Austrian Mountain Reds

GDP shares cooler climate Austrian wine suggestions


It’s been cold as an Alpine breeze here in New York and that got me thinking of mountain wines—red mountain wines to be precise. Now this is a bit of a departure for me; I generally prefer these wines when the weather is not quite so determined to separate me from the tip of my nose. But the folks who make these wines tend to face conditions at least as bad as the ones we’re experiencing here in NYC, and somehow they manage to get by, so I figure we ought to at least try.
The wines I chose to taste were from Austria, with two of my favorite mountain varietals on offer: Blaufrankisch and Zweigelt. While these two wines can be quite similar, I tend to notice their distinctions as much as their similarities. The climate and soil of Austria yields wines that tend to be higher acid, crisp and crunchy with fine-grained tannins and a cool, reserved character in the fresh fruitiness they tend to exhibit. With Zweigelt, that fruitiness tends to remind me a bit of Syrah; floral with wild blueberry edges to the core of blackberry and raspberry fruit. Blaufrankisch, on the other hand, offers more complexity, some of which no doubt comes from newer oak, which is more commonly used with Blaufrankisch than with Zweigelt. But even on it’s own the grape produces a wine with more spice and savory notes than the fruitier Zweigelt.

If you haven’t had either of these varietals before, they’re definitely worth seeking out for a change of pace—also as an introduction to the style of red wines available from Austria and other mountain regions. They offer a more refreshing, different drinking experience than one typically gets from warm-climate wines, and are decidedly food friendly, perfect for simply-prepared and arctic weather-ready game, duck or beef dishes.

Austrian Farm House and Vineyard via Shutterstock 

2008 Anita Nittnaus Blaufrankisch Kalk und Schiefer Burgenland 13% $30

A bit of funk greets the nose, reductive, though there is a deep gaminess here, with spicy mint and juniper framing notes to the dried berry fruit. Silky on entry, this shows fine focus in the mouth with a lovely nuanced Burgundian quality to the flavors. Fresh and dried berries are joined by dried flower petals, hints of beet root and spice, and a nice savory vein that ties everything together. The balance is excellent; nothing sticks out but everything is very much present. The finish reveals lovely purity of fruit with some chalky minerality and a more savory, almost medicinal nuance that leads to a finale pop of gorgeous wild blackberry/cherry fruit. Subtle and sophisticated. 91pts

2010 Juris Zweigelt Selection Burgenland 13% $17

Soft and slightly funky on the nose with notes of something vaguely recalling boiled pig skin lying under beautiful candied medicinal and violet tones. There’s some dried mushroom here as well, a nice base of juniper-laced blackberries. Broad and soft on entry, this is really open for business texturally with finely polished fruit tannins and juicy acidity in fine balance with the earth, red berry, plum and cherry fruit. Neither terribly complex nor deep, this is almost luxurious and shows surprising persistence and density on the long finish. 88pts Find it Here 

2010 Iby Blaufrankisch Classic Burgenland 13% $17

Wide open on the nose with earthy aromas of barnyard, diesel, dried peach and dried mushroom accenting amarena cherry fruit. Plump and almost sweet on entry, with soft tannins supporting nicely delineated black plum skin and light blackberry fruit. This is juicy and clear; though it lacks some complexity, it does pick up a nice streak of wild herb and licorice root on the back end and through the moderately long finish. 87pts 

2011 Pfaff Austrian Cherry Zweigelt 13% $15

Tight but clean on the nose with subtle dried herb notes early on, followed by black fruit, gravel and cinnamon. The wine enters the mouth showing very little fruit but lots of acid, though it does broaden in the mouth, gaining a certain level of richness. There are some fairly significant tannins here, soft but abundant, and lovely hints of violet and blueberry-accented fruit on the mid palate, though it fades quickly on the finish, leaving behind some lovely black cherry and floral inner mouth perfumes and those slightly tacky tannins and juicy acidity. This will need a bit of time to open, though it does show fine balance and lovely aromatics in the mouth. 83 points today, plus 5 or so with 2-6 months of rest. Find it Here


2008 Zantho Blaufrankisch Burgenland 13% $14

Showing noticeable evolution on the nose, with hints of caramel and oxidation laying under a nice base of raspberry reduction and hints of bay leaf, black pepper and melon rind. This is lovely on the palate, juicy, transparent, still laden with fresh raspberry fruit laced with a hint of lemon verbena and a nice earthy edge that carries the wine right through to a moderately long, clean and fruity finish. A really lovely little wine, perfect for unadorned lamb dishes. 86pts Find it Here

2011 Kirchmayr Zweigelt Thermenregion 13% $15

Spicy and woodsy on the nose with deep purple floral scents, lots of crushed wild blackberry and spicy blueberry fruit and a touch of something meaty and vaguely Syrah-like. Snappy on entry, with the softness and sweetness of ripeness but nicely spiky acidity keeping the palate fresh and lively. The back end reveals something a bit more chocolatey or slightly cooked about the black raspberry fruit which all leads to a slightly herbal, bright, clean, crisp modest finish. Very friendly and easy to drink while remaining varietally correct. 86pts Find it Here

2010 Zantho Zweigelt Burgenland 13% $17

Hints of cocoa, dried herbs and dried meat great the nose followed by some talcy mineral spice and jammy wild raspberry fruit. This is wide in the mouth, and feels a touch soft even though it has fine acidity. There are some tannins but this does seem to be awfully easy going. The palate recalls the nose, with faint impressions of cocoa and licorice along with hints of balsam and herb accenting blackberry and blueberry fruit. Easy drinking style and quite attractive, there is a little lactic thing going on here that will be offputting to some. Rather fruit-driven. 86pts Find it Here

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  • Snooth User: courgette
    124481 158

    Thanks for the Austro-boosterism here, Greg. I fell in love with Zweigelt a couple of years ago, via Brundl's liters (which I buy at Minneapolis' Surdyk's). I served it at a party recently, and everyone kept grabbing the bottle to be sure they remembered it!

    Feb 05, 2013 at 2:16 PM

  • Snooth User: yoyoma
    55601 3

    The glass stoppers and the red/white/red tops make it worth the search. Didn't know you could still find Zantho Zweigelt. Darn good, and restaurants triple charge for it.
    Try ZVY-GELT

    Feb 05, 2013 at 7:47 PM

  • Thanks for the info. Will be in Innsbruck next week am looking forward to trying their whites but prefer reds and now I have an idea of what to try. Jack

    Feb 06, 2013 at 2:14 AM

  • Sounds interesting. Any NY or Northwestern US wineries getting into these varietals?

    Feb 06, 2013 at 6:02 AM

  • Snooth User: guitarman
    943122 5

    I enjoy reading these articles as I'm still trying to learn more about Wine. There's also another wine from that part of the world made by Toni Hartl, which I've heard is good but can't seem to find where or how to purchase some and I can't get a reponse from their website. Any suggestions?

    Feb 06, 2013 at 11:54 AM

  • Love the Blaufränkisch

    Feb 08, 2013 at 7:35 AM

  • Left when I was 6, not sure what the wines were at the family table. Guess I should start "visiting" the homeland.

    Nov 20, 2013 at 10:27 AM

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