When it comes to Austrian wine, an element of cool confidence effortlessly combines with all of Austria’s more common stereotypes, and shows versatility and adaptability.
The Low-Key Confidence of Austrian Wine
by Michael Warner
Most of us don’t think of Austria when we think of cool. Thoughts of punctuality, preciseness, cleanliness, and adherence to tradition more easily pop into our minds. When it comes to Austrian wine, however, an element of cool confidence effortlessly combines with all of Austria’s more common stereotypes. The country’s wines show versatility and adaptability.
You’re as likely to find it on the tables of Michelin-starred restaurants as you are on a picnic blanket, in glasses of both the Hollywood elite and youthful hipsters, or alongside Vienna’s classic schnitzel and Kyoto’s abundant bowls of ramen.
Despite the variety of Austrian wine pairing possibilities, it’s fairly easy to wrap your head around the wines and wine regions of the country. The demarcated wine regions are not nearly as numerous or complex as those found in France and Italy, and the quality designations are not as tongue-twisting as those found in Germany. In fact, most labels are pretty straightforward and resemble those found in America, simply expressing the name of the winery, the place of origin, and the grape used to make the wine.
Austria produces a wide variety of wine styles, with a healthy mix of indigenous and international varieties. There are four grapes of particular importance, two white and two red.
Austria’s leading white grape is also the country’s most planted variety. It’s best known for being light-bodied, dry, expressing green apple and white stone fruit flavors, and with a distinctive white pepper kick on the finish. It’s the choice of sommeliers everywhere to pair with dark green vegetables, such as asparagus, artichoke, or spinach. This is the essential wine for anyone taking advantage of farmers markets throughout the spring and summer seasons.
In a notable contrast to its German cousins, Austria’s Rieslings tend to be bone dry with restrained aromatics, pronounced minerality, and mouthwatering acidity. Their light delicacy makes them a perfect match for equally delicate yet flavorful foods, such as rainbow trout, sushi, or Vietnamese cuisine.
A true original to Austria, Zweigelt is nearly as popular as a rosé as it is as a medium-bodied red. Relatively light in tannin and with a little bit of spice, the flavor profile falls somewhere between that of a Pinot Noir and a Syrah. It’s an ideal match for most weeknight meals, from pizza and pasta, to tacos or simply-prepared proteins.
Something of a chameleon, Blaufränkisch sometimes presents itself with decidedly Pinot Noir-like elegance and sometimes as a full-bodied, ageworthy red with enough structure and tannin to sit alongside rich sauces, roasted meats, and maybe even a cigar. Blaufränkisch offers palate-pleasing flavors, like blue plum, blackberry, and baking spice.
Austria, like most countries with long winemaking traditions, has a significant number of demarcated winegrowing regions, each with its own unique wine styles and terroirs. Broadly speaking, however, there are two regions that provide the best starting points for appreciating Austrian wine.
Lower Austria – or Niederösterreich as it’s known in the local parlance – is white wine country and home to the country’s most famous wineries. The region hugs each side of the Danube as it meanders through the northeastern part of the country. Lower Austria produces stellar Grüner Veltliner, which can range from light and fruity pleasure wines to waxy, minerally, and spicy gastronomic treasures. Dry Rieslings are also abundant, alongside many indigenous varieties rarely found outside of Austria.
Located along Austria’s southeastern border with Hungary, the Burgenland is red wine country. The region receives abundant sunlight during the growing season and warm breezes from the Pannonian Plane allowing the signature grapes of Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch to achieve optimal ripeness.
Regardless of region, there’s a good chance that whichever Austrian wine you choose will be, at a minimum, sustainably farmed. Organic and even biodynamic agricultural practices are extremely common throughout Austria, and the country’s winemaking culture discourages over-manipulation of wines. As a result, drinkers enjoy wines that reflect their terroir, the typicity of their regions, and taste great, too!