Wachau Wanderings

The final few days of my Central Europe trip brought to me Austria, which was a wonderful meditative retreat after two weeks of nonstop family visits, which while fun, did not leave me with a lot of alone time. A complicated method of travel – bus, train, taxi, train, and a 2.5km walk – finally brought me to Durnstein and the neighboring villages of Unterloiben and Oberloiben in the Wachau region of Austria. I decided to come here primarily due to the area’s long history of fine winemaking, as well as for the practical reason that it is just an hour’s train ride from Vienna. Wachau is famous for its white wines, especially Gruner Veltliner and Riesling, as well as for apricots, which satisfied my culinary appetite, and saffron, but that’s a whole separate story. Durnstein itself is a beautiful historic village, and I knew that several well-known wineries were located nearby. Every family seemed to have a vineyard, as well as a pension, and I stayed at one such place – Weingut Edlinger. Sadly, I was never actually able to taste any Edlinger wines. By the time I finally got around to it, I had already reached my wine-buying limit, and I knew I couldn’t taste without buying!
My first wine experience in Unterloiben was at a Heuriger, which is a specific name for eastern Austrian establishments that serve their own wine – specifically the most recent vintage – and an assortment of appetizers and snacks. In addition to a couple glasses of GruVee, I enjoyed some delicious Liptauer spread. The place was full of tables with long benches, meaning that I sat next to complete strangers, but it wasn’t awkward at all. The atmosphere was fun and boisterous, even on a Sunday afternoon. I knew this was my kind of place!
The next day I took part in some official wine tastings. The first was at Domaine Wachau, which I believe is one of, if not the, largest wineries in Wachau. This tasting provided a sharp contrast with my next one, as Domaine Wachau had a very professional, modern store in which to sample the wines. It also happened to be about 9am, but since it was on my way into town, I figured, why not? 🙂
Here I learned about the Wachau-specific designations for the body of its white wines. GruVee and Riesling and classified based on their alcohol content (and not necessarily quality, but somewhat), in ascending order: Steinfeder, Federspiel, and Smaragd. As though understanding labels wasn’t complicated enough! These terms are not used outside Wachau, so if a Wachau winery produces wines from grapes outside the region, they cannot use those designations. In addition to some GruVees and Rieslings, I taste a sparkling Riesling, which was quite lovely. I ended up buying a Riesling Smaragd – I enjoyed the fuller body and softer fruit flavors as compared to the citrus and green apple in the Federspiel and Steinfeder.
Later that day I had a pre-arranged tasting at Weingut Emmerich Knoll – one of their 2007 Gruner Veltliners had recently gotten a 95 rating from Wine Spectator, which is what brought them to my attention, and the winery also happened to be a few steps from my pension. When I arrived, I spoke to whom I believe was the patriarch of the family, and he ran to find his son, because his English was somewhat poor. Thus, completely by accident, I ended up tasting wines with Emmerich Knoll! I’m sure the winery is actually named after a great-grandfather or something, but it was still pretty exciting to talk to a family member – and winemaker! – directly. It was very laidback – just sampling in their courtyard, which was very unassuming – and he let me try anything that interested me. Ultimately, I purchased a Riesling Auslese and a Gruner Smaragd, although I enjoyed everything I tried.
So went my Austrian detour, plus plenty of additional wine drinking in cafes and restaurants, sightseeing, and a bit of hiking. It was the perfect way to end my vacation!

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One Response

  1. Very coincidentally, the NYT also published an article today about Wachau wines! I’m glad they’ve discovered the good stuff. 🙂
    http://travel.nytimes.com/2010/10/17/travel/17journeys.html?src=twt&twt=nytimestravel

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