Sachertorte is not the only deliciously dark indulgence coming from Austria, but while the luscious chocolate dessert enjoys its well deserved food stardom, Austrian red wines are not that used to the spotlight. Instead, the versatile white grape Grüner Veltliner carries the bicoloured flag across most menus and shelves internationally.
It’s a common occurrence in countries with a successful “flagship grape”: a superstar will drive oenophiles’ attention and put the place in their mental maps, but the association might be so strong that a second wave of awareness is needed to introduce wine lovers to other styles and varieties worth exploring. Famous examples are Argentina’s Malbec or Sauvignon Blanc and New Zealand.
This was indeed one of the topics we explored at a seminar held in Dublin last February during which we met Wilhelm Klinger, Managing Director of the Austrian Wine. There was, of course, plenty of Grüner Veltliner, from desert-dry to gloriously honeyed, which deserves its own chronicle, but I was captivated by the elegant subtlety of the reds.
Cool and Sustainable
“Austrian wine is mostly made in the east of the country”, explained Wilhelm, “the latitude lies between Burgundy and Champagne.” Wine 101: This translates into a fairly cool climate where Pinot Noir and leaner type of reds generally thrive.
Due to the scale of production, Austria is too small to compete on the entry level: the country has 46,500 hectares of vineyard, only a fraction of Spain’s 941,000 or France’s 803,000. Even compared to countries closer in size such as Greece or Portugal, Mozart’s homeland is still better off focusing on artisan and boutique production. What might seem as a weakness plays as a strength, as quality instead of quantity is the driving force behind the 4,200 wineries crafting Qualitätswein within the country’s borders.
Another point that Wilhelm highlights is how important sustainabilit is for Austrian winemakers.”Austria’s total organic agricultural area is 21 per cent and over 13 per cent of vineyards are farmed organically.” There is also a notable interest in natural wines and biodynamic practices.
But back to the dark side. There are 14 red varieties officially approved for the production of Qualitätswein (literally, “quality wine”) in Austria, and just about a third of the plantings are destined to red wine (including Gruner, there are 22 white grapes allowed) and white vineyard takes over the other two thirds of the land).
Sustainable produced autochthonous varieties are part of what makes Austria exciting. The two most important local black varieties are Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch. There is ongoing research on the development of “new breeds” and crossings, but that’s more of a “watch this space” situation for the time being, at least in our shores.
Zweigelt is an early ripening cross between Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent, capable of ageing but often crafted into youthful and fruity wines that are generous in juicy aromas of berries, moderate in tannin and entice with a mellow spiciness. Blaufränkisch, in the right hands, becomes intense and sharp, lean and perfumed with violets and black fruit.
Yes, you can also find Austrian Pinot Noirs and they can be a thing of beauty, but ask yourself: would you travel to Vienna to go to a French restaurant? My answer is a solid maybe, only if it’s exceptional, otherwise, I’d try to taste the local stuff.
So, let’s join the dark side together. Serve yourselves a slice of Sachertorte as you check out some delightful Austrian red wines worth seeking.
€17.95 – Available at Baggot Street Wines
A blend of local specialities Zweigelt and St. Laurent, with soft tannins and wildly fruity.
Expect juicy cherries and fresh blackberries gracefully delivered and pleasantly lingering.
Pittnauer Pitti 2015
€18.95 – Available at Green Man Wines, Mitchell and Son, Siyps.com
This fresh and friendly red combines Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch into a biodynamic hero of moderate tannins and strong aromatic character.
An inviting mix of cranberries, cherries and a delicate floral character.
Moric Blaufränkisch 2013
€25 – Available at On the Grapevine
Elegant and graceful, this red a subtle spicy character complemented by plenty of forest fruit. Balanced and silky, it has a lean body and moderate acidity and tannins.
A delicate earthy hint adds depth to this fine example of a variety that deserves more love!
Claus Preisinger Zweigelt Kieselstein
€21 – Available at Fallon & Byrne, 64 Wine
A refined and exemplary Zweigelt from Burgenland. Spontaneous fermentation in steel tanks allows the local yeast to work its magic and the fruity flavours to be preserved.
Ten months of ageing in used oak barrels help integrate the flavours. Expect juicy blackberries, plums and a delicate herbaciousness.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.