FINE WINE

Connoisseur’s Guide to Austrian Wines

The London Tasting 2002
Written by Aksel Ritenis

The London  Tasting 2002The London Tasting 2002 – The Historic Breakthrough for Austria’s Wines

In a series of international tastings held in Vienna, Singapore and Tokyo in 2002, Austria’s Grüner Veltliners and Chardonnays went head to head with some of the world’s top wines. The high point of the series was a tasting in London on October 30th 2002 – which already has entered wine history as the London Tasting 2002. Like the legendary Paris tasting 1976, the London event hosted internationally renowned wines challenged by up-and-coming “unknown” wines. After the series of worldwide tastings, Jancis Ronbinson MW (Financial Times), Tim Atkin MW (then at the Observer) and wine dealer Jan-Erik Paulson wanted to know exactly how Austrian Grüner Veltliners and Chardonnays would fare in an international competition.

The results were overwhelming: the top four positions were claimed by Austria. In fact, 7 of the first 10 wines were Austrian Grüner Veltliners and, respectively, Chardonnays. Indeed, the best Chardonnay was Austrian. The international wines hailed from top wineries such as Ramonet, Latour, Thénard, Jadot (Burgundy), Gaja (Italy), Mondavi (California) and Penfold (Australia). “With these results, Austrian wine has succeeded in making a breakthrough also internationally,” commented a proud Austrian Wine Marketing Board executive.

These outstanding results for Austria were followed by a long article in the November 16th/17th weekend issue of the Financial Times. Stated Jancis Robinson: “An Austrian white but far from a joke? That’s Gru-vee, baby.”

The resumé of Austrian wine today is clear. Austria’s white wines are not “better” than the great Burgundies. And, especially, the contrasts between Grüner Veltliner and barrique Chardonnay are too broad. But:
– Austria’s great whites are amongst the top wines in the world.

– They are amongst the best wines for storing.
– Their price-quality ratio is unparalleled even in the top leagues.
– They are authentic wines from unique terroirs.

MOST POPULAR WINES
Grüner Veltliner

Grüner Veltliner is an old and traditional Austrian grapes variety. Its commonly used 9th century name of “Mouhartsrebe” points to its propagation or origin in the area of Manhartsberg (Manharts Mountain) to the north of Krems. The Grüner Veltliner began its triumphal march in the 1950s. These days, it constitutes 36% of all vineyard plantings, making it Austria’s most common grape variety. The qualityof Winzer Krems Grüner Veltliner ranges broadly: from the classic spicy and peppery wine “Ried Sandgrube”, via the full-bodied Kremser Goldberg to the vigorous and elegant Grüner Veltliner called Kremser Wachyberg, which also ages very well.

Zweigelt
Blauer Zweigelt was cultivated by Dr Fritz Zweigelt at the Higher Federal School for Viticulture (Höhere Bundeslehranstalt für Wein- und Obstbau) in Klosterneuburg. It is a cross between the red wine varieties of St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch. The Zweigelt vine needs fertile soils and is resistant to drought and winter frosts. The wine normally displays a ruby-red, robust colour. As a young wine, Zweigelt has a markedly fruity bouquet that becomes more rounded and subtle with maturity. It has a full-bodied taste, velvety and mild, often reminiscent of berries and cherries. “Kellermeister privat” is usually developed in stainless steel; “Kellermeister Reserve” matures in a large wooden barrel for two years. Particularly carefully selected Zweigelt grapes are made into wine “Glatt & Verkehrt”, which ripens in new barrique barrels made of French wood for 12 months.

Riesling
Reaches maturity in October and November. Riesling flourishes on lots of soils. It is, however, at its most elegant and fragrant when grown on soils that have been formed by the weathering of primary rocks and slate. Austria’s best Riesling wines apart from the Wachau region are from the western area of Krems (Kremser Pfaffenberg) and the terraced vineyards above the Krems River (Kremser Kremsleiten). Given a low yield and a suitable climate, Riesling has a fine, elegant fruitiness that is often reminiscent of peaches and apricots. This richly nuanced bouquet is teamed with a spicy acidity that makes the high-quality Riesling wines a genuine treasure. Long life and the ease with which it can be stored characterise most of the vintages of this grape variety – it is often described as the “King of the White Wines”.

QUALITY WINE (QUALITÄTSWEIN)
Advertising and publicity materials using the country’s name “Österreich” or “Austria” are undoubtedly beneficial to Austrian wine. It is, however, important to promote increasing awareness of Austria’s quality wines from specified regions (Weinbaugebiete). There are two types of specified regions (Weinbaugebiete) for quality wine (Qualitätswein): First, generic appellations using the names of Austrian federal states – especially Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), Burgenland, Steiermark (Styria), and Wien (Vienna) – and alternatively, those with the names of the sixteen specific appellations.

SPECIFIC REGIONS FOR QUALITÄTSWEIN
Generic Appellations

The wide variety of Austrian Qualitätswein should be marketed showing the name of an Austrian federal state on the label (generic appellation): Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), Burgenland, Steiermark (Styria) or Wien (Vienna). Growers may avail themselves of thirty-five approved grape varieties and a wealth of different stylistic choices. On this level there is room not only for bigger brands (e. g. Grüner Veltliner Niederösterreich), but also to encourage creativity and experimentation on the individual level to determine the best future potential (e. g. Syrah Burgenland).

  1. Specific Appellations (including 4 DAC appellations (2007))
    A particular wine style representative of a specific region should use the name of this region as appellation on the label. If a specified region officially accepts this strategy according to regulations of its own devising within the framework of the Austrian Wine Law, the Minister for Agriculture can declare it to be a DAC-appellation. In this case the appellation (e. g. Weinviertel, Mittelburgenland, Traisental or Kremstal) is followed by the expression “DAC” (Districtus Austriae Controllatus). Only the wine(s) most representative of these specific regions will then be permitted to bear the specific appellation on the label; all other wines will be labelled with the name of the generic appellation.

WINE REGIONS
Wachau
Monumental wines from steep terracesA World Heritage site and a landscape that exudes a sense of well-being: this is the Wachau, the narrow Danube valley between Melk and Krems. Here, the 1,400 hectares of vineyards – some of which are on steep terraces – feature mainly Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. The wine categories of Steinfeder, Federspiel and Smaragd are used respectively for light, medium and full-bodied wines with natural alcohol.

Kremstal DAC The high culture of wine – from primary rock to loess
If vineyards could speak, there would be endless hours of exciting discussion in the Kremstal. Especially because of the 2,600 hectares of vineyards here are divided into different zones: the Stadt Krems, the eastern-lying areas, and the small wine villages south of the Danube. But there are united elements – Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, which are the key representatives of the entire region as well as expressions of art and culture.

Kamptal Grüner Veltliner and Riesling – millions of years young
Its name refers to the Kamp River. Its center happens to be Austria’s largest wine town, Langenlois. And with 4,000 hectares under vine, the Kamptal is also one of Austria’s larger wine-growing areas. Of special significance are culture and tourism, which are enhanced further by the numerous Heurigen wine taverns and vinotheques here. Playing a special role between wine friends and vintners throughout the area are the main grape varieties Grüner Veltliner and Riesling.

Weinviertel DAC “Peppery” Grüner Veltliner
The Weinviertel is well-known to every Austrian wine lover. But it also has been gaining international renown as well. Of course, part of the success is because, with 15,500 hectares of vineyards, the Weinviertel is Austria’s largest wine-growing area. But its main ingredient for success is Grüner Veltliner, particularly when it reveals its typical regional character in Weinviertel DAC wines. And that’s not all. The Weinviertel is becoming known more and more as a region of gastronomic pleasures.

Carnuntum Elegant red wines with full, deep fruit
For many years, archeologists have been excavating the remains of Roman culture from the history-rich soils of Carnuntum. But just as remarkable are the treasures of the 950 hectares of vineyards here – especially the Zweigelt-based red wines that reflect regional typicity. The Rubin Carnuntum wines, with the symbol of the Roman Heidentor, or Heathen’s Gate, on their label, along with the support of the area’s proud guard of winemaker personalities, strengthen the identity of Carnuntum. \

Thermenregion The cradle of great winesSouth of Vienna, there is a wonderful recreational area that features not only cosy Heurigen wine taverns, but also rich, historical terroir that hones powerful wines: 2,450 hectares of vineyards lie at the edge of the Wienerwald, or Vienna Woods, extending from Vienna’s outskirts to the south of Baden. In the northern section, white wine dominates with the indigenous varieties Zierfandler and Rotgipfler. The southern area highlights red wine, with velvety St. Laurent leading the way.

Wien A new wine culture. A long Heurigen tradition.
Wine-growing in a major capital city? In Vienna, it’s a tradition! And today, with 700 hectares of vineyards, it plays an important economic role. In fact, these vineyards contribute to the preservation of the green belt – something that helps form the basis of high wine quality. The excellent range of wines include the quintessential Gemischter Staz (field blend), Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Chardonnay and precious red wines as well.

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Aksel Ritenis

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