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Gold and 96/100 Points for Leo Alzinger

The quiet star of the Wachau


He is content to remain in the background, yet despite this is one of the best-known winegrowers in Austria: every year at his estate in the Wachau village of Unterloiben, Leo Alzinger puts Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings of subtle finesse and precise clarity into the bottle – wines that also receive laudatory evaluations on the international stage. Like just now at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2019.

Weingut Alzinger Leo jun. © Thomas Kirschner
With his precise, mineral-driven and crystal clear wines, Leo Alzinger represents a new generation of Wachau winegrowers. All over the world, his coveted single-vineyard Veltliners and Rieslings are highly allocated, more than they need to be sold. © Thomas Kirschner

Long-time aficionados of Alzinger’s wines may not exactly be too happy about this, because it could make it more difficult in the future to obtain one of these coveted bottles from the estate in Unterloiben. Even now, Leo’s prized single-vineyard Veltliners & Rieslings are allocated more than they are actively ‘sold’. And now comes a great accolade: for the estate, for the winegrower himself, and for Austria’s premier white-wine region, the Wachau – 1,344 hectares of prime vineyard real estate in the Danube River Valley between Melk & Krems – Alzinger’s Grüner Veltliner Ried Steinertal Smaragd 2017 just scored 96 out of 100 points at the Decanter World Wine Awards, winning a gold medal.

Within Austria, the position & prominence of the Alzinger wines has been universally acknowledged for many years – and this now in the third generation, since Leo Alzinger Senior (who earlier took over the estate from his father) passed responsibility on five years ago to his son Leo Jr (40) and wife Katharina (36).

Handicraft & origins have top priority for the dynamic couple Katharina & Leo Alzinger. © Thomas Kirschner

A contemporary style, based in time-honoured virtues

The wines of Leo Alzinger Jr represent a new stylistic trend for the Wachau. Even with their great intensity of flavour, they come across as slender and mineral-driven. Structure and internal dynamic tension are the elements that coalesce to distinctively articulate their graceful presence. And with this, Alzinger’s collection provides a refreshing contrast to the many supercharged Smaragd-level wines (12.5+% alcohol) which have for so long been regarded as the personality of the Wachau.

In reading international tasting notes about the Alzinger wines, one frequently encounters comments like ‘crystal clear’,‘precisely structured’, or ‘expansive minerality, charming fruit & elegant finesse’.

However, this personal expression of Leo Junior’s in no way constitutes a break with the estate’s history, but rather on the contrary embodies the steady continuity of a development that Leo Senior inaugurated more than thirty years ago. Back in the 1980s, Alzinger was a pioneer in promoting a clear and precise style of wine, one that highlighted a sense of origins and authenticity. Over the years, Leo Junior gradually took over the helm and led the estate to build even further on his father’s achievements. Handicraft and the sense of origins remain the guiding principles.

Weingut Alzinger Leo sen. und Leo jun. © Herbert Lehmann
The legendary stone walls of the Wachau are constructed without mortar, by carefully piling stones to fit on top of one another. They store warmth and provide a habitat for insects & plants. © Herbert Lehmann

The magic of the individual vineyards

One of the greatest determining factors in this elegant balance between structure and delicacy – along with harvesting at just the right moment – involves, above all, the vineyard site itself. The Wachau is a highly diverse winegrowing region with multiple structures involving dozens of various vineyard sites that each exhibit extremely different characteristics and conditions. Leo Alzinger takes it upon himself to painstakingly vinify each of the parcels separately, because only in this way do the wines fully express the attributes of their origins. The result is a marvellously diverse portfolio of vinous personalities.

The buoyant minerality of Grüner Veltliner from the vineyard Riede Hochstrasser contrasted with the spicy/salty vivacity of Riede Mühlpoint. The Rieslings from Hollerin, with their fresh blossom aromas, express themselves in a distinctly different way than the gripping substance of the Loibenberg Rieslings or the cool aromaticity of the Liebenberg –to say nothing of the nobility of the ever-delicate Riesling Steinertal. Leo Alzinger puts it this way: ‘For me, each vineyard is an individual microcosm that demands to be understood for its own unique nature. I observe & monitor the individual sites on a daily basis’.

The varying nature of the vineyards in the Wachau has its basis in the soils, as well as in climate and exposition. In the eastern part of the valley near Krems – where the Alzinger vineyards are located – soils of gneiss dominate, in the lower-lying sites topped with loess and alluvial sediments from the Danube River. From the standpoint of climate, this end of the Wachau enjoys a Pannonian influence, and is therefore somewhat warmer than, for example, the Spitzer Graben fifteen kilometres further west. And the nearby Danube exerts a moderating effect. Geographic factors play a deciding role in the microclimates, which Alzinger describes like this: ‘Ried Steinertal opens to the north, so that during the night, cold air masses force their way in. And up in the Loibenberg, the surrounding forest influences the temperatures. And Ried Liebenberg, near Weissenkirchen, is often exposed to cool air masses from the northwest’.

The Wachau was added to the UNESCO-World Heritage list in 2000. The renowned winegrowing region extends some fifteen kilometres along the Danube, from Melk to Krems/Donau. Idyllically situated in the small village Unterloiben, the Alzingers tend their vines and vinify their wines. © Thomas Kirschner

The Wachau: steeply sloped vineyards, stone walls & terraces

There is one carefully maintained feature of viticulture in the Wachau that plays a significant role for Alzinger: the steeply sloped vineyard sites are organised into terraces by stone walls. These walls are constructed without any mortar, only by the careful placement of stones fitted on top of one another – an ancient technique that has remained current and is still utilised today. This method of construction renders the walls somewhat flexible; they store warmth and also provide a habitat for a multitude of reptiles, insects & plants. In these terraces, cultivation by hand and labour-intensive foliage canopy management are absolutely necessary. The clusters should enjoy an optimal balance between sunshine and cool air currents, as they ripen evenly toward their ideal time for harvesting.

Ried Steinertal Grüner Veltliner Smaragd 2017

The wine that was awarded 96 points at the Decanter World Wine Awards – winning a gold medal – is an unmistakeable expression: precise body, concentrated and salty, long on the palate and long-lived for the cellar, characterised in the nose by spice and cool herbal aromas. Steinertal is a vineyard that offers optimal terrain for Grüner Veltliner as well as for Riesling. It winds around a bit to the southwest, so it also receives additional warmth in the evenings, although it will then be cooled by air currents out of the north. Here, Riesling grows in the upper portions on the more meagre parcels, while the Grüner Veltliner vines are planted in the lower terraces with the deeper soils.

Weingut Alzinger Ried Steinertal GV Smaragd © Weingut Alzinger
The fabled vineyard Riede Steinertal yields complex Rieslings & Grüner Veltliners. © Thomas Kirschner

Ried Steinertal Grüner Veltliner Smaragd is available from the following sources:

Ritter Weine AG,

Italy: Teatro del Vino,

Spain: Vila Viniteca,

France: Terres de Vins,

Belgium & The Netherlands: Adbibendum,

Denmark: Atomwine ApS,

Sweden: Ward Wines AB,

Hungary: Drop Shop,

Portugal: Flyingwines LDA,

Czech Republic: Zilvar Wines,

Slovakia: Wine & Company s.r.o.,

Croatia: Hidden Wines d.o.o.,

Great Britain: Alpine Wines,

Weingut Alzinger Wachau Loiben © Thomas Kirschner
The Wachau was added to the UNESCO-World Heritage list in 2000. The renowned winegrowing region extends some fifteen kilometres along the Danube, from Melk to Krems/Donau. Idyllically situated in the small village Unterloiben, the Alzingers tend their vines and vinify their wines. © Thomas Kirschner
PICTURES (downloadable)