Red – White – Red: Wines of Austria

Even to look around properly was going to take me two days, the Austrian Wine Marketing Board tasting last month was so huge. It wasn’t the best choice for a venue – the size of the rooms unfortunately did not match the number of visitors and there were some very crowded moments. But apart from that, a splendid event and a fantastic showcase of what’s going on in Austrian wine-making. There were over eighty producers, presenting hundreds and hundreds of wines.

Austria is known mainly for its white wine, although it also produces a significant amount of reds. The wine regions lie in the east of the country, along the Austrian-Hungarian border going north–south. There are four main regions: Niederosterreich (Lower Austria), Vienna, Burgenland, and Steiermark (Styria). Within these there are a number of appellations, marked DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus, in Latin – but why?). Instead of discussing climate and soil in great detail, I’ll just briefly say that Austria has favourable conditions for growing wine grapes and there are many interesting varieties as well as achievements of the highest standard.

Two examples that quickly spring to mind are Riesling and Gruner Veltliner. Riesling shows fantastically under the responsible care of Austrian wine-makers, and its specimen at the tasting came from all over the country, from Vienna to Kamptal to Sudsteiermark in the south, bordering Italy. They were all well made and offer a very reliable alternative to German Rieslings.

Gruner Veltliner is an Austrian speciality and I enjoyed finding out more about it. It is a medium-bodied, acidic wine with a vertical, nervy structure. Its flavours vary from citrus to pears and apricots to honeyed notes, but it tends to have a unique underlying grassiness or prickliness that I find particularly attractive. The older wines may show some vegetable, herbal character, but typically this is not a wine to be aged. It should be appreciated for its youthful, fruitful zestiness.

The precision-winemaking which seems to characterize Austrian producers really suits these varieties, where, to my mind, transparency and clear definition in aromas and flavours, body and acidity, are essential. So the resulting wines, though differing in style, all rang clear, like a well-articulated sentence. But everything else I tasted, whites and reds, were good, honest wines, made for drinking and not for showing off. Commendable!

To find out more about the wines of Austria, visit http://www.austrianwine.com

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