Hirtzberger: A Wachau Icon, with Wildly Delicious Riesling
Only in a place like the Wachau could the wines of the region's finest producer be purchased freely, for less than huge sums of money. And Franz Hirtzberger, the subject of today's story, is without a doubt one of the top winemakers in all Austria.
The Teutons have a reputation for fastidiousness, and the Hirtzberger family is no exception — during harvest, they make 4-5 passes through each row, waiting for every single berry to attain perfect ripeness before picking it. Sure, harvest may take longer, but the resulting wines will be that much purer, more perfect and precise. And yet, unlike Grand Cru white Burgundy, for instance, you're not out a couple hundred (or thousand) dollars a bottle.
When you pour Hirtzberger's silky Riesling into your glass, you're tasting the heritage of the Wachau, a place where wine has been made for millennia. Indeed, the names of Hirtzberger's terraced parcels are synonymous with Wachau excellence. In the '80s, Franz Sr. helped to establish the governing body Vinea Wachau, where members pledge to craft wines of terroir and integrity; Franz Jr. was the organization's president for over 20 years.
Over one third of all vineyard land in Austria is planted to Grüner, and while Hirtzberger vinifies some extraordinary versions of that grape, the family's true passion is for Riesling, dry as a bone but bursting with complex, savory character. Many of Hirtzberger's wines will include a few botrytized berries; the botrytis, or noble rot, imparts a richer texture and more complex flavor notes. This is more common in riper wines, like Smaragd.
We adore Hirtzberger's wines and we're excited to showcase two Rieslings today, from some of the estate's top sites. Like many Austrian Rieslings, these are dry and delicate, yet offer serious structure and generous fruit.
Federspiel refers to the word for falconry, a favorite pastime of Wachau residents in ancient times. This is fresh and mineral, and featuring classic Hirtzberger oomph, both structurally and in terms of fruit. Lots of pretty tropical notes tempered by crushed stones and light, gingery spice.
Smaragd here refers to a later stage of ripeness, and the name itself derives from the name for a tiny, emerald green lizard that can be found darting amongst the vines. It's richer than the Federspiel, with an opulent texture, more intense aromas and more concentrated flavors. There's spice, honey, and ripe stone fruit, counteracted by a mineral water freshness and a cool herbaceousness; this is a tightly coiled wine that begs for alone time in the cellar, and will age beautifully over the next 10-20+ years.