It’s difficult for me to be objective about Austrian wines. I was born in Austria in the town of St Polten in Niederosterreich, and my grandfather Rudolf Sturzeis made barrels for the Austrian wine makers. I remember his workshop from when I was a child with the large heavy metal vertical saw where he shaped the wood, and the array of tools including saws, heavy wooden planes for smoothing and a variety of blades used to thin the wood to allow it to bend while being heated. I also have very fond memories of working with him as a child as he built a fire in the yard of his house in Bischoftetten, a small village, and patiently shaped the wood with its heat over a period of several days, before banging on the iron hoops that would hold the staves in place. I felt very important, and in my childish imagination it was as though I had helped him make a success of the barrels he had worked on! For these reasons, it is difficult for me to be in any way objective about Austrian wine and the country itself.

Macroeconomic Overview

Austria’s geography is mountainous in the west and continental in the east. Because of this most of the wine is rown in the east and the south of the country. There are four federal states, which also coincide with wine districts: Niederosterreich, Weinviertel, Burgenland and Steiermark. Each of these is further sub-divided into more specific wine-making regions.

Austria has emerged as one of the greenest and most innovative countries in Europe. The country punches well above its weight: it has a population of just 9 million people, but a GDP of $445 billion. Standards of living are high, and the capital Vienna is widely regarded as one of the most attractive places to live in the world.

While Austrian German is the country’s official language, the Austrian accent is strong and many people speak a variety of Bavarian dialects.

Viticulture, Climate and Terrain

 

 

The climate of Austria ranges moderate continental in the east to alpine in the west. It is in the east that the grapes are grown. The region shares a border with Hungary, and the weather in the south is warmer, with easterly winds providing a moderating influence to the prevailing cool climate.

Austria is split into four federal districts, and 16 wine regions, of which nine have DAC status. Seven of the sub-regions do not have DAC status.

The latitude ranges from around 49 to 47 degrees North of the equator, so Austria is close to the 50 degrees North that usually marks the limit for wine growing in the northern hemisphere,.

Phoro of red and white grapes in back of truck

Black Grape Varieties

Zweigelt is the best known black grape. It is a cross between Blaufrankisch and St Laurent,

The Blaufrankish grape is popular for light reds. It has high acidity, with strong cherry and pepper flavours, and is used in premium wine making.

Blauburgunder is the local name for Pinot Noir. The cool to moderate continental climate is wel suited to this delicate variety/.

The St Laurent is another popular Austrian grape variety. It is similar to Pinot Noir, and is often matured in oak to give greater depth.

In the south, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also featured.

Photo of bunch of black grapes hanging on vine

White Grape Varieties

 

Although 35 separate grape varietals are grown in Austria, Gruner Veltliner is ubiquitous throughout the country. Gruner Veltliner produces wines with citrus and stone fruit flavours, but these develop notes of honey with age. The GV wines have a fresh zesty quality similar to Pinot Grigio, but in my opinion with a depth of flavour that excels. The grape is referred to by locals simply as Gruner. The phrase: “Ein viertel Gruner bitte” is heard everywhere. These four magic words will summon the barman in any Gasthof to provide a 250 cl glass of fresh cool Gruner Veltliner, usually at a modest price, and genuinely one of the purest joys of life.

Welschriesling is used to make dry wines but its susceptibility to botrytis also makes it suitable for sweet wine production. It is not a variety of Riesling, despite its name. The grape has apple flavours and sharp acidity, and can be used to make high quality dessert wines.

Riesling is grown in the Wachau and some other regions such as Kamptal and Kremstal.

Other international varieties include Chardonnay, Muller-Thurgau and particularly in the southern region of Steiermark, Sauvignon Blanc.

Photo of bunch of white grapes hanging on vine

Regional Analysis

Niederosterreich

Niederosterreich includes the plains and valleys to the west of Vienna, stretching along the beloved Danube river which runs all the way from Germany across the country through the capital and then onward down through Hungary and into the Black Sea. This federal district is the largest wine region for wine production and exports, and consists of eight sub-districts. It extends ot the Slovak border, and includes several wine regions with their own DAC

Wachau

The Wachau region is on the Danube near Krems in northern Austria. This region has steep slopes, and grows Gruner Veltliner with a rich, peppery quality and steely Riesling. It is not a DAC region, as local wine-makers refused that status, but it is known for high quality wines.

Kremstal

Kremstal neighbours Wachau, and also produces exciting Gruber Veltliner wines with a peppery finish.

Kamptal

Kamptal is also nearby to Wachau, and also produces exciting Gruber Veltliner wines with a peppery finish.

Weinviertel

The Weinviertel area extends north of the Danube near Vienna, up into the hills to the north. This was the first Austrian DAC region, and the regulations mean that only Gruner Veltliner can be grown here. The wine is made in two distinct styles: the Klassik wines, which are light, fresh and fruity; and Reserva wines, which are matured in oak and have higher alcohol and a richer style.

Burgenland

Burgenland stretches all the way down the eastern side of Austria to the border with Hungary. The feature that dominates this region is the Neusiedlersee, a vast lake that is the source of thick fogs that encourage botrytis. The hills to the south of this lake have a slightly warmer climate and are ideal for the Zweigelt grape and other black grape varieties.

White grapes grown here include Pinot Blanc, Welschriesling, Gewurtztraminer and Chardonnay. Reds grown here include Zweigelt, Blaufrankissch, St Laurent, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Burgenland makes excellent red and dry white wines, but is also known for top quality sweet wines. Sweet wine production relies heavily on the fogs from the Neusiedler Lake, which virtually guarantee botrytis. Welschriesling is widely used for these wines because of its susceptibility to the fungus.

Neusiedlersee has its own DAC status, and Zweigekt is widely cultivated.

Mittelburgenland is home to three other DACs known for their Blaufrankisch grapes.

Steiermark

Styria, or Steiermark in the south is close to the Italian and Slovenian border. This region lies to the south of the town of Graz.

Statistical Data
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Production Trends
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Consumption Trends
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Trade Outlook
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