A focus on Austrian wines with Leslie Williams

This week a focus on Austria, one of the most consistent wine producing countries on the planet — I’d even go so far as to say that I have yet to taste a wine from Austria that I didn’t like. 

Austria’s vineyards are on a latitude between Burgundy and Champagne but are significantly further inland with elements of both a damp Atlantic climate and a continental climate providing warm summer and autumn days and cool nights which ensures freshness — Austria doesn’t do flabby.

You will find Sauvignon, Riesling and Pinot Noir here but you really need to embrace the joys of their native grapes such as Grüner Veltliner and the delicious food-friendly reds: Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and Sankt Laurent.

Over a fifth of all farming in Austria is organic (more than in any other developed country) and just under 15% of vineyards are farmed organically — biodynamic winemaking is also more common here, unsurprising given that biodynamics is based on lectures given by Austrian Rudolf Steiner.

One reason you may not have tried Austrian wine is that the entry level wines are rarely under €15 but to be honest I applaud this — grapes do not ripen here as easily as they do in Portugal or Chile and without careful sustainable husbandry, you simply won’t get quality. And if you don’t have quality, nobody will try your wines more than once.

I like Austria’s vibrant co-operative movement and the fact that the non co-op wines are usually made on family estates. Don’t forget that small herd family farms are the reason our beef and lamb is so good.

Vineyards in Austria are concentrated in the west with mainly white wine produced to the north of Vienna and red wine to the south. The whites age remarkably gracefully especially Riesling and GV, but the better reds will also develop in bottle. 

I’m guessing that most readers of this page have tried Austrian white wines but you need to explore the reds — fruity but fresh and perfect for the lighter kind of food most of us cook these days. The Zweigelt I mention below appeared on this page a few years ago and I liked it so much I ordered a case. Midway through writing this article I paused and phoned Jürgen Karwig and did the same.

BEST VALUE UNDER €15

Winzer Krems Blaüer Zweigelt St. Severin, Austria — €14.99-15.99

Stockists: JJ O’Driscolls, 1601 Kinsale, Malthouse Trim, Cinnamon Cottage Rochestown, Karwigs www.karwigwines.ie

Blauer-Zweigelt (a Blaufränkisch-St Laurent crossing) is the most widely grown red grape in Austria and is a perfect Springtime wine with its light bright fruit flavours — almost Pinot-Noir in character. This has juicy cherries and red currants on the nose along with touches of spice.

Winzer Krems Grüner Veltliner Kremser Sandgrube, Austria — €14.99-15.99

Stockists: 1601 Kinsale, Malthouse Trim, Cinnamon Cottage, Rochestown, Karwigs www.karwigwines.ie

The Kremstal region is located next to the Wachau and has similar soils and geography. Krems GV is one of the few high quality €15 Grüners in the market — white pepper and sea-salt on the nose, pear confit and yellow apple aromas, zippy and fresh.

Torres Viña Sol, Catalunya, Spain — €9.00

Stockist: On offer in Tesco, widely available.

One non-Austrian wine this week and that is this old classic which was first produced in 1962 (it was originally marketed as Spanish Chablis) — one of the first wines made by a young Miguel Torres. From Garnacha Blanca and Parellada with bright citrus aromas (with a hint of white flowers), crisp and pleasingly fresh and perfect for seafood or a light lunch.

BEST VALUE OVER €15

Pfaffle Dot Pepper Grüner Veltliner, Niederösterreich, Austria — €16.99

Stockists: Bubble Brothers, Wine Library, Wicklow Wine Company

This brand seems to be distributed by both Bubble Bros in Cork and Wicklow Wine Co (a shop well worth a detour). Great producer with fine pure wines (also look for the floral-pepper-lemon-fresh Weinviertel DAC Reserve). This entry level Grüner has pure white pepper and citrus aromas, ripe pear and apple fruits and lip tingling acidity.

Wohlmuth Blaufränkisch — €17.99

Stockists: JJ O’Driscolls, Cinnamon Cottage, 1601, Karwigs www.karwigwines.ie

Blaufränkisch is native to Austria-Hungary-Dalmatia and an offspring of Gouais Blanc along with Gamay and many other bright, fresh red grapes. This is packed with blackberry fruit and spice aromas which follow through on the palate — best served a little cool (14-15C).

Kracher Welschriesling-Chardonnay Auslese 375ml — €15.95

Stockists: Next Door Clonakilty, Selected O’Donovans, McHughs, Searsons, Deveneys, Dalys Boyle

I realise many people don’t bother with dessert wine but they are really missing out. Try with apple tart or better still cheese — St Tola, Coolatin, Gubbeen, possibly even Cashel Blue. Orange peel and passion fruit aromas with touches of jasmine and honeysuckle. Delicious.

Contact Leslie Williams at wine@examiner.ie


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