limestone with soils of reddish colour. This cuvée is made from the oldest of the 30 terraced parcels in the Huber holdings. Shade comes earlier in the afternoon here, making this the latest site of the crus, leading to long hang time with low sugar levels. The ‘21 grüner is tight on the nose, turning darker on the palate, with darker citrus fruit profile, smoky, powerful, salty, and gritty. The more “volcanic” of Huber’s limestone crus, one could say, with excellent length. A top-notch bottling. Tasted November 2022.

94 Markus Huber Berg 1ÖTW Riesling 2017, Traisental DAC

2017 was more of a classic vintage, with warm summer but no extremes, and long, cool autumn. This is showing really well at the moment, youthful, fresh and pure in character, limey and vivid, still in excellent shape. I love the sapidity and salinity, the excellent length. Tasted November 2022.

93 Markus Huber Ried Zwirch 1ÖTW Grüner Veltliner 2021, Traisental DAC

The southeast facing Zwirch cru features conglomerate of limestone with very shallow topsoil, a warmer site overall than the Alte Setzen. Grüner is given 24–30 hours of skin contact on average, to add grip and structure, and ultimately longevity. This is clearly one of the more stony crus off the top, with lesser fruit profile, though the citrus that underlies is also riper, almost into orange peel. The palate is structured, with phenolic grip to be sure, while length and depth are well above the mean. Still in the more tightly wound, Huber/Traisental style. Limey-stony, the mid-mineral of the range. Tasted November 2022.

92 Markus Huber Ried Alte Setzen 1ÖTW Grüner Veltliner 2021, Traisental DAC

The Alte Setzen vineyard name first appears in 1131. It’s the mid-slope of the hillside, with more of a plaster of limestone bedrock with high calcium carbonate up to 40%, with loess overlying, planted in 1951 with a mix of old grüner clones. This is fermented in large, old acacia cask, 15–20 hl, the youngest of which are about 10 years old. The excellent 2021 offers sharp, green apple aromatics, very clean, precise, like all of Huber’s wines, while the palate displays considerable power — generally the fattest of the crus thanks to the deep loess. Dense and satisfying. Tasted November 2022.

92 Markus Huber Ried Berg 1ÖTW Grüner Veltliner 2016, Traisental DAC

The 2016 vintage was challenging, requiring lots of selection — though it was well managed by Huber. It’s starting to show age with earthy, white mushroom character on display, orange and yellow fruit and underlying candied citrus, not a warm vintage as it appears on the palate, though still remarkably youthful all things considered. Phenolics still grip the palate. Not sure this will improve much more in bottle. Drink now–2026. Tasted November 2022.

92 Markus Huber Ried Rotenberg 1ÖTW Riesling 2021, Traisental DAC

The Rotenberg faces southeast, making it a warmer cru than the Berg, which is fully east facing, though soils are similarly iron and manganese-rich Dolomitic limestone. In any case it’s the bigger and riper of the two cru rieslings, showing darker orchard fruit, through the palate is still soaked in acids, very stony in the end, bone dry, with saliva-inducing finish. I can’t call this opulent, but in the context it’s a bit richer. Tasted November 2022.

91 Markus Huber Weisseburgunder Rosenweg 2021, Niederösterreich

From the Hochschopf cru — with such high active calcium carbonate that riesling and grüner won’t grow — Huber’s parcel is at the top of the hill with precious little topsoil. Botrytis is avoided, like all wines at Huber, though it’s harvested very ripe, and fermented in acacia casks, yielding a more opulent wine in the range, with riper fruit to be sure, more in the yellow-fleshed spectrum, but still fresh and pure and minerally. The phenolics are quite pronounced, while limey-citrus fruit is ripe and edging towards caramelized. Length and depth are very good to excellent. I like this. Tasted November 2022.

90 Markus Huber Pinot Noir Rosenweg 2021, Niederösterreich

From the coolest parts of the Traisental in the south, from a cru site but of course can’t be labelled as such as the cru is classified only for riesling and grüner veltliner. Planted in 2004 to 777 and Marienfeld clones. It’s fermented in wood with about 30% whole bunch dumped at the bottom, and the top filled with destemmed but not crüshed berries. One punch down daily, gentle extraction, racked into 2nd fill burgundy barrels for about a year. Appealing, fruity, clean, (served very cold), with pure cherry fruit, raspberry and no wood noted, bottled unfiltered. Well priced for the quality to be sure. Delicate, fruity, elegant style. Quite lovely in fact. 13% alc. Tasted November 2022.

90 Markus Huber Getzersdorfer Riesling Engelsberg 2021, Traisental DAC

A collection of contiguous parcels that stretch over two crüs from the village of Getzersdorfer, a classic Traisental, limestone-based riesling. Cool, tight, precise, lime blossom and lime fruit, white flowers, green apple, absent any riper stone fruit, a feature of the vintage and the region. Tasted November 2022.

90 Markus Huber Grüner Veltliner Nussdorfer Obere Steigen 2021, Traisental DAC  

A village wine, though the Obere Steigen was formerly considered a crü site, bottled by Markus’s grandfather. Vines are about 25 years old, picked about 10 days later than most parcels for the Terrassen bottling. Wild ferment. The nose is subtle, even closed for now, crystalline, pure, with mouth-salivating acids. Fruit is mostly citrus-driven, limey, while the palate is tightly knit, with little fat and mostly sinew and muscle. Length is very good. Best after 2023. Tasted November 2022.

89 Markus Huber Grüner Veltliner Terrassen 2021, Niederösterreich

Huber’s entry-level and calling card, the Terrassen is made from a blend of about 50 vineyard parcels, including two small parcels in the Kremstal (less than 5%), hence the more generic Lower Austria appellation. The 2021 is clean and precise, with green apple and lime flavours, while the palate is properly tart and sharp, citric, stainless steel only. This is the only wine for which Huber uses a cultured yeast to ensure a fully finished ferment every vintage (all other wines are allowed to ferment with wild yeasts). Tasted November 2022.

88 Markus Huber Metamorphosis 2021, Austria Niederösterreich

The “natural wine” in the Huber range, a pure grüner from the Alte Setzen vineyard, harvested earlier at lower alcohol to keep acids, aged 4 months on skins in concrete egg, then pressed and returned into eggs on gross lees until August (10 months total), allowed to go through full malo. 10ppm sulfur at bottling. Clean as expected, but yoghurty, creamy-phenolic, though with less tea flavour than many. Not crystal clear. Interesting for many no doubt, but for me the classical range is much more appealing. Tasted November 2022.

Tom Dockner

92 Tom Dockner Ried Hochschopf 1ÖTW Grüner Veltliner 2021, Traisental DAC

From 65–75 year old vines on southeast-facing terraces, loess over conglomerate, fermented in 2000 liter wood casks. Clean and pure, the top wine in the Dockner range, the most complete and complex. The palate is broad, with sharp, chalky acids, while fatness up front cedes to sharpness and citrus flavours on the finish. Wraps up very dry, tart, with fine length. Lovely wine. Tasted November 2022.

91 Tom Dockner Ried Pletzengraben 1ÖTW Riesling 2017, Traisental DAC

Creamy, balanced, round, ripe but with good acids, seems still young, evolving slowly. Good purity here, terrific acids, good length. Tasted November 2022.

90 Tom Dockner Ried Pletzengraben 1ÖTW Grüner Veltliner 2021, Traisental DAC

A steep, stony site, with conglomerate underlying humous, east-southeast-facing, surrounded by forests, making it a cooler site, also windy, with generally long hang time. Darker and riper I’d say here, a more smoky expression, more body and flesh, maybe a couple of grams of residual sugar (3–4 grams, selected yeast but fermentation stops naturally). Decent length and depth. 13% ABV declared. Tasted November 2022.

90 Tom Dockner Ried Theyerner Berg Grüner Veltliner 2021, Traisental DAC

The coolest and highest vineyard around the winery above the small village of Theyern, with chalky loess, and limestone conglomerate underlying, the latest ripening parcel in the estate’s range. This shows good purity, more in the lime and green apple spectrum, lime peel. Length and depth are good. Solid, white pepper-inflected, textbook grüner. Tasted November 2022.

89 Tom Dockner Ried Parapluiberg Riesling 2021, Traisental DAC

Good, clean, open, classic varietal character, with high acids, and 7–7.5 grams RS, thankfully, to soften those radical acids and high freshness. Limey fruit, tight, lively. Totally correct for the price. Tasted November 2022.

89 Tom Dockner Traminer “Konglomerat” 2021, Niedeösterreich

Gelber muskateller and gewürztraminer. Lovely, floral, terpenic notes in the classic fashion, without slipping into exaggerations, more of an Alto Adige style than Alsace. Loads of terpenes on offer. Just off-dry, with 12 grams of sugar/liter and 13.5%. Tasted November 2022.

88 Tom Dockner Tom Grüner Veltliner 2021, Traisental DAC

Simple, fresh, clean, textbook, with precision. The palate is light-mid-weight, with 11.5%, a fairly tight wine with solid purity. Reliable. Tasted November 2022.

88 Tom Dockner Nussdorf Grüner Veltliner 2021, Traisental DAC

This is the second vintage of this Ortswein (“village”), from generally löess-based soils, yielding a creamier style in general. It’s riper than the “Tom” bottling, shifting more into the yellow fruit, with perhaps a gram or two of residual sugar to give broad appeal. Drink over the next 1–3 years. Tasted November 2022.

Preis Weinkulture

92 Preis Weinkulture Ried Berg Grüner Veltliner Reserve 2021, Traisental DAC

Vine approaching 10 years. This has some fantasy on the nose, a more classically-styled, mineral-driven grüner. Acids are firm and tight — this is the best wine by a country mile at Preis, with lovely tension and length. Clearly Berg is a grand cru site, even if the vines are young. Drink 2023–2029. Tasted November 2022.

91 Preis Weinkulture Ried Brunndoppel Grüner Veltliner Reserve 2021, Traisental DAC

Perhaps the other “grand cru” of the estate? Brunndoppel is a 3 ha monopole vineyard, the highest vineyard in the valley, or at least similar to Theyerner Berg, almost to 400 m, with conglomerate-derived soils, surrounded by woods on three sides above the town of Nussdorf. Viktoria Preiß’s father was a fan of more “baroque” wines, though she’s moving in the opposite direction, as more distinctly observed in this excellent 2021. It’s tightly wound in the proper way, still showing some CO2, but with terrific purity, a very stony wine in the proper sense – heading in the right direction to be sure. Still not quite as good as the Berg, but a very good wine to be sure. Preiß is a vintner to watch. Tasted November 2022.

91 Preis Weinkulture Riesling Pletzengraben 2021, Traisental DAC

This is from a fairly protected parcel within the Pletzengraben vineyard, the second selection (first selection goes to the Kammerling bottling), harvested up to four weeks later. Gains only about 1% alcohol in that stretch, but the gains in texture and depth, and layers of flavour, are well worth the wait. This is well made riesling, clean, pure and stony with an added story of depth and complexity. Tasted November 2022.

89 Preis Weinkulture Ried Brunndoppel Grüner Veltliner Reserve 2020, Traisental DAC

A 3 ha vineyard, monopole, the highest vineyard in the Valley, or at least similar to Theyerner Berg, almost to 400 m, with conglomerate-derived soils, surrounded by woods on three sides, south facing but cool. There’s an emotional connection to the site — Viktoria Preiß’s grandmother hated having to remove rocks from this field to plant crops, and decided it would be better for grapes. This is fermented/aged in stainless steel only. It’s nonetheless still a rich and powerful wine, quite broad, though acids are still quite high, and length and depth are good. Better balanced than the 2017. Tasted November 2022.

89 Preis Weinkulture Riesling Kammerling 2021, Traisental DAC

Kammerling is a trademarked name, so-called for the sea creature of the same name deposited in the soils of the Traisental by the receding sea and spread by the river. The wine is from multiple parcels throughout the central Traisental Valley. The 2021 is fine and flowery, tightly wound in the vintage idiom, also in the varietal style, though regionality shows through. Fine balance, good length. Totally correct, even a step above the mean. Tasted November 2022. Just off-dry, with 12 grams of sugar/liter and 13.5% alcohol, but also high acid, just under 7, very high for traminer. The balance is lovely, and this drinks well. Tasted November 2022.

Neumayer and Brindlmayer

92 Ludwig Neumayer Grüner Veltliner Der Wein vom Stein 2020, Traisental DAC

Lively and fresh, citrus-inflected in a vibrant style, with lovely transparency and complexity. Length and depth here are excellent, as is overall balance. Lovely stuff. Drink or hold a decade. Tasted May 2022.

91 Brindlmayer Ried Bergen Grüner Veltliner 2021, Traisental DAC

Bergen is Brindlmayer’s latest ripening site, also the stoniest and highly calcareous, on east- and southeast-facing terraces. I find this ’21 to be lovely and transparent, indeed particularly lean and stony, steely and refreshingly herbal with excellent length, the top grüner in the estate portfolio. This should age well late into the decade. Tasted June 2022.

90 Brindlmayer Ried Rosengarten Grüner Veltliner 2021, Traisental DAC

The Rosenberg vineyards features a deep layer of loess, especially in the lower elevations (ranges from 230–280 m) that Brindlmayer considers ideal for Grüner. It tends to favour a more luscious and fruity style, though the ’21 shows the vintage-typical finesse and refinement, a fine-boned wine with excellent length. Fruit covers the typical citrus-apple spectrum with a dash of white pepper. Drink or hold mid-term. Tasted June 2022.

90 Brindlmayer Ried Sonnenleiten Grüner Veltliner Alte Reben 2021, Traisental DAC

Brindlmayer’s tiny, 0.5 ha Sonnenleiten vineyard parcel is more than 30 years old now, planted in deep löess at around 250 m on the hillside’s east-facing slope. Old vine depth is in evidence, as is an intriguing minty note to accompany more typical citrus and citrus peel flavours in an appealingly botanical expression. I like the sapidity and palate presence, and the very good length. Drink or hold mid-term. Tasted June 2022.

This feature was commissioned by Austrian Wine. As a regular feature, WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery, agent or region. Our writers independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines — good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted on WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the article. Wineries, wine agents, or regions pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, and its content, is entirely up to WineAlign.