Many people don't equate Austria with quality wine production. However, the country has worked hard to create a wine industry that is starting to garner more attention.
If you're old enough to remember, you might be familiar with the wine scandal in 1985 that tainted Austria's reputation in the wine industry. In what was called the "antifreeze scandal," it was revealed that some Austrian wine brokers had been adding diethylene glycol. German wine-quality-control scientists discovered it when they learned German producers were illegally blending Austrian wines in with German varietals.
Today, wine additives are closely monitored and regulated, and Austria has worked extremely hard to repair its reputation, which has certainly paid off. The wines produced today are elegant with a nicely balanced acidity. There are 35 wine varieties approved in Austria; 22 white wine grapes and 13 red wine grapes.
Viticulture in Austria dates back to around 700 B.C., but only a small area of the country, primarily on the eastern side, is dedicated to wine production today.
Gruner Vetliner is undoubtedly the most important and well-known white wine grape grown in Austria. It's commonly compared to Sauvignon Blanc because of its similar flavor profile. Basic Gruner Vetliner vintages will immediately display those Sauvignon Blanc characteristics, while higher quality Reserves resemble a Burgundian oaked Chardonnay.
Zweigelt is the most popularly planted red wine grape in Austria. It's lighter in style and may resemble a non-oaked red like a Gamay or Grenache. It is grown throughout Austria's wine regions. It's sometimes called the "cherry bomb," as many quality yields include tones of Morello cherry. To really appreciate a Zweigelt, let it decant for an hour or so, as it will become more fruity and complex.
If you're looking for an age-worthy red wine in Austria, consider a Blaufrankisch. These tend to be heavy in tannins and harsh when young, but if you bring a bottle back with you and open it down the line, you'll likely find the silky-smooth berry tones will have more fully developed.
Sparkling wine fans will want to seek out Austrian Sekt. This is such a celebrated wine in Austria, there is even a day dedicated to celebrating it! If you happen to be in Austria on October 22, it's Austrian Sekt day.
Other varietals you're likely more familiar with that are produced in Austria include Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Cabernet.
Aside from familiarizing yourself with the grape varieties grown in Austria, it's important to learn more about the wine laws and classification system. You'll see DAC on bottles, which means Districtus Austriae Controllatus, Latin for Controlled District of Austria. This is along the same lines as the AOC in France and DOCG in Italy.
As you delve deeper into the wine labels, you'll come across a variety of terms that may be even more confusing if you aren't very familiar with EU classifications. If you're very particular on the level of sweetness in a wine, you'll want to commit these terms to memory. From driest (not sweet) to sweet: Trocken, Halbtrocken, Lieblich, and Sweet.
Sweet wines are a specialty of Austria as well. These wines are perfect to satiate your sweet tooth and pair with a dessert. Sweet wines will carry designations like Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Ausbruch, Trockenbeerenauslese, Eiswein (ice wine), and Strohwein.
Wines that have designated origins are labeled Landwein (land wine), Qualitatswein (quality wine), and Pradikatswein (classed quality wines). If you see Reserve on the label, it means it's a quality wine with a minimum alcohol level of 13%.
If you're ready to hit some of Austria's wine growing regions, be sure to include the eastern side of the country on your Austrian itinerary. Niederosterreich, Burgenland, and Steiermark are the largest planted areas. Vienna and Graz are the two cities that will place you nearby to these regions for a base of exploration.
Remember to always have a designated driver. The legal limit in Austria is only 0.05 BAC and your Roam Right travel policy wont cover any losses that arise as a result of alcohol use.
Please drink responsibly and use a designated driver, as your RoamRight policy does not cover loss resulting from or caused by being under the influence of alcohol.
What are some of your favorite wines?
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