We’re in an age where it’s not just small artisan wineries experimenting with minimal intervention, low sulphur and extended skin contact in white wines. The big guys want to play too. And why not? When the results are as fascinating as Domäne Wachau’s amphora fermented Riesling, I’m all for it.
Domäne Wachau is about as big as they come – The cooperative’s members control some 440 hectares of the Wachau’s vineyards – that’s about 70% of the region’s entire vineyard surface. Despite its gargantuan size, the cooperative is well known for its high quality Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and Neuburger.
The winery’s director Roman Horvath MW told me that he first became interested in using amphorae in 2009, after reading “the first article published in German on the subject”. Horvath took inspiration from Elisabetta Foradori and sourced some Spanish tinajas (small 300 litre amphorae), with the help of a Spanish intern working at the Domäne at the time.
After experiments with both Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, the winemaking team settled on Riesling – “It’s got higher acidity, lower pH, more stability. the Grüner just didn’t have the tension or the same structure.” explained Roman.
Riesling Amphora 2015 is the fourth edition that’s been sold – 2010 was the first, 2011 and 2012 were deemed unsatisfactory. It comes in a rather smart 500ml bottle (I’m not sure why they decided on this size, but given the limited quantities perhaps it’s a way to eek it out a bit), and has an attractive autumnal gold colour and a very slight haze.
In terms of technique, this is very much the real deal – spontaneously fermented in the tinajas, left on the skins for six months, then gently pressed before bottling without filtration, fining or added sulphur. The aromas are very ripe, reminding me of bruised bramley apples and raisins, with a bit of Riesling spiciness. The acidity is pretty damn perky, but there’s an attractive roundness, with a lick of honey on the finish. Overall, I found that acidity a bit dominant – and I reckon that another year’s cellaring would greatly improve the experience.
I am fascinated though by the feather-light tannins. I’d have expected a lot more grip after six months of skin maceration. Elisabetta Foradori’s tinaja fermented wines have a similar texture – maybe there’s something about the shape and size of these vessels that keeps the extraction under control?
The 2016 Riesling amphora may prove this theory right or wrong, as it’ll be the first vintage made in the Domäne’s newest investment – a clutch of small qvevris!
Roman confirmed that this and the other “backstage” wines (a series of experiments including a Pinot Noir, a Roter Traminer and a concrete egg fermented Muller Thurgau) are only ever going to be small production, mostly hand-sold at the winery itself. And he clearly isn’t a wholehearted fan when it comes to personal drinking – “I’m not sitting at home and drinking a whole bottle with my wife – I’d rather have a white Burgundy if I want a complex white wine. But I’m happy this niche exists”.
For my part, I’m always happy to see a major producer being influenced by developments in the natural wine sector, experimenting with them and achieving good results.
A few bottles of the 2014 and 2015 vintages are available to purchase online, via Austrian and German retailers.
I was sent a media sample of this wine.