Top Secret Austria—
If you still think of the Austrian wine scandal in the 1980’s, snap out of it! You’re missing out on some of the best value and most consistently wonderful wines in the world.
Not so long ago, my travels took me to Austria. It’s a place I just can’t get enough of although admittedly I didn’t even visit until I started buying Austrian wines 18 months or so ago. I’ve been desperate to write something about it since I got back and every time I arrive home from a wine trip to Austria I struggle to think of anything else over the next few days other than, “Why do we not drink more of this back home!?”
The biggest challenge I have with writing this is knowing where to start. There’s the beautiful scenery, the wonderful people, the hot-hot summers and snowy winters, the food, the beer, Vienna itself is stunning… the people, the wines, the beer(!) and the schnitzel!
I don’t like to talk about the “Wine Scandal” of the mid 1980’s when I talk about modern-day Austrian wine because it was a different time and things have moved on a million miles from then and deserve to be able to break free of that. Plus, it was before I was born and so it’s, like, centuries ago… right? #oldnews
Still, purely in an effort to paint a proper picture and because whether we like it or not, it has played a significant part in what makes Austrian wine so great today, I will mention it briefly. I’m not going into details though… ok? Ok! *Clears throat*
“In the mid-eighties, a handful of big wineries were caught adding diethylene glycol to their wines, in order to give them richness and texture on the palate. The catch here is that its a chemical found in anti-freeze and is a teeny tiny bit completely toxic and just a touch massively illegal. When they were caught, the Austrian wine industry was completely destroyed, almost over night.”
A bitesize little summary there but you get the idea!
OK, so that’s where many people’s knowledge or impression of Austrian wine stops. The thing is though, that this scandal meant a few things for Austrian wine today. The silver lining to this cloud was that it effectively hit a big fat “reset” button. Many of the country’s best winemakers realised that if they were ever going to get Austria back on the map, or ever make a living out of wine, they couldn’t afford to cut corners and simply must pull out all the stops, to make even their most basic wines. The other effect of the scandal is that many countries around the world seemingly stopped listening to what Austrian wine was up to! All the while, these wine-wizards have been conjuring up an absolutely delicious storm. So now we have this amazing cauldron of delicious magic which has been bubbling away in the corner, forgotten about and undisturbed. Now though, the magic is really happening and is ready for us to enjoy!
There is so much to discover and, frankly the hit-rate of good wines is exceptionally high in comparison to a lot of other wine-producing countries around the world. Whether you are after good-quality, entry-level wines which don’t break the bank, top-class classics which could rival white Burgundy in many cases, or cutting edge wines which showcase a new-wave of winemaking, Austria has it all.
What makes it truly unique though are the grapes which are used. The country has a good handful of delicious indigenous grapes but the two which stand-out for me are Grüner Veltliner, which (along with Riesling) makes the country’s top white wines, at all price points, and Blaufränkisch, purveyor of juicy, cherry-driven red wine deliciousness.
The best GV’s are fresh, dry and zippy white wines, which have peach, citrus and a twist of pepper when they are young. They have an amazing ability to age though and if you want to buy some wine to keep for a few years but don’t have bags of cash then spend £15 or so and you should find yourself a GV with a good 10 years in it if you look in the right places. If you’re willing to spend £30 you will be drinking some of the best that the country has to offer and which will easily keep for 20 years. Amazing!
There are so many excellent GVs out there that it’s hard to even know where to start. It’s so hard to narrow it down but I would certainly recommend the wines of Rainer Wess, Schloss Gobelsburg, Brundlmayer and a new winery called Grabenwerkstatt who, in my humble opinion are set to be one of the great producers of the Wachau region one day, so get in quick!
The best Blaufränkisch tends to be grown in the furthest eastern part of Austria, in the Burgenland, near Lake Neusiedl. If you imagine something with the amazing perfume of Pinot Noir, but with the body of Merlot and the concentrated core of Malbec and the freshness and cherry-flavour of Sangiovese, then you’re somewhere in the region of what BF tastes of. It’s wonderful. Again, the best are under-rated in their ageability. In fact, many of Austria’s top BF actually needs a few years in bottle, after which it develops a wonderful silkiness. Producers like Hans Igler, Birgit Braunstein and Moric do this grape wonderfully, among many others.
So, if you like to make discoveries, while also being pretty damn sure that what you discover will be absolutely delicious, keep an eye out for Austria on the wine-list or when you’re out looking for a brilliant bottle.
Jump aboard the bus to pleasure town and see for yourself why Austria is home to some of wine’s best kept secrets, before everyone else does!