Before we head into discussion of the wines, I'd like to take a moment to briefly introduce Austrian wines. Austria has a long history of wine growing traditions, dating back centuries. Baron August Wilhelm von Babo established the first viticultural and oenoloigcal school and research centre in Klosterneuburg, which is passed into the management of the State in 1874, and has been known as Höheren Lehranstalt für Wein und Obstbau (Federal College of Viticulture, Oenology and Fruit) since 1902. This is officially the oldest viticulture school in the world and many similar institutes emerged from this model.
Starting in 2003, the Austrian Ministry of Agriculture started to acknowledge a declaration of origin system, known as the Districtus Austriae Controllatus (DAC). Today, there are seven designated DAC regions. The first region was the Weinviertel DAC, in northern Austria, with the Grüner Veltliner variety. Unlike the Romanic (Italy, France, Spain) wine system, which distinguish wines according to regional typicity and origin, the Germanic (Austria, Germany) system favours a varietal specification.
|Map of Austria with the DACs listed. The dark gray areas are wine growing regions without DAC status.|
While it may be natural to expect white varietals to be predominant in Austrian wines (such as Grüner Veltliner with roughly 30% of all wine production), Austrians also produce red, sparkling and even dessert wines. In total, a selection of 22 white and 13 red varieties are grown. Most popular grapes are indigenous grapes not commonly found outside of Austria, but the internationals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir and others are also grown.
The northern-most DAC, the Weinviertel (also the largest, and the first DAC), is known for its peppery Grüner Veltliner, but also is home to some great sparkling (Sekt) wines. The predominant soil type is loess (distinctive yellow type of soil with a fine sediment), which is also great for boring long tunnels for long-term storage of wines.
Just south-west of the Weinviertel DAC is a smaller region known as Wagram (previously known as Donauland), with the Danune river splitting the region into the northern and southern halves. The extensive geological features coupled with consistent weather and climatic patterns offer the prerequisites for producing full-bodied wines rich in aroma and flavour with textbook terroir attributes. The deep layers of loess, that were deposited on the shores of the receding primordial ocean, shape the landscape and give the wine its unmistakable character.
In the extreme south, we have the Steiermark (Styria) region, which is known for its zesty Sauvignon Blancs, and is synonymous with fresh, aromatic white wines, with some of the most challenging terrain due to the steep inclines. The Steiermark region is further split into three sub-regions, one of which is the Südsteiermark. The soil structure here are as diverse as the grape varieties, ranging from sandstone and slate, to marl and shell limestone. The warm and humid Mediterranean climate results in a long and drawn out growing period for the vines, with cool nights that help to encourage the development of fine aromatic elements in these distinct and delicately fresh wines.
For more information, I recommend you consult the excellent Austrian Wine website, which provides a significant amount of detail on the DACs, the grapes, and the wines.
In the next article, I will introduce the wines we presented at the event from one of the three wineries, followed by a third and fourth posting in the series.