wa2.gif (4241 bytes)

abut9.gif (3095 bytes)

abut12.gif (3207 bytes)
abut10.gif (3636 bytes)

abut11.gif (4039 bytes)


Austrian wines
Part 1: Introduction

The subject of this new series on wineanorak, Austria is rapidly becoming one of my favourite wine countries. It’s only recently, however, that Austrian wines have come on to the radar screens of wine geeks in the UK and USA.

Most ‘average’ consumers don’t realise this, but Austria makes brilliant, world class dry white wines from Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, although this message has now definitely filtered through to wine geeks across the globe. The reason Austrian wines have not been better known abroad is probably because the domestic market greedily snaps up most of the good stuff, and this demand keeps the prices high.

Indeed, Austria doesn’t actually make that much wine. But the word is out: the best Austrian whites are a match for any, and increasing numbers of wine buffs are switching on to them both in the USA and UK.

In particular, Grüner Veltliner (left) is gaining more of the attention that it deserves. It’s Austria’s most abundant grape variety, some 10 times more widely planted than Riesling, and makes versatile, expressive white wines often with a distinct peppery character. The new Chardonnay? That might be stretching things a bit, but with its food friendliness and capacity to gain complexity with age, Grüner looks set to gain more friends across the globe.

But it would be unfair to think of Austria just in terms of Grüner Veltliner and Riesling from the Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal. It’s a country with a range of different climates and vineyard regions producing a diversity of wine styles, including some great sweet wines and even some serious reds.

It’s the whites get most of the attention, but the reds have quietly been improving. Where they aren’t overoaked or forced, they can be surprisingly good, although they are still quite rare in the UK. Prices for Austrian wines remain a stumbling block, keeping them a niche item in the UK trade. While they are still pretty reasonable considering the quality, there’s not much choice under a tenner, and you probably need to be thinking about spending around double that to experience some of the very best.

I visited Austria in early October 2004, where harvest was just beginning in most regions. Over the next few weeks I’ll be adding my impressions, together with some further producer previews stemming from an Austrian wine dinner and the Austrian trade fair held in London.

Grapes, regions and vintages: an introduction

Grüner Veltliner
Austria’s own variety, which is capable of making complex, full flavoured, spicy whites often with a distinctive white flower and cracked pepper edge to them. While Austrian Riesling has tended to steal the limelight, Grüner has just as much to offer, and the good news is that there’s a lot more of it. It’s a wine that drinks well young, yet can age, and it’s marvellously food friendly. Worth discovering.

In Austria Riesling performs very well, making usually dry wines that have more precision than their Alsace counterparts and more weight than those from Germany’s Mosel. Justifiably highly regarded, but with plantings amounting to only 3% of Austria’s vineyard area, there isn’t that much of it.

This is what Austrians call Pinot Blanc, and it makes lovely gently aromatic dry white wines in southern regions such as Südsteiermark.

Austria’s second most planted white grape and not related to the true Riesling. Fresh, simple fruity dry whites are the norm, but it can make sensational sweet wines.

The most abundant red grape; makes good wines ranging from simple cherry fruit gluggers to more substantial reds destined for ageing.

Blaufränkisch (right)
Common in Burgenland this makes spicy, sturdy, berry fruited reds which can have some tannic structure. It’s the same grape as Hungary’s Kefrancos.

Blauer Portugieser
This red grape makes soft, approachable, juicy wines mainly for early consumption.


These three neighbouring regions in lower Austria are the best for Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. Most of the country’s leading dry whites come from here. 

On the Hungarian border, famous for its sensational sweet wines from the Neusiedlersee, and increasingly good reds.

A southern region neighbouring Slovenia. Best for aromatic, savoury white wines from Weissburgunder, Morillon (Chardonnay) and Sauvignon Blanc.


2004 A vintage that the Austrian wine-buying public will appreciate: the long, cool, drawn out summer led to light, crisp whites, and that’s how they like them. Not great, but not bad either..

2003 Four atypically hot summer months led to some brilliant red wines. The jury is out on whether this warm year will also be a stunner for the whites. A disaster for the botrytised sweet wines from Burgenland.

2002 With the widespread flooding in the key regions during August, you’d be forgiven for thinking this would be a washout. But growers are actually quite happy with quality and rate this as a good year. Great for botrytis in Burgenland.

2001 September rains were the problem, but overall a fairly good year for whites.

2000 This hot, dry vintage was a successful one almost everywhere

1999 Superb for whites, reds and sweet wines  

The series

Wines tasted 10/04

Back to top