Persons of interest (Niederosterreich, Austria – Day Three)

There is something quite magical about Vienna. Not only is it a beautiful and historic city but it is also a thriving metropolis, home to 2. 4 million people. Walking around the central part of the city there are any number of tourist sites; the cathedral, the Belvedere Palace, the numerous museums and theatres. You would hardly believe there are operating vineyards and wineries within Vienna, which unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to visit. By all accounts they are very traditional, making field blend wines from any number of native varieties. Vienna is a very multicultural city, which is not hard to understand when you consider that it is the gateway to the East. Something I found very interesting was the high concentration of Japanese restaurants in the city centre, even more than in Dusseldorf which has the highest concentration of Japanese people in Europe. Vienna is famous for its music, as celebrated composers like Mozart and Strauss lived here. For as little as €3 you can see one of the daily performances at the historic Opera House. Having been to a number of performances of Opera Australia back in Melbourne, one of the things I wanted to do was to see some opera in Europe, and I was thrilled to enjoy Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” over the weekend before returning to Niederosterreich to visit some more wineries.

Ruins above Weingut Nigl in Kremstal

Controlling 15 hectares makes Prager small for an important Austrian producer, but large by Austrian standards (a couple of hectares on average). By far the most important component of Weingut Prager in the Wachau is that they only make single-vineyard wines, committed to the notion of terroir. To say that the former head of the estate Franz Prager was important in the Wachau is an understatement, as he was a co-founder of the Codex Wachau. Since the early 1990s the estate has been run by his son-in-law Toni Bodenstein, who has also been the mayor of the village Weissenkirchen for the last ten years. Prager wines are well-known for their depth, integrity, richness and intensity, and having tasted them this reputation is well deserved.

Weingut Prager

Considering how important and busy Mr. Bodenstein is, I was quite honoured to be able to visit Prager if only for a tasting and an opportunity to gain insight from such a fascinating man.  These are definitely some of the best white wines I have ever tasted, filling you with inspiration and whimsy. One problem I have had in Niederosterreich was discerning a big difference between single vineyard rieslings. Perhaps it is the style or the youth, but compared to the gruner veltliners which are quite distinctive between sites, the rieslings have been a little samey. Not so with the Prager wines, as they all speak of their origin in the vineyards. In spite of the instinctive and traditional nature of the winery, I don’t think I’ve ever met someone with such a deep and precise knowledge of wine chemistry, nor have I learnt so much from someone about nutrients, yeast strains, amino acids and more as Toni. An awesome individual to say the least. With all of the 2010 wines sold but the majority of the 2011 wines yet to be bottled we looked at tank samples. Toni shared my impression of Prowein as a poor environment to show very youthful wines, which is why he doesn’t attend. Click here to read my tasting notes.

Some of the many and varied soil types in Prager vineyards

Located in the north-western part of Kremstal is Weingut Nigl. It is here in the small village of Kirchenberg that Martin Nigl crafts his wines with finesse and humility. The winery owns roughly 25 hectares of vineyards, mostly in steep terraced vineyards, with 80% of the vineyards dedicated to gruner veltliner and riesling. Martin Nigl is a true believer in terroir influenced wines, and there are several ways in which he expresses this. The first is by making very austere and mineralic wines, that express the unique soil composition in such sites as Piri, Hochacker and Goldberg. The second is by using stainless steel tanks to settle, clarify, ferment and store the wines, often on gross lees to add structure and balance. The third is by sealing all of the wines since 2003 under screw-cap rather than cork. Click here to read my tasting notes.

Unique way of pouring large-format bottles of wine

Click here to see more photos from Day Three in Niederosterreich, Austria.

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