The Wines of Austria
Austria's wines come from the eastern part of the country, where the Alps recede into hills. Most of the wines come from small wineries. Austria makes less than one percent of all the wine in the world —about 28 million cases a year. Although some inexpensive Austrian wines do make their way to export markets, the Austrians have embraced a high-quality image, and most of their wines therefore command premium prices.
Austria's wine styles
While the excellence of Austria’s sweet whites has long been recognized, her dry whites and reds have gained recognition only in the past two decades. Reds are in the minority, claiming about 25 percent of the country’s production, because many of Austria’s wine regions are too cool for growing red grapes.
Red wines hail mainly from the area of Burgenland, bordering Hungary, one of the warmest parts of the country. They’re medium- to full-bodied, often engagingly spicy, with vivid fruity flavor — and often the international touch of oaky character. Many of them are based on unusual, native grape varieties such as the spicy Blaufrankish (Lemberger), the gentler St. Laurent, or Blauer Zweigelt (a crossing of the other two).
Austria’s white wines—apart from the luscious, late-harvest dessert wines made from extremely ripeor dried grapes — are dry wines ranging from light- to full-bodied that are generally unoaked.
Austria's grapes and wine names
Austria’s single most important grape variety is the native white Grüner Veltliner. Its wines are full-bodied yet crisp, with rich texture and herbal or sometimes spicy-vegetal flavors (especially green pepper). They’re extremely food-friendly, and usually high quality.
Riesling, grown mainly in the region of Lower Austria, in the northeast, is another key grape for quality whites. In fact, some experts believe that Austria’s finest wines are its Rieslings (while others prefer Grüner Veltliner).
Besides Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, other grape varieties used in Austrian wines include:
Müller-Thurgau, which makes characterful dry whites
Welschriesling, a grape popular in Eastern Europe for inexpensive wines that achieves high quality only in Austria
Pinot Blanc, which can excel in Austria
Sauvignon Blanc, a specialty of the region of Styria, in the south (bordering Slovenia)
In some parts of Austria, for example in the Wachau district, along the Danube River, wines are named in the German system — a town name ending in -er followed by a vineyard name and a grape variety. In other parts of Austria, the wine names are generally a grape name (or, increasingly, a proprietary name) followed by the name of the region.
Austria’s wine laws draw from the German model, with QWPSR wine divided into Qualitätswein and Prädikatswein categories. But some people believe that an appellation system based on terroir rather than ripeness levels would better express the diversity of Austria’s vineyard regions. Authorities introduced a new system called Districtus Austria Controllatus (DAC) on a limited basis in early 2003.