Granted, as a child I didn’t really love Austria. For too many years I “had” to spend my summer holidays there with my parents. Our pastime was, at best, hiking and, furthermore, hiking, hiking, hiking. Not that exciting for a child. Sometimes we went to the Carinthian lakes: Faaker Lake, Wörthersee or Lake Ossiach. What we did there? Not that hard to guess – sightseeing and hiking, hiking, hiking. I never could have imagined that this country would pull me into its spell eventually. Today, it pains me when I have to leave this spectacular area with its precious nature after a long and beautiful stay.
You want to know why? Then follow me on a journey through this unique land of cultures, a millennia-old winemaking tradition, a world full of authentic, distinctive wines with plenty of character and personality. Come with me on a journey through a country of rare features and liquid gold – let’s go together to search for traces of the Austrian wine miracle.
How long has therebeen wine production in Austria? In Burgenland’s wine-growing village Zagersdorf, grape seeds of the ancient vine “vitis vinifera” were found, which the Celts and probably their Illyrian predecessor grew in a very simple form. So we can say with certainty that viticulture already took place 700 years BC. Today, wines from Austria are among the world leaders and can withstand the international comparison. They can be found in any good wine list, are appreciated by wine connoisseurs and internationally praised by journalists. Austrian wines are often the perfect food companion due to their compact body and the climatic freshness.
But what makes this country and its wines so unique? Let’s start with our trip.
The provinces of Lower Austria, Burgenland and Styria (45,000ha) are defined as a distinct wine regions, in addition there’s also the federal capital Vienna (612ha).
Follow me to Lower Austria – Austria’s largest quality wine region. It is located in the northeastern part of the country on the border with the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Danube and its tributaries Krems, Traisen and Kamp meanders in all its glory and beauty along beautiful wine villages that are strung like pearls on a necklace. Here, in the cellars of dedicated winemakers, we find wines dating back to the 1940s. Wines that are made with the fire of passion.
Lower Austria is known for its peppery Grüner Veltliner and mineral Riesling. We encounter dry stone walls that make it extremely difficult to work on the vineyards. Probably currently the most famous area of Lower Austria is the Wachau. From these steep terraces and their noble grape varieties arise monumental wines with decades of development potential. Here, quality wines are divided into three categories: Federspiel (up to 11% alcohol by volume.), Steinfeder (11.5% to 12.5%) and Smaragd (powerful reserve wines). This subdivision makes it easy for wine connoisseur to choose the perfect wine. This classification is only reserved for the Wachau. No machines are used and hand-picking is guaranteed. But the high labour costs in these locations will be rewarded. Soil biodiversity through bedrock layers, the very different microclimate and a long tradition in the development of individual layers bring forth wines that are hard to beat in character and uniqueness.
The vineyards of Vienna seem almost lovingly embraced by Lower Austria. With approximately 600ha of vineyards (layers), this historic city has an old viticulture tradition with a modern wine culture. Here we happen upon Vienna’s prime wine: Wiener Gemischter Satz. The regulation of this highly regulated type of wine requires that at least three different quality white wine varieties be planted in one vineyard. They are then harvested together, mashed together and fermented into a wine. There isn’t anything better than sitting in a permanent “Noble Winery” (Heurigen) with a large buffet or a small, hidden tavern (Buschenschank), which is only open for a few weeks a year, in the middle of a vineyard and enjoying the fine wines from the Austrian capital. The reinterpretation of this wine has now made the leap into the gourmet restaurants of the world.
The Burgenland stretches along lake Neusiedl and the borders with Hungary. When I think of the Burgenland, I think of red wine…
Under the influence of the Pannonian climate with its hot summers, little rainfall and moderately cold winters, Austria’s most opulent reds are grown here. The Blauer Zweigelt dominates, followed by the Blaufränkischer (Lemberger) and the St. Laurent.
Special soil and a touch of Styrian climate in the south of Burgenland make it possible for the wineries to conjure up a Blaufränkischer and Blauer Spätburgunder into the glass, which is characterised by fine minerality and incomparable elegance. But even the most complex white wines have found their home in Burgenland. In the limestone and slate soils in the famous Leitha Mountains we can find Weißburgunder, Chardonnay and Grüner Veltliner.
Surely one of the most legendary white wines is the liquid gold of the lusciously sweet Ruster Ausbruch that is found on the western shore of lake Neusiedl. It’s a century-old tradition that first gained fame in the 17th century. At the time, the people of Rust were able to buy their city’s freedom from Emperor Leopold I with 500 buckets (about 30,000l). Even then Ausbruchwein from Rust was more than special and was drunk as dining companion at table in the Imperial Court. Thus, this type of wine contributed to the glory and prosperity of Rust.
Now let us travel to the uniquely hilly area south of Burgenland, Styria, the land of Sauvignon Blanc and other aromatic varieties such as Muscat and Traminer.The aromatic point of contrast is the Schilcher (Blauer Wildbacher), a spicy rosé, which shows impressive origins.This Chardonnay is called Morillon and settles like a balm to the palate of connoisseurs.
The Junker has a high tradition in Styria. The former name of the sons of the nobility expresses the youthfulness and quality of a dry young wine. Traditionally, it is “served to the people” at the beginning of November. By the way, you recognise the Junker by its Junker hat on the bottle – the Styrian hat with traditional decoration.
I don’t want to leave Styria without having tasted one of the most controlled, most elite and exclusive specialities of Europe, the Styrian pumpkin seed oil, the green gold with a long tradition.
Now we have reached the end of the red-white-red carpet indulgence. We have seen and tasted a lot – at least on paper. Why not visit this country of treasures, of wine miracles and many personalities like Marie Antoinette, Mozart, Klimt, Romy Schneider, Maximilian Schell, Falco and Niki Lauda. Did I forget someone? Of course, most of all you should visit the winery personalities with their authentic products. You are very welcome everywhere!