Hallo, Austria!

Given that the Average UK Wine Punter still thinks of German wine as little more than Blue Nun, what hope is there for Austria? Its wines are fewer and further between, and more of a mystery when you do find them. Yes, pinot noir, riesling and grüner veltliner have possibly, arguablyjust about made it on to the general radar, but Sankt Laurent, zweigelt, roter veltliner, blaufränkisch? That’s a different Geschichte.

Pity the poor Average UK Wine Punter, then, because Austrian wine has loads to offer. All the grapes just mentioned are capable of making momentous wines – especially pinot, riesling, Sankt Laurent and grüner (all bar pinot and riesling are native Austrian grapes).

One of the best pinots I tried last year was Austrian and trying it was the very reason I wanted to write a post on Austrian wine in the first place.

It was this one:

Anton Bauer pinot

Anton Bauer is a winemaker name to remember. I’ve tasted a few of his wines – most recently a week ago at the Austrian Wines tasting at the Institute of Directors in London – and loved them all. None more so than this pinot (bought at Earlsfield Deli, but the importer is Top Selection). It’s so fresh, so fruity-herbal, so focused and well-structured. It makes me think of juice bleeding from crushed summer fruits and cool pine forests carpeted in tussocky green moss, a solitary roe deer sniffing the dense air as shafts of morning light break through the –

Get on with it…
Styles of Austrian wine vary. Most commonly you’ll get young, crisp, lean, steel-aged grüner veltliners, although this is a high-quality grape whose high acidity and long ripening mean it can be aged in oak too. Rieslings from Austria’s plethora of different soil types are also outstanding.

Pinots dominate the reds, but wines made with Sankt Laurent, a descendant of pinot, should be snapped up when you find them. I have found zweigelts and blaufränkisches a bit hit-and-miss, but they can undoubtedly be good (Anton Bauer does a lovely zweigelt, for example, and Erwin Tinhof does a very good blaufränkisch AND Sankt Laurent. They’re available from Savage Selection).

Österreich also does a great line in pudding wines, having some of the world’s best climatic conditions for noble rot.

One other thing to note is that Austrian wines can be surprisingly full-bodied. If you think its cool climate is only good for making light wines, think again. Most of the whites I tried at the recent tasting were at least 14% abv.

Oh yes, the anti-freeze…
In 1985 a big scandal hammered the Austrian wine industry. Anti-freeze. Probably did more PR damage than Blue Nun did to Germany, and that’s saying something. That was a long, long time ago, though, and the great wines that Austria is producing now shouldn’t be eclipsed by it. That would be ridiculous.

I mentioned availability as a bit of a problem. That’s true, but things are changing. From the conversations I had at the recent Austrian wine tasting, it seems as if the marketing bods are making more of an effort to promote Austrian wines in the UK right now, and as in Germany, many new-generation producers are looking to make an impression in new markets, of which the UK is a major one (Germany, Russia and the US seem to have dominated up to now).

Austrian wine has also become scorchingly cool, which can only help its fortunes. If you have been to the Shoreditch Box Park recently – and if you haven’t, where in Christ’s name have you been? – you will probably have seen the Newcomer ‘Austrian Wine Revolution’ shop, which stocks some fantastic wines with ‘edgy’ labels and has various interactive things happening on massive touchscreen monitors.

In my wine-drinking career (!) I have drunk far more German pinot noir than I have Austrian, but I have been more impressed with the few Austrian ones I’ve had – such that if I had the choice of a German or Austrian pinot now, all other things being equal, I would choose the Austrian.

You can find more detailed information about Austrian wine here.

Now here’s a bit of information about those little-known Austrian grapes:

Roter veltliner: Ancient Austrian variety. In one of those classically unhelpful quirks of wine classification, has absolutely nothing to do with grüner veltliner. Makes powerful, full-bodied whites with a fruit profile similar to grüner when young, giving white-pepper spice and almond flavours when aged.

Sankt Laurent: A descendant of pinot noir, also grown in Germany, where its known as St Laurent. Produces wines with deep colour and typical aromas of dark cherries. Sometimes added to Bordeaux blends (ie, merlot/cabernet sauvignon). Almost invariably velvety and fine.

Blaufränkisch: Historically a bit rubbish, but increasingly making high-quality wines these days. Also grown in northern Italy, Germany and several countries in Eastern Europe. Produces deeply coloured, zingy, blueberry/blackberry-fruited wines with hints of pepper when aged.

Zweigelt: Most common red variety in Austria. A cross of Blaufränkisch and Sankt Laurent. Can produce fairly pedestrian, unoaked fruity wines or firm, full-bodied oaked ones if yields are controlled.  Black or sour cherries are common flavour descriptors.

Any I’ve missed? If moved to, please do let me know.

And dig that moustache.