Wine lovers of a lighter style of dry whites without any hint of oak, just glacial purity – Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis and Pinot Grigio – are making advances on Austria’s (Österrich) whites.
Most of Austria’s vineyards are clustered to the east in the relatively less mountainous part of the country near Vienna (Wein), away from the famous Alpine ski slopes to the west. The cooling influence of the snow-capped Alps determines that the majority (two-thirds) of wine produced in Austria is white.
While Austria has thirty-five different grape varieties, its native and signature varietal, Grüner Veltliner, accounts for a half of all white wine produced.
In style it is like a Pinot Grigio cross-dressing as a Sauvignon Blanc – crisper than the former and less pungent than the latter. Typically, it is dry with green apple fruit, spicy white pepper, moderate alcohol around 12.5% – 13.5% and its trademark and food-friendly lemony crisp acidity. G.V. as it is sometimes called by its friends, or Groovy in America, produces consistently good wines that are capable of ageing.
Originally, made as simple quaffing wine in the casual heurigen wine taverns in the hillside towns around Vienna. Today, its quality continues to impress both sommeliers and consumers alike.
The Austrians like their wines dry and save their sweet tooth for the confectionery of the coffee houses. Austrian whites have more in common with the aromatic dry wines of Alsace than with her German neighbours to the north.
Understanding the Label
The town of Krems shares its name also with the river tributary of the mighty Danube and has earned a high reputation for its young and dynamic winemakers.
One innovation is Kremstal DAC, introduced in 2007 to help describe the wines’ styles: vibrant and spicy Grüner Veltliner and delicate, mineral-rich Riesling wines. The addition of the term Reserve depicts a richer and more intense style.
The Wachau nearby and Kamptal are both prestigious wine regions through which the majestic Danube flows. The wide water expanse of the river and the sharp drop in temperature from summer days to nights accentuates the aromatics of the white wines.
Unlike the rest of Austria, Wachau wines have a unique classification system relating to the ripeness of their harvested grapes. The three classification levels for Wachau wine include delicate and light-bodied Steinfeder for wines up to 11.5% ABV, classic and fresh medium-bodied Federspiel for wines between 11.5%–12.5% and the richer and more concentrated Smaragd that must have a minimum of 12.5% ABV.
Terrassen refers to a vineyard’s sun-trap steep terraces whose soils retain and reflect the heat to further ripen the grapes and concentrate their character.
A Taste of Austria’s Evolving Wine Offering
The sample of six dry white wines featured below shows the evolving style of Austria’s offerings. Single varietal Grüner Veltliner and Riesling from the classic Wachau and Kamptal regions and around the town of Krems (Kremstal DAC) contrast with blends of the familiar and some very unfamiliar tongue-twisters.
For instance, from the vineyards outside the capital Vienna/Wein, Fritz Wieninger is considered a pioneer of the “New Vienna” wine movement.
Fritz combines a sense of modernity and progress with the traditions of the region and of his family, who have been making wine for over 100 years. “I try to use the numerous facets of my grape material,” Fritz says. “To be able to show the differences in site and vintage and to get the character of the vineyard into the bottle, this is my greatest challenge.”
Fritz’s top wine is Nussberg, meaning ‘walnut hill’ and he describes this as ‘Vienna in a glass’. It is a single vineyard field blend of nine varietals: Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Neuburger, Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner, Sylvaner, Zierfandler, Rotgipfler, Traminer and Riesling.
Whatever the varietal, Austrian white wines are remarkably food-friendly because of their freshness, palate-cleansing acidity and moderate alcohol.
Their versatility spans the spectrum from mild cheeses, veal, schnitzel, white meats and salads to fragrant oriental and piquant Asian cuisine.
The sample of six dry white wines below highlight the evolving style of Austria’s offerings. The wines tasted are listed in no particular order.
Sepp Moser Grüner Veltliner Von den Terrassen 2015
13% ABV (Biodynamic) – Kremstal DAC
€21 – Available at Green Man Wines, Terenure; The Vintry, Rathgar and Londis KCR.
A spicier style of Grüner Veltliner with the vineyard’s steep terraces (terrassen) emphasising the flavour on the palate.
Spritzy in texture and the invigorating acidity underpins a white peppery and long finish.
Food Friend: Go summer Alpine with a Carrigaline cheese and wine fondue with raw carrot and celery sticks.
Malat Ried Höhlgraben Grüner Veltliner 2015
12.5% ABV – Kremstal DAC
€23.95 – Available at Searson Wine Merchants
Muted aromas but not so shy on the palate. Concentrated lemon peel and a terroir vineyard note of mineral slate which persists attractively on the finish. A wine that improves poured gently into a chilled decanter.
Food Friend: Try with a chalky textured and ash coated St Tola organic goats’ cheese.
Türk Kremser Wachtberg Riesling 2015
13.5% ABV – Kremstal DAC Reserve
€26.95 – Available at Whelehans Wines, The Silver Tassie, Loughlinstown.
A fragrance of baked lemons is mirrored on the palate with softened acidity but with a zesty and pithy finish.
A wine that will reward patience and further ageing.
Food Friend: Match with a richly egged onion tart.
Domäne Wachau Terrassen Federspiel Riesling 2015
€18.99 – Available at Number 21 (Blarney); The 1601 Off Licence; The Village Greengrocer, Castlemartyr; Joyce’s Supermarket, Galway; Next Door, Clonakilty; Shiels Supermarket, Malahide and The Vintry, Rathgar.
Subtle lime aromas start the symphony followed by a sudden crescendo of mouth-watering acidity played on the taste buds. Chalky dry with Viennese Boys’ Choir pure notes of citrus and minerally fruits, finished with steely restraint.
Food Friend: Form a duet with a chilli-hot chicken jalfrezi or Madras.
Pannonica White Blend 2014
€16.50 – Available at jnwine.com
Intensely scented with complex aromas of grass, herbs and candied lemon peel. A blend of Grüner Veltliner, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc.
Tangy and refreshing with mouth-watering acidity and lemon drops, light-bodied and a long citrus finish.
Food Friend: Serve with peppered smoked mackerel paté and a smudge of gooseberry jam.
Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC Nussberg 2015
14% ABV (Biowein)
€35.99 – Available at The Corkscrew, Redmond’s of Ranelagh.
Waxy grapefruit peel with floral and honeyed notes. Unusual for an Austrian, full-bodied and rich in style.
Zesty kumquats enliven the taste buds and the crispness is warmed by the 14% alcohol. An appealing herbal nettle finish.
Food Friend: Medallions of pork and noodles in a mustard cream sauce.
Liam Campbell is one of Ireland’s most experienced wine writers. His work has been featured in the pages of numerous publications, most recently as the Wine & Drinks Editor for The Irish Independent, as well as in Irish Homes, Easy Food and The Dubliner magazines.
Besides writing, his involvement in the world of wine goes deeper: he’s an approved WSET educator and holder of a WSET Diploma, Diploma in Craft Beer & Cider, and he has worked as judge in international wine competitions and as a wine consultant.