At our Wine-tasting in Weissenkirchen, We Learned a Lot about Wachau Wines :
The Wachau Valley is one of Austria’s most famous and exciting wine regions and on the Danube River stretch of our Vienna to Paris river cruise we stopped at Weissenkirchen, one of the nine top viticultural towns in the Wachau.
We were supposed to enjoy wine-tasting in one of the terraced vineyards of Weissenkirchen with panoramic views of the Wachau Valley and the Danube River, but the cold and wet weather put an
end to that arrangement. We were relieved though that plan B was a dryer and more cozy venue – the cellar of Raffelsberger Hof, a popular hotel in the centre of Weissenkirchen.
The Austrian wine industry suffered huge reputation damage after a scandal in 1985 revealed that some wine brokers had been adulterating wines with Diethylene glycol. Since that scandal, the Austrians have had to rebuild their wine industry, with the Austrian viticulture industry taking a stricter approach to its quality control. In repositioning itself as a producer of quality wines, instead of cheap bulk wines, Austria is again gaining the attention of the international wine markets. The country is especially famous for its Grüner Veltliners (36% of vineyards) and it also makes some good red wines with its Zweigelt red grape.
It was fair to say that not many of us knew too much about Austrian wines and so this wine-tasting at Raffelsberger Hof was very educative. Before we tasted the wines, a quick lecture gave us some basic understanding of their wine classification system. Although the Austrian wine industry has the DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus) or Denomination of Origin classification, the wine producers in the Wachau had established their own separate categorization of Wachau dry white wines, based on their alcohol content by volume. The three categories are:
- Steinfeder – Aromatic, light-bodied wines up to 11.5%. Steinfeder (named after a tall, feather-like grass) are everyday quaffing wines
- Federspiel – This is the most common category and has alcohol by volume of 11.5% to 12.5%
- Smaragd – Consists of late-harvest, rich and powerful, dry wines with alcohol volume of over 12.5% and which are good for cellaring. Smaragd is the name of an ‘emerald’ lizard that lives in the vineyards. A local legend says that if you see a smaragd in your vineyard, then your wine will be Smaragd.
To get an idea of the wine you are drinking, on a bottle of Wachau wine, you will see the name of the producer (such as Jamek, Kartauser or Denk), grape type such (Grüner Veltliner or Riesling), alcohol content classification (such as Steinfeder, Federspiel or Smaragd) and the grape growing region (such as Ried Achleiten or Ried Klaus).
Winetasting at Raffelsberger Hof
Equipped with our little bit of knowledge, we tasted five Wachau wines:
- Jamek Marienfeld – A light 2012 Grüner Veltliner Steinfeder with 11.5% alcohol content which is good for starters or hot weather
- Kartauser Hof – Grüner Veltliner – Federspeil – from the Reid Achleiten region, the Wachau’s premier Grand Cru region
- Kartauser Hof – 2012 Grüner Veltliner – Federspiel – from the Ried Klaus region
- Jamek – Grüner Veltliner – Smaragd – from Ried Liebenberg
- Denk – Riesling – Smaragd – from Ried Kollmutz
It was 10 a.m. and usually a bit early for wine-tasting for many, but I did taste the wines and they were nice. I think our wine guide enjoyed the wine-tasting as much as his guests, drinking every drop from the generous servings he poured of each wine type. He said that Austrian wine-tasting sessions are more of a social event during which they can taste as many as 15 different wines, and then re-taste the ones that they liked. It can be a day-long affair and by the end of the day, probably all the wines taste good.
The wine-tasting at Raffelsberger was an interesting experience and we came away knowing a bit more about Wachau wines. It was interesting to note that the Austrians use screw-tops for their wines. I also liked the fact that at the Raffelsberger Hof cellar they used proper wine glasses for the tasting session.