Half of the pleasure of wine is in its aromas. Aromatic grape varieties, however, can be a challenge. To make quality wines, they demand fine-tuned interaction between climate, variety, site and handling. Austrian winemakers have long been blessed with this elusive combination, and they produce some of the world\u2019s most alluring aromatic wines.\r\n\r\nSauvignon Blanc, Gelber Muskateller and a range of Traminer varieties thrive across Austria but excel in the cool, sunny, high-altitude vineyards of Styria, or Steiermark, Austria\u2019s southern-most region. The Thermenregion, on Vienna\u2019s doorstep, is home to two indigenous aromatic specialities, Rotgipfler and Zierfandler.\r\n\r\nAll of these varieties have a long history in Austria, where they furnished the aromatic top notes in the field blends of the past. They have been vinified separately since the mid-20th century and have become stars in their own right.\r\n\r\nNot widely planted and made in small quantities, they\u2019re not as well known as they should be. While Styrian Sauvignon Blanc is making international waves, Gelber Muskateller, Traminer, Rotgipfler and Zierfandler still occupy a delectable niche. The lovely thing about them is their dryness, precision and freshness. They\u2019re highly aromatic, but never overbearing.\r\n\r\n\r\nSauvignon Blanc\r\nAustrian Sauvignon Blanc, formerly known as Muskat-Sylvaner, enjoys cult status at home, where it displays notes of lemon peel, hazelnut, smoke, flint, beeswax, honeycomb, smoke, ripe Mirabelle plum and wet walnut. It is grown across the country, but the best wines hail from Styria and owe their heightened finesse to climate.\r\n\r\n\u201cStyria is characterized by rough weather and poor soils,\u201d says Alex Sattler, who\u2019s the winemaker at Weingut Sattlerhof in S\u00fcdsteiermark. \u201cPrecipitation is high, and cool Alpine winds whip through the [often steep] high-altitude vineyards, which can rise up to 1,960 feet. Sauvignon Blanc is a robust variety which develops a unique character in these tough conditions.\u201d\r\n\r\nHe says the quartz soils make it \u201csmoky and savory,\u201d while limestone soils give an \u201celegant, salty\u201d edge to the wine.\r\n\r\n\u201cNo other grape variety interacts as much with the cool and damp Styrian weather or the different soils as Sauvignon Blanc,\u201d says Armin Tement, of Weingut Tement, also in the S\u00fcdsteiermark.\r\n\r\nSome simple wines are made with the pronounced grass and passion fruit notes for which the variety is famous. The finest wines, however, are aged in various sizes of oak and acacia barrels, and they often have a creamy aspect from malolactic fermentation.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe higher the wine quality, the more subdued the expression,\u201d says Tement.\r\n\r\nSingle-vineyard wines have an uncommon lightness and brilliance, combined with a subtle yet profound depth of flavor.\r\n\r\n\u201cThis is a paradox,\u201d says Tement. \u201cThey are never loud, opulent or exotic. A mature Styrian Sauvignon Blanc shines with finesse, elegance and the clarity of its provenance. It is never superficial, always profound.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe cool, extended growing season allows for full aromatic development and retention of acidity, which results in high maturity at harvest and natural tension. Tement says that this gives the local Sauvignon Blanc \u201can extra dimension but, above all, longevity.\u201d\r\n\r\nSattlerhof 2017 Kranachberg Sauvignon Blanc (S\u00fcdsteiermark); $75, 95 points. Yellow cherry, apricot and Mirabelle plum come to play on the creamy, tart and enticing nose. The palate adds a bright and vivid note of lime zest as well as some warmth and concentration. The result is a vivid, rounded, full-fruited Sauvignon Blanc with a creamy core and lasting, incisive flavor. Wonderful now, and certain to evolve. Drink now\u20132035. Craft + Estate\u2013Winebow.\r\n\r\nStefan Potzinger 2018 Ried Czamillonberg Sauvignon Blanc (S\u00fcdsteiermark); $35, 93 points. Notes of apricot, lemon and cream create a seductive trinity on the nose. The palate continues in the same harmonious, fruity and creamy fashion and adds contour and precision with zesty, almost spiky, lemon freshness. A yeasty note corrals all the fruit flavors into a dry, vivid, fresh finish. Drink now\u20132035. Yountville Wine Imports.\r\n\r\nSchauer 2018 Sauvignon Blanc (S\u00fcdsteiermark); $25, 92 points. Subtle white summer blossom plays scentedly above the green-moss and lemon notes on the nose. The palate comes in with zesty concentration despite the slenderness and charm, with slight fizziness. This is light, bright but oh so expressive\u2014totally refreshing and wonderfully dry. The Sorting Table.\r\n\r\n\r\nGelber Muskateller\r\nFew wines spell summer and scented lightness as much as Gelber Muskateller. Elsewhere in the world, this ancient variety, also known as Muscat Blanc \u00e0 Petits Grains, is often made into sweet and even fortified wines. In Austria, a dry, slender style triumphs. Inherent, almost weightless freshness and aromas of nettle and fern allow the elderflower, honeysuckle, jasmine, citrus and grape aromas to dance without ever becoming overwhelming.\r\n\r\nChristoph Neumeister, of Weingut Neumeister in Vulkanland Steiermark, says that Gelber Muskateller needs a long, cool vegetation period.\r\n\r\n\u201cThis allows us to harvest fully ripe grapes at a potential alcohol level of 11.5% in the middle of October,\u201d he says. He points out the big difference in day and night temperatures, which encourages the full aromatic development and acidic brightness of this late-ripening grape.\r\n\r\nNeumeister employs skin maceration to get as much aroma as possible, and he ages his spontaneously fermented wines on lees to make Gelber Muskateller that\u2019s \u201cbone-dry and juicy.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201cI want my Muskateller to be a continuous unit from first sniff to finish,\u201d says Neumeister, who notes that long lees contact lends stability and longevity.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nGerhard Wohlmuth, of Weingut Wohlmuth in S\u00fcdsteiermark, also emphasizes that Gelber Muskateller can mature for years, despite its inherent lightness. Wohlmuth cautions that site is key, though.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt loves well-ventilated, high-altitude vineyards with poor soils,\u201d he says.\r\n\r\nMuch farther north in the Kremstal region, Martin Nigl, of Weingut Nigl, ensures his Gelber Muskateller is planted on \u201clight and stony soils. This way, the berries don\u2019t get too big, and the varietal character is particularly pronounced.\u201d\r\n\r\nDespite these endeavors to craft expressive, long-lived wines, Austrians love to mix Gelber Muskateller with sparkling water to make summertime spritzers. Nigl says he also enjoys these bone-dry light wines as an ap\u00e9ritif.\r\n\r\nWohlmuth 2018 Gelber Muskateller (S\u00fcdsteiermark); $20, 92 points. Elderflower headiness announces the bright aromatics of this vivid Gelber Muskateller. The palate stays ultralight, dry and bright with lemon, creating a highly aromatic but deliciously weightless wine. Citrus juiciness and concentration only heighten these sensations. It's a summer joy. VOS Selections.\r\n\r\nTement 2018 Gutswein Gelber Muskateller (S\u00fcdsteiermark); $20, 91 points. Gorgeous elderflower on the nose has a zesty streak of lime and shimmering summer blossom. The palate picks up on elderflowers and zestiness and lets them fill its slender, streamlined and dry body. Its verve and scentedness are a joy. Perfectly light and fragrant summer drinking. Weygandt-Metzler.\r\n\r\nNigl 2018 Gelber Muskateller (Nieder\u00f6stereich); $23, 90 points. A bright honeysuckle nose has the slightest overtone of rose petal. This sends the bright aromatics of Muskateller into a rounder, spicier, more floral arena. The palate is concentrated and fresh, but enriched with that floral ripeness. The finish delivers the dry, zesty moreishness. Skurnik Wines.\r\n\r\n\r\nTraminer\r\nTraminer, which has been identified as Savagnin, comes in a number of ways in Austria, each with slightly different characteristics. There is Roter (red) Traminer with red grapes, Gelber (yellow) Traminer with golden grapes and Gew\u00fcrztraminer with pink grapes. They have slightly different characters.\r\n\r\n\u201cYellow Traminer has distinctly yellow fruit notes and higher acidity,\u201d says Neumeister. \u201cHence, it has been planted more over the past 15 years.\u201d\r\n\r\nJoseph Umathum, of Weingut Umathum in Burgenland, says that \u201cyellow Traminer gives the lowest yields, is filigree, but its golden berries make spicy, savory, almost honeyed wines with real freshness.\u201d\r\n\r\nRed Traminer, on the other hand, \u201cis the quietest and most elegant,\u201d says Neumeister. Andreas Eder, of Weingut Eder in the Wachau, says that red Traminer has \u201cdistinct notes of rosewood, mallow and a lot more body.\u201d\r\n\r\nGew\u00fcrztraminer, the best known of the trio, \u201chas an intense rose scent, almost overpowering and very memorable, with low acid,\u201d says Umathum. Older Traminer vineyards are often still a mix of these varieties, and most are just labeled \u201cTraminer.\u201d\r\n\r\nNeumeister says that despite its \u201cbaroque\u201d varietal nature, Austrian Traminer has \u201ca kick of freshness.\u201d\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s mostly produced in a dry style. The grape takes particularly well to warmer sites in Burgenland or the Wachau, where its thick skins protect it from fungal infections.\r\n\r\nEder makes dry wines from his red and yellow Traminer in the Smaragd style, which is Wachau\u2019s designation for the latest harvest and highest alcohol level. He says that the phenolic nature of the wines, resulting from the thick grape skins, requires some cellaring for a harmonious expression.\r\n\r\nFor Umathum, these phenolics are a structural element that help balance the moderate acidity and allows the wines to age. Austrian Traminer is softly scented, rather than heavily perfumed. This makes it a joy.\r\n\r\nEder 2017 Smaragd Traminer (Wachau); $36, 94 points. Rich notes of Damask rose are shaken awake with the first swirl. The richness almost is reminiscent of oil. The palate counters this with fines spritz and vivid freshness. The tingling dryness of the midpalate introduces notions of blood orange peel. This is concentrated and aromatic in a profound rather than heady fashion. Freshness and dryness prevail to create an absolutely elegant, full-flavored wine. Drink 2020\u20132035. Slocum & Sons.\r\n\r\nNeumeister 2018 Ried Steintal Roter Traminer (Vulkanland Steiermark); $40, 92 points. Fresh red apple notes come with a hint of smoke and a bright notion of Damask rose. The palate then shows generosity of fruit with an expansive, mellow palate that is defined by lemony highlights amid a lovely, rich, aromatic, rose petal-scented texture. The finish is dry and bright and comes with a light-footed, lemony freshness. Frederick Wildman & Sons, Ltd.\r\n\r\nUmathum 2017 Traminer (Burgenland); $23, 92 points,. Candied Mandarin orange and Damask rose on the nose make for a heady opening. The palate counters this all with dryness and freshness and a lovely texture with some phenolic pith. The finish is aromatic, dry and rose-scented. Winemonger.\r\n\r\n\r\nZierfandler and Rotgipfler\r\nThese two varieties, usually mentioned in the same breath, are absolute rarities. They\u2019re specialities of the Thermenregion, where they grow in calcareous soils.\r\n\r\nThere are just 464 acres of Rotgipfler and 190 acres of Zierfandler in all of Austria. In the past, they were mostly blended together, and their quality made wine villages like Gumpoldskirchen famous.\r\n\r\nFew winegrowers are willing to take on these demanding grapes because they are so susceptible to fungal disease. Those who grow them do so for their local authenticity and great quality potential.\r\n\r\nHeinrich Hartl, of the namesake winery in the Thermenregion, says that Rotgipfler \u201chas power, structure [and] longevity alongside a big portion of elegance and full-bodied aromatics.\u201d The challenge, he says, is to express this \u201cwith precision.\u201d\r\n\r\nRotgipfler is redolent of aromatic fruit like quince, citrus and red apple, often with floral overtones, and those chracteristics come with an intense, textured mouthfeel. Zierfandler, on the other hand, is known for its acidity. It\u2019s a late variety whose pink skins gradually turn red with real ripeness. The nose often has waxy, nutty overtones and a citrus-oil richness.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt is the last variety we harvest in mid-October,\u201d Michael Reinisch, of Johanneshof Reinisch, says about Zierflander. He describes the grape as \u201crich in finesse, multilayered, with vibrant acidity and aging potential.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe varieties require great care. Reinisch vinifies Zierfandler for a time in amphorae and keeps it on gross lees until bottling. Some continue the tradition of blending the two, because the grapes complement each other so well.\r\n\r\nOlder vintages of these wines, which seem to get ever more viscous even when made in a dry style, are a revelation.\r\n\r\nGebeshuber 2017 Gumpoldskirchen Zierfandler (Thermenregion); $37, 93 points. The nose is rather shy and gives merely the slightest hint of candied lemon peel. The palate, however, is a jolt of intense freshness and vivid fruit. Peach, guava and Mirabelle plum are framed by vividly tart citrus. The palate is concentrated but slender and makes an excellent case for this rare, autochthonous variety. Yum. Vignaoli Selections.\r\n\r\nJohanneshof Reinisch 2017 Ried Spiegel Zierfandler (Thermenregion); $40, 93 points. Hints of wet hay and candied lemon make for an earthy nose. The palate is exquisitely fresh and concentrated, playing a high-toned lemon oil note against a rich, textured background. There is something urgent and pervasive about this, which will blossom fully with a little more bottle age. Drink 2022\u20132032. Circo Vino.\r\n\r\nHeinrich Hartl 2018 Rotgipfler (Thermenregion); $24, 92 points. Red apple and wet earth come together in a lifted nose. The palate surprises with its roundness and its almost oily, very rich texture and immense concentration. There also is a creamy aspect that underlines all this generosity even more. Yet a wonderfully zesty core frames this richness and gives it contour, zing and freshness. A rich, dry wine for rich food. KW Selection.com.