Austria is becoming an increasingly important wine-producing country
in central Europe with an annual production of about 30 million
cases, 30% more than Germany. The wines themselves are fuller bodied
than the Germans and generally drier. Like Germany, Austria produces
primarily white wines, however their success with certain reds,
particularly because of the warmer climate, is much greater than
The Celts were probably the first to grow grapes in Austria as early
as 500 BC. Viticulture continued under the Roman Empire. After a
succession of raids and domination, as was the case in most of Europe
during the Dark Ages, vines began to appear and become part of the
landscape by the 1300s. Under the influence of the monks, most of
the plantings occurred around Krems on the Danube west of Vienna.
Austria's total area under vine was about 10 times what it is today.
So great was this surplus production that a series of protectionist
measures was undertaken in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, prohibiting
the sale of foreign wine in Lower Austria.
Austria's vines are planted on both sides of the Danube, which cuts
through the country from West to East. The climate is generally
drier and warmer than Germany. The Wachau is considered the country's
finest wine region. It is the furthest point to which the Atlantic
airstreams penetrate the Danube Valley; it is the only region in
Niederösterreich that benefits from its moderating effects. Kremstal,
Kamptal and Donauland are other fine dry white wine regions, but
with some excellent reds now being made by experimental winemakers.
Reds are also produced in the Weinviertel and the Thermenregion,
though white grapes predominate. Steiermark produces citrusy Chardonnay,
often labeled Morillon, some using oak and some without, and Sauvignon
Blanc. Burgenland is one of the top red wine producing areas featuring
Zweigelt at its principle grape and some fine dessert wines.
Like Germany, most of the vineyards are cared for by part-time vine-growers,
21,000 of the Austrian total of 36,000 owning less than 2.5 acres
of vines. Co-operatives produce about 14 per cent of all Austrian
Full-bodied, dry white wines with pronounced acidity are what the
Austrians prize the most. Except for Burgenland's great sweet wines,
most whites are fermented dry. Stainless steel or large, old wooden
vats are used for fermentation and aging so that wood plays a relatively
minor role in most whites except for an occasional Chardonnay. Chardonnay
producers in Burgenland and Styria often use barrels for both fermentation
Austria's most planted variety is its very own Grüner Veltliner,
which accounts for more than 36 per cent of Austria's total vineyard
area. It is particularly important in Lower Austria, Vienna, and
Burgenland. The next most important variety is Welschriesling. It
can produce sweet wines of great quality in Burgenland and many
fine dry wines too, notably in Styria. Müller-Thurgau is fast declining
in importance, but it is still the country's fourth most planted
The indigenous red wine grape Zweigelt is now the country's third
most planted variety and is found in all districts. Weissburgunder
(Pinot Blanc) is another widely planted white wine variety. Chardonnay
has become popular here, as it has in the rest of the world. Both
Traminer and Gewürztraminer are widely planted, as is Pinot Gris.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a relatively new arrival, concentrated in
Burgenland, but Blauer Burgunder (Pinot Noir) is showing some success
in the warmer climates.
All of Austria's vineyards are in the eastern part of the country
and sixty percent of the wine comes from Lower Austria, which confusingly
is in the northeastern part of the country.
Burgenland's four wine regions were part
of Hungary until 1920. Mittel Burgenland is famous for its robust
Blaufränkisch red wines and Süd Burgenland produces some good
reds and dry whites. Burgenland produces more than a third of
all Austrian wine, and most of the best reds and sweet whites.
Styria is a mountainous viticultural district
with more in common with Slovenia over the border than with the
rest of Austria. It is officially divided into south, Süd-, south
east, Süd-Ost-, and west (and West- respectively) districts which
combine to produce less than five per cent of an average Austrian
vintage. The city of Vienna, or Wien, is given its own status
as a wine region, climatically a particularly favored enclave
within Lower Austria.
Weinviertel is Austria's largest wine district.
Much of the land is flat, fertile, and very dry. The region typically
produces relatively light, dry, white wines from Grüner Veltliner.
Müller-Thurgau, Welschriesling and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc)
are well represented with many an outstanding example.
Kamptal produces many of the nation's finest
dry white wines. The most impressive of these are the Rieslings
and Grüner Veltliners. Many fine Rieslings are also made here,
notably on those vineyards close to the famed Wachau district.
Donauland stretches east along the Danube
and is famous for the outstanding Grüner Veltliner produced here.
Kremstal is primarily dedicated to dry white
wines. The best are Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners from Stein
and Senftenberg where the rocky soils and microclimates are very
similar to those in the Wachau. Not surprisingly, the top Rieslings
and Grüner Veltliners are often indistinguishable from the best
The Wachau is considered by many to be Austria's
top region for dry whites. Riesling is the main grape here, followed
by Grüner Veltliner. The vines grow predominantly on narrow terraces,
which climb the steep hillsides up to two hundred meters from
the bank of the Danube. A combination of irrigation and a fanatical
approach to wine quality has enabled their full potential to be
realized during the last 20 years.
The Wachau does not follow the usual German and Austrian Prädikat
quality classification for its dry wines but instead uses its
own names to distinguish between three levels of ripeness. Steinfeder
wines are for early consumption while Federspiel wines benefit
from one to two years' bottle age. Those labeled Smaragd are considered
the best and can age for decades.
Burgenland is known for its full-bodied
Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) together along with Traminer and
Welschriesling. The palate covers all the styles from dry and
racy to late harvest Trockenbeerenauslese, oftentimes besting
their German counterparts. Mittelburgenland is in the central
Burgenland district. Its warm climate makes it very suitable for
red grapes, which account for 70 per cent of the production. Zweigelt,
Pinot Noir and even Cabernet have shown promising success here.
Steiermark's climate is continental and
is both the hottest and sunniest of Austria's four zones. It is
appropriate for growing fuller-bodied whites. The best being Chardonnay
and Sauvignon Blanc. Riesling and Pinot Blanc are quite successful
in the South and a few rosés are produced in the western part
of the province.
Vienna claims to be the only capital city
with a serious wine industry within its boundaries. Its best wines
are made from Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and the Pinots.
Wine labeling laws in Austria are some of the strictest in the world.
They share much of the nomenclature of the German Wine Law but standards
in general and minimum must weights in particular are higher, although
warmer summers mean that it is easier to achieve higher sugar levels
in Austria than in Germany.
Qualitätswein is the name of a category, which includes the subcategory
Kabinet and of a subcategory itself. To qualify as Qualitätswein,
the wine must come from a single district specified on the label
and must demonstrate the characteristics of the recognized grape
variety from which it is made. The wine must have at least 9 per
cent alcohol. As in Germany, wines are tasted, analyzed, and awarded
a code that is the Austrian equivalent of Germany's AP number.
Regarded as merely a Qualitätswein in Austria, Kabinet wines, like
Prädikatswein, may nevertheless not be chaptalized. Sugar cannot
All Spätlese Prädikatswein must be from one wine district, must
be vintage dated, and must have its must weight officially certified.
As in Germany, no Prädikatswein may be chaptalized. No Austrian
Spätlese may be sweetened by added Süssreserve; all alcohol and
residual sugar must be the result of natural grape sugars. A Spätlese
must be made from fully ripe grapes picked at minimum must weights.
Auslese must weight is higher still and any unripe or unhealthy
grapes must be excluded.
Strohwein, Straw wine, made from overripe grapes, which are dried,
on straw or reeds for at least three months.
Eiswein, `Ice wine' should be made from grapes with a very high
sugar level, which are picked and pressed while still frozen and
Beerenauslese, a very sweet wine made from grapes that are affected
by noble rot, or simply overripe are picked under the same conditions
as Eiswein but are not frozen.
Trockenbeerenauslese is a very sweet wine made from grapes with
a must weight higher than all of the above that are naturally
shriveled, overripe and affected by noble rot.