Austrian Wine: More Diverse Than You Think

Mention Austrian wine and  you might spark a discussion about Grüner Veltliner and Zweigelt. These are the best known white and red grapes of Austria, respectively, and the country can legitimately claim them as “native” grapes. I’ve probably helped this perception in my columns about Austrian wine over the past four years. Yet during my recent visit to Austria’s wine country, I learned that there is so much more than these two grapes.

Grüner rightfully has first place among Austrian whites, with Riesling close behind. But there are others: Gelber Muskateller makes lovely flowery dry wine, redolent of lychees and peach blossoms. Pinot Blanc is quite popular, more so than Pinot Gris. (The latter is typically labeled with its German name, Graüburgunder, while Pinot Blanc seems less likely to be labeled Weissburgunder. This is probably an indication of which grape is exported most.) Welchsriesling, which is not Riesling, is best in sweet wines (though Heidi Schröck makes a delicious dry version). Sauvignon Blanc is also grown, especially in Styria in the south.

Neusiedlersee, rumored to be a beautiful lake that influences the climate in Burgenland. It was so damn foggy when I visited that I never actually saw it. Someone showed me a large puddle with boats and insisted it was the lake, but I wasn’t convinced. (austrianwine.com)

While Zweigelt is the most widely planted red grape, several producers I spoke to admitted to favoring Blaufränkisch for producing the best wines.

“Blaufränkisch is like standing in the middle of a forest,” says Georg Prieler, of Weingut Prieler in Burgenland on the west side of Lake Neusiedler. “You have these leafy aromas, a bit wet, woodsy. Blaufränkisch translates the soil better than Zweigelt. I like a variety that shows where it comes from.”

Claus Preisinger specializes in Zweigelt at his modern winery on the east side of the lake, but he too says Blaufränkisch is better suited for premium wines if only because it requires more care in the vineyard.

“I cannot make an entry level wine with Blaufränkisch with the same quality as Zweigelt,” Preisinger explained. “If you do Blaufränkisch at 15 tons a hectare it gets sour, and that’s not my style. I do it at 5 tons… For me, it’s fascinating to work with.”

And then there’s Saint Laurent, a wine that resembles Pinot Noir and can apparently be as fickle in the vineyard. While not exclusively Austrian, the variety can make lovely, silken wines in the Burgenland.

When looking at the global wine world, it’s easy to pigeonhole Austria into its “native” grape varieties, but there is some wonderful Merlot, Syrah and especially Pinot Noir grown there, too. These may have a harder time gaining export market share because of the competition, but they demonstrate Austria’s diversity as a world-class wine producing country.

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About Dave McIntyre

Wine columnist for The Washington Post, co-founder of DrinkLocalWine.com, and blogger at Dave McIntyre's WineLine (dmwineline.com).
This entry was posted in Austria, Travel, Wine, Zweigelt and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Austrian Wine: More Diverse Than You Think

  1. Allen Clark says:

    Glad to hear there’s something of a movement away from zweigelt. Never had one I really liked. Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent, on the other hand, can be stunning. And usually quite a bargain. I take it, like pinot gris, the Austrians now favor the international label of pinot noir to Blauburgunder. Yet another instance of their more progressive stance compared to their Germanic brethren, who for the most part still call it Spätburgunder.

    • I did have some very nice Zweigelt from Netzl, in Carnuntum, as well as Hillinger and Preisinger in Burgenland. I wouldn’t rule it out, by any means, but Claus Preisinger’s remarks about the care and feeding Blaufrankisch requires are quite telling. He also said that he sells 10 cases of Zweigelt for every case of Blaufrankisch.

  2. Erika Hendel says:

    Perhaps you should both try some wines from Anita and Hans Nittnaus, pioneers of red wine in the Neusiedlersee region and just chosen 2012′s Best Red Winemaker of Austria by Peter Moser of the Falstaff wine guide+magazine (and whose Pannobile won best red wine trophy from Peter Moser of Falstaff, premier wine critic of Austria). These are world class wines. And by the way, Allen, Austria is not Germanic.

    • Dave McIntyre says:

      Hi Erika – I had dinner with Peter Moser while I was in Vienna, and heard about the Nittnaus wines from him and others. Unfortunately I have not had the opportunity to try their wines, but they are on my list!

      And to be fair to Allen, the language is German, and I believe he was referring to the use of German vs French grape names, a subject I raised in my post.

      Dave McIntyre

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  5. Jennifer M. says:

    Some of the wine makers in New Jersey are experimenting with Blaufrankisch and seeing excellent results. I can highly recommend Bellview Winery’s 2010 vintage (a banner year for NJ grapes).

    • Dave McIntyre says:

      Thanks, Jennifer. I’ll look for that one. Someone is growing BF in Virginia, too, so it’ll be interesting to see how the grape does in the mid-Atlantic.

      Dave McIntyre

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  7. kwachtv says:

    Have always enjoyed the Blaufrankisch from Moric and Schiefer and look forward to discover more terroir specific difference!

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