Often forgotten amongst the wide range of wines from around the globe, which are available to us in the UK, the wines of Austria are now highly acclaimed both by wine experts and wine lovers all around the world.
Crafted by new generation winemakers, using a combination of traditional artisan techniques and modern technology, the wines consistently demonstrate their quality and future potential in international blind tastings.
Gone are the days of low quality, bulk wines made with quantity in mind rather than quality.
Long gone also is the scandal of the anti-freeze, which devastated the Austrian Wine industry and took over twenty years to recover.
Modern Austrian wines have character and individuality and are building an international reputation for particularly good value.
The exceptional quality of its wines is due in no small part to the special geographical setting and the influence of climate. Situated on the same latitude as Burgundy, the vineyard area of Austria is much more centrally located in Europe, thus experiencing greater fluctuations of temperature.
Warm sunny summer and autumn days are tempered by cool nights, effecting long, slow ripening of the grapes, perfect for high quality, aromatic wines, with great concentration of flavour.
The picturesque wine growing regions are mainly in the east of the country and are divided into several sub-regions. Wachau, Steiermark and Burgenland produce some of the top wines and many vineyards surround the capital, Vienna, itself. 36 different grape varieties are authorised for quality winemaking, including many international varieties such as Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
However, for me, the greatest interest is with the indigenous grape varieties.
The white Grüner Veltliner is pre-eminent amongst these and has now established itself as one of the great white wines of the world.
Some interesting wines are also made from the native red varieties- Blaufrankisch, Sankt Laurent and particularly Zweigelt. Grüner Veltliner and Zweigelt do particularly well in the ‘warm but cool’ climate of Austria, with is hills, mountains and varied soils.
Taking a cue from this, these two varieties are being increasingly planted in New Zealand, where certain microclimates bear a striking resemblance to some in Austria.
Most supermarkets and virtually all wine specialists now stock at least one Grüner Veltliner and some the Zweigelt.
Well worth tracking down as they are great food wines. Try to find a pure Zweigelt, since many on the market are blends with other varieties and consequently lose the concentrated cherry fruit of the pure varietal.
Also worth looking out for, is the word ‘Ried’ on the label, which denotes a single vineyard wine as opposed to a blend, thus having far greater character, depth of flavour and individuality.
Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Follow him on Twitter @richardwje.