A waltz through Austria’s wine regions

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In his latest post, our galavanting gadabout Geoffrey Dean heads to Austria, to sip on sprightly Grüner Veltliners and blackberry-scented Blaufrankisch in Mittleburgenland and Styria, the country’s southernmost wine region.

A heart-shaped vineyard in Austria

It was fitting that the Austrian Wine Marketing Board announced earlier this month that Chris Yorke would succeed Willi Klinger as its managing director at the beginning of next year.

For, Yorke, who has been global marketing director of New Zealand Winegrowers for the past 15 years, is coming from a market which the Austrians have long admired, Indeed, Klinger freely admits the NZ template is one on which he modelled his vision for Austrian wine exports.

Put simply, that is the production of predominantly premium, or mid-market, wines that give winemakers the best chance of a decent margin and enhance Austria’s reputation as a producer of quality wines.

Klinger’s assertion at the Austrian Wine Summit in late May that his country’s wine industry is entering “a golden period” is backed up both by the latest export figures, and by the outstanding range and quality of wines that journalists and importers tasted during the biennial summit. First the stats: a record high of €170m of Austrian wine was exported in 2018, which is expected to rise by over 6% to €180m this year.

Riesling to be cheerful

Klinger predicts this figure will climb to €227m by 2024. Where Austrian wine in 2003 sold for an average price of 83 cents per litre, that had increased to €3.24 by last year.

Austria and New Zealand have much in common, being cool climate regions with plenty of higher altitude vineyards.

The cool air from the north is the most important factor in Austrian viticulture, according to Klinger, particularly as the average daily temperature in the growing season, which is 2°C than in the 1980s, is predicted to rise by another 1.4°C by 2050.

That could affect acid retention in grapes, but for the moment, vibrantly high levels of acidity are a feature of Austrian wines and their principal grapes, 67% of which are white.

Grüner Veltliner is the most planted, making up 31% of the country’s vines, followed by Zweigelt (14%), Welschriesling (7%) and Blaufrankisch (6.5%).

Some excellent examples of international varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and, of course, Riesling were also enjoyed during our voyage around Austria.

It began in Poysdorf, on the same latitude as Champagne and where Austrian sparkling wine production first started in 1980. While the Charmat tank method is employed for Sekt Klassik, most Austrian Sekt is made by the traditional method.

A minimum of 18 months on the lees is required for Sekt Reserve, and 30 months for Sekt Grosse Reserve. Two of the latter really stood out: Malat’s 2012 Blanc de Blancs (Chardonnay) which spent 62 months on its lees, and Steininger’s 2013 Riesling.

Steininger was the first to label a single vineyard site (or ‘Ried’), with this Heiligenstein offering being fermented in acacia and spending 45 months on its lees. Complex with great length, it was a fine advert for Austrian Sekt.

Poysdorf is situated in Weinviertel, Austria’s largest specified wine-producing region with 13,858 hectares under vine. Grüner Veltliner, well-known for its white pepper expression, is Weinviertel’s signature grape, and it was the first Austrian wine to be granted DAC status, in 2003.

The Weinviertel DAC Reserve designation brings with it real power, with Taubenschuss’ Gruner Veltliner Ried Tenn 2016 bristling with full-bodied concentration, together with impressive complexity and length.

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