Austrian wine still struggles a little in Ireland and some of the blame for this can be traced to one lapse of judgement in the 1980s.
The Austrian wine scandal of 1985 involved some cheaper bulk liebfraumilch-style wines being adulterated with diethylene glycol (also used in anti freeze) to add weight and sweetness.
This had a catastrophic effect on the industry despite the fact that nobody was made ill.
No-one seems to remember that 23 people died and 90 were hospitalised in Italy the year after from drinking wine strengthened with methyl (wood) alcohol.
The Austrians changed focus from bulk to quality wines following the scandal and introduced some of the wine world’s strictest laws.
I find Austrian wine consistently good at all price levels and it is particularly suited to food — even more so in summer.
Peppery fresh Gruner Veltliner is the place to start but don’t neglect their rieslings or the native red grapes blaufrankisch and zweigelt.
The Wachau wine region was given Unesco world heritage status in 2000, one of only a handful of wine regions to be given this honour (Champagne and Burgundy received theirs in 2015).
This is the portion of the Danube Valley between the towns of Melk and Krems in lower Austria around 65km from Vienna.
The grapes are grown on steep terraced slopes along the river and need to dig deep into the stony soil to find water and nutrients giving the wines a flinty mineral character.
The Domaine Wachau co-operative has more than 200 growers and has very high production standards including a very restrictive growers’ code the Codex Wachau.
Recently they have been taken on by family-owned firm Cassidys so you will see a larger distribution in the coming months.
At a tasting of their wines a few weeks ago I tasted through the range and found fine consistency and balance with lovely depth and richness across all price levels.
My recommendations under €15 this week are all from the Winzer Krems co-op which is to the east of the Wachau and a little less dramatic in aspect.
The wines tend to be a little lighter in style and are a good introduction to Austria.
BEST VALUE UNDER €15
Stockists: 1601 Kinsale, Malthouse Trim, Cinnamon Cottage Monkstown, Karwigs www.karwigwines.ie
The Kremstal region is located next to the Wachau and has similar soils and aspect. This is from the Krems co-op and is one of the best value Gruners in the market — saline, peppery nose with sweet pear and apple aromas, lingering fresh clean acidity.
Stockists: as above
Zweigelt is the most widely grown red grape in Austria and has a bright red fruit pinot noir character (if perhaps not pinot’s depth), and is always at a lesser price.
This has bright cherry and red fruit aromas with hints of spice, light and fresh this is best served a little cooler at around 14C to 15C.
Stockists: as above
This is a good example of what Austria does so well — easy-drinking well-made wines. If you are wary of Riesling don’t be put off, this is bone dry and has no petrol aromas but rather quince and apple flavours and a hint of spritz. The essence of summer.
BEST VALUE OVER €15
Stockists: O’Donovans, JJ O’Driscoll, Matsons Grange & Bandon, Whelehans, On The Grapevine
Federspiel represents the second level of ripeness category designated by the co-op for wines up to 12.5% abv (as here) – below it is Steinfeder and above it Smaragd. This has fine fragrant aromas of white pepper and sweet apples and on the palate there is more apple and pear.
Stockists: As above
Riesling in the Wachau tend to be rich and complex but retain their acidity. This has tropical aromas along with ripe green apples, and on the palate this is rounded and supple with a stony backbone and lively green apple acidity on the finish. Their stronger Smaragd Riesling had a richer more baked pear character.
Stockists: O’Donovans, JJ O’Driscoll, Matsons, Whelehans, 64 Wines, On The Grapevine
Softer and riper than the federspiel version (and an extra half-percent alcohol) with rich mouth feel, pear, pepper and some salty minerality on the finish. This was a particularly good match with some caramelised scallops in Restaurant 41 recently.
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