Burgenland, located in eastern Austria and bordering Hungary, enjoys a worldwide reputation among connoisseurs for producing outstanding sweet Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines. The region was part of Hungary until 1921. A referendum established that the population wished to be part of Austria.
Although viniculture existed for millennia in the area, the vintners were preferred to produce large quantities of wine until after the region became part of Austria.
The terrain is relatively flat, with occasional undulations to break the monotony. The shallow Neusiedl Lake located in the middle of the region, helps to moderate the climate.
Hot summers, mild autumn weather, and humidity from the Neusiedl Lake create perfect conditions for the production of high quality sweet wines.
On a balmy March morning, I travelled by bus to Eisenstadt, the capital of region, to
meet Mr. S. Szmolyan, who was my host for the day.
He informed me that the region’s vineyards cover approximately 22,000 hectares
representing 1/3 of the total viticultural area of Austria. Some 16 000 wineries produce three per cent of the total wine output of the country.
The Lake Neusiedl is primarily responsible for the production of shrivelled grapes–, for the auslese (select harvest), beerenauslese (botrytis affected) and trockenbeerenauslese (fully botrytis affected) wines.
The first winery visited was a co-operative, one of many in the region, where we tasted a few wines were that were only adequate at best.
The second stop was the high-volume Vereinigte Burgenlandische Winzergenossenschaft, This co-operative’s members vineyards are located along the lake, and this establishment’s wines tasted better and more flavourful than ordinary products.
We then continued our itinerary towards the village of Rust, considered the beerenauslese wine capital of Burgenland. This village, founded in the 12th century as a “free city”, had the right to govern itself with minimal federal intervention from Vienna.Practically every house in Rust has a cellar, offering free tastings and sells wine.
Gustav Feiler is one of the foremost producers in the area of Rust and owns 15 hectares just outside of the city. His residence contains the winery, equipped with a modern Vasselin press and stainless steel tanks and barrels. There is also a barn on the premises where Mr. Feiler keeps cows to ensure a steady supply supply of organic fertilizers. A vintner going to that extend deserves the respect of a wine lover.
We then tasted a few of his wines such as the Riesling Auslese 1980, Weissburgunder 1980 Auslese, Traminer 1979 Beerenauslese, Muskat-Ottonel 1979, Blaufrankish Trockenbeerenauslese 1979 all of which were either excellent or outstanding.
The winery supplies small quantities to the elite European importers and ships a few cases Russia.
Before lunch at the hotel, I was informed that the predominant grape varieties of Burgenland are: Welschriesling, Gruener Veltliner, Muskat-Ottonel, Neuburger, Mueller-Thurgau, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Rheinriesling, and Gewurztraminer. There are a few red grape varieties planted of which Blaufrankisch is the most popular, followed by Zweigelt (a cross between Blaufrankisch and St. Laurent crossbred by professor Zweigelt), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc and few other experimental varieties.
Burgenland produces predominantly white wines, as does Austria in general, but lately young ambitious growers started growing red grapes using French grape varieties. Some of them offer remarkable aromas, and flavours.
Following lunch, we headed north on the lakeshore towards the eastern part of the Lake. We passed the little village Neusiedl, then Podersdorf, and arrived in Illmitz, which is the up-and-coming village, challenging the quality of wines of Rust.
We first visited the vineyards of Seewinkelhof operated by L. Moser. The vineyards are seven kilometres from the lakeshore, but still influenced by the lake. Here L. Moser produces its Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines from Traminer , Gewurztraminer and Riesling. Also, a nursery is operated for the whole of the company, taking advantage of favourable climatic conditions. The Gewurztraminer Auslese 1976 we tasted was extraordinary.
The next stop was Rosenhof, owned and managed by Mr. V. Haida-Tschida who owns eight hectares of vineyards, makes the wine and operates a garden-cum-restaurant featuring exclusively his wines. The garden sports throngs of rosebushes, and is laid out more like a Spanish courtyard. The low building has a thatched roof. We started with a Welschriesling, in Austria referred to as Riesling, Kabinett 1981, and then continued with Gruener Veltliner Auslese 1979, Riesling Auslese 1979, Traminer Beerenauslese 1976, Neuburger Auslese 1976, and finished with a Gewuerztraminer Trockenbeerenauslese 1976 – a rarity.
You will notice the ages of the wines tasted which proves the longevity of Burgenland’s sweet wines.
All of his wines were still brilliant, fruity, impecabbly balanced, some excellent and a few were outstanding. Many of his wines are awarded gold and silver medals not only in the Zagreb International wine competition. His winery is certainly worth a visit. Many experts believe Illmitz has the climate to produce botrysized grapes and may become a formidable competitor to Rust.
The rigorous controls on grape production and harvesting on growers by Austrian wine control authorities ensure a high quality wine at very reasonable prices, for here the terrain is much easier to work than in other sweet wine producing regions. Another factor contributing to the reasonable price of Burgenland wines is that they are as yet not as famous as their counterparts from Germany and France.
Burgenland produces the best, superbly balanced, flavourful, sweet and value wines of Austria, and now young and enthusiastic winemakers make very fine, occasioanlly outstanding, celalr worhty red wines.
When visiting Vienna wine enthusiasts should use the opportunity to visit this charming corner of Austria.