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  • The distinctive red and white banderole emphasizes the origin of wines from Austria
  • Exterior of the Loisium, an innovative wine museum in Langenlois, Lower Austria
  • Vineyard scene from the Kamptal, Lower Austria
  • Interior scene from the Loisium, part of the interactive exhibition
  • Domäne Wachau, Lower Austria
  • Screwcaps have been readily embraced by producers, particularly for crisp whites
  • Terraced vineyard scene in the Wachau, Lower Austria
  • Interactive exhibit at the Loisium in Langenlois
  • Wine tasting, Austrian Wine Summit 2009
  • Aftermath of wine tasting, Austrian Wine Summit 2009
  • Esterházy Palace grounds, Burgenland, home to the annual Josef Haydn Festival
  • Selection of traditional desserts
  • Cherub Rock: Classical sculptures keep watch over the Domäne Wachau estate, Lower Austria
  • Wine bottles on display
  • Grüner Veltliner decanted for dinner service
  • Abbey church at Stift Gottweig, a Benedictine monastery near Krems, Lower Austria
  • Glasses of sparkling at the ready

User Guide Austria

Austria Offers More Than The Sound Of Music And Alpine Skiing. It's Home to Some Of The World's Greatest White Wines.

Mention Austria and people’s associations are typically The Sound of Music, alpine skiing (the county’s national sport) or classical music. Wine doesn’t often make the list.

Much of this misunderstanding can be chalked up to the fact that the Austrians don’t share much of their vinous bounty with the world.

The country produces less than one percent of the world’s total production.
Seventy-five percent of its wine is consumed at home. Most of what remains is exported in bottle to nearby Germany and Switzerland or in bulk to the Czech Republic.

That doesn’t leave much to go around for the rest of the world. Which is a pity, considering the astonishing quality of dry white wines produced from Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and increasingly Sauvignon Blanc. The best (and most qualify as being premium quality) are charming, complex wines that deliver
intrigue and exhilaration with every sip.

The reds, primarily fruity Zweigelt and spicy Blaufränkisch, are works in progress. Largely unoaked and softer in style, they are markedly different from the bold, robust reds currently in vogue with Canadian wine lovers.

Discovering the joys of Austrian wine then is a mixed blessing. The good news, particularly for those who find little joy in a glass of Chardonnay, is that there is a stunning array of alternatives. Austrian whites boast purity, freshness and elegance as well as layers of fruit. These aren’t wimpy wines, by any stretch.

The bad news is that it’s a difficult task to track them down.

There isn’t an Austrian equivalent of Yellow Tail. There are no large volume brands that frequently turn up at every local wine shop. In fact, the artisanal
aspect of Austrian wines makes them even more appealing for wine lovers seeking something authentic or rare.

If you want to taste an unbeatable Grüner Veltliner or crisp, dry Riesling from the Wachau, Kremstal or Kamptal (to name some of the country’s best known winemaking regions), your best bet is likely a fine dining restaurant.
Professional sommeliers were quick to spy the quality and food-friendly nature of these refreshing, exotic wines.

ALPINE ARTS: Home to the House of Hapsburgs, Vienna was effectively the European capital of classical music during the 18th and 19th centuries. The royal family was great patrons of the arts and as a result Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Strauss Jr., Joseph Haydn and others are associated with the city.

Architecture also thrived during the Hapsburg dynasty, with the construction of two of the most famous Austrian palaces, the Belvedere between 1714-1723 and Schönbrunn in 1696.

Any roundup of great Austrian cultural events need also include that Klosterneuburg Monastery, located just to the north of Vienna, founded the world’s first School for Oenology in 1860.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC? Austrian tourism benefits from the enduring success of The Sound of Music in its movie and Broadway musical forms, but apparently its citizens aren’t avid fans. “We don’t really know The Sound of Music,” explained Susanne Staggl, of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board when asked about the popular film by a visiting wine journalist. “No one in Austria knows it.”

FACTS & FIGURES: Austria’s vineyards cover more than 51,000 hectares, mostly located in the east and southeast of the country. Wine production is divided into four growing regions: Weinland Österreich (Lower Austria and Burgenland), Steirerland (Styria), Wien (Vienna, Austria’s capital encompasses 700 hectares of vines) and Bergland Österreich (mountain country).

Total annual production equals an average of 2.5 hectolitres of wine, a number that represents less than one percent of the world total. Seventy percent of the vineyards are planted to white wine varieties (22 varieties are permitted), with the remaining 30 percent planted to the 13 permitted red wine cultivars.

Three-quarters of its wine is consumed at home. Germany and Switzerland are the leading export markets for bottled wine. The Czech Republic is the leading producer of bulk wine. “They know wine is made in Austria, unlike the rest of the world,” an industry representative said wryly.

GREAT WHITES: Firm, full-bodied Rieslings and vibrant Grüner Veltliners represent the pinnacle of Austrian wine hierarchy, but there are other whites that will tempt your taste buds. Aromatic and focused Sauvignon Blanc from Südsteiermark (South Styria) is bound to be the next big thing with wine lovers around the world. Other notable whites include Muskateller, Müller-Thurgau, Morillon (Chardonnay), Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Welschriesling and Traminer.

RED DAWN: News that an Austrian red wine was scored 95 out of 100 points in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate earlier this year was cause for a press release from the Austrian Wine Marketing Board. The Moric 2006 Blaufränkisch Neckenmarkter Alte Reben was singled out by wine critic David Schildknecht as the best red from a tasting of 900 Austrian wines.

Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch (known as Limberger in Germany, Lemberger elsewhere) are the two most widely planted red wine varieties in Austria. Blauer Portugieser (an early ripening variety that produces light reds), Pinot Noir and St. Laurent (a Pinot Noir-like indigenous variety) are also popular.

BOUTIQUE WINE: Austria’s wine industry encompasses approximately 20,000 small wine producing estates, roughly 40 percent own less than five hectares of vineyards. Their business relies on sales at the cellar dollar.

MY FAVOURITE THINGS (PART ONE): Need to know how to pronounce Smaragd, the top category for wines from Wachau, or Rotgipfer, the spicy white grape used to produce late harvest wines in the Gumpoldskirchen district? Check out the “wine rap” page of the Austria Wine Marketing Board website which provides a glossary of Austrian wine terms complete with English definitions and sound files of a native speaker using proper pronunciation. Curiously Gumpoldskirchen isn’t part of the glossary. winesfromaustria.com/adventuretour/winerap.html

THE HILLS ARE ALIVE: The Wachau region encompasses 1,400 hectares of vineyards that are located in the narrow Danube valley between the towns of Melk and Krems in lower Austria. Steep terraced vineyards planted predominantly to Grüner Veltliner and Riesling punctuate the Wachau’s medieval landscape, which was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

Located an hour’s drive west of Vienna, this region is a highly desirable tourist destination not only because of the quality of its wines (considered by many to be the country’s best), but the regional charm of its architecture (including many monasteries, castles and ruins) and quaint towns and villages that have evolved harmoniously with the land over time.

Wachau producers use a regional classification system for wines produced from local vineyards: the categories Steinfeder, Federspiel and Smaragd are used respectively for light, medium and full-bodied wines which may never be chaptalized (sugar addition during fermentation to increase alcoholic strength). Steinfeder (Stone feather, named after a grass that grows in the vineyards) are lighter wines that are consumed locally. The more serious Federspiel (named after a falconry device) and Smaragd (named after a lizard that lives in the vineyards) wines are exported.

THE MIGHTY Ks: Much of the appeal of the Wachau’s powerful, dry expressions of Riesling and Grüner Veltliner can be found in the wines of the neighbouring areas, Kremstal and Kamptal. Both have adopted the country’s DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus, similar to France’s appellation contrôlée system which links a region to a particular grape variety and style) system, which recognizes two tiers of quality white wines made from Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. 

The first is a light, fruity style with 12 to 12.5 percent alcohol. The second is a reserve wine made in a drier, more robust style at least 13 percent alcohol.

Kamptal, which takes its name from the Kamp River, is home to Austria’s largest wine town Langenlois. The urban centre is a hub for culture and tourism, including many Heurigen wine taverns and tasting rooms. That industry has developed based on Kamptal’s 4,300 hectares of vineyards, a figure which makes it one of the country’s larger wine-growing areas. It adopted the DAC classification in 2008.

Named for the river Krems, Kremstal embraced the DAC system one year earlier, with the 2007 vintage. Producers explain that the move was a bid to grow international recognition for its minerally white wines. Its 2,600 hectares of vineyards are divided into different zones: the Stadt Krems, the eastern-lying areas, and the small wine villages of Rohrendorf and Gedersdorf located south of the Danube. Blessed with a warmer climate, there is a growing focus on red wine with some producers.

MY FAVOURITE THINGS (PART TWO): Austrian producers to look for include Bründlmayer, Dömane Wachau, F.X. Pichler, Huber, Jamek, Knoll, Nigl, Prager, Rabl, Schloss Gobelsburg and Salomon Undhof. These wines aren’t cheap (prices start above $15 per bottle), but they’re worth the splurge. To help your search, it’s best to make friends with the product consultant at your local liquor store or a knowledgeable clerk at a specialty wine shop who can alert you to what’s available. austrianwine.com