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  • Wines of Austria

    Austria may best be known as California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s birthplace, but did you know they rank 18th in wine production and 11th in wine consumption? The current country of Austria is a result of the 1919 Treaty of Saint Germain. After this event and WWI, Austria was left economically destroyed. Resorting to mass-marketed, poor quality wine, Austria made an effort to come back economically. Things continued to worsen until 1985 when a group of corrupt wine brokers tried to pass off wines with diethylene glycol (antifreeze). This is probably the best thing that could have happened to their wine making industry. The entire industry cleaned up their act, and now Austria makes the most riveting wines of central-eastern Europe. In light of this it is no surprise to learn that they also have the strictest wine laws of anywhere in Europe.

    Best known for white wines made from Gruner Veltliner, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), and Riesling, they also produce some notable reds including Blauburgunder (Pinot Noir), Blaufränkisch (Lemberger) and Zweigelt.

    Here is a quick overview of their white wines:

    Grüner Veltliner – Peppery spice, fruity, usually dry. Productive and rather hardy, although it ripens late, the Grüner is known for producing crisp and fresh wines that have notes of pepper, spices and grapefruits. Can improve for many years in bottle when given care, sometimes taking on the exotic fruit character of an aged Burgundy.

    Riesling – Elegant fragrance, fine nuances, raciness. In good vintage years the noble Riesling from Austria’s best-situated vineyards produces some of the world’s finest wines of this variety. Its attractive bouquet usually has delicate notes of peaches, apricots and citrus fruits. Because of its piquant acidity, the Riesling is very racy and long on the palate; it constantly develops and thus ages very well.

    Weissburgunder – A fine combination of fragrances, powerful, racy. If the grapes have attained full maturity, the Austrian Weissburgunder is a white wine rich in extracts with a fine almond-like taste and piquant acidity. The grape variety known internationally as Pinot Blanc usually develops very well in the bottle. Because of its discreet character it is suitable for blending with other varieties and for ageing in new, small oak barrels (en barrique).

    And a quick overview of their red wines:

    Blauburgunder(Pinot Noir) – Discreet bouquet, elegant, soft tannins. Despite some new vineyard planting, this grape variety, which made the red wines of Burgundy famous, is still under-represented in Austria. The Pinot Noir has a very fine bouquet that is difficult to describe, best perhaps as reminiscent of raspberries or almonds. Its taste has lots of fruity charm and elegance. Despite its delicate structure it ages better than many wine-lovers assume.

    Blaufränkisch – Dark berry notes, astringent-spicy, medium tannin levels. The name Blaufränkisch (literally “blue Franconian”) probably dates from the time of Charlemagne, when all high-qualities varieties were classified as “Franconian” (fränkisch) while those of lesser value were called “Hunnic” (heunisch) and eliminated. In its youth this Austrian speciality is an impetuous, deeply fruity red wine, which with ageing becomes more velvety and supple, gaining additional facets.
    Zweigelt – Despite being bred from a crossing of Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent in 1922, Zweigelt is now the most widely planted red grape in Austria. Hardy, vigorous and productive, Zweigelt (or Blauer Zweigelt and Rotburger as it is also known) buds late and ripens early, which are very useful traits in the cool Austrian growing regions. Though it is at its best when yields are low, Zweigelt can be counted on to consistently produce medium bodied reds that have a nice mix of currants, herbs and tannins. From better sites and low yields some very rich and tannic reds can be produced that can take well to both barrel and bottle aging.

    The Cellars features outstanding wines from the following producers: Loimer, Domaine Wachau, and Neckenmarkt. For some really interesting wines try the Pinot Noir from Claus Preisinger, a 28 year old winemaking marvel truly in tune with his terrior. You may also want to try the Weissburgunder from 20 year old vines from Judith Beck.

    Thad Norlinger
    -Cellars Wines & Spirits