A Fresh Voice from the Wachau’s “Other Side”
Our launch earlier this year of Josef “Joe” Fischer’s ebullient wines from the Danube’s southern banks met with immediate success, and we are thrilled to expand our work with this up-and-coming Wachau superstar this fall.
Historically speaking, the Wachau’s most coveted sites are found along the northern banks of the Danube; here, vineyards tilt southward like solar panels, ensuring full phenolic maturity even in difficult vintages. Today, however, the vineyards on the southern side of the Danube, planted on north-facing slopes typically less extreme in incline, attain ripeness with greater certainty each vintage than they did in years past, and wines from these less solar sites tend to display a sense of effortless freshness and lift that sometimes eludes their neighbors across the river.
The Fischer family has produced wine on the Danube’s southern banks for centuries, from holdings in and around their home village of Rossatz, in the eastern stretches of the Wachau. The winery itself traces its roots to 1898, and today fifth-generation Joe works 11 hectares of Grüner Veltliner and Riesling from several of Rossatz’s top sites. Only a small percentage of Wachau winegrowers work organically, due to the immense amount of manual labor required to farm on the region’s terraces; Joe, however, works completely without synthetic chemicals in his beautifully tended vineyards, and the winery is certified organic.
Several years ago, Joe completed construction on a brand-new cellar which allows him to work with the utmost sensitivity and restraint. He aims to influence the wines as little as possible during fermentation and aging, and to that end he allows all fermentations to proceed spontaneously, employing a battalion of smaller tanks so that each small parcel can be vinified and matured separately. Malolactic fermentation is not blocked, but it only proceeds in certain instances—nearly always with the Smaragd-level wines, and only occasionally with the earlier-picked offerings. Joe also employs used barrels of varying sizes and proportions, based on vintage character and the raw materials at hand rather than according to formula.
Though they show notable concentration, Fischer’s wines do not lead with power; rather, they are built around a tight helix of rapier-like acidity and intensely saline minerality, emphasizing kinetic thrust over sheer richness. They are pure-fruited and precise without feeling polished, and they articulate soil variations in nuanced fashion. Finally, while certain Wachau wines can be lavish and impressive yet tiring after a glass or two, Fischer’s are irresistible in their digestibility, freshness, and friendliness.
Furthermore, Joe has begun holding back small quantities from each vintage to be able to offer wines with some age—a pushback to an Austrian wine-drinking culture which tends to consume Wachau wines, in Fischer’s opinion, far too early in general. We are pleased to be able to offer several such wines with this round of new releases.
2021 Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Rossatz
Fischer employs a rigorous pre-selection of only the best bunches to include in his single-vineyard offerings; the remainder of the fruit makes its way into this village-level wine, harvested at Federspiel-level ripeness and named after his hometown. This 2021 displays citrus zest, crunchy green apples, and notable salinity on a bracingly acid-driven frame, and a satisfying touch of creaminess on the palate softens the angles without sacrificing drive.
2021 Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Ried Zanzl
The Zanzl vineyard covers 7.38 total hectares outside the town of Rührsdorf, with northwest-exposed slopes ranging from 10% to 51% in gradient, and soils of orthogneiss. Fischer owns a 0.9-hectare parcel here, planted mostly to Grüner Veltliner but with a small portion of Riesling (typically blended into the village-level Riesling Rossatz). Zanzl’s cooler exposition and poorer soils yield a streamlined wine of elegance and intense minerality which veers into blatant salinity in leaner vintages, and Fischer’s 50-year-old vines here contribute impressive concentration to the finished product.
2020 Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Ried Frauenweingärten
The Frauenweingärten vineyard encompasses the slopes between Rossatz and Rossatzbach, extending from the Danube up to the edge of the Dunkelstein forest, with slopes up to 48% in gradient. These hillsides are covered in a meter-thick deposit of glacial loess whose silty, sandy structure is ideal for Grüner Veltliner, and this loess is punctuated upslope by elements of paragneiss (a slate-like metamorphic rock derived from sedimentary elements) and migmatite (gneiss with granitic elements) which increase the soil’s porosity. Fischer’s 40-year-old parcel Grüner Veltliner in the Frauenweingärten yields a wine of borderline exotic aromatics, with a plush entry tightening through the midpalate to a long, taut, elegant finish tinged by smoke.
2018 Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Ried Kreuzberg
The north-facing, partly terraced Kreuzberg vineyard perches above Rossatz at a maximum slope of 59%, covering 27.05 hectares of paragneiss littered with amphibolite. Kreuzberg produces a profoundly stony and austere version of Grüner Veltliner, and Fischer employs used barrels between 500 and 1500 liters for 50% of the blend in order to mitigate the site’s tendency toward severity. Carrying just 1.7 grams per liter of residual sugar, the masterful 2018 is nearly shocking in its mineral intensity—Riesling-like in that regard, in fact—with deep red fruits and tenacious cling on the palate.
2019 Grüner Veltliner Smaragd “Privat”
Fischer’s sumptuous “Privat” blends the very best fruit from his various sites, picked at Smaragd-level ripeness and aged a full year in used 500-liter barrels. Even in a wine such as this, which offers borderline lavish fruits and mouth-filling richness, the freshness of these southern-Danube sites shines through, and Joe’s inherent understanding of balance fosters a wine of elegance and detail which blossoms with bottle age.
2019 Grüner Veltliner Smaragd “R”
Only produced in choice vintages, Fischer’s “R” is from a 75-year-old parcel of Grüner Veltliner in Kreuzberg—the oldest planting in the entire vineyard. This is both fermented and aged in wood—a single 1500-liter cask in which the wine spends two full years on its fine lees—and the resulting wine combines the lusciousness of the “Privat” with the diamond-cut precision and palate-staining minerality of the regular Kreuzberg bottling.
2021 Riesling Federspiel Rossatz
As with the Grüner Veltliner Rossatz, Fischer’s village-level Riesling is a blend of fruit from his various crus which does not quite make his rigorous cut for the single-vineyard bottlings. Bristling with kinetic energy, the 2021 offers a hugely expressive nose of tangy yellow fruits, with a laser-like, salt-drenched palate that prompts salivation. Its acidity is juicy rather than cutting, and its 1.5 grams per liter of residual sugar are rendered completely invisible.
2020 Riesling Smaragd Ried Steiger
While Grüner Veltliner thrives in the loess-dominated sites of the Wachau, Riesling prefers poorer soil. Situated close to the Danube on a gentle 29% incline, Rossatz’s Steiger vineyard is rich with paragneiss and littered with crushed stones, and Fischer works a parcel of 25-year-old Riesling here. The 2020 displays striking varietal purity on the nose, with green apples, small white flowers, and murmuring stoniness. With less than a gram per liter of residual sugar, it slices through the palate like a scythe, leaving an impression of coolness and salinity on the lengthy finish.
2020 Riesling Smaragd Ried Kreuzberg
Kreuzberg’s inherent austerity yields a Riesling of single-minded minerality. Aromatically, it presents its stoniness in measured, serene fashion, but it sizzles on the palate with white-knuckled intensity—a fascinating contrast which makes for a wine of dynamism and complexity.
Newly released older vintages available:
2019 Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Ried Frauenweingärten
This 2019 is showing the first signs of secondary development, with an alluring vanilla-bean note mingling with the rich, broad flavors of yellow and green fruits.
2018 Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Ried Frauenweingärten
The smoke which plays a supporting role in the young version of this wine has begun to emerge more forcefully here, alongside savory notes of fresh corn and peas, and the palate-staining finish displays lovely notes of honey and candied orange.
2018 Grüner Veltliner Smaragd “Privat”
Exclusively from Kreuzberg and Kirnberg fruit this vintage, the 2018 Grüner Veltliner “Privat” has a pristinely focused, almost Riesling-like nose, which leads into a palate of remarkable breadth and succulent fruit that slathers and grips the palate with real authority.
2017 Grüner Veltliner Smaragd “Privat”
Beginning to display secondary fireworks, this 2017 “Privat” brings an element of spice into play, with a salty, honeyed palate not unlike a great Vouvray Sec, complete with a touch of clean earth on the long finish.
2019 Riesling Smaragd Ried Steiger
The rich, unctuous 2019 Riesling Smaragd Ried Steiger offers a bismuth-like chalkiness, with a palate of forceful yet buffered minerality; this is a cru which puts on perceived weight with bottle age.