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Where Falcons Fly

I’ve taken many a trip over the years to hike and climb in Austria, especially the Tyrol region in the east, where I fell in love with the people as much as the landscape. Austrian hospitality in these small mountain villages was always warm and generous. After turning up at a Gasthof (bed and breakfast) and asking in my finest German, ‘zimmer frei?’ I was always welcomed in with a huge smile, shown my room and asked if it would suffice, and then upon agreeing to stay, the deal would be sealed with a glass of schnapps followed by a wonderful meal with the family.

Drinking Johann Donabaum’s wines reminds me of this experience in Austria, as I can almost feel the warmth of his character softening the intense minerality of the mountainside. A young wine prodigy who graduated from viticulture school before age 20, Johann has been winning accolades across the wine world.

Johann Donabaum Peunt Grüner Veltliner Federspiel 2019 ($28) is a masterpiece made from vineyards high up on the side of the picturesque Wachau Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site to the north of Vienna.

The highest vineyards are usually reserved for Riesling but there are tiny amounts of Grüner Veltliner, a traditional Austrian white wine grape, and the effect of this terroir on the vines is transformative. These rocky sites full of gneiss (metamorphosed granite) imbibe the wines with a tension that vibrates the way running a wine-dipped finger around a glass rim can make it sing.

The perfume of citrus, apricots and honey will wind its way deep inside you and then when you take a sip…wow. It is like taking a lungful of bright mountain air high above the valley and just feeling alive. Bright yellow cherries, juicy pear with white pepper and clean, crisp crystalline minerals.

Drinking tip: This wine needs to breathe. Open it up half an hour before you drink it. The bottle should be lightly chilled, but not cold.


Federspiel is one of three classifications of wine unique to Austria's Wachau region and is used to describe wines of the middleweight category with alcohol levels between 11.5%-12.5%. Named after a type of hunting falcon, Federspiel wines are said to have ‘the power and precision of a hunting eagle.’

This wine will work wonderfully well with a pan-seared heritage pork chop. Marinate it in garlic and cider overnight, sear it on a hot iron skillet and then use the marinade to deglaze your pan while your chop rests. If you want to be decadent, add some cream and a little dried sage and thicken.

You will be in for a treat with a bottle that will keep growing and giving more as the evening goes on. Have a glass with your meal, but also enjoy with some cheese afterwards.

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