About Austrian Wine
Similar to Germany, the wine tradition in Austria stretches back almost a thousand years. However, Austria has been known for high quality wines in the modern era for only a short time. A scandal in the 1980s, where an Austrian producer tried to claim diethylene glycol on his tax returns, led to Austrian wines being pulled from shelves all over the world. Diethylene glycol is a colorless, odorless chemical that unscrupulous producers were adding to their wines to give them more body and weight. News agencies across the world called it the “anti-freeze” scandal (anti-freeze is ethylene glycol).
As a result of this scandal, Austria enacted some of the strictest wine laws in the world in regards to production. Many producers reacted by focusing on top quality wines, as opposed to the bulk wines that had been the focus in the previous era. This resulted in a true renaissance in wine quality from Austria.
Austrian Grape Varietals
Although many different varieties of grape are grown in Austria, there are two white grapes that account for the majority of Austria’s international success:
Riesling: The famous aromatic grape from Germany and Alsace. It is used here to make dry, off-dry, and sweet wines.
Grüner Veltliner: The indigenous grape of Austria, known for its peppery and herbal notes.
The red grapes that are grown in Austria include:
St. Laurent: A robust red grape that makes fruity and floral red wines with a dark color.
Blaufränkisch: An herbal red grape used to make fruity red wines with a slight pepperiness. Known as Lemberger in Germany and Kekfrankos in Hungary.
Austrian Wine Regions
Most of Austria’s plantings are located north of the Austrian Alps and are along the course of the Danube River in Niederösterreich. Here is where you’ll find three of the most well known regions in Austria: Kamptal, Kremstal, and Wachau. The vast majority of wines coming from these three regions are white and dry, with Grüner Veltliner and Riesling leading the charge.
In fact, the wines from Wachau are only made dry. In the Wachau, there is a special classification of quality for the wines that is only used here. This scale of quality is based upon the level of sugar in the grapes at harvest, also known as the must weight. The wine will be labeled as Steinfeder, Federspiel, and Smaragd.
Steinfeder: This is the lightest of the three classifications, named after the light airy grass of the region that is often blowing freely in the winds. They must never be higher than 11% alcohol. You will rarely encounter this wine outside of Austria itself, as it is mostly consumed there.
Federspiel: Named after the device that calls the bird back to the handler in the ancient sport of Falconry that is traditional to Austria. These wines are medium in weight and may show slight signs of botrytis. They must be between 11.5% & 12.5% alcohol.
Smaragd: Named after the emerald green lizards that are indigenous to the Wachau and can often be spotted scurrying in the vineyards. These are the fullest bodied wines of the region and often have the ability to age for extended periods of time. They will often show deep notes of botrytis and must be at least 12.5% alcohol.
Although many people think of Austria as a cool climate (and in the mountains it certainly can be), the Burgenland is actually quite warm. Here, the ancient lakebed of the Pannonian Plain begins and stretches all the way through Hungary and beyond into Eastern Europe. The continental climate here can be very warm in the summer, as well as cold and snowy in the winter. The summer warmth is what makes this area ideal for Austria’s best red wines.
Some of the best sweet wines in Austria are produced here, as well around the shores of Lake Neusiedlersee. This large shallow lake tempers the otherwise warm climate and creates the humidity in which botrytis cinerea thrives (the noble rot that creates the best sweet wines).
Food & Wine Pairings
Riesling Wine Pairings
- Veal sausage
- Wiener schnitzel
- Chilled shellfish
Grüner Veltliner Pairings
- Pea soup
- Roasted asparagus
- Vinaigrette dressed salads
- Herb crusted lamb
- Summer BBQ
- Venison stew
St. Laurent Pairings
- Seared duck breast
- Grilled ham
- Pork chops with berry compote