IMAGINE a wine with the freshness of German rheingau, the spiciness of French alsace and the full-bodied fieryness of Hungarian tokay.
If you enjoy lively, spicy, aromatic, dry whites or succulent, juicy reds, you will love the wines of Austria – and for a sommelier they are a dream match with food.
Mention Austria to people and you get two reactions. Surprise that Austria even makes wine, or a potted history of the mid-1980s scandal – incidentally the best thing to happen to Austria’s wine industry as only the finest producers survived – which erupted after some Austrian producers were found to have added toxic substances to their wines to make them taste sweeter.
Austria now has Europe’s strictest wine laws and superb quality. Anyone who encounters their whites, reds or sweet wines in tastings are instant converts to Europe’s hidden wine gem, but until recently the wines were hard to find at decent prices in Scotland.
Now we have our very own Austrian wine specialist based in Renfrewshire’s Houston, Austrian Wines Direct. Owner John McEvoy sells wine from 16 producers and claims to offer the lowest prices in the UK. His prices range from a modest £9.99 for a well-made dry white gruner veltliner to £25 (half bottle) for sensational trockenbeerenauslese sweet wine.
“Austrian wines are not cheap, I admit, but with such keen domestic demand there is little incentive for Austrians to export at discounted prices,” says McEvoy. “All their wines are handpicked and many are artisan winemakers working with an average of just 4.5 hectare vineyard size,” he adds.
In the Middle Ages Austria had 400,000 hectares of vineyards and monks from Burgundy planted many vines. It has its fair share of pinot noir (called blauburgunder) which I have been impressed with – and chardonnay (called morillon). Today, Austria’s vineyards produce just 1 per cent of the world’s wine – with 48,000 hectares – but the saying here is that “small is beautiful”.
With its mid-field position in Europe, it is at a meeting point of cool mountain air from the north and the hot winds blowing in from the Hungarian plains. You get naturally high acidity alongside full intense fruit flavours – ideal food wines.
In the northeast, regions of Wachau, Kremstal, Kamptal and Weinvertel produce thrilling rieslings and gruner veltliners with fabulous natural acidity on terraced vineyards alongside the Danube or its tributaries. South of Vienna the warmer air from Eastern Europe allows Thermenregion and Burgenland to produce superb succulent reds – and some of the best pinot noirs I have tasted outside Burgundy.
Between the Hungarian border and Lake Neudsiedlersee, Austrians have also recently discovered a natural haven for botrytis cinerea (noble rot) – with eye-wateringly good sweet dessert wines from such producers as Kracher. Further south, near Slovenia’s border, in remote Styria, in stunning countryside (imagine a cross between Tuscany and Switzerland), artisans like the Polz brothers and Gerard Wohlmuth make thrillingly aromatic minerally whites from pinot gris and morillon.
NEUBERGER/PINOT BLANC 2009 Erwin Tinhof
Firm, minerally, heftily spicy with nutty undertones – with a richness of fruit typical of its southerly Burgenland origin in Austria. Try with a rich chicken dish.
ROTER VELTLINER KLASSIK 2010 Leth
(£12.95, www.dudleyde fleury.com)
Raisin and honey aromas, intense fruits, steely dry palate: very unusual dry unoaked white from a large renowned wine estate in Wagram region. Try with rich textured seafood.
ROTGIPFLER 2010 Heinrich Hartl
A winner at our recent tasting. Fabulous full, soft, spicy award winner which scooped the Decanter Awards Austrian trophy; a pink-skinned grape from Thermenregion, created from crossing traminer and roter veltliner varietals. Try with pork or grilled chicken.
PINOT NOIR BLACK EDITION 2009 Ebner-Ebenauer
(£16, Roberson Wines, London)
Winning red in our recent tasting from Weinvertel region: such a sweet, deep, succulent example of this grape – definitely a producer to watch. Try with duck or lamb.
ZWEIGELT SELEKTION 2009 Leopold Muller
(£12.49, Austrian Wines Direct, 01505 690699; www.austrian-wines-direct.co.uk)
Bright cherry notes, peppery undertones, mellow and slightly spicy: from northerly Kremstal which is usually associated with white wines – but this is very good quality – as is the price. Try with barbecued ribs or sausages.
ST LAURENT KRAXNER 2008 Heidi Schrock
(£18.50, Austrian Wines Direct)
From one of my favourite producers in Burgenland; if you like pinot noir you might like st laurent which is believed to come from the same grape family. Perfumed, velvet smooth, beautifully made. Try with duck.
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