(Districtus Austriae Controllatus)
Ah yes, wine labels. Everyone needs them, everyone has them. And then there are all the tags and phrases and designations listed on them.
There are two systems of wine labelling in Europe; the Romanic system as it is used in Italy and France, where wines are labeled by the region they come from: Chianti, Bordeaux, Chablis and Valpolicella, right? So then there is also the Germanic system, which we obviously use in Austria, also in Germany. It labels it’s wine by the main grape varietal that is used: Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Zweigelt.
In Austria, you will come across the DAC wine classification. Introduced in 2001, it stands for the Latin term Districtus Austriae Controllatus, i.e. Controlled Austrian District. When I first encountered it, I was immediately reminded of the French AOC designation, and really, the two have much in common.
DAC basically means this: there are specific regions in Austria that are able to produce very classic representations of a wine’s style. And when a wine satisfies all the requirements for this, basically meaning it’s a perfect picture of the area’s terroir, it will be given the DAC classification. The thing is that when a region achieves DAC status, that region’s name may only be used for the specific wines that fit the profile. If any other wines are made in the region (and of course they are), then they aren’t allowed to use the name of the area anymore. What has happened in larger regions is that they prefer to not use a DAC, because it ends up covering an area that is far too large.
There are currently ten DAC regions, with the most recent, the Schilcherland DAC having only been added this year!
You will usually find two levels of a DAC wine, the Klassik, a “standard” version of the DAC wine, and then a Reserve, an even more strictly defined wine. Both are based on the must weight according to the Austrian Klosterneuburger Mostwaage (KMW).
The Wachau does it differently
There is a fascinating variation on the DAC classification, and it covers the entirety of the Wachau, that particular valley with steep slopes rising from the Danube in Lower Austria. The Wachau decided to have its own system of classifying wines. They are still normally labeled by the grape, which has to be at least 85% of the varietals used.
The lightest of the three is the Steinfeder. These wines can be quite crisp and clear and are allowed to be slightly sparkling. According to the KMW, the grapes must have at least 15-17°KMW, and may not have more than 11,5% alcohol. The symbol for this wine is a type of grass, the feather grass that is found growing along the hills of the Wachau region.
Next comes the Federspiel, these grapes must be riper, and have at least 17° KMW at harvest. This wines must be between 11,5%-12,5%, and the residual sugar content may be no higher than 4 g/l. The symbol for these wines is a falcon, calling back to the historical tradition of falconry in the region.
The Grüner Veltliner Federspiel from Ilse Mazza is delicious, try it lightly chilled with poultry dishes!
Finally, we have the Smaragd classification. They are permitted no less than 12,5% alcohol content and maximum sugar levels of 9 g/l. Grapes meant for this classification must be at least 18,5° KMW and though originally they needed to be sealed with natural cork, screw caps are now allowed as well.
The Smaragd wines tend to be the most expensive, and are fantastic for storing longer. Their symbol is an emerald lizard, common to the area. Again, Ilse Mazza makes fantastic versions of it, and her Riesling Smaragd is one of our favourites!
Wine does not need to be a DAC to be delicious and excellent
Sometimes we erroneously assume that we will get the best quality from a DAC. What you will get from a DAC wine is a classic representation of a wine. We often find the most interesting wines are not DAC because they don’t have to stick to the specific rules set down by commissions.
Anyway, Craftwines has many wines of all types, so why not check them out?