Donabaum Setzberg Riesling Smaragd 2005, 750 mlfrom Donabaum (View all)
The Setzberg is a new Riesling bottling from winemaker Johann Donabaum. We loved the 2002 Offenberg with a mighty passion, so it was with some surprise that we found we loved this wine even more. We shouldn’t have been surprised, though: Johann’s talents deepen with each new vintage. Wine Spectator called Johann one of the three vintners leading the way in the famous Wachau region. Jancis Robinson has also chimed in about his talents: One of the most impressive for quality - and without a doubt for value - was Johann Donabaum of the eponymous family winery of Spitz at the coolest, western end of the Wachau, Austria’s great dry white wine region….This is a name to watch.
|Wine Spectator||92 - “Shows aromas of mineral and slate, with tangy citrus, pippin and green peach flavors and notes of grapefruit. Zingy acidity lingers on the focused finish. Drink now through 2014.”|
|Wine Enthusiast||91 - “Bursts from the glass with terrific aromas of honey, nuts and smoky grilled peaches, then adds apple and molten rock of minerality to go along with bold fruit. This round, full-bodied wine with a long, spicy finish should age easily over the next 10 years or more.”|
|Wine & Spirits||91 - “This is a new single-vineyard wine from Donabaum, made from young vines. Indian spice underlines bold mango and passion-fruit flavors, everything kept racy by bright acidity.”|
|Undefined||90 - “Fresh lime; juicy and dense with lovely balance. FROM: Anthony Dias Blue / Patterson’s Tasting Panel”|
|Bottle size (ml)||750 ml|
|Residual Sugar||6.9 g/l|
|Cellar potential||Now to 2019|
Johann Donabaum works a relatively small five-hectare family-estate in the Spitzer Graben.
The Austrian press dubbed him a “Shooting Star” (that’s Austrian for Wunderkind) a couple years ago, and this recognition has recently been confirmed by top ratings from the Wine Spectator—both for his Riesling and for Grüner Veltliner.
Donabaum’s vineyards are spread out in steeply raked sites as well as among terraced vineyards—the cool character of this corner of the Wachau allows him to produce wines that show a pronounced softness and rounded expression, always balanced by fresh acidity.
The Smaragd-level wines are voluptuous as one might expect, but Johann displays a deft hand with Federspiel as well. The delicacy of his wines emphasizes the difference in the mineral character of his individual vineyard sites—he says that he wants for each of them to paint the picture of the place where it comes from.
Johann Donabaum’s Rieslings
The south-facing Setzberg is so stony and meager of soil that many growers are tempted not to look beyond Neuburger, a variety that needs so little moisture that, according to Josef Högl, “Sometimes the dew is enough.”
The terroir is composed of Kalksilikatgneiß, which is indeed as complex as it sounds—limestone with silicates and metamorphic rock, and the resulting wines are mineral-toned and very finely textured.
In contrast, the Offenberg is planted in silex, and the wines bring forth a lovely stone-fruit component and a gorgeous spicy vivacity.
The Johann GV
2005 marked the debut of Johann Donabaum’s eponymous Grüner Veltliner. Assembled from a cuvée of his single-vineyard Federspiel GVs, the Johann stands for all that we admire in the man’s wines: the perfect typicity of the grape variety exquisitely complemented with terroir.
The pricing is as striking as the modern look of the bottle: a first-class Federspiel wearing a Steinfeder pricetag.
A fine relationship of quality to price is back in fashion this year with the superb balance and expressive fruit of the 2007 vintage, coupled with a little breathing-room in the currency exchange.
The Spitzer Point Vineyard
In the Wachau, when a vineyard-name ends with the syllable “point”, it means that it lies at the bottom of a hill. From this we know that centuries of precipitation have washed rock and soil from uphill on to downhill, improving the soil and its minerality with fibers of the mountain’s primal stone.
Spitzer Point is situated where the Offenberg meets the Setzberg. Old vines up to 60 years of age produce a Grüner Veltliner that perfectly marries this deep minerality and elegance with power and complexity—this makes it, year after year, Johann Donabaum’s flagship Grüner Veltliner.
This name means Lower Austria, and many find it quaint that it refers to part of the nation that, seen on the map, lies above Upper Austria. But in this mountainous country, up means Alp and, we are figuring things in terms of altitude, rather than latitude.
Niederösterreich is the largest of the primary growing regions. The others are the city of Vienna, Burgenland, and Styria. Its size alone might grant Lower Austria a greater diversity than the other three, but that doesn't begin to complete the picture. There are eight winegrowing districts that make up Lower Austria. The most famous of these is the Wachau, and the most prolific is the Weinviertel, literally the wine-quarter, which produces a colossal amount of very flavorful and slightly homogenous Grüner Veltliner.
There: we said the magic word.
Grüner Veltliner (aka Weissgipfler) is the national treasure of Austria, and it is the unifying theme which binds these eight subregions together, although one might be hard-put to find much of it in the Thermenregion, and there isn't a great deal of it in Carnuntum.
The most memorable wines from Lower Austria are white, and typically come from a stretch which starts with the western end of the Wachau, and ends right before the viticultural city limits of the nation's capital. The most outstanding feature of this area is the river Danube, die Donau to germanophones, which runs through the wine-country from Melk to Vienna, nourishing three districts named for the valleys of its tributary rivers: Kamptal, Kremstal and Traisental, and a fourth, Wagram, which takes its name from the foothills which bind it to the river.
What makes Lower Austria unique and outstanding in the world of wine?
Perhaps nowhere else are such comparably fine wines made from so many different grape varieties:
In addition to the aforementioned King of the Hill, there is the great Rhine Riesling, which Austria shares with Germany and Alsace. Then, we must mention the presence of very fine Pinot Noir, succulent Zweigelt and striking St Laurent. With those we cross over into the realm of red wine, and very successfully, I might add, before falling back into the white varieties to mention Weissburgunder, which shows terrific potential for something whose name means pinot blanc.
Additionally, there are significant successful plantings of Grauer Burgunder, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Then we can make space on the rack for Roter Veltliner, Muskateller and Neuburger, which can be occasionally exceptional.
Thermenregion offers its couple rarities, Zierfandler and Rotgipfler, and you might even find all of the above growing in a single vineyard in the city of Vienna, like representatives all together at Parliament in the capital, but that's another story.
Great grapes make delicious wine, but when great grapes are grown in extraordinarily specific and unique soils, the wines transcend delicious and become profound. The soils of Lower Austria range from the Urgestein, primary rock, of the Wachau, through volcanic terroirs of the Kamptal and the fossil limestone of the Traisental, and happily include the deep loess of Wagram, with many combinations along the way.
And then there are the many creative growers, who have put in so much work in the past couple decades to elevate the state of their art and give the wine-drinking world pleasures that were unimagined twenty years ago.
The Wachau is one of 8 "sub-areas" in Lower Austria. The other 7 are Kremstal, Kamptal, Danubelands, Traisental, Carnuntum, Weinvertel, and Thermenregion. Calling this region "lower Austria" may seem counter-intuitive to most. The four main wine regions of Austria are all in the eastern half of the country, and lower Austria is the northernmost. One generally equates "North" with "upper", but not here. The explanation given is that it has to do with altitude and not latitude. Of course, while it is at a lower altitude than Styria and Vienna, it is not as low as Burgenland. Go figure.
The Wachau is perhaps the best known of the 8 sub-regions. There are 3500 acres of vines, mostly Gr?ner Veltliner and Riesling, planted in a soil of weathered primary rock, granite and slate on the steeply terraced vineyards above and sand and loess on the slope of the hills below. The area also grows Neuburger, Gelber Muskateller, Sauvignon Blanc, M?ller-Thurgau and Chardonnay. The regional association "Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus" acts as a kind of DOC police for this area, labeling the wines under three classifications: Steinfeder (light, young and racy), Federspiel (elegant and with body), and Smaragd (very ripe and powerful). "Smaragd" literally means emerald, and is a reference to the color of the small lizards that run amok in the vines here. For more specifics on these classifications, see types of wines.
The Wachau's proximity to the Danube, which winds lazily past like some great fat serpent, adds to the amazing beauty of this place. In the spring the steep rising hills are a lush bright green and the apricot trees blossom madly. In the fall these hills seem almost ablaze with the turning leaves of the vineyards.