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May 2002 - Nr. 5


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Wines from Austria
– A Taste of Culture –

by H. Berberoglu

Austria is an increasingly important central European country often surpassing German viticultural output by one third, from its 58000 hectares of vineyards spread over 16 distinct regions.

The wines tend to be more varied and full-bodied then is the German norm, however, they show often characteristics akin to Hungarian and Slovenian wines.

Austria excels in white varietal wines some of which are marketed as single vineyard specialty products. Young, well-educated and enthusiastic winemakers started turning their attention to new-world style fruit-forward soft red wines derived from low-yielding vineyards.

Presently they remain largely undiscovered in export markets, and no doubt in time will become famous and more expensive.


The Celts are believed to have grown vines in what constitutes today Austria, and Romans expanded viticulture mainly to supply their soldiers with the required (one litre) of wine per day per soldier.

Over time and under Charlemagne monks and monasteries influenced wine making significantly. They also acquired huge tracts of suitable land for vineyards. The Cistercian order from Burgundy has been most influential especially in Gottweig, Zwettl, Gussing, Heiligenkreuz, Klosterneuburg and Melk. To this day all of them produce fine wines but the wines of Klosterneuburg are considered to be superior and sought by connoisseurs.

The most important event in the 20th century occurred in 1985 by the discovery of a minor but highly publicized adulterated wine scandal, which resulted in a precipitous drop of exports and devastated many large and small wineries.

Soon after, the government promulgated the strictest wine laws in the world, which are rigorously enforced.

The wheel of fortune began to turn to Austria’s favour again in the mid-1990s. As wine preferences again changed, Austrian wineries found themselves once more in the right place at the right time. Heavy whites, such as barrel-aged Chardonnay lend themselves less well to light foods than aromatic, light and lively white wines for which Austria is known. It is not just style fancy that have caused this latest renaissance. The passion and talent of the young Austrian winemakers in the most important regions of the country has had a lot to do with it.

Already in the USA Austrian white wines are being touted as the "in" wines and imports increased fivefold in the past three years

Viticulture and Winemaking

Austria’s high culture system invented by Lenz Moser has been dominant for decades and many vineyards still use it. It advocates high-trained vines with low density. Today low-trained and high density vineyards are in fashion Average yield per hectare is about 55 hectolitres/Hectare, much lower than Germany but higher than Hungary and the Czech republic.

Most Austrian wines are dry, high in extract and acidity. Burgenland, a region located east of Vienna around the Lake Neusiedler, is famous for its sweet and fragrant wines much liked both in Germany and certain export markets. Acidification is permitted but unnecessary; chaptalization on the other hand may be required from time to time. Typically Riesling, Welschriesling (no relation to Riesling), Gruner Veltliner, Yellow Muskateller, Muskat-Ottonel, Traminer, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris

(Grauburgunder), Sauvignon Blanc, Zierfandler, Samling 88 (aka Scheurebe), Chardonnay and Semillon are preferred for white wines; and Cabernet Sauvignon, Blauburgunder (Pinot Noir), St Laurent, Zweigelt, and Blaufrankisch(Limberger) for reds.

Wine Regions

Though there are 16 regions, only five are key to the success : Wachau, Kamptal, Kremstal for white wines and Neusiedlersee and Neusiedlersee-Hugelland in the south-east for red and dessert wines.

Located along the Danube River is one of the two compact regions that hug the steep slopes of the river just west of Vienna, During growing season, temperatures fluctuate more than in any other region in the country creating wines that preserve both their aromas and acidity. Wachau is known for its Rieslings and Gruner Veltliner.

Located just east of Wachau along the Danube, Kamptal produces weighty and broadly textured wines from Riesling and Gruner Veltliner. Kamptal wines are generally fuller-bodied than their counterparts in Wachau.

Located near Wachau and Kremstal but up the nearby tributary river Krems, Kremstal generates wines that fall stylistically between Wachau and Kamptal. It is in this area that medieval monasteries first planted their vineyards. The soils are rocky and some consist of loess. Riesling and Gruner Veltliner grow well here Undhof Solomon is one of the wineries that exports and is known for its consistent quality.

Neusiedlersee and Neusiedlersee-Hugelland
Located on either side of this large but very shallow lake are the two regions in Burgenland long known for its dessert wines. The town of Rust is particularly well known for its botrytis affected wines. The lake contributes to the creation of the nobler rot due to its humidity. Neusiedlersee-Hugelland on the other hand is now building a reputation for fruit-forward well balanced and appealing red wines.

LCBO and Austrian Wines

The LCBO carries two white Austrian wines on its general list, but offers a few from time to time in its monthly Vintages releases.

The Vintages May 2002 release will feature several Austrian wines.

May 7 is the date of the annual Austrian wine tasting which will take place in the National Club.

During this exposition, many winemakers along with their Ontario agents present their wines available for private import.

For more information about the annual Austrian wine tasting please call the Austrian Trade Commission in Toronto (416-967-3348).



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