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Austria’s Wachau was created to make great wine. One glimpse of its steep, south-facing terraced vineyards overlooking the Danube would convince anyone of that.
But the real proof is what’s in the bottle, and the best Wachau wines magically combine the purity and minerality of the Mosel, the depth of Alsace and the full, rich finish of great white Burgundy. All of this is to be found in the Riesling and Grüner Veltliner Smaragds of Leo Alzinger.
Yet, what is most compelling about these great wines is how all of them are so understated and refined. In common with such white wine magicians as Dönnhoff and Trimbach—and precious few others—Alzinger’s wines have all of the complexity and site expression one could ask for, voiced with an otherworldly weightless intensity.
Alzinger is a relative newcomer to the pantheon of top Wachau growers. The family were coopers until they began farming the steep Durnstein slopes in the 1930s, selling their grapes to the local co-operative.
It wasn’t until 1983 that Leo Alzinger Sr. first bottled wine under his own label, but with old vines in some of the Wachau’s greatest “Grand Cru” rieden, he quickly established his domaine as the source for Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners of unparalleled subtlety and finesse.
It begins, of course, with terroir, and Alzinger’s holdings in Loibenberg and Steinertal are among the region’s finest. Both have soils dominated by weathered gneiss rock. Yet, despite the sites’ proximity to each other, their wines couldn’t be more different. Loibenberg produces the Wachau’s richest, most powerful wines from its high, exposed slope, while the cooler, sheltered location of Steinertal results in wines prized for their restrained intensity and nuance.
Since 2000, Leo Sr. has been working with his son Leo II, not only in Loibenberg and Steinertal, but in their other top Durnstein rieden of Hollerin, Mühlpoint, Hoherin and Liebenberg, planted 55% to Grüner Veltliner and the balance to Riesling.
The Alzingers’ traditionally minimalist approach captures the varietal and site character of each with stunning clarity and finesse. Harvesting for the top Smaragd wines is late for maximum expressiveness and complexity, and botrytized fruit is eliminated in the interest of making pure, dry wines.
Alzinger’s single-vineyard wines are fermented at low temperature in acacia casks, and aged on the fine lees for texture and complexity. Above all, father and son have stayed true to their ideal of Wachau Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners that clearly express the soul of their region, village and vineyard.
They’ve always stayed the course, making the wines their way and never succumbing to the ripe, botrytis-influenced trend that the Wachau has seen in recent years. The pendulum is definitely moving back the other way now however, and Alzinger is finally receiving its due as a Wachau giant, creating ever greater demand for the domaine’s small production.
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