Good times in Austria

The current vintage in Austria was exceptional compared with poor harvests in other European producers. For publication in week starting 19 March 2018.

Many of Europe’s major wine producing nations are lamenting low volumes because of the poor 2017 vintage. Austria is the exception.

That country’s 2017 harvest increased 25 per cent compared with the five-year average, meaning about 325 million bottles will be available in coming years. Sabine Bauer-Wolf, the new communications manager for the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, said that quality was also high. “The quality of the current vintage is satisfying as well.”

These good results came despite capricious weather. Austria experienced frosts in April and May last year followed by drought and heat waves during summer. But grape growers managed to harvest extremely ripe and healthy fruit. The volume of about 2.5 million hectolitres compensated for the last year’s harvest shortfalls.

Sabine Bauer-Wolf described the whites as opulent and the reds as excellent. “The white wines are full-bodied but lively [and] fruit-driven.” They are showing flavours typical for the varieties. Austria’s main white grapes are Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Chardonnay.

Most readers will be familiar with all of these varieties apart from Grüner Veltliner. Yet it is Austria’s signature white grape. About a third of all vines are Grüner. The name translates as “green grape from the village of Veltlin” in the Tirol region of Austria.

The queen of wine writers, Jancis Robinson, notes in her Purple Pages site that until the 1990s very few wine lovers outside Austria had heard of Grüner Veltliner. “Today, no self-respecting restaurant wine list, whether in New York or Hong Kong, can afford to be without at least one example.”

Robinson said this was because the quality of all Austrian wine had become more consistent in recent years and “no fine wine enthusiast can afford to ignore them”. Austria’s white wines were more distinctive than her reds, she said, so it was inevitable that people would recognise the quality of Grüner Veltliner.

Just over the border in Hungary locals call the grape Zöldveltelini. In the nearby Czech Republic it is known as Veltlin or Veltlínské Zelené. There it is the country’s second most planted white grape.

Grüner Veltliner’s primary flavours are lime, lemon and grapefruit, with green or herbaceous notes that some people describe as peppery. This might be because of the distinctive acidity that zings in your mouth. This acidity gives the wine longevity because it rarely receives any oak. The wine is generally made in stainless steel tanks and then cellared in large neutral barrels.

The grape can be made into a range of styles. Grapes grown around the capital, Vienna, make wines intended for drinking young in Heuriger, the local taverns where local winemakers serve young wine under a special licence in alternate months during the growing season. Vienna must be the only capital in Europe where it is possible to walk to the nearest wine region. A tiny percentage is make into sparkling wine, similar to sekt, and on the Danube west of the capital Grüner produces very pure, mineral wines intended for long-term cellaring.

Grüner is food friendly and pairs with a range of foods.

Sabine Bauer-Wolf said the 2017 red vintage was offering wines with developed dark-berry aromas with fully ripe and velvety tannins. “The wines are already harmoniously expressive with an invigorating texture. Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah turned out magnificently, promising concentrated, complex and vibrant wines as did the Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt.”

Readers will be familiar with most of these varieties, apart from the last two. The former has been called the “Pinot Noir of the East” because it is grown mostly in central Europe. It produces reds rich in tannin that exhibit a pronounced spicy character, so it is not really like a Pinot Noir, which tends to have soft tannins.

Zweigelt was created in 1922 at the Federal Institute for Viticulture in Austria by Fritz Zweigelt. Blaufränkisch is one of its parents (St Laurent is the other). It is the most widely planted red variety in the country. Styles range from wines bottled young without oak designed to be consumed young to structured versions intended for barrel ageing.

In 2016 Wine Enthusiast magazine gave its award for best European winery of the year to an Austrian producer for the first time. The winner was Pfaffl. “Few wineries have done more to bring Grüner Vetliner to the world’s attention,” the magazine said.

Interestingly, Pfaffl make an enticing St Laurent called Wald. They plant this early-ripening grape near a forest to delay the ripening process and obtain a spicy mix of plum and strawberry. The 2017 is simply delicious.

This month the Austrian magazine for restaurants and hotels ÖGZ released the results of a major Grüner Veltliner tasting. It ranked the 2016 Pfaffl Grüner Veltliner HOMMAGE as the best example of this wine.

Julia Harding MW, writing for Purple Pages, was highly appreciative of the 2014 version of this wine. She described it as “complex, caressing and deeply satisfying, richness and freshness in harmony”.

Roman Josef Pfaffl is the winemaker. His sister Heidemarie Fischer looks after marketing. They described HOMMAGE as a “personal tribute” to Grüner Veltliner and their father Roman’s career.

“All of our father’s knowledge and experience are invested in this wine. And not only the wine, but also the label carries his signature. This wine is comprised of only the best fruit from the oldest vines on the Grossebersdorfer Kirchenberg with hand-selected fruit from the Haidviertel to lend it refreshing balance.” It was fermented spontaneously in a large acacia cask and left on the lees for two months.

Anne Krebiehl MW specialises in German and Austrian wine. Here are her thoughts on Pfaffl’s 2016 HOMMAGE Grüner Veltliner in a recent Wine Enthusiast article: “A wonderfully ripe notion of yellow pear plays on the nose of this wine. Its bright, friendly fruitiness is also amply apparent on the creamy palate, where it’s joined by a savoury element of soy, salt and miso. A little citrus pith adds even more texture to this rich, rounded wine.”

Krebiehl also recommends the Pfaffl Zweigelt Reserve Burggarten 2015, describing it as one of Austria’s best Zweigelts. “Austrian red wine needs to be on your must-try list.”

What is believed to be the world’s biggest wine fair, PROWEIN, is running in Düsseldorf in Germany this week from March 18-20. Pfaffl wines can be tasted there in Hall 17 on stand C12 from 9am to 6pm.

Words: 1,067

Categories: Austria, Not home, wine

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