The Rise of Austrian Red Wines
The world is taking notice of Austrian reds.
Producers in the country's warmer regions are finally seeing red, and the world is taking notice.
Austria is about to surprise us again. We are accustomed to its renowned white grape, Grüner Veltliner, as well as its Rieslings and quality sweet wines. But now its top producers are turning their attention to red wines. And increasingly, these are revealing the same excellence and attention to detail as the white wines, as well as a range of new and exciting styles.
Contrary to popular belief, Austria is not too cold to make red wines. While
While the famed Wachau is too cold to produce reds of complexity and character, Burgenland, one hour south-east of
Many of the country's best red wines come from Burgenland in an area north and east of
But Burgenland hasn't completely cornered the market in quality reds. Carnuntum, a small region to the north of Burgenland, has a long, low ridge, called the Spitzerberg, which has proven fertile territory for intensely cherry-flavored Zweigelt.
The vineyards in the northern suburbs of
Until the 1980s, red wines in
At first, the use of some of these techniques was clumsy. In the 1990s, there were too many overoaked and underfruited reds. They impressed the local market with fancy names, heavy bottles and high prices, but international markets were underwhelmed.
It is really only since 2000 that there has been a critical mass of quality red wine—enough to say that
With blending, there are several schools of thought. Many of the original red wine pioneers believe that a blend of local varieties, like Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch, or
But an Austrian blend can also be much more complex. Albert Gesellmann's Opus Eximium blends together
Other producers, while not ignoring the local varieties, add Cabernet, Merlot and increasingly, Syrah, to blends. Some producers also make stand-alone international wines, generally blends of Cabernet and Merlot as
The other primary stylistic approach to Austrian reds is to balance fruit with wood aging. For less expensive wines, wood is not used at all—St. Laurent or Zweigelt straight from the tank is a deliciously fruity wine, and makes great young drinking. Further up the budget scale, wood becomes a winemaking tool. The wood has been toned down compared to the overoaked Austrian reds of the 1990s. Fruit—red berries, cherries, spices, sometimes exotic herbs—has been allowed expression so that it is one of the most enjoyable components in these wines.
The terroir is also allowed to express itself—something that was smothered by oak early on in the red wine renaissance. You get the mineral character of much of the Neusiedler See soils—poor land, sometimes with a high iron content. That shows through especially in the Blaufränkisch, which changes character as the soil changes.
There is, sadly, a downside to these deliciously fruity, sometimes complex, serious wines: price. High local demand has meant that for us—especially with the weak dollar—these wines are not cheap. The norm is $25 and up, although there are some wines under $20.
But it is worth seeking out a selection of the best (see sidebar).
The men (and women) in the red business
Wieninger's Viennese heurige or tavern and winery are situated on a quiet suburban street in northern Vienna, an unlikely place for one of
Markowitsch is the only modern winery in the
As with many young winemakers, travel abroad opened Gernot Heinrich's eyes to the potential of his family's vineyards in Gols, at the heart of the Neusiedler See region. He uses local varieties—Zweigelt, Blau-fränkisch and
Josef and René Pöckl
Pöckl's winery, in Mönchof on the eastern slopes just above the Neusiedler See is known for its creative wine names. This father (Josef) and son (René) team make subtle use of international varieties, blended with Austrian grapes to produce intense, compact wines such as Admiral, a blend of Zweigelt, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Despite its name, Despite its name, their exotic Syrah blend, Rêve de Jeunesse (dream of youth), ages impressively. Ageability is characteristic of all the top Pöckl wines, but they also produce two early-drinking wines, Rosso Solo and Rosso e Nero.
Since he took over winemaking at the family property in 1985, Josef Umathum has consistently proven that
Engelbert Prieler has an active family team behind him: wife Irmgard, and children Sylvia (an enologist and microbiologist), Michaela and George. With vineyards on the slopes of the Schützner Stein, on the western shores of Neusiedler See, the Prielers make impressive use of Blaufränkisch. They also have a penchant for Cabernet Sauvignon, used in one of their flagship wines, Ungerbergen. The best wines are two interpretations of Blaufränkisch: Johanneshöhe is all fruit and Goldberg, all concentration.
Ernst Triebaumer (ET to his friends) makes some of his native Rust's greatest Ausbruch sweet wines and Ried Mariental, one of
Engelbert and Albert Gesellmann
The area of loam and gravel hills south of the Neusiedler See is known as Blaufränkisch land and the father and son team seem to be masters of the grape. From it, they produce an impressive single-vineyard wine, Creitzer, as well as Op (or Opus) Eximium, a blend that also includes
When Franz Weninger took over the family vineyard in 1982, the wine was being sold in bulk, but by 1983, bottles of his Blaufränkisch began to attract attention. Since then, he and the wines have gone ever upwards in notoriety and quality. With 56 acres, this is not a big operation, but with varied terroirs, he is able to produce an impressive range of wines. Among the best is Veratina, a blend of Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The single-vineyard Blaufränkisch from Hochäcker is concentrated and serious. His finest wine is a Blaufränkisch from the Dürrau vineyard, an explosion of deep cherry and blackberry fruits. Weninger is also in a joint venture with Hungarian winemaker Attila Gere, and the family has a winery just inside
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