The Wachau is a UNESCO world heritage site and region of natural beauty, and lies in the Danube valley between the towns of Melk and Krems. The varieties Grüner Veltliner and Riesling prevail on 1,344 hectares, partly on very steep-inclined terraces. The best vineyard sites produce some of the best white wine in the world with decades of aging potential.
In the mid-1980's, a select group of innovative producers in the Wachau created their own codex, aptly called the Vinea Wachau, where dry white wines are divided into three categories, based on their natural alcohol content by volume. Aromatic, light-bodied wines up to 11.5% are called 'Steinfeder' (named after the tall, feather-like grass stipa pennata). The most common category is the 'Federspiel', with 11.5% to 12.5% alcohol by volume, and the late-harvest, rich and powerful, dry wines carry the term 'Smaragd'.
The Wachau is one of Austria's most exciting and fascinating wine regions. Over millions of years, the Danube has gorged its winding waterway through the consolidated gneiss and amphibolite. The crystalline rock soils on steep terraces produce outstanding Rieslings. During the Ice Age vegetation cover was poor and, prevailing winds carried drifting sand that settled in the lee of the east-facing crystalline hillsides, resulting in layers of loess. This is where great, opulent and expressive Grüner Veltliner is cultivated. The extremely diverse geological terrain, coupled with the construction of terraces in the best aspects, and the cultivation of vines on these steep inclines by the Bavarian monasteries during the Middle Ages, has resulted in a spectacular and unique Wachau landscape.
The climate also plays a vital role, and two major climatic influences, the western Atlantic and the eastern Pannonian, interlock with each other. Furthermore, each single vineyard has its own microclimate, depending of its incline, exposure to the sun, soil terrain, as well as factors as the dry stone walls and cliffsides that absorb the sun's heat during the day. The effects of the hot, dry summer and the harsh winter are evened out by the influence of the river Danube, and cool evening breezes from the more northerly Waldviertel region increase the diurnal effect of day and night temperatures during the important months prior to the harvest. It is thanks to this subtle factor that the fine and precise aromatics of grapes can develop, be in the cooler vineyards in Spitz or the warmer sites in Loibenberg. This character often gives the wine a cool fruit flavour with subtle tropical fruit notes, ranging from the lean, light-bodied Steinfeder, through the lean.structured Federspiel and the rich style of the Smaragd.
Upon visiting the historic ambience of the Wachau, it is a must to seek out critically acclaimed producers and recommended restaurants, and these are often within walking distance of each other, for example in Spitz, Weißenkirchen, Joching, up to Dürnstein and Loiben. The southern bank of the Danube is also well worth a trip. Alongside Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, the sovereign varieties with exceptional cellaring potential, the indigenous Neuburger, along with Gelber Muskateller (Muscat blanc) and Sauvignon blanc, offer an exquisite taste sensation.