Winter Whites: 10 Elegant Austrian Chardonnays and Pinot Blancs

Wachau Valley Austria in autumn
The Wachau Valley, Austria/Getty

Weissburgunder, also known as Pinot Blanc, is not the first grape you think of when you’re after a subtle, gastronomic wine. However, it deserves a closer look.

This lesser-known member of the Pinot family seems to be stuck in the shade cast by the more popular yet genetically identical Pinot Grigio/Gris. Yes, Weissburgunder is less overt and slender, but that is where its charm lies. When grown with respect and care, this wallflower blossoms into rare beauty.

Austria is one of the few countries that gives Pinot Blanc its full due. Stellar Weissburgunder is brilliantly pure, gently oaked, luminous with freshness and able to evolve. Above all, these wines are subtly textured with a creamy allure that only helps to underscore their finesse. Mature examples of these wines keep their freshness while gaining even more texture. This is what predestines them for the table.

These Weissburgunders can appear like svelte versions of fine Chardonnay, another grape variety the Austrians have mastered. The two bear an uncanny resemblance, not least in their ability to reflect stony soils. Austrian Chardonnay stands out with a lovely balance, showing crisp but ripe orchard fruit flavors supported by gentle oak. In Steiermark, where a cool and sunny climate allows for slow ripening and synthesis of aroma, Chardonnay, called Morillon, is a particular treat. There are 4,870 acres planted of Weissburgunder in Austria and almost 4,000 of Chardonnay. Some of the best examples of these grape varieties make it to the U.S.

The Five Best Vineyards of Austria's Wachau Valley

Austrian Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay To Seek Out

Sattlerhof 2017 Ried Kapellenweingarten Morillon (Südsteiermark); $45, 95 points. Subtle creaminess on the nose evokes notions of freshness and gentleness. The palate then spreads out in a graceful, fine-boned structure that propels lemony grace and freshness across mouth and senses. A lovely and elegant wine that combines depth; utter, almost breezy freshness, and subtle concentration. Lovely now, it is certain to evolve. Drink now–2035. Craft + Estate–Winebow.

Schauer 2017 Ried Höchtemmel Weissburgunder (Südsteiermark); $45, 95 points. Bright, vivid lemon notes share the nose with a wonderful creaminess. The palate continues in this sunny, pure lemon and cream vision, presenting a concentrated body that comes on light, tiptoe feet. This is fresh but creamy, slender but mellow and oh so wonderfully textured. This makes the case for Weissburgunder, aka Pinot Blanc, of the highest order. Lovely now, it is certain to evolve. Drink now–2035. The Sorting Table.

Ebner-Ebenauer 2017 Black Edition Chardonnay (Niederösterreich); $85, 94 points. Stone and wet pebble notions are all that appear on the nose for now. More time in the glass reveals a hint of creaminess. The palate is slender and sinuous, guarding its fine-boned, chalky structure and gentle creaminess and allowing a glimpse of gorgeous stone fruit on the finish. A most elegant, grown-up and poised Chardonnay that is lovely now but will evolve much further. Real sophistication. Drink now–2035. The Sorting Table.

Gernot and Heike Heinrich 2016 Chardonnay (Leithaberg); $30, 93 points. A touch of funky reduction still plays about the nose, but then subtle smoke appears. The palate then counters this with bright, lemony freshness, bedded in cool chalkiness, and a lovely midpalate texture. This is wonderfully layered, stony, fruity, chalky, lemony. A wonderfully expressive wine with mileage for aging. Drink now–2030. Craft + Estate–Winebow.

Netzl 2018 Ried Altenberg Weissburgunder (Carnuntum); $34, 93 points. The subtle hazelnut notes of oak play enticingly on the nose alongside notes of ripe, juicy green pear. A subtle creaminess has lemon highlights. The palate is rounder than expected, with generous pear fruit, packing in the sunshine of the vintage. Despite its relative mildness, this strikes a balance and finishes on stone fruit and cream. KWSelection.com.

Rebenhof Aubell 2014 Silt Morillon (Steirerland); $39, 93 points. Funky, yeasty, phenolic notes dominate the nose and leave wonderful hints of dried orange peel. The slender palate has a delightful grip and a bone-dry intensity that is enriched by a slightly phenolic texture. An unusual wine but one that gets under your skin with its naked honesty and intensity. Carlo Huber Selections.

Markowitsch 2018 Ried Schüttenberg Chardonnay (Carnuntum); $33, 92 points. Only the merest hint of creaminess appears on the nose. The palate then comes in with smoky edges of hazelnut and corn husk. The body is sinuous and balanced, and it has a lovely texture as well as bright lemon freshness. There is some warmth, but this all strikes a lovely balance. Weygandt-Metzler.

Prieler 2018 Ried Seeberg Pinot Blanc (Burgenland); $25, 91 points. Apple blossom and fresh apple flesh notes on the nose signal freshness as well as subtlety. The light palate is bright and fresh and has a lovely earthy edge that lends texture. This is bright, pure, harmonious and utterly appetizing. Skurnik Wines, Inc.

Markus Huber 2018 Dolomit Chardonnay (Niederösterreich); $19, 91 points. Chalk, wet pebble and lemon on the nose bode well for freshness. The palate adds rounded stone fruit notions of Mirabelle plum while yeasty flavors come to the fore. The finish is dry and very fresh, leaving you with lemon zing and chalkiness. Broadbent Selections, Inc.

Höpler 2018 Pinot Blanc (Burgenland); $18, 89 points. A rather neutral nose merely suggests easy freshness. The palate follows this with gentle lemon notes on a slender, fresh and wonderfully light, lemon-scented palate. This is dry, bright and utterly refreshing. USA Wine Imports.

Published on February 19, 2020
Topics: Wine and Ratings