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 Editorial  Share this article     Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 11, September 2003   
AustriaAustria  Contents 
Issue 10, Summer 2003 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 12, October 2003


Despite the fact Austrian wines are not widely known in the world, here they make excellent white and sweet wines; in Austria wine and its production represent a fundamental aspect of the country's culture

 Austria is usually considered, according to an enological point of view, similar to Germany, indeed the wines and the enological characteristics of the two countries are very different. Austrian climate is warmer than Germany's, therefore grapes reach a higher ripeness level with the result Austrian wines have more body as well as being drier and having more alcohol, in respect to Austrian taste. In fact, they are completely different wines and in case they have to be compared, it can be said they are more likely to be compared to the wines produced in Friuli Venezia Giulia or Hungary instead of the ones made in Germany. Austria mainly make dry white wines as well as excellent sweet wines which should be considered, undoubtedly, among the best sweet wines of the world.


 Austria is currently the eighteenth producer in the world in terms of quantity and the per capita consumption of the country is of about 34 liters (8.9 gallons) ranking eleventh in the world among the wine consuming countries. No matter the scandal of the 1985 hardly compromised the production and credibility of the country as a wine producer, it was discovered most of the wine contained traces of diethylene glycol in order to add body and sweetness, this event turned into an advantage for Austria because they set very strict wine laws and controls became more rigid. Thanks to those laws the giant leap forward of Austria in the quality wine production began and, at last, only quality wineries which were extraneous to the scandal, and always worked for quality, became successful.

 It is believed were Celts to be the first ones to cultivate vines with the purpose of making wine in the territory where now is located Austria. The cultivation of vine was practiced in those lands by Celts about 500 years before Christ and the production of wine was continued by Romans, particularly fond of the beverage of Bacchus which also was part of their culture, as well as being an essential food for the armies. Culture of vine was particularly practiced by Romans in the Empire's regions of Noricum and Pannonia, located in the south-east area of modern Austria.

 With the advent of Barbarians, the plains of the provinces of Pannonia were repeatedly devastated by their frequent invasions and only with Charlemagne viticulture resumed its development and spreading, mainly because wine was an essential element for the celebration of Christian Liturgies. Many of the current and best wine areas of Austria originated during those times and their fame continued up to nowadays also thanks to the precious work of monks, in particular in the monasteries near Krems, west from Vienna. Just like in other parts of Europe, the flourishing wine business done by monasteries developed in the middle age and in Austria the most relevant monasteries, belonging to Cistercians, mainly established by monks from Bourgogne, were located in the area of Göttweig, Güssing, Heiligenkreuz, Klosterneuburg, Melk and Zwettl.


 During the middle age the wine activity in Austria were highly developed and it is believed the area destined to the culture of vine was at least 10 times higher than the current one and Austrian wines were renowned and exported in many European countries. Production increased in the next centuries and it was so high that there were overproductions which required special measures in order to regulate the production of wine. With the constitution of the Hapsburg Empire, which also included Hungary, the renowned wines from Tokay became more famous than the ones produced in the Austrian territory, in particular the renowned Ausbruch wines produced at Rust in the Neusiedlersee-Hügelland area. During the Napoleonic wars, Austrians vineyards were highly damaged, however viticulture resumed its development thanks to the vivid botanic experimentation which also led to the creation of the most renowned Austrian grapes. In 1860 at Klosterneuburg was established the first viticulture and enology school as well as a center for botanic research and experimentation.

 In 1985 the wine industry of Austria was shocked by a scandal and they discovered most of wine was adulterated with diethylene glycol, a harmless substance however illegal, added with the purpose of increasing body and sweetness of wine, a scandal which also partly affected Germany because they found out some German wines were produced with Austrian wine. Damages to the wine reputation of Austria because of this scandal, led to the promulgation of strict wine laws and nowadays they are considered the most rigid wine laws of the world.


Austrian Quality System

 Wine laws regulating Austrian quality system are to be considered among the more rigid and strict of any other European country. Laws set exact requisites for every type of wine, including the minimum quantity of sugar in grapes at the moment of harvesting and the highest percentage of alcohol by volume allowed. Moreover disciplinary production define what grapes can be cultivated, the maximum yield per hectare, the possibility of chaptalization, the method of fermentation and precise information that must be written in the label. Moreover, Austrian quality system requires that every wine must be tested and controlled by means of chemical analyses and only in case the result of this test is positive will be issued an official control number.

 Even composition percentages of wines is more rigid compared to the other countries. In case a wine's label has the name of the vineyard where the grapes were harvested (“ried” in Austrian language), the wine must be exclusively produced with the grapes from that vineyard. The same requisite is needed for wines which label shows specific geographic areas or regions. In case a specific grape or vintage is written in the label, the wine must be produced with at least 85% of the named grape or vintage.

 The Austrian quality system classifies wines in specific categories which also define the level of quality and the style. It should be remembered a wine in order to belong to a specific category must meet all the minimum requirements as set by law, in particular must density, in Austria measured in Klosterneuburger Mostwage degrees, abbreviated as KMW. The categories set by the Austrian quality system, from the lowest one to the highest, are as follows:


  • Tafelwein - (Table wine) Represents the most common wine category in Austria. This category does not have particular requirements, there are no indications about yield per hectare, as well as no indication of the origin and wines can also be enriched
  • Landwein - this category can be compared, in certain aspects, to the French Vin de Pays. Wines belonging to this category can be enriched
  • Qualitätswein - This is the category to which every quality wine belongs to
  • Kabinett - Quality wines (Qualitätswein) with a maximum alcohol by volume of 12.9%. They cannot be enriched
  • Prädikatswein - Is the highest level of the quality system in Austrian wines and it is basically reserved to sweet wines only. Wines belonging to this category cannot be enriched and must come from a legally recognized area, must show in the label the vintage and the density of must has to be officially certified

 Wines belonging to the Prädikatswein category include the following categories, from the lowest level of must density to the highest:


  • Spätlese - Wine produced with fully mature grapes
  • Auslese - Wine produced with selected grapes harvested by hand. Bunches not fully mature or damaged cannot be used for the production of these wines
  • Beerenauslese - Wines produced with berries of very mature grapes and selected by hand. Grapes may also be affected by noble rot, Botrytis Cinerea
  • Eiswein - Wines produced with frozen grapes and usually harvested at night. The freezing of grapes must occur naturally on the vine by the effect of low temperature
  • Ausbruch - Particular wine produced at Rust in the Neusiedlersee-Hügelland area with very mature grapes which are naturally dried and affected by noble rot
  • Trockenbeerenauslese - Wines produced with berries of very mature and dried grapes, selected by hand. These are the rarest and most expensive wines produced in Austria and are only produced in the best years. Grapes must naturally dry on the vine by the effect of noble rot

 The area of Wachau, among the most important wine areas of Austria, has its own classification method for wines:


  • Steinfeder - Natural wines which did not have any chaptalization process and having a percentage of alcohol by volume lower than 10.7%
  • Federspiel - Natural wines which did not have any chaptalization process and having a percentage of alcohol by volume lower than 12%
  • Smaragd - Wines produced with very mature grapes, usually late harvests, with a minimum alcohol by volume of 11.3%. Smaragd wines usually have alcohol by volumes percentages higher than the minimum allowed by law and are to be considered the best ones for their roundness and body and for their organoleptic qualities


Production Areas

 Wine production of Austria is mainly about white and sweet wines, however in the country are also produced red wines. After the 1985 scandal, quality in Austrian wines has become one of the main goals of any producer and this is certainly confirmed by facts. What could have been seen as a disastrous event with irremediable effects, indeed originated a strong impulse, fundamental and strategic for the wine industry of Austria.

 In Austria are mainly cultivated white berried grapes where Grüner Veltliner is the most interesting representative. This grape, which is also the most cultivated in the country, is capable of producing unique and extraordinary white wines, with surprising organoleptic qualities; it certainly is a wine to be tried and not to be underrated. The main white berried grapes cultivated in Austria, both used for the production of dry wines and sweet wines, include Grüner Veltliner, Furmint, Chardonnay (known in Styria as Morillon), Pinot Gris, Riesling, Riesling X Sylvaner (which probably is Müller Thurgau), Sämling, Sauvignon Blanc, Traminer, Welschriesling. Among the red berried grapes are cultivated Blauburgunder (Pinot Noir), Blaufränkisch, Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Laurent and Zweigelt.

 Wine production in Austria is mainly made in the eastern part, from Lower Austria, bordering Czech Republic and Slovakia, bordering the areas near Hungary and Slovenia. The widest area is Lower Austria which include five interesting wine districts and the most important and famous of them all is Wachau. Wine production is Austria in mainly about white wine, which represents about 80% of total production, whereas most of the red wines are produced with Blaufränkisch grape. It should be observed most of Austrian wines are mono varietal, that is produced with one type of grape, however there are also wines produced with more grapes. Here, just like in Germany, white wines are rarely fermented in cask, in Austria they prefer to favor and exalt, rightly, the aromatic characteristics and qualities of grapes. Even tradition plays a fundamental role, in particular for the production of sweet wines, which are still made with techniques developed hundreds years ago.


Lower Austria

 Lower Austria is the most important and largest wine area of the country; more than 50% of vineyards are located in this region. Despite the name can make think it is located to the south, the region is in the northern part of Austria, bordering Czech Republic and Slovakia, and goes along the course of Danube river to the eastern part of the country. Vienna, the evocative capital of Austria, no matter is geographically part of this region, is considered as an autonomous wine region. Lower Austria include five wine districts: Donauland-Carnuntum, Kamptal-Donauland, Thermenregion, Wachau and Weinviertel. The most important ones of these five districts are Wachau, Donauland-Carnuntum and Kamptal-Donauland.

 Wachau, the smallest of the five, is the most important one. Wines produced in this tiny area have quality, elegance and balance hardly found in other districts. It should be observed that in the Wachau area, as opposed to what is set by law for other wine areas, wines are classified according to a system set by the local association of wine producers (Vinea Wachau) which includes three categories: Steinfeder, Federspiel and Smaragd.

 The most cultivated grapes in this region are Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. In particular, Grüner Veltliner, a local Austrian grape, is capable of producing elegant and pleasing wines having a surprising finishing taste of white pepper. Other grapes cultivated in Lower Austria include Riesling, of which the best wines comes from Wachau, Riesling X Sylvaner (by many considered as Müller Thurgau), Welschriesling, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Chardonnay. In this region are also produced interesting red wines, mainly with Blauburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Zweigelt grapes.



 Burgenland is the second wine region of the country in terms of acreage and it is located to the border with Hungary, here are produced the famous and excellent sweet wines of Austria, of which Ausbruch is still among the most celebrated and renowned ones. This particular type of wine is produced with grapes affected by noble rot (Botrytis Cinerea) to which is added fresh and partially botrytised must, following, in this aspect, the production technique used in Hungary for the Tokaji Aszú. The best Ausbruch, as well as the best Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese, are produced in the northern part of the region, in the Nuesield lake area, called Neusiedlersee by Austrian, and in particular the area of Rust. Climate conditions of the area, thanks to the effects of the lake, allow the development of the noble rot on the grapes, an essential condition for the production of Ausbruch.

 The grapes mainly used for the production of these wines include Welschriesling, Weissburgunder, Neuberger, Chardonnay, Traminer and Furmint, the grape used for the production of Tokaji Aszú. In this region it is also produced a special and renowned wine with grapes not affected by noble rot: Eiswein. Moreover, the region produces red wines, in particular with Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and St. Laurent grapes, a cross of Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt. Lastly, it should be remembered in Burgenland are also produced dry white wines, in particular with Chardonnay grape.



 This region is located to the southern part of the country and its wine production in mainly about white wines. The most cultivated grape of the region is Morrilon, the name used in this area to refer to Chardonnay, and it seems it was directly introduced here from the French Champagne. However it is Sauvignon Blanc the grape which probably produces the best wines of Styria, with their herbaceous and fresh aroma, they usually resemble the ones from Sancerre. Other grapes cultivated in this region include Weissburgunder, Welschriesling, Traminer and Muskateller.

 Styria is also famous for its rose wines, in particular the Schilcher, produced with Blauer Wildbacher grapes cultivated almost exclusively in the western part of the region. Schilcher usually is a rather acid wine, as opposed to what one may expect from a rose wine.



 Vienna, besides being the capital city of Austria, is also an important wine area of the country, and it is the only capital city of the world having this characteristic. In the outskirts of this evocative city are cultivated vineyards whose grapes are used for the production of white wines, including the Gemischter Satz, a traditional wine produced with many grape varieties pressed and vinified together. The main production is about white wines, in particular with Riesling, Weissburgunder, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay grapes. In this region are also produced red wines, in particular with Zweigelt and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, as well as an interesting production of sparkling wine made with the classic method.


 Editorial  Share this article     Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 11, September 2003   
AustriaAustria  Contents 
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