A vigorous wine culture with a distinguished history, plenty of energetic young winemaking talent, great indigenous grape varieties, a range of vine-friendly soils and climates, enthusiasm for the best of modern winemaking techniques—Austria has it all.
Location & Regions
Austria's most famous wine regions overlook the Danube River, from the westernmost slopes of the Wachau and Kremstal to the metropolis vineyard hills above Vienna, the capital. In the 1980's a scandal involving a synthetic sweetening agent rocked the Austrian wine industry. While devastating to some, it made room for smaller, quality oriented producers while ultimately raising the bar on all Austrian wines.
Geologically, Austria straddles the Alps, its vineyards almost exclusively planted in the North Eastern part of the country. Those closest to the Western and Southerly mountains are the coolest and rockiest. Moving east, conditions change from alpine to continental until we reach the Austro-Hungarian border region of Burgenland where the majority of Austria's red and sweet wine is produced.
Along with different micro-climates, Austria enjoys a great diversity of soil types, from stone and gravel to heavy clay, from volcanic and conglomerate to loess and lake sand. The mix provides excellent conditions for growing a wide range of both red and white grapes, translating their distinctive origins into the bottle.
History & Grapes
Austria's winemaking credentials go back 3,000 years or more, with vineyard cultivation established well before the Romans. As far back as the 16th century, Austrian dessert wines were prized throughout Europe. A wine adulteration scandal tarnished the industry's image in the 1980's, but immediately triggered a virtual revolution in winemaking and a renewed commitment to the strictest quality standards.
While Austrians speak primarily German, the culture is mixed. This is most evident in Burgenland where traditions, grape varieties, and family names are often shared on either side of the Austro-Hungarian border. Austria is having excellent results with all the major international varieties, but its real strength shines through with a bounty of indigenous vines. In fact, nowhere does one find such a range of bright aromatic reds, and spicy whites of precision and pleasure balanced so effortlessly than in Austria. And as the land that invented late-harvest dessert wines, Austria remains a leading source of these exotic, magical nectars, particularly the Ausbruch from the shores of Lake Neusiedl.
GrĂĽner Veltliner is Austria's most widely-planted variety and a great, flexible food match, capable of making both crisp, clean quaffers and (especially in the Wachau and Kremstal) big, extracted, ageworthy wines. These lively, spicy, peppery wines have caught the attention of the international wine press in recent years and made their way onto discerning restaurant wine lists. Austrian Riesling is less well known than its German counterpart, but makes a signature statement with its dry, full-bodied style.
The most widely planted red grape is BlaufrĂ¤nkisch, synonymous with Burgenland but grown in many other areas. BlaufrĂ¤nkisch makes hearty, mouth-filling wines, by itself or in blends. St. Laurent, sometimes tricky to work with, delivers at its best wines of great focus and intensity. Zweigelt (a cross between BlaufrĂ¤nkisch and St. Laurent) makes wines of considerable fruit and finesse. In combination, sometimes augmented with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and other international varieties, cuvĂ©e blends of Austrian reds can hold their own with the best of Europe and the New World.