Everything You Need to Know About Austrian Wine Regions
Table of ContentsAustria’s Most Popular WinesGruner VeltlinerRieslingWelschrieslingMuscat OttonelBlaufränkischPinot GrisZweigeltThe Evolution of Austrian WineMost Popular Austrian Wine RegionsNiederoesterreichBurgenlandSteiermarkViennaWiener SchnitzelSausage and Bean CasseroleKaiserschmarrnOur Wine RecommendationsMeinklang Gruner VeltlinerMeinklang Pinot Noir Frizzante ProsaMeinklang Pinot NoirGraupert Pinot GrisGraupert ZweigeltKonkret Sankt LaurentDiscover bottled elegance, history and finesse with Austrian wine
While not as internationally renowned as neighbouring Germany or Italy (or indeed, many other European countries) for its wine production, Austria has always been historically significant as a wine producing nation, and winemaking and wine drinking is key to the Austrian culture.
The Austrian viticultural approach is small in scale, individualistic, even at times eccentric and unusual, and yet the results are rarely anything less than superb.
While tradition is certainly respected in this part of Europe, the reputation that Austria has as a conservative, old-fashioned country falls down when it comes to their wines. This is the spiritual home of Biodynamics, after all, and the country which helped kickstart the organic revolution… meaning there really is an enormous amount and wide array of wonderful Austrian wines to discover.
Here at Vintage Roots, we are always keen to help people uncover new and exciting wine styles, and as such, we’ve put together this handy Austrian wine guide to help you learn more about this country’s underrated produce.
Austria’s Most Popular Wines
While certain grape varieties have come to dominate Austria’s international reputation, domestically, there is a huge amount of variety, depending on the peculiarities of microclimate, local preferences and traditions.
Indeed, in and around Vienna, the wineries specialise in ‘Wiener Gemischter Satz’ – a unique wine made from a blend of several grape varieties, grown on the same small patch of land. It’s unusual, and very much a local speciality, but we love the stuff: it’s utterly delicious, and it gives you some idea as to the Austrian open-minded approach to winemaking.
You’re unlikely to find a bottle of Gemischter Satz outside of Austria, unfortunately, so let’s take a look at the key Austrian wine styles you should definitely try for yourselves.
When it comes to modern Austrian wines, the clear frontrunner is Gruner Veltliner. This grape variety has seen a phenomenal rush of interest over the past two decades – indeed, even as recently as the 1990s, most wine fans outside of Austria wouldn’t have heard of this green grape or the remarkable wines it produces, and yet today, no respectable wine bar, restaurant or store would be without at least one quality example.
Gruner Veltliner is one of those grapes which gets sommeliers and wine critics excited, mainly due to the fact that it is remarkably expressive and versatile. Depending on the microclimate and terroir it is grown in, it can display quite a wide array of features, making it endlessly fascinating to explore; it even ages well.
The classic Gruner Veltliner wines are display beautifully elegant yet racy characteristics: they tend to be light, crisp, acidic Austrian wines, which have a gorgeously herbaceous, spicy and peppery profile. As a result, they are a wonderful food pairing wine, and a great match for the kind of spicy, south-east Asian cuisine which is so popular today.
Bursting with citrus flavours of white grapefruit, lime and nectarine (in riper examples), and vegetal notes of green beans, lovage, radish and tarragon, this is a fashionable, sleek, highly sophisticated wine which more than deserves your attention and enthusiasm.
As a Germanic country, it is only natural that the Austrian wine scene features plenty of Riesling. While the reputation of Austrian Riesling wines faltered at times in the late 20th century, more recent offerings have massively impressed on the international stage.
Drier, crisper and more structured than many German examples of the grape, Austrian Riesling has truly found its voice and is beginning to be recognised for the absolute treasure that it is.
Although the names might be similar, the Austrian grape Welschriesling is an entirely separate variety from Riesling, and one which has a strong historic link to Austrian wine country, having been introduced and cultivated by the Romans.
Welschriesling is often used in the production of deliciously rich and sticky late harvest wines, which Austrians love to serve with their famous pastries and desserts, and its high acidity also works well as dry, light wines.
There is a long, long list of wine grapes in the Muscat family, and Muscat Ottonel is the one which is most suited to colder climates, hence its popularity in the cooler Austrian wine regions. This is a mild grape, relatively low in acidity and colour, but which can make interesting and well-structured wines.
Blaufränkisch was one of the main grape varieties associated with the decadent wines of the Hapsburgs, and as such, can be found planted across the vineyards which once sat in the extended Austro-Hungarian empire. It remains a very popular Austrian wine to this day, and Blaufränkisch plantings make up for over 7% of the total grapes harvested in the country.
The wines themselves are refreshingly acidic and richly flavoured, packing in notes of dark cherries and forest fruits. Their acidity means they are well suited for ageing, and given time, they open up and round out in the cellar to reveal remarkable complexity and subtlety.
With its alpine climate and lush, verdant valleys, the Austrian wine map is full of great places for Pinot Gris to be grown. Austrian Pinot Gris tends to sit on the drier, less fruity side of the scale, and they are prized for their aromatic qualities, of which there are many.
Austrian Pinot Gris is sometimes harvested early, and vinified as a sparkling wine to be served as an aperitif, and is sometimes also allowed to develop botrytis (noble rot) when making sweet wines which lends a fascinating dimension all of its own.
The other key red grape variety associated with Austria is the inimitable Zweigelt. These grapes were first cultivated and developed in the 1920s, by oenologists keen to produce a grape by crossing St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch.
The popularity of Zweigelt has rocketed over the past twenty years, as full-bodied, boisterous red wines have become more fashionable, and plantings have increased by 50%. The wines are deeply flavourful and very well structured, with delicious flavours of morello cherry.
The Evolution of Austrian Wine
The banks of the mighty river Danube, which winds its way through Austria, and which has been at the heart of Austria’s success and identity for thousands of years, has always been home to grapevines. Austrian wines, therefore, probably had their origins in the pre-Roman era, when Celts and Illyrians experiment with rudimentary viticulture.
However, as in much of Central Europe, it was with the arrival of the Romans in 1 BC when grape cultivation and vinification first became formalised.
The Medieval period saw Cistercian monks introduce Burgundian winemaking methods to Austria’s monasteries, and by the 16th century, Austria’s wine industry was booming. Historians claim that under Queen Mary in the 1520s, Austria’s total number of vineyards was three times that which it is today, due to the enormous popularity of Austrian wines with the nobility of Europe.
The 18th century saw viticulture drop somewhat, due to political upheaval and the Ottoman invasions, but by the 19th century, the Hapsburgs were initiating Vienna’s golden age, and elegant, sophisticated Austrian wine was well and truly back on the menu.
After the upheaval of the first half the 20th century, Austria slowly and steadily established itself as the modern, forward-thinking wine country we know it as today. Agricultural reformers such as Rudolph Steiner pushed biodynamic and organic farming methods, and DAC statuses (the Austrian version of a DOC) were bestowed to several wine regions in order to protect their practices, the ninth and most recent having been awarded to Wiener Gemischter Satz in 2013.
Most Popular Austrian Wine Regions
Niederoesterreich is the largest of all the Austrian wine regions, and within it, one can find eight sub-regions, each of which with their own climatic conditions and preferred viticultural style. Perhaps the most famous of these is Wachau, where much high quality Gruner Veltliner comes from. Kremstal and Kamptal, too, are important DAC regions within Niederoesterreich, which are each renowned for the quality of their white wines.
● Size: 27,128 Hectares
● Most popular wine styles: Gruner Veltliner (45% of total grapes grown), Riesling
● Soils: Varied, mainly sandy loam and calcareous gravel
Hotter, drier and with a more distinctly continental climate than Niederoesterreich, Burgenland is home to most of Austria’s red wine grapes, although the white wines produced there are also extremely highly regarded.
Split into four distinct sub-regions, it includes the DAC of Neusiedler, where many of the country’s finest dessert wines and ice wines are produced, as well as the Eisenberg DAC, famous for its blended reds. This region is home to the outstanding biodynamic Meinklang estate.
● Size: 13,840 Hectares
● Most popular wines styles: Blaufrankisch, Zweigelt, Trockenbeerenauslese
● Soils: Black earth, iron-rich loam, granite
Split into three sub-regions, the wine region of Steiermark is classic, historic Austrian wine country. Home to some of the more traditional wine styles, which the country’s wineries mainly produce for the domestic market, it’s the archetypical ‘small-batch’ single estate part of the country, renowned for superb dry white wines.
● Size: 4,240 Hectares
● Most popular wine styles: Schilcher Rose, Welschriesling, Traminer, Weissburgunder
● Soils: Mainly volcanic, gneiss and schist
The nation’s capital is surrounded by high quality vineyards which are fed by the loops and meanders of the Danube river. Small, passionate and effortlessly charming and elegant, the Viennese wine scene is everything you would expect from this beautiful city.
● Most popular wine style: Gemischter Satz
● Size: 612 Hectares
● Soil: Mineral-rich limestone
Pairing Austrian Wine with Food
The Austrian gastronomic scene is a fantastic one, as anyone lucky enough to have spent time in the country will surely attest. There really is something for everyone: traditional dishes like Wiener schnitzel, plus a wide array of sausages, cured meats, local freshwater fish and more, as well as modern cuisine which borrows heavily from the country’s rich landscape and natural produce. We’ve picked out two great Austrian dishes that you can make at home, and chosen some local wines to match them with. Enjoy!
One of the great things about Wiener Schnitzel is that it manages to be both hearty and filling, and light and delicate at the same time. On top of that, the most famous Austrian dish pairs brilliantly with the most famous Austrian wine! Gruner Veltliner has all the crispness and sharpness to bite through the fried flavours of the schnitzel, while also bringing a citrus kick that will do away with the need for the traditional slice of lemon on top!
Not strictly an Austrian dish here, but the Viennese do love a sausage or two, they’re partial to beans and stews, and this dish is a great way of making your bangers go a little further. With a good, spicy or herby pork sausage, a rich gravy and plenty of mashed potato, you’re going to want a wine which have a plenty of fruit and spice in equal measure.
Blaufrankisch has the kind of lush juiciness and savoury profile, plus a rustic sort of character that will pair perfectly with this hearty dinner.
If you want a food match for some of Austria’s outstanding sweet wines, then try this traditional shredded pancake recipe which translates to ‘Emperor’s Mess’. Very simple, it will allow the wine to sing.
Our Wine Recommendations
Fresh, zippy, zesty and vibrant, this Gruner Veltliner from Burgenland has massively impressed since its launch. Bursting with flavours of green apple and white pepper, it’s the perfect pairing for spicy Asian cuisine, and a perfect introduction to the wonders of this underrated – but undeniably exciting – Austrian wine.
Pinot Noir might not be the first grape people think of when they’re looking for an Austrian wine, but the country’s cool climate lends this grape an acidity and structure which is ideal for frizzante wines such as this one.
Grown using low intervention biodynamic methods, the resulting wine is fresh, light and breezy, and packed full of blushing strawberry flavours which make it a real must for a summer picnic.
The Austrian wine region of Burgenland has impressed recently with its organic Pinot Noir wines, and this offering from Meinklang is a beautiful example of a wine which puts expression of terroir first and foremost on the palate.
As an unfiltered wine, this Pinot Noir has lost nothing of the fruit’s complexity and character from grapevine to bottle, and the result is a succulent, fresh and juicy wine which is the very essence of the land from where it came.
Austrian orange wines, such as this wonderful biodynamic example from Burgenland’s Graupert winery, are all set to be the next big thing. It isn’t difficult to see why – this is a wine which really does have it all.
It strikes the perfect balance between crisp acidity and rounded creaminess, and blasts the palate with a wide array of flavours ranging from citrus fruit, to peppery spice, to apples, pears and apricots. Delicious!
The rising popularity of Zweigelt wines has been a joy to behold, because this particular grape is capable of producing exciting, deeply flavourful and characterful wines, such as this example from the biodynamic Graupert winery of Burgenland.
Highly expressive – as a result of the zero-intervention methods used in its production, and the fact that it is also unfiltered – this is a hugely energetic Austrian red wine which zips with delicious hedgerow flavours.
Meinklang are a brilliantly pioneering winery based in Burgenland, who employ 100% biodynamic methods, and also keep things local by utilising wild, indigenous yeasts. However, they’re perhaps best known as the winery which vinifies some of their wines in huge concrete eggs (hence the name of this wine), in order to ensure the wines maintain all of their varietal character and charm.
This Sankt Laurent wine is spicy and savoury, and excites the palate with a deep, dark coffee-like character and dryness – a truly exciting wine from an undeniably intriguing winery.
Discover bottled elegance, history and finesse with Austrian wine
As we’ve seen, Austria has so much more to offer than most people realise, with a newly energised wine industry which hit the 21st century running, thanks to its flagship grape varieties and more besides.
These are wines which have so much to say – each variety is capable of expressing the unique qualities of Austria’s varied and beautiful wine regions, making each bottle a voyage of discovery and pleasure not to be missed.
Their organic and biodynamic credentials alone are enough to make us fall in love with Austrian wine, and we’re sure you’re going to adore them too… so go forth, and discover this wonderful country’s exquisite produce for yourselves!