Weingut Josef Jamek
JJJ – Weingut Josef Jamek
The Doyen of the Wachau
The late Josef Jamek is known in the Wachau, and in the greater part of Austria, as the pioneering leader of quality wine production and the father of the modern-day style of dry Wachau wines. For those not familiar with Jamek, especially my fellow Americans, you can think of him like Robert Mondavi and what he did for the Napa Valley. Jamek came to be a winemaker later in his life, but it was still early times for modern vini/viticulture in the Wachau. Jamek’s first single vineyard wine was the 1959 Ried Klaus Riesling bottled in 1960. In the Wachau at the time of Jamek’s rise, the Wachau was not known for dry wines as thick, sweet wines were the norm. Dry wines existed, but were mostly for personal consumption according to most people I spoke to on my visit.
Josef had a keen palate for fine and dry wines and decided that was the style of wine he wanted to pursue, which today is now the dominant style of wine made throughout the Wachau and all of Austria in regards to Gruner Veltliner and Riesling. Today his legacy lives on with his family farming and tending to 27 hectares of vines in the Wachau, one of the largest landholders in the region.
We met Dr. Herwig Jamek, the grandson-in-law of Josef and currently in charge of Jamek, in the reception house that houses the wine tasting room and the restaurant. He asked what I wanted to see, graciously allowing me to select the details of the visit. Vineyards, of course, were first and then I asked to see the remaining parts that bring the wines to life and tell the story of Jamek.
Being a father himself of 4 girls, one which was a similar age to Camille, was a happy coincidence. Herwig already had a child car seat in his van so we hopped in to see the vineyards. Camille took to him pretty easily handling and adjusting the car seat for her and off we went. We drove down the Danube a few minutes to a small road that wound up the terraces to the crown jewel of Josef Jamek, Ried Klaus. This was my first encounter with one of the special “Ried” vineyard landmarks that look like a small religious monument at the foot of specific vineyards. Think of “Ried” as a high-quality designation like “Grand Cru”.
Klaus was my first look at serious Wachau vines, terraces and grape bunches of Riesling and Gruner Veltliner. The upper portion of Ried Klaus is hard rock gneiss for the Riesling and the lower portions are a mix of gneiss with some loess and more alluvial soils best suited for Gruner Veltliner. Adjacent to Ried Achleiten, Ried Klaus faces south, southeast looking down river to Kremstal and across to Mautern and then upriver west to Spitz.
We meandered down a few terraces to a set of terrace walls Herwig wanted to show me as they were in the midst of being rebuilt from a landslide. This was very important and extremely informative as it showed how backbreaking the work is to maintain and build these walls.
The original wall buckled and gave way from years of pressure. The final straw was rain water that built up behind the wall during a heavy storm. The portion that broke was composed of masonry cement binding between the rocks that made up the bricks of the wall. This terrace method is mostly abandoned now as the cement allows no flexibility or drainage under stress so the walls eventually will break. Instead, what we now see are walls that are deeper front to back with longer or wider stones. To bind the bricks and seal the walls, smaller stones are wedged in like stoppers to effectively lock the bricks in place. This allows water drainage so the pressure on the wall is much less. Maintenance is required for upkeep, but the work and effort over time is less expensive than rebuilding an entire wall.
Back at the Weingut, we toured the winemaking facilities and cellars, adorned with ornate carvings on the large wood tanks that adorn many Wachau Weingut. We saw the family home and the original tavern that started it all decades ago as one of the early marriages of wine and food that are so common here.
At the time, living amongst the family was a heart-warming gesture. The Jamek family was providing a home for a Syrian refugee family displaced by the terrible civil war ravaging that country. I was already a fan but this made me like Jamek so much more.
We finished the visit with a wonderful lunch in the restaurant which is also the family home on the upper floors. It is here we tasted the wonderful portfolio of wines, tasting the best Federspiel Gruner Veltliner of the trip and one of the best Weissburgunder that had a little age and showed the stuffing to be a long-term ager. Herwig showed us the original Riedel wine glasses that Josef had commissioned specifically for his wines which really now the gold standard of style in the Wachau. True and original wine antiques, they were delicate with a long and medium sized flute bowl and a short stem.
I was so excited with the visit, as well as in a hurry as we were a little late to get Camille back for her nap, that I forgot to buy some wines which was a huge mistake as they are not easy to find here back in the US.
Should you be in the Wachau I can’t recommend a visit to Jamek more. You can even stay at the property in a few of the apartments that are fairly priced and nicely appointed.
The Gruner Veltliners
Mariengarten Gruner Veltliner Steinfeder 2015
A floral and citrus nose, on the palate fresh lemon, lime, and cleansing mineral vibrancy are elegant and energize the palate in a medium(-) lighter body.
Stein Am Rain Gruner Veltliner Federspiel 2015
A deeper more focused nose, though still quite elegant, we see citrus and stone here with a deeper penetration of lemon and lime citrus flavors in a medium(-) body.
Ried Achleiten Gruner Veltliner Federspiel 2015
Deeper and more intense, we are moving up the ladder in tension, density, and power. Ripe citrus mingles with white orchard fruits of green apples and apricot. Medium-bodied, this leans to a “+” but the mouthwatering acidity and long finish lighten and lengthen the palate. When asked by Herwig what I thought, I said the Federspiel Achleiten was extraordinary and the best Federspiel I have had in recent memory. I was happy to hear him say that it won the Falstaff Federspiel Cup for the 2015 vintage.
Ried Liebenberg Gruner Veltliner Smaragd 2015
A forward nose and palate of florals, deep golden apple, white plum, and ripe pears are dense, but still elegant with gravelly stone minerality and excellent acidity. Medium/medium+ bodied with good persistence.
Ried Achleiten Gruner Veltliner Smaragd 2015
Top quality classic Gruner on display here with a dense and penetrating nose of lime, peach, apricots, cracked white pepper and stone minerality. The palate shows clear and tense fruit in a medium+ body with mouthwatering acidity, great balance and persistent elegance on a dense and long finish.
Ried Hochrain Weissburgunder Federspiel 2015
Fresh, lively snap and acidity, spring florals, plenty of green apples and mixed citrus fruits. The palate is medium bodied with a medium clean and pure finish.
Ried Hochrain Weissburgunder Smaragd 2015
Aromatically powerful, yet still plenty elegant in character with fresh golden delicious apple, white plum, and melon fruit, some wax, and floral notes come about with an underlying spiciness too. Stacked and packed, this is densely coiled and should unfold nicely over the next few years, so wait a few years and enjoy over the next 20 easy.
Ried Hochrain Weissburgunder Smaragd 2013
Powerful and complex, tropical scents upfront of pineapple and mango, spices, sweet golden delicious apples, and peach kernels. The palate is just as powerful, with a huge amount of underlying acidity, a shade of savory intensity, all packed in a dense medium+ body with a killer long finish that is intense and very vibrant. Massive potential for aging here.
Jochinger Riesling Federspiel 2015
Bright grapefruit and lime in the elegantly perfumed nose. Firm and very dry acidity cleanses the palate accordingly in a lightly bodied wine.
Jochinger Ried Pichl Riesling Federspiel 2015
A touch deeper in the nose than the regular Jochinger Riesling, a slight petrol note, lemon citrus and lemongrass, and white florals. The palate is light bodied, and the wine fishes bright and clear, mildly persistent. Elegantly complex, this is a wonderful Riesling for a very fair price.
Ried Klaus Riesling Federspiel 2015
Green herbs, spices, and apple on the nose with a fresh and clean mineral presence. Wonderful transparency clearly shows mineral cut and depth with the flavors framing the core minerality on the palate. Medium-/medium bodied with mouthwatering acidity, this finishes fairly long and very pure.
Ried Klaus Riesling Smaragd 2015
A step up in density without losing the Klaus imprint of terroir through transparency. Powerful and mouthwatering acids underlie a deep mineral core that is tightly wound and wrapped in sweet citrus and green apple. Medium+ bodied this needs a few years to uncoil and start revealing those densely stacked layers. A long and slightly unrelenting finish teases at what’s to come.
Ried Freiheit Riesling Smaragd 2015
This wine struck me for its nose and palate that are like two forces colliding, crushed rocks and minerality meet ripe tropical and stone fruits. Pineapple, peach, and apricot are framed by electric acids and a beam of mineral cut, vibrant intensity that sails on to the long and pure finish.