Austria | Wachau

Steep terraced vineyards in Austria's Wachau wine region

The Wachau wine region of Austria is a UNESCO world heritage site and an area of great natural beauty, situated in the Danube River valley between the towns of Melk and Krems. Grüner Veltliner and Riesling are the dominant grape varieties of the region, partly planted on steeply inclined hillsides terraces. The top vineyard sites here produce some of the best white wines in the world, with decades of ageing potential.

In the early 1980s a select group of innovative producers in the Wachau created their own organisation aptly called the Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus. According to their bylaws, dry white wines are divided into three distinct categories: Steinfeder, Federspiel, and Smaragd. Each refers to the the must weight and the level of alcohol in the wines which determines the style of the wine.

Steinfeder:  This is the lightest style of the three, offering fresh, fruity wines with a maximum of 11.5% alcohol by volume. These wines are generally crafted from the earliest picked grapes in the Wachau and also fetch the lowest prices. Steinfeder wines are named after the tall feather-like grass typically grown near the vineyards, Stipa pennata, which is light and fragrant - similar to the wines of the same name.

Federspiel: Named after a falcon often hunted in the Wachau, these wines are second on the three-tier classification system. They are between 11.5% and 12.5% alcohol by volume. Federspiel wines are typically classified as strong wines with a generous amount of character, but their relatively low alcohol content allows for more than just one glass!

Smaragd: Smaragd wines are the most coveted wines of the Wachau. They have a minimum of 12.5% abv and are made from grapes with the highest level of ripeness and concentration of sugars. The wines are not sweet as a general rule, but boast a rich body in both weight and flavour. Smaragd wines get their name from an emerald-lizard that lives in the vineyard of the Wachau who has the same name. These wines are also the most suitable for ageing.

These classifications can only be used by member wineries of the Codex Wachau and are only used for white wines grown in the region.