Weingut Zahel – Vienna, Austria

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Austria produces some of Europe’s great wines, whites in particular, and Vienna itself is the only major city with vineyards within its boundaries, over 1500 acres in fact some within 3 miles of the city centre. These stunning vineyards sit on the hills overlooking leafy suburbs, the historical city centre, modern skyscrapers, and the impressive Danube. Traditionally providing for the local Heuriger culture of taverns owned by growers as a way of dispensing their wine these vineyards now produce some of the best wines in central Europe.

Weingut Zahel is emblematic of this change. Alex Zahel is the fourth generation to tend the vineyards but really the first to truly make their living from wine. The pretty wooden family tavern serving Zahel Gemishter Satz and schnitzels still sits next door to the compact winery down a suburban street in south-west Vienna, and historically, like many others, this was Zahel’s main outlet.

Alex is a young, dynamic, talented and incredibly enthusiastic winemaker. They have 90 small plots of vines around the city and he makes over 40 separate wines, from just a single barrel or amphora of one, to their mainstay, their flagship Weiner Gemishter Satz white. First though at the root of everything are the vineyards. Respect for the vines and the soils is paramount and Zahel are completely biodynamic and Demeter certified. You see this in the vineyards with cover crops supporting wild flowers and butterflies against the unique juxtaposition of the metropolis, though Alex does point out that the prevailing wind blows the Viennese excesses away from the vineyard and towards Hungary, so the air is actually very clean.

Several of these vineyards produce wine for Wiener Gemischter Satz which is the classic local white field blend. Several varieties are grown together in the same vineyard, harvested, fermented and matured as one to produce a unique wine. Riesling and Gruner Veltliner play important roles but also the likes of Pinot Gris and Blanc, Chardonnay, as well as grapes such as Traminer, Silvaner, Welschriesling, Rotgipfler among others. These quality blends produce great value crisp, fresh and fruity wines at one end and rich, layered, complex age-worthy at the other. With so many varieties grown it also provides the opportunity to grown single varietal wines which Alex, in some tiny quantities, has done with aplomb!

Head down the tracks back into the suburbs and to Weingut Zahel, the original site now at capacity. At 250,000 bottles in a good year Zahel is by no means a big, or even medium-sized, winery and with land and building prices in fast-growing Vienna as they are Alex is staying put. The buildings are crammed with all different shapes and sizes of oak barrels, stainless steel vats (though less then you see in many wineries) and even clay amphorae (handmade in Italy). Many of these barrels are doing their own unique thing; a single-vineyard Chardonnay in these two, that one over there a small plot of Gruner Veltliner from 80 year old vines “I’m making for my Grandmother” (absolutely stunning wine though maybe will never be released), a single amphora of Riesling here. All unique yet all with that feeling of quality, some winemakers think and act big but get muddied and confused, not Alex Zahel, he knows what every wine is doing at all times.

The winemaking philosophy here is to do things gently and take the time. The grapes are all hand-harvested and sorted in the vineyard, all destemmed before maceration on the skins (though we’re not about ‘orange’ wine here), a gentle press, spontaneous fermentation with natural yeasts, maturing often on lees, and sometimes bottled without fining or filtration. While the viticultural and winemaking practices might seem ‘natural’ these are pure, precise, clean, quality wines without funk or faults.

We are delighted to work with Zahel and offer a selection of their wines here.

First up is the classic Weiner Gemishchter Satz that constitutes just under half of Zahel’s production. It’s all about freshness, bright fruit flavours, crisp acidity and real drinkability. A field blend of Gruner, Riesling, Pinots Gris and Blanc, Chardonnay and Traminer, seeing no oak this a light, refreshing and highly enjoyable wine.

The second wine that we can continuously stock is the Orange T. Orangetraube is an old variety discovered in wild vines in 1840 and Zahel are the only producer in the world to make a single varietal wine. Not quite sure why they’re the only ones as it’s delicious and an amazing food friendly wine with soft fruits and tangy acidity. Making up just under 20% of Zahel’s production they are obviously having some great success with it!

Then we come to a changing selection of really small (like one or two barrel small) production wines of single vineyards or of single plots within single vineyards. Currently we have four in stock in very small amounts. A dry and minerally amphora aged Riesling, a Gemishter Satz from the cru vineyard of Goldberg, a rich and delicious Chardonnay from the Satzen vineyard, and a rich and full Riesling from the Reisberg vineyard.

Zahel Wines

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Weingut zahel – vienna, austria