Bäuerl • Joching • Wachau

I wanted, of course, a Wachau estate. The Wachau continues to enjoy the most prestige, the most sex appeal, and the highest prices of any wine region in Austria. Why this is so is relatively easy to understand. This tiny area along the Danube is extraordinarily beautiful and consequently, a tourist magnet. Only an hour or so from Vienna, it nonetheless feels as though one had stepped into a rural fairyland. With ruined castles, beautiful towns, and plenty of history, this is a great place to visit. Wonderful restaurants and hotels don’t hurt. I stay at one of them, the Landhaus Bacher (which has one of the best restaurants anywhere, a fabulous staff, and sweet, unpretentious rooms) and never want to leave.

The brilliant idea of reclassifying wines with those colorful names, Steinfeder, Federspiel, and Smaragd, has stuck in the minds of all of us who are interested in Austrian wine. And then, there is the quality of the wines themselves. Wachau wines have one thing no other region in Austria possesses: an almost slinky, seductive texture. It is almost unmistakable. You feel as though you were on a magic carpet of flavor. The best of them are like great art, seemingly effortless and utterly natural, but at the same time rare and precious, and the product of a tremendous amount of effort and sensitivity, the art that conceals art, as it were.

Many of you know these names: (in no particular order) Hirtzberger, Prager, Alzinger, Nikolaihof, Pichler (F.X. & Rudi), Knoll, Jamek, and several others. We know them, of course, because their wines are excellent. Only problem being, that they are also a bit pricey. Now you can make the point (and I would) that even a $75 Riesling, if comparable to a great white Burgundy (and I think many are) is a pretty fair deal compared to the $125 and more you must pay for that Lafon or Leflaive. I agree, and will continue to promote the great wines from this region. But you can get great Smaragd from great estates for less than that, and I recommend you do so. There are still a few good values in the Wachau, wines of great integrity from small producers. And that’s where Mr. Bäuerl comes in.

Bäuerl (a very difficult name for us Yanks to pronounce correctly) is in the little village of Joching, up the street and behind Joseph Jamek. His estate is tiny, only 5 hectares (though he leases 2 more). Though the vineyards overlap, the wines are quite different. Whereas Jamek is elegant, subtle, and fine, Bäuerl’s are lusty and earthy, with plenty of stuffing. They are not the most elegant wines in the world, but they give you the goods, and are just packed with flavor. Young Johann Bäuerl is tall and thin, very boyish, and rather shy. Perhaps that is due to his very rudimentary English? His German is idiomatic and strongly accented, and not easy for me to follow. His hands, which are large and expressive, are farmer’s hands, see the photograph. He has never exported before and is not well-known, yet. But it is clear that a fire burns in him. He is ambitious, wants to ascend to the front rank of Wachau growers, and with his energy and seriousness, I’m sure he will. Meanwhile, we have a number of lovely wines at very reasonable prices.

His best vineyard is the Pichl Point, which Jamek also has, but there is also the excellent Stein am Rain, Ritzling, and Steinterrassen. Both Riesling and Veltliner are grown in all sites. His Federspiel level wines are perfect for restaurants, exactly what you want with food, not too heavy, but with plenty of flavor. His Smaragd wines have all the power you could ask for, though I’m sensing that Bäuerl prefers wines that are not too alcoholic, so that even though they have a kind of forcefulness to them, they are not ponderous, or thick. That slinky Wachau characteristic is always in evidence.