Weingut Knoll: The Classicist
Of all the wine producers in the Wachau, maybe none more than Knoll sets ablaze the attention and desire of the sommelier set and the wine geeks, and for very good reason as these are very special wines. Having tasted a few great examples of their wines personally over the years, I was convinced I had to make an appointment with Knoll to see what makes it so special.
On another cloudy morning (though no rain all week) we headed down the Danube for an appointment I was eagerly looking forward to at Weingut Knoll. If you don’t know Knoll by name, you likely have seen the iconic Knoll label depicting a haunting image of Saint Urban (lead image above), the Germanic patron saint of winemakers. Knoll is pronounced Kah-Nowle, the “K” is not silent like most English speakers might be used to.
We arrived at Knoll after about a 5-minute car ride from Schönthal in Durnstein, you cannot beat how easy it is to get around the Wachau to visit the many Weingut that are nestled along the river roads in the villages. Driving through the villages of the Wachau gives you an appreciation for the practicality and efficiency of each winemaking facility. Built with and an ode to the past on the exterior (less FX Pichler), the interior design is usually meticulous, based and designed for efficiency and precision. No space is wasted and no space more than needed is taken.
As we parked I noticed the little village Unterloiben was also home to my afternoon appointment directly across the street from Knoll, that being home to Leo Alzinger (more on them in a future installment). Somehow with FX Pichler and Domaine Wachau nearby, I felt like I arrived in some kind of Wachau mecca. Off behind the Weingut on the steep hills like an amphitheater lie the great vineyard sites Loibenberg, Kellerberg, Steinertal, and Hollerin to name the most famous.
The Knoll facility to meet guests is simple and stately, housed in a traditional yellow mason two-story gated property that is finely manicured and beset with beautiful gardens and florals. Inside is a simple and spacious tasting room with clean lines of wood and steel. Maps on the wall show the different vineyard sites the Knoll wines come from. Across the street is Loibnerhof, the Knoll restaurant that is one of the best in the region and a wonderful place for lunch or dinner. Loibnerhof and Knoll were separate in the past but were eventually joined as a business through marriage.
Emmerich Knoll III met us in the tasting room and after some small talk we hopped in a van out to the edge of the Wachau and over into Kremstal to check out one of their newer Riesling vineyards “Pfaffenberg”. Once up there it was immediately clear why Emmerich took us there. The view was fantastic as you could see all the way to about Durnstein. Between Durnstein and the foot of this hillside, the entire valley floor is covered in vineyards. From here we saw the same legendary hillside vineyards from a southern vantage point that allowed us to see a side profile of the steep grade and defined terraces.
Over on the Loibnerhof side of the road below ground are the winemaking facilities for Knoll. Emmerich walked us through the different steps of the winemaking process. First, the grapes are sorted and crushed above ground. The juice flows by gravity into tanks below ground and kept at a low temperature as this allows the juice to settle down, allowing grape matter and other solids to eventually drop from the wine to the bottom before fermentation starts (decanting). This process can last up to a day or so, usually overnight, to separate the juice from more of the solid grape matter.
The juice is then racked (moved) from its gross lees in those first tanks and moved to steel tanks for fermentation. After fermentation, the wine is racked again to large, neutral wooden casks for aging. From here the wines might see one more racking and then are bottled within a year, usually in 6-10 months depending on the wine and the vintage. Soon after, the wines are put into the market, arriving in the US at about 1.5 to 2 years after the vintage harvest.
After the review of the wine production process, Emmerich took us back to the tasting room to try the 2015s. Emmerich walked us through the 2015s which were outstanding and so diverse within a style that was consistent of the Knoll house. The Gruner wines showed a lighter touch, they were less full-bodied and less viscous than some we had so far on the trip. The Riesling wines, like many of the other producers in 2015, really stood out in the portfolio. Schutt really caught my attention and was maybe my favorite wine of the lineup that day. Loibenberg was the most full-bodied wine and is made into a few different wines as their holdings are large and diverse. Kellerberg showed a cool side of this vineyard as their holdings are on the east side of the vineyard that tucked back behind the hills facing east/southeast where a channel of air and another ridge in front of it (Höhereck vineyard) reduces sunlight exposure. Pfaffenberg, the site we visited in the van, was an elegant, tightly wound wine with tons of energy and quite impressive from a 6-year-old vineyard.
After the tasting, we had lunch in the Loibnerhof restaurant which was fantastic. We tried a few older vintages with our meal that were available by the glass. I almost felt like I was dressed too casual as many of the guests were old timers dressed up fairly formal or others that seemed to be there for business lunches, something to keep note of for next time. Our food was excellent as we tried a few different items, most of them the typical hearty Wachau/Austrian cuisine.
Spending a morning and lunch at Knoll and Loibnerhof is a must if you make it to the Wachau. You get a real sense of the cultural traditions and its deep roots in the past that strive to continue in a world that seems to move further away from the traditions that today define so much of who we all are as people.
Loibenberg Federspiel Riesling 2015
Medium lemon yellow in color, the nose showed bright grapefruit and lemon citrus, elegant peach, mineral and crazy linearity. Medium body, with good density nod flavor persistence that is laced with plenty of minerality.
Kreutles Federspiel Gruner Veltliner 2015
Medium lemon yellow color, a nose of lime citrus, lime zest, tense energy, density, with purity and precision on the palate.
Loibenberg Smaragd Riesling 2015
From the middle to lower slopes of the huge Loibenberg vineyard, the intensity and complexity increase from the better site quality. Medium yellow-gold, stone fruit emerges like peach, nectarine and apricot. Loads of minerality, med/med+ body, good push and length with great cut from the acidity.
Pfaffenberg Riesling Selection 2015
Medium yellow and gold, with vivid peach, apricot and orange zest aromas and flavors. The acidity is not as crackling or as powerful as the other wines. The darker red clay soils add a wider density and roundness to the wine. A long finish sails on with cool stone fruits and mineral complexity.
Since the Pfaffenberg is in Kremstal, no Wachau designation is allowed. Since Emmerich does not agree with all of the Kremstal rules they do not follow all the rules of Kremstal and thus can’t (won’t?) label the wine DO Kremstal.
Schutt Smaragd Riesling 2015
From a vineyard that is at the foot of the Loibenberg, collecting runoff from the Loibenberg in the form of rock and soil. The grade slopes mildly away from the hillside above it. This is what a terroir driven, pure Riesling with focus, tension and energy is like. Pure citrus and orchard fruits Excellent density and extract, extremely pure, long and lean. This is textbook terroir driven, mineral laden Riesling.
Kreutles Smaragd Gruner Veltliner 2015
Another vineyard closer to the hillsides so the quality is very good, but not hillside or terrace. Typically approachable in style from these flatter sites, the wine shows juicy and sweet green apples with good acidity in a richer, more powerful full body. Quite varietal like and clean.
Loibenberg Smaragd Gruner Veltliner 2015
Planted in the loess section of the hillside, this is fuller bodied, powerful, with a wider fruit spectrum, that is long and focused on the entirety of the palate with lime, apple, peach, and apricot. Denser, richer, but more acid to match.
Vinothekfullung Smaragd Gruner Veltliner 2015
From the highest elevations of Loibenberg that Knoll owns, the fruit from here is used to make the “Vinothekfullung” when it can achieve an opulent and high degree of ripeness but is not overripe. If you happen to run into this extra-rare of a wine, wait a good 3 years from the vintage date to drink it as it takes 2-3 years to integrate fully in the bottle. The color is a medium gold hue. The nose and a plate show notes of waxy dry peach, golden apples, a touch of honey, and slate-like minerality that is dense and long on the palate. Medium to full-bodied, the flavors and textures are falling into place and the integration is starting.
Kellerberg Smaragd Riesling 2015
80% gneiss soils from the far eastern section of the famed Kellerberg vineyard that ripens slower, less than the sections closer to the river on the western section. High toned acidity, bright, intense mouth florals. The fruit is ripe citrus, with some apple and a little trace of stone fruit. The expression here compared to other producers in the warmer sections shows the contrasting terroir differences.