Austria, a small Central European country, at one time produced significant amounts of dry white and sweet wines.
Since the wine scandal in 1985, vineyard owners and wineries decided to switch from average wines to high-end products, as they could not compete with South African, and Australian bulk wine producers.
All told, Austria’s vitiviniculturists cultivate 32,000hectares of vineyards that yield fine grapes, most of which are indigenous – gruener veltliner, muskat-ottonel, welschriesling, rotgipfler, traminer, bouvier for whites and zweigelt, blaufrankisch and St. Laurent for reds
Lately, many young and ambitious winemakers with control over vineyards decided to plant international rapes i.e sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, viognier, semillon, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, pinot noir, merlot and syrah.
All are used mostly for blending, but a few winemakers produce varietal wines.
Generally, Austrian wines were low in alcohol (approximately 11 – 11.5 per cent ABV, but these days most sport 12.5 to 13 and some even over 15. This is mostly due to warmer growing seasons, but also to reduced yields and late harvests.
Austria’s s rheinriesling from Kamptal, Kremstal and Wachau are fine examples of where this noble grape can produce on the right terroir. They are racy, dry, balanced, layered and possess a lively acidity. These are characteristics for longevity and suitability for food.
Vienna is the only capital in the world with 450 hectares of vineyards within city limits and which also permits wineries to sell their products in their restaurants. In Grinzing, a suburb of the city, these winery-owned restaurants offer local specialties, entertainment and their heurige (Austria’s own nouveau wine) to eager consumers.
In recent years, Austria’s exports increased exponentially to mainly the United Kingdom, Germany, Scandinavian countries, the U S A, Canada and Japan. While previously Austria’s sweet wines of late harvest, beerenauslese and trockenbeerenauslese from Burgenland, adjacent to western Hungary were in demand, today dry white and red wines enjoy great popularity.
During a recent tasting of Austrian wines, the following wineries and their products caught my attention:
Salomon Undhof, Krems
Alte Reben Gruener Veltliner, 2002, 88
Gelber Traminer Reserve ,2003, 89
Loibenberg Gruener Veltliner, 2003, 88
Terrassen Riesling ,2003, 88
Creation Gruener Veltliner, 2003, 91
Winery Schloss Gobelsburg – Gobelsburg
Gobelsburger Gruener Veltliner, 2004, 88
Gruener Veltliner Renner, 2004, 88
Grueber vetliner Lamm, 2004, 91
Gruener Veltliner Tradition, 2003, 91
PannonischeWeingaertner Neusiedlersee – Gols
Rivaner “ Exclusiv” 2004, 88
Blaufraenkisch Ries Salzburg 2003, 88
Zweigelt Barrique 2003, 88
Weingut Giefing – Rust
Chardonnay Contessa 2002, 90
Zweigelt 2002, 88
Cavallo Pinot Noir 2002, 89
Blaufraenkisch Reserve 2002, 91
Marco Polo Cuvee (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot) 2003, 90
Cardinal Cuvee (Blaufraenkisch, Zweigelt, Cabernet Sauvignon) 2002, 91
Winery Hillinger Leo-Jois
Hill2 2003, 91
Sauvingon Blanc 2004, 88
While in France wine laws restrict blending outside permitted varieties in most regions, in Austria there are no such restrictions. Winemakers blend to their heart’s content, and those with good judgment and educated palates can achieve extraordinary flavours, blending zweigelt (a cross between Blaufraenkisch and St Laurent developed by Professor Zweigelt at Klosterneuburg Wine Academy) with cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah.
Unfortunately, the L C B O offers only a few mainstream Austrian wines on its general list.
The Vintages division brings in several gruener veltliner every year in limited quantities. Those mentioned above are consignment wines available through:
Gobelsburg, Andrews Group 416 686 3235
Salomon Undhof, Lamprecht International Ltd. 416 421 3908
Winery Hillinger Leo, Grand Collection 403 259 3303
Weingut Giefing Crown Mountain Group 905 441 1142
Pannonische Weingaertner, Unistar Enterprises 416 574 1118
Heuriger is the Viennese term for wine made from the harvest of the year (white nouveau). It is also the name of rustic taverns where this young sometimes even slightly fermenting and opaque wine is served. Experiencing a heurigen evening is easy. Take the streetcar No.38 to Grinzing and by the time you order your glass of wine and Wiener Schnitzel and salad you will make friends with your tablemates. If you speak a little German your contact may be more rewarding. Late in the evening, a wandering minstrel will squeeze waltzes out of his accordion or zither player local tunes out of his unique instrument.