My exploration of German Riesling has led me to Austria. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Just as German Riesling has become known for its tremendous value, Austria has garnered similar notoriety for its high level of quality. However, prices abound, yet at the top level these wines are still world class and relative values when compared to other regions. FX Pichler has recently come onto my radar, and I must say that I am enamored with these wines. Once you’ve started down this path, it won’t be long before you taste a Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s most widely produced varietal—then you’ll be truly hooked.
What’s interesting is that it wasn’t that long ago that the wines of Austria were looked down upon in world markets. The industry was in shambles and producing masses of industrialized wine for cheap and early consumption. It was only 30 years ago when Austria began to undergo a complete overhaul and focus on producing world-class wines of exacting standards.
Today, Austria enforces some of the strictest laws in Europe. Yet in the Wachau, the focus on quality began even sooner, the result of pioneering wineries (such as FX Pichler), who were determined to produce wines of purity and integrity. In fact, they’ve taken it a step further by adopting their own system; The Codex Wachau, which goes beyond the countries DAC classifications, to produce the purest expressions of Grüner and Riesling that you can possibly imagine.
The names Franz Hirtzberger, Prager, and Emmerich Knoll are all worth seeking out, but today, I want to talk about FX Pichler.
FX Pichler is not just considered one of the top wineries in Austria, but also in the world. Located in the Wachau Valley, along the snaking Danube River, Pichler has become world-renowned for their intense and crystalline styles of Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, which dazzle the senses while intriguing the intellect. It’s a family-run business to the core, as Franz Xaver (FX), who took the reins of the winery in 1971, still continues to work the vineyards, while his son Lucas Pichler now oversees winemaking.
With each vintage, their goal is to provide a perfect representation of the climate, the vineyard and the grape. Nearly half of their single-vineyard bottlings hail from steep terraced slopes, originating from the 13th century, looking south over the river Danube. From these hand-tended vineyards come wines born of the soil, which consists of weathered, primary rock, sometimes containing iron, sometimes interspersed with gneiss, granite and mica slate.
Yet it’s also the very special microclimate which lends these wines their textural intensity and unending layers of aroma and flavor. The southern exposure provides the best light, along with an Eastern-Pannonian climate, which brings warm air and dry winds with a cooling influence from the woods above the vineyards, creating large diurnal shifts between day and night. The result is an extended growing season and wines of textural richness and significant character.
It should be no surprise that 80% of their production is classified as Smaragd, the highest level of quality in the Wachau. Grüner Veltliner is the priority of the house, yet the Rieslings of FX Pichler are hailed as some of the greatest examples from Austria (think Alsace more than Germany). However, FX Pichler also produces a miniscule amount of Sauvignon Blanc—some of the most intense and dramatically layered examples of this variety that you could hope to ever experience. As enjoyable as these are young, they will also reward cellaring—but it may be very difficult to keep your hands off of them.
Dürnsteiner Kellerberg is considered one of the greatest vineyards in all of Austria. From deeply rooted, old vines in poor terraced soil, FX Pichler creates a beguiling Grüner Veltliner. The impossibly-rich textures are perfectly balanced by a core brisk acidity, while ripe fruits are contrasted by a pulse of minerals. These wines are pure elegance.
2010 F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Dürnsteiner Kellerberg – With a truly unique color in the glass of lime infused gold, the 2010 Pichler Dürnsteiner Kellerberg exploded from the glass with confectionery notes of spiced peach with ripe apple, lemon zest and minerals. On the palate, it was weighty with overripe apricot, peppery spice, and herbs, yet remained balanced on the edge of overboard. The finish was long, as the mouth watered and mineral-tinged peach skins lingered on the senses. (93 points)
The steeply terraced slopes of Dürnsteiner Liebenberg creates wines of intense mineral character, elegance and structure. They can be misleading in their youth, yet will seriously reward time in the cellar. The soil is heavily weathered gneiss and mica schist, which shines through in the finished wine.
2011 F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Dürnsteiner Liebenberg – The nose was clean with steely notes of green apple, minerals, undergrowth and a hints of tropical fruit. On the palate, it was rich yet unbelievably pure and balanced with ripe, white fruits and spicy inner floral tones, which lasted beautifully through the mineral laden finish. Stunning. (92 points)
Primarily from Loibner Loibenberg terraces, some of the steepest in the region, comes the FX Pichler ‘M’ (for Monumental); a wine that teeters on the edge of finesse and intensity. The perception of sweetness and textural richness on the palate is the result of leaving the best fruit on the vine to further mature after the initial harvest. This is an opulent wine, yet wonderfully vibrant.
2011 F.X. Pichler Riesling Reserve ‘M’ – Intense and fruity on the nose with ripe tropical fruits, sweet, spicy floral tones, and a contrasting hint of bitter lemon rind. On the palate, it was rich yet balanced, showing ripe peach, grapefruit, wet slate and minerals. Spiced peach and lemon zest lingered on the finish, closing the experience with fresh and clean note. Very Nice! (94 points)
From select vineyards throughout the Niederosterreich, comes one of the most unique and enjoyable glasses of Sauvignon Blanc that I have ever tasted. Encompassing only 1% of FX Pichler’s production, this isn’t the easiest wine to find, yet it is worth the search. There is so much intensity here—be prepared.
2010 F.X. Pichler Sauvignon Blanc Grande Réserve – The nose of the Pichler Sauvignon Blanc is all about intensity and form. Ripe peach, lemon curd and sweet cream are offset by notes of wild herbs and hints of forest funk. On the palate, it was weighty with a hint of sweetness, yet balanced perfectly by brisk acidity, showing young peach and herbal notes. The finish was long and rich, showing palate-saturating lemon and lime along with inner floral tones and a mouthwatering quality which seemed to accentuate the entire experience. (94 points)
Getting into wine is a journey, and there is always something new to learn and regions to explore. When you open a wine of FX Pichler, take your time with it. Don’t serve it too cold and make sure to let it breathe or open in the glass–You’ll thank me down the road.
Article and Tasting notes by: Eric Guido