Like most European countries, Austria has a long winemaking history dating back some 4,000 years. However, its wine only made headlines around the world in 1985, when a few producers were discovered to have adulterated their wines with antifreeze, an illegal substance, to make them more full-bodied. This wine scandal caused the near-total collapse of Austrian wine exports and prompted the establishment of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board the following year in order to strengthen the industry standard and improve the image of Austrian wine. Fast-forward around 30 years, Austrian wine has been reborn and is now one of the most sought-after wines in fine restaurants in Europe and beyond.
Located in the centre of Europe, the climate of Austria is affected from all directions. There is the warm Pannonian wind from the east and the temperate Mediterranean influence from the south, the cold air from the north and the humid Atlantic wind from the west. Together with its diverse soil types, Austria produces a wide range of wine, from crisp whites in the north to rich reds in the south. Although considered to be cool climate, some Austrian wine can be surprisingly powerful and full-bodied, but they are all supported by fresh acidity.
Over 99% of Austrian wine regions are found in the eastern part of the country. The nation’s capital, Vienna (Wien), is the only city in the world that is a designated wine region (Districtus Austriae Controllatus, or DAC).
White grapes comprise two-thirds of the total planting area in Austria. The most important grape is Grüner Veltliner, which covers one-third of all vineyards. Over 90% of this variety is planted in Niederösterreich (Lower Austria) in the north. Similar to Riesling and Chenin Blanc, Grüner Veltliner can be made into sparkling wine (Sekt in German), light-bodied, refreshing or opulent white wine and half-sweet and noble-rot sweet wine. Its flavours are mainly stone fruits, white pepper and lentils.
Although also grown in other countries, Grüner Veltliner is unmistakably Austrian, and it is this wine that has propelled Austria back into the international wine scene and captured the hearts of both wine lovers and sommeliers.
At a recent Austrian wine-discovery tasting, we had the chance to try nine different styles of Grüner Veltliner. These are the wines I found particularly impressive:
- Stift Klosterneuburg Grüner Veltliner Brut Reserve 2017, Niederösterreich g.U.: a sparkling wine made in the traditional champagne method with notes of citrus, peach and brioche. It’s ideal if you prefer a rounder style of sparkling wine. This wine is available in Hong Kong from Schmidt Vinothek.
- Domäne Wachau Smaragd Grüner Veltliner Ried Achleiten 2021, Wachau DAC: a dense wine packed with notes of pear, fine herbs, pepper and almonds and a long finish. Smaragd is a special designation in the Wachau DAC denoting the highest-quality wine made with fully ripened grapes. This wine, from the single vineyard site Ried Achleiten, is concentrated enough to pair with steak. It’s available from Two More Glasses.
- Ebner-Ebenauer Reserve Grüner Veltliner Black Edition 2019, Weinviertel DAC: an elegant wine with multilayered flavours of stone fruits, nuts, peas and delicate, sweet spices from oak. It’s perfect with spicy and flavourful Indian cuisine or gamy dishes. This wine is available from Bachmair Wines.
Grüner Veltliner might be the star, but Austria has other amazing wines such as Riesling and Pinot Blanc (white wine) and Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt (red wine). Give Austrian wine a chance when you see it on the menu!