One of the most recent additions to the long list of high quality wine regions of Europe is the tiny Austrian region of Kremstal, only being distinguished as a wine region in its own right separate from neighbouring Wachau in 2007. As implied in its name, Kremstal centres on the town of Krems-an-der-Donau, a historic wine town named after a small river that runs out of the mountains and pours into the Danube River (known as the Donau in this part of the world) 55km northwest of Vienna. I had the great pleasure of tasting a few wines from this appellation a few months ago, so thought I should get into why the wines from here are so fantastic. Mostly famous for its white wines, especially complex and weighty Grüner Veltliner, let’s get to know one of Austria’s smallest but mightiest wine regions- Kremstal!
So first up is the all important location; whilst one of Austria’s smallest wine regions at only 2,250 hectares of vines and responsible for about 5% of total Austrian production, Kremstal sits bang in the middle of some of the most recognised wine regions in Austria, collectively known as Niederösterreich; to the west is the highly respected Wachau region, while to the north-east is Kamptal, and to the south and east are Traisental and Wagram respectively. Kremstal may be small, but it is located in the very heart of Austria’s quality wine zone, and the prices of Kremstal wines often reflect this. But why is this zone so special for winemaking you ask? This has to do with the confluence of several aspects of geography and climate which encourage the grapevine to give forth some of its best fruit.
First is the aspect of the land. Whilst the town of Krems (where all the wineries for this tiny region are based) is on a flat plain, all vineyards are on the surrounding hillsides. These south-east facing hills range from a moderate challenge to climb to near-impassably steep, shooting up 400+ metres in a near-sheer cliff face in some spots. They provide abundant sunshine for the vines and protection against the cold winds from the north, while at the same time draining away excess rainfall and raising the vines above both the frost and humidity layer nearer the flat Pannonian plains. Being such a landlocked wine region (and country to be fair!), Kremstal can suffer from both frost in the early spring, but then fungal diseases in the autumn, ensuring winemakers in Kremstal are always kept on their toes! The temperature of the Kremstal region is also a key part of the quality of the wine it produces; the sunshine-filled days allow complexity and rich fruit and spice aromas to develop, while the cold nights retain the berries acidity and keep alcohols moderate and perfectly balanced for the wine styles made here.
Next factor is the soil, which in Kremstal can be split into 2 distinctive types. Nearer the plains the soils are mainly made up of clay shot through with limestone which is relatively fertile. Away from the river and further up into the mountains however the soils are much more distinctive, becoming a nutrient-poor formation known as loess. This soil type is very rare due to it being made up from the accumulation of clay and silt particles deposited together by wind and cemented together by calcium carbonate (lime). This soil is perfect for vines due to it being porous and permeable so vine roots can dig deep into it and extract the water, and is well suited for cooler climates as it is easily warmed and holds heat for several hours after the sun sets, assisting in the development of complex flavours due to a natural extension of the growth phase of the vine in this warm soil. These two quite distinctive soil types create different styles of wine, though honestly both have their own charm, and so usually winemakers will try and source fruit from each section to achieve a more balanced wine. The fruit from the plains brings warmer alcohols and more flesh and texture to the wines, while the fruit from the colder, poorer soils in the mountains brings acidity and mineral flavours. But just what is grown in Kremstal?
Vineyards in Kremstal are planted mostly to the uniquely Austrian variety Grüner Veltliner, although this grape is not as prolific and dominant as in other neighbouring regions. Grü-Ve as it is now being branded, accounts for 55-60% of production. Riesling is the next most grown with a quarter of production, and both these varieties thrive in the region, producing wines of clear focus and drive but with abundant complexity and usually bone dry to distinguish themselves from their German cousins. Surprisingly, quite a bit of red wine is made in Kremstal; 1 in 10 bottles is the second Austrian speciality- Zweigelt, which is like a more tannic and spicy version of Pinot Noir.
Kremstal DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus– Austria’s equivalent of an Appellational denomination like France’s AOC or Italy’s DOCG) was first established in 2007 as I mentioned earlier, so is still fairly young. It is one of only 10 DAC appellations within Austria, and for now only covers wines made from Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, The highest quality wines of Kremstal come in two styles: the light, fresh Classic, which must have a minimum alcohol of 12% and the richer, fuller-bodied Reserve, which must be a minimum 13% abv. In true Austrian fashion, each of these varieties must be typically correct, and legal descriptions are given for each; Grüner Veltliner must be “fresh, fruit-accented, fine spiciness; no Botrytis note; no wood tone.” While Riesling can only be: “fragrant, stone fruit aromas, elegant, minerally; no Botrytis note; no wood tone.”
Buyer and Seller of the Bottles