“One of the world’s finest co-operatives, with some superb vineyard sites,” is how Jancis Robinson’s offsider Julia Harding MW sums up Domäne Wachau. Here in Australia its Federspiel Grüner Veltliner and Riesling have established themselves as go-to Austrian whites. That’s understandable – the quality and value is incredible – but you might just as easily say that this producer is sorely underrated, remaining in the shadows of the Wachau aristocracy. Perhaps that stems from a time when its chief feat, and one not to be underestimated, was marshalling a multitude of growers and turning their fruit into good, approachable wine at the everyday end of the scale. It’s time to update that perception. It’s seven years since Jancis Robinson credited Roman Horvath MW as being “responsible for the successful quality-oriented restructuring of the winery”. Roman’s still in charge, still only in his mid-40s, bristling with intelligence, energy and ambition. It shows in the wines.
Like many in Austria, Domäne Wachau had a very successful time in the propitious 2013 vintage, hailed as a once-in-a-decade harvest for the quality it produced. Now we’re looking at 2015, a year poised to match ’13 based on our tastings there this European spring. But as is often the case, it’s the tough years that really sort the men from the boys, and in 2014 Roman’s team came out smelling of roses where some reeked, at best, of botrytis. Forget this “good… for a co-op” business; Domäne Wachau matched the pride, skill and judgment that saw the likes of Prager, F.X. Pichler, Emmerich Knoll and Franz Hirtzberger prevail in those difficult conditions. “The resulting wines eloquently testify to the stringent standards that have long prevailed here, but even measured against those standards, not to mention the challenges of this vintage, the 2014s here represent an amazing achievement and reveal this co-op at the top of their game.” That was the verdict of David Schildknecht, the resident Austrian specialist at Vinous Media.
As it happens, 2015 has turned out a dream. The go-to wines are back (they never really go away, thank goodness) and have been joined by a handy Zweigelt rosé, also in the “Terrassen” range. Another sign of the estate’s confidence is its decision in 2015 to go a little off-piste with a decidedly cool Vin Doux Naturel-style Grüner Veltliner. Stick that on the table and see if it doesn’t raise an eyebrow – or a smile. Smart wine, too. But really, this is the time to thank your lucky stars that the co-operative has a young maestro at the helm and access to sacred sites such as Achleiten, Kellerberg and Singerriedel.
This is a passport to venerable Wachau. Are you coming, or what?
2015 Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Terrassen Federspiel RRP $26
The grapes were carefully hand-picked from steep, terraced vineyards throughout the Wachau valley with its specific microclimate and meagre primary rock soils. A very typical, consistent Wachau Grüner Veltliner with plenty of fruit and a pronounced mineral character. The grapes were harvested at the beginning of October. The winery’s modern grape reception system enables the team to select only 100% healthy grape material. Gently pressed, settled overnight and then fermented at a controlled temperature in stainless steel. A moderate reductive treatment guarantees a fresh and fruity, yet well-structured wine.
Bright greenish yellow; offering distinctive aromas on the nose of golden delicious apple, white pepper, some lychee and delicate herbal notes, hints of exotic fruits; juicy and medium bodied with crisp acidity, harmonious and spicy through the finish.
2015 Domäne Wachau Zweigelt Rosé Terrassen Federspiel RRP $26
Most of the fruit is Zweigelt from Weissenkirchen, Wösendorf and Joching. The sandy loess soils in some parts of these villages yield particularly fruit-driven and elegant wines. The Zweigelt vines are cultivated mainly on steep, terraced vineyards. The grapes were hand-picked at the end of September, then destemmed and crushed. After several hours of maceration, some of the must was separated and vinified like a white wine.
Bright, vibrant pink; open and playful on the nose, with delicate aromas of redcurrant, ripe bramble fruit, wild strawberries and a little spice. It’s fruity and medium-bodied on the palate, well balanced with refreshing acidity.
2015 Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Achleiten Smaragd RRP $64
Achleiten is a legendary vineyard in the Wachau village of Weissenkirchen. It’s famous for wines with an inimitable mineral character. Dry stone walls dating back to the 12th century, which mount the steep slopes with their silicate-rich soil, dominate this vineyard’s landscape. In the upper terraces, gneiss is the prevailing subsoil, the lower terraces are dominated by dark, schistous amphibolites.
Grüner Veltliner from Achleiten is characterised by low yields (5.5 tonnes/ha) due to the meagre, primary-rock soils. After multiple, precise selections in the vineyards the grapes for this wine were hand-picked at the end of October. After a few hours’ maceration, the grapes were pressed gently. After temperature-controlled fermentation in stainless steel tanks, the wine was matured in stainless steel followed by some time in big, old oak casks. Late bottled in June 2016, with the long contact with the fine lees provides more precise nuances and gives additionally great finesse.
Bright golden yellow with shimmering reflections; expressive on the nose with intense floral notes, white peach, fresh herbs and spices, white pepper and a dark and smoky minerality; the body is juicy and concentrated; a delicate density of extract and well balanced due to its refreshing acidity; tantalising vibrancy; long mineral and spicy finish.
2015 Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Kellerberg Smaragd RRP $64
The Kellerberg is Dürnstein’s steep landmark mountain, rising up right behind the Kellerschlössel (Domäne Wachau’s baroque cellar castle). The vines root deep into the light-coloured “Gföhler Gneiss” which consists mainly of feldspar and quartz, covered by sandy loess soil in some parts. The strong Pannonian climate influence on Kellerberg yields full-bodied and complex, yet impressively mineral wines.
Grüner Veltliner from Kellerberg is characterised by low yields (5.8 tonnes per hectare) due to the poor soil on these steep terraces. After multiple, precise selections in the vineyards the grapes were carefully hand-picked at the end of October. The wine was fermented and matured in stainless steel tanks and in big wooden casks. It was bottled late (June 2016) and lengthy contact with the fine lees provides more intricate detail and greater finesse.
Medium green-yellow with golden reflections; open and expressive on the nose, with dark and smoky spices, delicious stone fruit, white peach, some grapefruit and yellow apple. On the palate it’s very distinctive, structured and powerful with an enjoyable, crisp acidity. It’s multi-layered and long with subtle spice and salty minerality.
2015 Domäne Wachau Riesling Singerriedel Smaragd RRP $64
Singerriedel is a wind-sheltered, steep-terraced vineyard at the eastern end of Spitz, and is considered to be among the best sites in the Wachau. The stony soil accumulates autumn warmth until late in the evening. The old, weathered gneiss soil is covered by a thin layer of silicate-rich brown earth. Singerriedel is famous for ripe, concentrated Rieslings with typical stone-fruit aromas and a pronounced mineral character.
The grapes for were carefully hand-picked after multiple selections with a yield of 4.9 tonnes per hectare, between the end of October and the beginning of November. After six hours’ maceration, the wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks. It matured in stainless steel until bottling in June 2016.
Bright golden yellow with subtle silver highlights, this offers elegant aromas of white peach, melon, pineapple, yellow apple, acacia and wild herbs. On the palate it shows lots of cool fruits with delicate citrus. It’s juicy but tight, with an expressive structure and a vibrant mineral character. It’s long and full of finesse.
2015 Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner V.D.N. 500ml RRP $62
Grüner Veltliner as you’ve never seen it before. This is Domäne Wachau’s homage to the versatility of the grape variety: Grüner Veltliner fortified with Grüner Veltliner brandy from the Wachau. V.D.N. stands for “Veltliner Doux Naturel” in the style of the southern French Vin Doux Naturel. The grapes for vintage 2015 were hand-picked from the single-vineyard Kirnberg in Rossatz, on the Danube’s dynamic south bank.
The grapes for Grüner Veltliner V.D.N. were hand-picked in mid-October at Smaragd-quality and fermented in stainless steel tanks. The fermentation was stopped by the addition of Wachau Grüner Veltliner brandy at a final residual sugar level of about 85g/L. This gives the wine a wonderful sweetness, but still with powerful body and elegantly spicy aromas. The wine was matured in wooden casks on its fine lees until the end of April 2016 in order to gain additional complexity.
Medium green-yellow with high viscosity. On the nose it’s very open and accessible, with warm fruit aromas; stewed apple, hints of exotic fruit, dried herbs, intense dark spices, smoky tobacco notes, dark chocolate. Punchy and tight on the palate, full-bodied and elegant with lots of spice, balanced sweetness and refreshing acidity. Long and very typical of the grape variety.
2014 Domäne Wachau Riesling Terrassen Federspiel RRP $26
“Lemon zest and grapefruit peel on nose and palate make for a slender, light-bodied Riesling with a guaranteed refreshment factor. This has fresh citrus written all over it. Drink now. 90 points.” Anne Krebiehl MW, Wine Enthusiast
2008 Domäne Wachau Riesling Kellerberg Smaragd RRP $62
“At a perfect drinking stage right now, this mature single-vineyard stunner from a well-respected cooperative in the Wachau Valley. It’s glistening gold and now has a lovely waxy undertone to the honeyed mango and bruised apple, with nice bitter orange finish. Stunning. 93 points.” Jane Parkinson, Halliday Magazine (March 2016)