A little bit of everything probably describes Austria best; or maybe small but perfectly formed. Austrian wine production is minuscule in world terms, but varied and of a very high standard. Most of us are familiar with Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s calling card, but there is so much more to discover and enjoy. On the downside you won’t find much cheap wine, although both Aldi and Lidl have had the occasional bargain, and O’Briens sometimes promotes the wonderfully named Zull Lust in red and white. But the country is just too small to compete on price. The good news is that most of Austria’s wines – sparkling, white, red or sweet – are consistently of a very high quality. They are also unique.
A visit earlier this year served as a welcome reminder of just how great the wines are. The vineyards, all on the eastern end of the country, are very accessible (in Vienna you can even visit some by tram or boat), often ridiculously pretty and usually very welcoming, too.
So what to look out for? Grüner Veltliner is always unoaked, usually low to medium in alcohol, with good acidity and plump, slightly spicy, green fruits. It is ideal for Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio drinkers who want to experiment a little, or simply as a wine to sip on its own. Riesling, again always dry, is more like Alsace than German – medium-bodied and racy. You will also find excellent Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, usually from Styria down on the Slovenian border. The Pinot Blancs from Prieler (see below) are as good as any I have tasted. That is the whites; with red wines, Blaufrankisch is winning all the praise at the moment, but Zweigelt and Sankt Laurent can also produce impressive wines. These days, most Austrian reds are light in alcohol, fresh, vibrant and full of refreshing fruit.
Austrian cuisine may not have a great reputation here, but the wines, white and red, go really well with a wide variety of dishes from around the world, making them great restaurant wines. More forward-thinking establishments now list a Grüner Veltliner (and sometimes a Riesling too) from Austria.
Less easy to find are the great wines of Austria. The aforementioned While Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and other varieties are capable of reaching great heights. Erste Lagen, roughly similar to a Burgundian premier cru – is a serious effort by quality-minded Austrian producers to define their greatest vineyards. They are not cheap but can offer value for money compared with white Burgundy of a similar quality. We may not see many of the top wines here in Ireland, but the lesser wines from great producers – Malat, Bründlmayer, Ott, Schloss Gobelsburg, Hirsh, Birgit Eichinger – are available here. This week, four different grape varieties, all producing uniquely Austrian wine.
Grüner Veltliner Domaene 2016, Schloss Gobelsburg, Kamptal
Racy green apple fruits with sparky ginger spice and lemon zest. Free-flowing, fresh and dry. Lovely on its own, or with lighter seafood dishes.
From Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Redmonds, Ranelagh, redmonds.ie; 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie; McHughs, Kilbarrack Road & Malahide Rd., mchughs.ie; Mitchell & Son, CHQ, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; Morton’s of Galway, mortonsofgalway.ie; Wicklow Wine Co, Wicklow, wicklowwineco.ie; siyps.com
Pinot Blanc Seeberg 2017, Weingut Prieler, Burgenland
Ripe peaches, beeswax and meadow flowers in a distinctive, gloriously textured, lightly creamy, dry wine. Fish in a creamy pie.
From Blackrock Cellar, blackrockcellar.com; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie
Zweigelt Heideboden 2017, Pittnauer, Burgenland
Biodynamic. Mouthwatering, juicy, brambly dark fruits with a lightly tannic, dry finish. There is a lightly spicy, earthy touch, but this wine is all about the crunchy fresh fruits. Perfect with pork dishes, terrines and pâtés. Or keep it Austrian with a schnitzel.
From 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale; Bradley’s Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie; siyps.com
Meinklang Blaufrankisch 2017, Burgenland
Lightly spicy wine with juicy pure refreshing tart damson and blackberry fruits. Biodynamic. Drink with something fatty – barbecued ribs or a pork pie.
From Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Kells, Co Meath, and Galway; siyps.com