If you think that Austria is about Mozart, Strauss, the Sound of Music and Arnold Schwarzenegger you are missing out on one of wines best-kept secrets. Austria produces less than one percent of the worlds wine but most who taste it believe it to be some of the most interesting and exciting wine ever to traverse their taste buds.
For those looking to tangle their tongue, look no further than pronouncing the names of Austria’s native grape varieties Gruner Veltliner, Zweigelt, Blaufrankisch, Rotgipfler and Schilcher. These indigenous varieties are staking a claim internationally and the emphasis is on big fruit, good acidity and early drinkability.
No newcomer to wine production, Austria has a winemaking history that dates back to somewhere around 700 BC. It is the quality of the wine, however, that has lead to the wine worlds rediscovery of this tradition rich region. Situated south of Germany, Austria’s continental climate, many rivers and fertile soils make the land ideal for wine production.
The majority of wine produced is white and overwhelmingly, Gruner Veltliner, an aromatic and flavorful wine showing lively citrus and peppery spice yet crisp enough to be one of the food-friendliest wines available. If you are looking for the perfect wine to pair with sushi or Mexican food, here it is. The best examples are grown on the steep hillsides of the Wachau and Kamtal regions along the Danube River on terraced vineyards that are not for the acrophobic. Storybook villages dot this breathtaking landscape making it easy to understand why Austria inspires so many great artists. In addition to the Gruner Veltliner, some of the greatest Riesling we (and many wine critics) have ever tasted can also be found here.
Red wine production accounts for 25% of the total wine produced but thanks to modern winemaking practices and a new generation of winemakers, the ratio is becoming narrower each year. In the Eastern wine regions of the Burgenland, red wine accounts for over 50% of the wine produced. St. Laurent, Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch (known as Lemberger in Washington State) are the rising red stars of Austria. St. Laurent is often similar in taste and aroma to Pinot Noir. Zweigelt offers seductive cherry fruit with velvety spice and for those looking for a more powerful wine, Blaufrankisch typically offers notes of dark berry, licorice with rich tannins.
Sweet wines to die for are predominantly made near the shore of Lake Neusiedlersee. This huge shallow lake creates conditions perfect for the formation of Botrytis or “Noble Rot”, shrinking and concentrating the grapes to make sensuous dessert wines that don’t need dessert. The region’s first official Trokenbeerenauslese (a sweet wine) was made in 1526, the last of which was drunk in 1852 (326 years later). Talk about aging potential!
If you visit Austria, prepare yourself to fall in love. From the opera houses of Vienna to the small country inns called “Heurigen”, there is something for everyone (even if you don?t drink wine).
You may have trouble finding Austrian wine locally but it’s worth the effort.