Description 1 of 2
Austria is located in the heart of Europe and is known for incredibly dry whites of exceptional quality. Lesser known to the United States are Austria’s red wines which range from classic fruity reds to powerful Reserves. In past years, Austrian wines have been lumped in with their neighbors Germany and Alsace, but recently the Austrian Wine industry has taken America by storm, gaining headway with its most popular grape: Grüner Veltliner a.k.a. GruV, an acidic white grape characteristically described by white pepper, green apple and citrus. Twenty-five years ago, Austria is said to have been a different wine country. In 2008, the country exported more than ever before and is expected to increase steadily for a number of years to come. Austria’s wines are produced in the Weinland Österreich in the far Eastern corner of the country surrounding Vienna and is divided into sixteen key winemaking regions. Each region varies in climate from hot to cool and is made up of a combination of soils: slate, sand, clay, gneiss, loam, fields, fertile loess and some others. While the world of wine as a whole seems to be trending toward commercialism and mass production, Austria has substantiated its roots in artisanal practices and specialized resources. Although Austria has few to no big brands due to low yields and artisanal winemaking practices, consumers can depend on quality wines from the least expensive to the most. One of the unique characteristics of Austrian wine country is its young and dynamic wine scene. Family owned vineyards and natural viticulture techniques set Austria apart from many of its competing nations. Within these sixteen regions, five have gained Districtus Austriae Controllatus (DAC) status: • Weinviertel DAC - Grüner Veltliner - since 2002 • Mittelburgenland DAC – Blaufränkisch - since 2005, classic and Reserve • Traisental DAC – Grüner Veltliner, Riesling - since 2006, classic and Reserve • Kremstal DAC – Grüner Veltliner, Riesling - since 2007, classic and Reserve • Kamptal DAC – Grüner Veltliner, Riesling - since 2008, classic and Reserve • Leithaberg DAC – White and Red - From 2009 - White: Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Neuburger or Cuvée - Red: Blaufränkisch (min 85%), Zweigelt or Sankt Laurent (max 15%) For those that are not made in accordance with the DAC standards, Austria classifies its wines in accordance with EU standards: 1. Wein (Wine without indication of origin) 2. Landwein (corresponds to EU‘s PGI) Protected Geografical Indicatio(geschützte geografische Angabe) from a designated portion of the country 3. Qualitätswein (corresponds to EU‘s PDO) Protected Designation of Origin (geschützte Ursprungsbezeichnung) from a specigic origin a. Qualitätswein from generic specified regions b. Qualitätswein from specific specified regions Like Germany, Austria classifies its wines via a sugar pyramid, but they seldom use the Kabinett and Spatleses categories as the classifications are more important for their sweet wines which are measured on a scale of KMW, which is similar to a Brix rating. These classifications are: Auslese: 21°KMW, bad grapes removed Beerenauslese: 25°KMW, bad grapes removed Ausbruch: 27°KMW, botrytised grapes with potential addition of grape juice and/or late harvest wine Trockenbeerenauslese: 30°KMW, completely botrytised grapes Eiswein: 25°KMW, further concentrated by being harvested and pressed when frozen. Schilfwein/Strohwein: 25°KMW, made from grapes dried on straw mats Austrian wine culture is unlike most others throughout the world. Wine is not a compliment to lifestyle, it is part of Austrian culture and has been for over two millenia! Austrian wine culture includes both good food and good wine and additionally, a good time to match! Austria does not have a major producing winery like many other countries, but instead is made up of over 9000 family-owned wineries all of which incorporate their own family traditions with contemporary techniques new generation winemakers have learned abroad. Austria is also set apart by their ability to produce such diverse wines and, of course, their indigenous grape varietals: • Grüner Veltliner • Welschriesling • Zierfandler/Rotgipfler • Zweigelt • Blaufränkisch • St. Laurent • Blauer Wildbacher However, Austria has also seen great success with many international grape varietals: • Riesling • Sauvignon Blanc • Muskateller • Pinot Blanc • Chardonnay • Pinot Noir Wine & Food Austrians are known for having some of the most food-friendly wines in the world that are great for pairing with both their native cuisine but also for foods from around the world. For example, Grüner Veltliner is an excellent choice for both sushi and other Asian inspired dishes and was voted the best wine pairing by the Congress for Chinese Cuisine and Wine – Description from Constance Chamberlain
Description 2 of 2
Austria is believed to have begun to cultivate the vine even before Roman times, and the wines can be truly great, but few people know them. Its production is not large. It makes something like a quarter of the amount of wine that Germany does, and sells a majority of that in the latter country. Perhaps because of its association with Germany, many people think Austrian wines are mostly sweet, but they’re not. While Austria does produce great dessert wines, most of its wines are dry, mineral-driven, and fascinating white wines.
Burgenland, in the country’s south, is beginning to develop a reputation for outstanding reds. Once, when Austria was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the region was known solely for its exceptional dessert wines, mostly botrytized and often made in the Ausbruch style. This is till being done in Burgenland today.
The mid-19th century brought interest in cross-breeding varieties to create quantity-oriented grapes to make inexpensive wine for export. By the 1970s, overproduction in both Germany and Austria had led to a “wine lake” -- an economic disaster for the industry.
In 1985, it was discovered that some of the larger producers and blenders had added diethylene glycol to their wines. The idea was to give the perception of increased body and to make sweet wines seem sweeter. The additive is harmless, and certainly not actually antifreeze, but it sparked a massive scandal that rendered all Austrian wine virtually unsellable. As it turned out, the “antifreeze scandal” saved the Austrian wine industry by precipitating a massive restructuring and tightening of the wine laws. Today, most Austrian wine that makes it to the US is very well-made.
Austria has lately become known, mostly by people too young to remember the “antifreeze scandal,” as a source of cheap Gruner Veltliner -- a situation on which many growers have capitalized. But what’s interesting about Austria is that it remains a country with extremely strong regional identities, and produces a diverse array of wines that reflect its local cultures.
Austria can be divided into four major wine-producing areas (Weinbauregionen). They are Niederosterreich, Wien (Vienna), Burgenland, and Steierland (Styria).
The Niederosterreich is home to the regions Wachau, Kremstal, Kamptal, Weinviertel, Thermenregion, Traisental, Carnuntum, and Donauland. This is where more than two-thirds of all of Austrian wine comes from. Several of these regions, such as the Wachau and Kremstal, are much-admired for their excellent Gruner Veltliner and Riesling.
Vienna is the only capital city in the world with a serious wine industry within its limits. Its traditional field blends, known as Gemischter Satz, are often dismissed or consigned to the local taverns, but this is unjustified -- many are interesting and delicious. Good Gruner Veltliner and Riesling is also made there.
Burgenland is historically known for its botrytized dessert wines, especially those made in the Ausbruch style. This region makes up most of the remaining third of Austrian wine production. Today, Burgenland is becoming increasingly well-regarded for its red wines, made mainly from Blaufrankisch, St-Laurent, and Zweigelt.
Steierland, or Styria, is a small, mountainous viticultural region. It is best known for a pale rose wine known as Schilcher, made from the indigenous Blauer Wildbacher grape. Varieties such as Welchriesling, Gelber Muskateller, Pinot Blanc, and Gewurztraminer, as well as international varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, are also planted there.
Austrian Grapes and Wine Styles
Virtually all Austrian wine is dry, except for the great dessert wines of Burgenland. Like Germany, Austria uses Pradikat designations to indicate ripeness. In the Wachau, they use the terms Steinfeder (the lightest wines), Federspiel (riper and richer), and Smaragd (the richest and fullest) instead. Most wines are still, but sparkling Gruner can be a real treat as well.
Gruner Veltliner is beginning to take off as an inexpensive and neutral alternative to Pinot Grigio, but that does no justice to Austria’s capacity as a wine-producing country. That grape variety is capable of stunning expression of terroir and can be aged for many years.
Austrian Riesling often has more heft than German versions, though not as much as Gruner Veltliner does. It, too, often produces fantastic, ageworthy wines. As with Gruner, single-vineyard versions are expensive but worth seeking out.
Blaufrankisch is something of a chameleon. It has long been known that it is a high-quality red grape. In the Middle Ages, the best grapes were labeled “Frankish” to distinguish them from those of lesser quality. Blaufrankisch still retains that distinction in its name. For a long time, it was made largely into light-bodied, fresh quaffing wines. It was even thought to be related to the Gamay of Beaujolais. Many growers, however, soon figured out that it can be made into quite powerful, tannic wines and were more inclined to compare it to Syrah. Some of these put it in new oak, making wines that were at times overwhelmingly oaky and difficult to drink in their youth. Today, some of the best producers, such as Moric, are making Blaufrankisch in a more light-handed style, and the results don’t resemble anything else very much, which is about right.
St-Laurent is another indigenous red grape that has been compared to Merlot, Pinot Noir, and lots of other things. This variety tends to be softer and less tannic than Blaufrankisch. It, too, has endured experiments with large amounts of extract and new oak, some of them even pleasant. It can be an easy quaffer or quite serious and ageworthy, depending on the producer’s ambitions.
Zweigelt is a cross between Blaufrankisch and St-Laurent created by one Doctor Zwei. It is a lovely quaffer. It’s usually medium-bodied with soft tannins, and has few equals as a casual, versatile table wine.
The final major style of Austrian wine that one is likely to encounter is the Viennese Gemischter Satz. This is a field blend of local indigenous varieties, meaning that the wines are not blended, but rather grown, harvested, and fermented together from a single vineyard. Always common in Viennese restaurants, these bright, tasty wines are finally finding their way abroad. Boutique importer Darcy and Huber has some interesting selections from Vienna.
Best Wine Deals
Austrian Wine Top Lists
Rex Goliath Merlot (NV)Rated
Rex Goliath Merlot (NV)Reviewed
Oak Cask Malbec. Trapiche (2013)Cellared
Santa Carolina Carmenere Reserva Estate (2012)Cellared
Orin Swift Cellars Papillon Napa Valley (2013)Reviewed
Hartford Family Hartford Court Zinfandel Old Vine Russian River Valley (2011)Wishlisted
Federalist Zinfandel (2010)Wishlisted
Elyse Zinfandel Korte Ranch (2009)Wishlisted
Artezin Mendocino Zinfandel (2011)Wishlisted