Lower Austria’s winemaking regions offer picturesque villages, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and some of the top varietals in Central Europe. Here are the best estates to visit in the area, according to a certified wine expert.
In Austria’s premium wine regions along the Danube River, steep vine terraces stretch over rolling hillsides dotted with appealing medieval towns and castle ruins from bygone eras. For wine lovers, the Kamptal, Kremstal, and Wachau valleys connote some of the great white wines of the world. In these areas, riesling and grüner veltliner grapes dominate, planted according to the variances in soils, from loess to primary granitic rock.
The wine-producing region is an ideal day trip from Vienna (it’s located about an hour’s drive from the capital), but it’s worth spending several days in the area to discover what makes these grape varieties so immensely cellar worthy. Here are six wonderful wineries to visit in Austria’s wine country along the Danube.
Martin Nigl is a first-generation winemaker who started to make his own wines in 1985 after convincing his family to keep their property’s grapes rather than selling them to the local cooperative. The winery sits below castle ruins tucked into the Krems Valley in Senftenberg, the northernmost part of this winegrowing area in Austria. Weingut Nigl includes an onsite restaurant and hotel, plus a tasting room where visitors can sip riesling, grüner veltliner, chardonnay, and sparkling wines that gently reflect the differences of each year’s growing season.
What to taste: Try a bottle of the sweet trockenbeerenauslese “TBA” white wine, which balances luscious fruit notes with ripping acidity. If you’re lucky, there might be one with age available at the cellar door.
This Danube region winery dates back to the 12th century. According to the estate’s history, a local knight built a fortified castle on the site and granted the land to a nearby monastery, which the live-in monks then planted with vineyards. Today, the baroque castle is still standing and serves as the place where Schloss Gobelsburg wines are made. Since the 1990s, Michael Moseburger has run the winery as a part of a long-term lease and works diligently to preserve the traditions of the space. But the monks still own the winery, and every year after the fall harvest, they come to baptize vintage and bless the wines with the workers that produced them.
What to taste: Schloss Gobelsburg produces a wide range of wines and styles, but the real treats are the “Tradition” white wines. They’re made from riesling and grüner veltliner grapes that have undergone a fermentation process that imitates old styles of winemaking and gives the wines a polished, creamy character.
An unpretentious, wildly energetic man, winemaker Johannes Hirsch exudes a profound sense of respect for the land he and his family work on. The gorgeous tasting room at Weingut Hirsch features a panoramic window with views of the Kamptal hillsides where the grapes that make the estate’s precise vintages are grown. On this sweeping window, the distance to each of the estate’s vineyard sites is indicated with cheeky units of measure, including “a mere 352 ‘hops of a deer away.’”
What to taste: Hirsch’s wines pair light, fruity characteristics with racy acidity. A side-by-side tasting of the ried Gaisberg and ried Heiligenstein rieslings, made on completely different kinds of soils at different vineyard sites, shouldn’t be missed.
Weingut Rudi Pichler
Don’t let the modern cellar and stainless steel tanks at Weingut Rudi Pichler fool you—the Pichlers are some of the warmest winemakers you will ever encounter. This family got its start in viticulture in 1731. Rudi Pichler took over the estate in 1989, but the Wachau grower considers himself to be a steward of the land more than a winemaker. “If the grapes are in balance, I don’t have to make wine,” he says.“I just guide it.” The wines at this Wachau Valley estate are elegant and modern—much like the winery itself.
What to taste: Sip the entry level federspiel (a term that refers to lighter wines under 12.5 percent alcohol). What this winery considers to be its most basic wine is made from grüner veltliner grapes sourced from 25 different vineyards, which are blended together after fermentation to give a holistic impression of the region.
The driving philosophy at Weingut Prager is to perfect the intersection of innovation and traditional winemaking. Estate owners Ilse and Toni Bodenstein accomplish this goal by using state-of-the-art technology in the winery while returning to old principles in the fields. (One technique they use is to plant different clones of grapes in a single vineyard to protect against disease.) At this Wachau estate, the wines are not about opulence but instead about delicacy and elegance.
What to taste: Seek out the “smaragd stockkultur achleiten,” a grüner veltliner produced using a historic style of vineyard planting in which vines are planted around individual sticks like small trees, which alters the concentration and balance of the grapes.
The style of wines made at this third-generation estate are both fresh and low in alcohol content. Owner Leo Alzinger believes that producing the highest quality of wine is easier when an estate stays small. Weingut Alzinger takes up 27 acres of the Wachau Valley, which allows the Alzinger family to be in their vineyards at all stages of the winemaking cycle and pay the same level of attention to each wine.
What to taste: The aromatic ried Muhlpoint wine is made using grüner veltliner grapes sourced from a single vineyard plot on the estate property. Its character can be described as having a firm, spicy body with a lively acidic twist.
Sarah Bray, DipWSET, is the European Winery director at VinConnect.
>> Next: Plan Your Trip With AFAR’s Guide to Austria