Today we take a trip to the Wachau to explain the terms Steinfeder, Federspiel, & Smaragd.
Long before the DAC system in Austria was established, many of the wine regions in Austria developed their own system of classification. Among those, was the Wachau under the specialized classification of the Vinea Wachau – an organization including nearly 200 wineries. As of 2006, all members of the Vinea Wachau have agreed to the guidelines set by Codex (reference to law) Wachau which are as follows (source: Domane-Wachau):
Strict Principal of Origin
Wines are sourced from and bottled directly in the wine-growing area Wachau. They are classified as Steinfeder, Federspiel, or Smaragd.
All Vinea Wachau vintners abstain from every method of enrichment including chaptalization. The natural grape sugar content and the respective potential of each vintage are responsible for the quality in the glass. This is the foundation for the categorization of the Wachau wines.
The Vinea Wachau vintners abstain from every method of concentration. The natural content of grapes, must, and wine are not exposed to technical methods of concentration (vacuum evaporation, reverse osmosis, cryoextraction, etc.).
No Aroma Additives
Absolutely no aroma additives are permitted. The Vinea Wachau vintners abstain from the adulteration of the natural aroma of their wines. The use of small oak barrels, wooden chips, and powdered tannin is forbidden.
No Fractioning or Separation
The separation of wine fractionally into its individual components (alcohol, aroma, etc.) and reconstruction of desired fraction quantities is forbidden. Although spinning cone technology is permitted by the EU and the USA, it is not allowed by the Vinea Wachau. The Vinea Wachau vintners see this technology as a betrayal of nature and vehemently refuse to employ it.
Nature without Additives
The Vinea Wachau vintners abstain from many modern alternatives to manipulate their wine. All wines of the Steinfeder, Federspiel, and Smaragd qualities are completely natural and contain no additives.
As you will notice, the terms Steinfeder, Federspiel, and Smaragd are prominent pieces of the classification system. Each refers to the the must weight and the level of alcohol in the wines which determines the style of the wine:
Steinfeder: You are not likely to find many (if any) steinfeder classified wines in the US – most of these wines are consumed in Austria. Steinfeder is the lightest style of the three, offering fresh, fruity wines with a maximum of 11.5% abv. These wines are generally crafted from the earliest picked grapes in the Wachau and also fetch the lowest prices. Steinfeder wines are named after a grass typically grown near the vineyards, Steinfeder-gras, which is light and fragrant – similar the wines of the same name.
Federspiel: Named after a falcon often hunted in the Wachau, these wines are second on the three-tier classification system. They require a minimum must-weight of 17° KMW and 11.5-12.5% abv. Federspiel wines are typically classified as strong wines with a generous amount of character, but their relatively low alcohol content allows for more than just one glass.
Smaragd: Smaragd wines are the most coveted wines of the Wachau. They have a minimum of 12.5% abv and are made from grapes with the highest level of ripeness and concentration of sugars. The wines are not sweet as a general rule, but boast a rich body in both weight and flavor and are best enjoyed when you have some time to think about what you drinking. Smaragd wines get their name from an emerald-lizard that lives in the vineyard of the Wachau who has the same name. These wines are also the most suitable for aging.
A note: these classifications can only be used by member wineries of the Codex Wachau and are only used for white wines grown in the region.
There you have it – the “law of the Vinea Wachau” classification system. Next, we will tackle grape names by a different name!