Austrian vineyards are all located on the east coast of Austria, surrounding the capital city of Vienna, and near the borders with the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovenia. The grape growing is away from the Alps and is centered around the flatter part of the country, so that the grapes have enough warmth to ripen.
The wines of Austria are known for having lightly perfumed aromas and mouth-watering acidity, due to the coolness of the region, which lies at the same latitude as northern France (think Alsace) and Canada.
In 1985, the wine world was rocked by a scandal as German scientists, performing regular quality control on wines, discovered traces of diethylene glycol in some of their wines. Diethylene glycol is a primary ingredient in antifreeze. The wines in question were blends of German wine, with along with bulk wine purchased from Austria. Some Austrian winemakers were adding diethylene glycol to their wines to boost sweetness and to give a richer texture.
The affected wines were withdrawn from the market, and many involved in the scandal were jailed or fined. The short-term effect of this scandal, of course, saw exports of Austrian wine plummet (and German wines, as well). Following the scandal, Austria imposed a strict system of wine laws and quality controls.
There are 40 allowed wine grapes in Austria, of which 26 are white and 14 are red. The key white grape is Grüner Veltliner, and is the most planted grape in Austria. Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, and St. Laurent represent the key red grapes.
Grüner Veltliner is a white grape that is often compared to Sauvignon Blanc because of its herbaceous aromas and flavors. The wine is known for having racy acidity and notes of green melon and fresh cracked white pepper, along with hints of green bean. We will be tasting a Grüner Veltliner blend this week in the Hopler Pannonica White 2017, as well as Josef Bauer, Riesling Feuersbrunn 2017, from Austria's other white grape.
Zweigelt is the most planted red variety in Austria. Wines made from this grape are lighter, rarely oaked, and more like wines made from Grenache or Gamay. It’s a lighter red wine, like Grenache or Gamay, and it has aromas and flavors of sour cherry, raspberries, and black pepper. Zweigelt is a crossing between Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent.
Blaufränkisch is the bigger, bolder red wine in Austria that is age-worthy. It has bright acidity and bold tannins. Wines made from this grape have aromas and flavors of blackberry, black cherry, chocolate, black pepper, allspice, and a wee bit of citrus. Many of these elements can be found in the Leo Hillinger, Blaufränkisch 2016 that we are tasting.
While St. Laurent represents only about two percent of Austria’s vineyards, it is notable for having a similarity in flavor to Pinot Noir because, surprisingly enough, Pinot Noir is one of its parents. The other parent is unknown. Wines from St. Laurent can have aromas and flavors of raspberry, blackberry, sweet tobacco leaves, and baking spices.
Try some Austrian wines today!