Don’t forget about Austria! [Note to self]
[Information based on WSET Level 3 material]
When you think Austria, think Alps, as the large mountain range is the main geological feature that defines the country and, thus, the wine growing regions. But don’t, however, think about skiing in the Alps. That popular destination, located on the western side of the country is not where the grapes are grown. So it is that the vineyards are located on the eastern end of the country, home to a cool continental climate.
When you think about the major Austrian grapes, you may need a Google translator to help you properly pronounce some of these words:
- Gruner Veltliner (white) – the most widely planted variety. When grown with controlled yields, the resulting wines are concentrated with naturally high acidity. In its youth it has flavors of citrus or stone fruits with hints of white pepper. When aged, the wine develops notes of toast and honey.
- Welschriesling (white) – not related to Riesling. Get that out of the way. This is produced in both dry and sweet, botrytized styles. The dry wines are said to be simple with citruss and green apple flavors and high acidity.
- Riesling (white) – less widely planted. The best examples are said to come from the Wachau region of Niederosterreich, as well as Kamptal and Kremstal DAC’s (also in Niederosterreich).
- Zweigelt (red; a crossing between the following two grapes listed) – a deep colored, highly tannic grape variety with notes of brambly fruit.
- Blaufrankisch (red) – the most highly regarded of Austria’s red wines. It produces wines with medium tannins, high acidity, and notes of pepper and sour cherry.
- St. Laurent (red) – many compare this to Pinot Noir. I think a better descriptor is one I heard from an Austrian wine producer: “Gamay on steroids.”
For PDO wines, the four federal states are
- Niederosterreich (lower Austria)
- Steiermark (Styria)
As the first two account for the majority of the country’s wine production, these are the two that the WSET Level 3 reviews.
Niederosterreich (lower Austria)
Neiderosterreich is the largest region for both grape growing and wine production in Austria. Most vineyards are located on the banks of the Danube River or further north, near Slovakia. Wachau is the sub-region to know, as it’s renowned for its dry Gruner Veltliner and Riesling. Note: This is not a DAC*, however Kremstal DAC and Kamptal DAC are just north of Neiderosterreich and produce wines in a very similar style and quality level.
The other sub-region of note is Weinviertel DAC—it is Austria’s first DAC and is, today, the largest vine-growing area. Wines from Weinveirtel DAC must be 100% Gruner Veltliner and the wine is made in two styles: 1)kassik—a light, refreshing, fruity style with no oak influence 2) reserve—has a higher minimum alcohol requirement and are allowed to age in oak.
Burgenland is noted for its production of both sweet white wines as well as red wines. Although, it’s noted that dry whites are produced here as well, predominantly from Pinot Blanc, Welschriesling, Gruner Veltliner, and Chardonnay.
When it comes to the sweet wines, the major geological player is the Neusiedlersee Lake. This body of waters provides the proper conditions for the formation of botrytis to the vineyards planted in the area surrounding the lake. Welschriesling is the main grape used for the production of botrytized sweet wines.
Red wine grapes, however, are planted away from this body of water, further south, and on higher ground. Zweigelt is the most planted variety, but Blaufrankisch, St. Laurent, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon are also produced.
Within Burgenland, the Neusiedlersee is a DAC for Zweigelt and there are three DACs for Blaufranckish, the largest being Mittelburgenland DAC.
*AUSTRIAN WINE LAWS
Most Austrian wines are PDOs. PGIs will be labelled as either Landwein or simply Wein, if no geographical indication is, well, indicated.
There are four federal states (listed above) and 16 smaller areas that quailfy for PDO status. They can either have the status Qualitatswein (yes, like Germany) or DAC.
Qualitatswein—Rules of the Game: The four states and seven of the smaller areas are designated for the production of Qualitatswein. These wines can be made with any of the 35 permitted grape varieties in any style. The Qualitatswein can also be labelled with a Pradikat level. Again, this is the same as the German levels, but in Austria the terms are usually reserved for just the medium-sweet and sweet wines. NOTE: Austria also has two additional Pradikat levels—Ausbruch (which you’d stick in between a Beerenauslese and a Trockenbeerenauslese) and Strohwein/Schifwein (which refers to bunches of grapes that have been dried on straw beds during the winter to further concentrate the sugars). Oh and Kabinett, that guy gets filtered into the Qualitatswein. So, it goes: Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Strohwein, Ausbruch, Trockenbeerenauslese.
Good excuse to go revisit those German wine laws, eh?
Districtus Austriae Controllatus *DAC
Nine of the smaller regions have elected to become DACs. Rules of the Game: If producers from a region can agree on a grape variety or varieties, a style of wine (and regulations regarding the production of that style) that best reflects that region, they can apply for DAC status. BUT, once those rules are in place, on wines that conform to those rules can use the DAC on their labels. Otherwise they use one of the four federal state names.
So what do you think? Questions, comments, concerns? I love how some of you have piped in with your experiences in the different wine regions I’m covering or recommending wines to try. I am suddenly aware that I have only had one Austrian wine in my life from a local wine shop in my old neighborhood a few years ago. So…I could use the extra chatter from those of you with Austrian wine knowledge. Anywho… thanks for popping by. I’m on the countdown to my test now…
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