September 3, 2015
Region of the Week: Austria
Last week’s Wine of the Week was dedicated to the darling of Austrian wines, Grüner Veltliner. So today we naturally decided to get to know this fascinating wine-growing country better.
A little bit of history…
Viticulture in Austria dates back to Roman times, with the evidence of vineyard cultivation from more than 2,000 years ago. And yet the nation does not seem to have the recognition it deserves – and there is a reason for this. The Austrian wine industry collapsed around the end of the 20th century, with one of the biggest wine scandals in history: in 1985, diethylene glycol (used in the making of anti-freeze) was found to have been added to some bulk-produced bottles to add sweetness and body to the wines. This instantaneously resulted in a loss of reputation on a local and international level, and was very bad news for wine exports. The county had to undergo a complete wine restructuring and the enactment of stricter wine laws, which has eventually led to the recovery of the industry in the past few years. Today, with the wine region’s renaissance, Austrian wines are recognized for their quality and character, and for a good reason!
Austria and its grapes
Austria: approximately 115,000 acres of cultivated vineyards and 35 grape varieties (22 whites and 13 reds). The majority of its production is concentrated in the northeastern part of the country, just north of Vienna, with a few rapidly growing wine regions further south.
Austria is famous and acclaimed for its white wines. The nation’s signature style is the crisp and aromatic white Grüner Veltliner, which we discovered in a previous post. In addition to Gru-Ve, Austria has some local white varieties such as Neuburger or Roter Veltliner, as well as internationally known varieties including Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay.
Although the country is mainly known for its whites, the proportion of reds has doubled over the last two decades, to now represent one third of Austria’s total vineyards. Aside from the most planted red variety in Austria, Zweigelt, we can mention the rich age-worthy Blaufränkisch, or the dark velvety Saint-Laurent; and on a more international level, Pinot Noir, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.
Where to taste?
Nikolaihof – The winery is the oldest winery in Austria, its history going back to Roman times, almost 2000 years ago; and is located at the very heart of one of the country’s most treasured wine regions, Wachau. The high-quality of their wines and the practice of biodynamics for years has made the Saahs one of the most respected winemaking families in all Austria. The winery is ancient and its owners passionate, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to explore one of the property’s oldest rooms, their wine cellar, built more than 1,800 years ago. You can also enjoy their wines at their tavern, or Weinstube, with a taste of traditional Austrian cuisine. Look for their 2011 Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner Hefeabzug, or the bone dry 2011 Elisabeth Tradition – a stunning blend of Riesling, Weissburgunder, Grüner Veltliner and Neuberger).
Where to stay?
To be fully immerged in the Austrian wine universe, choose to stay at the Nikolaihof Winery’s Guest House, a few minutes away from the estate. Stay in of the19 big rooms, kick off the day with a rich organic breakfast served at the guest house, and end the day with a glass of local wine after browsing through the comprehensive library of the Wachau region.