Austrian Red Wines – An Introduction

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austrian red wines

One of the best-kept secrets in European red wine production is Austria. While other countries like Germany or Italy have been getting all the credit, Austrian wines have been quietly gaining popularity.

Austria has a long history of winemaking. Recent evidence even suggests the grape vines have been growing in Austria for more than 60 million years.

Even the Celts and Romans cultivated Austrian wine.

In the early 20th century, Austria was the third largest producer of wine in the world. In the 1980s, a wine scandal caused wine lovers around the world to disregard Austrian wine, and the industry almost died.

A few vineyards brought the wine industry back from the brink. Their hard work, skill, and desire for quality have, over the last 30 or so years, made Austrian wines some of Europe’s most consistent high-quality wines.

The grapes and regions that go into these great wines are unique and make discovering new Austrian wines worth seeking.

But first, a few misconceptions and fast facts about Austrian reds.

What is a good Austrian red wine?

The most famous Red Wine varieties are: Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, Portugieser Blauer, St. Laurent.

What is the most popular wine from Austria?

Grüner Veltliner is Austria’s most exported wine. Grüner Veltliners make delicious crisp and fresh white wines with aromas of citrus and some added earthiness. So while Austrian reds are on the rise, the country is still mostly known for its white wines.

What is the most well-known red grape variety of Austria?

Zweigelt is the major grape for red wines in Austria. It is cultivated in nearly all of Austria’s wine-growing regions, and of the red grapes, it has the largest proportion of wine production at 13.9%.

The second most popular grape is Blaufränkisch which makes up roughly 5.9% of all wine production in Austria.

wine regions

Austria’s wine regions

About two-thirds of the plantings are for white grapes. Leaving just one-third for red grapes. However, what Austria offers is an abundance of native grapes that make great wine.

Almost all the major winemaking in Austria happens on the east side of the country, where the clime has relatively hot summers and occasional cold winters. Austria has a somewhat long growing season, which allows for some more unique flavors and a good amount of acidity.

The main winemaking regions of Austria to know are: Niederösterreich, Burgenland, and Steiermark.

How many red wine grape varieties are produced in Austria?

In total, there are 14 grape varieties produced in Austria. The most successful red wine, by far, is Zweigelt. Other Austrian grapes include Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent, which have achieved some international acclaim, but their production is still relatively small

the different types

The Grapes:

Zweigelt

The most planted red grape variety in Austria is Zweigelt. Zweigelt can be worked into a lot of blends. The grape is a cross between Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent, and it was named Rotburger in 1922 when it was first created.

The best Zweigelt grapes are colorful, alive, and aromatic. It tends to be red fruited and have a juicy taste. It can lean towards being medium-bodied, and some top-end fuller-bodied varieties are oak-aged. Like many Austrian wines, they have a bright acidity and aromas of berries or cherry which is often accompanied by a spicy, black pepper nose.

Zweigelt’s generally soft tannins make it an enjoyable youthful wine, unlike a blaufränkisch. It more lends itself to simple, fruit-forward inexpensive red wines.

After World War Two it began to grow in popularity, mostly because it is both a simple but with a good amount of elegance.

This wine pairs well with grilled meat, white meat, and vegetables. It can also work with heavier seafood dishes.

Blaufränkisch

The second most planted grape variety in Austria is Blaufränkisch, and it is often used with a lot of fruit-forward wines. Blaufränkisch accounts for just 6.5% of Austria’s total plantings, so while it’s known for being a quality Austrian red wine, it is still somewhat small scale.

The grape has inadvertently moved from one country to the other in central Europe, shifting borders, particularly in the last few centuries.

Mittelburgenland is the main region where Blaufränkisch is cultivated. It is a late-ripening grape which means it produces Medium-bodied wines with spicy hints of redder and darker berries. The best Blaufränkisch often need time to soften and open up, but if done right, it can be a good-value wine that has a refreshing acidity.

Blaufränkisch pairs well with many dishes like roasted or grilled chicken, red meat, game, mushrooms, and tomato-based sauces.

Portugieser Blauer

Portugieser is a red grape producing light and easy-drinking red wines typically

The grape most likely originated in Austria but later spread to several Central European countries, like Germany, Hungary, Croatia, and the Czech Republic.

In Austria, it is mainly found in the Niederösterreich region. Unlike many Austrian wines, Portugieser usually has low acidity.

It’s not a wine that’s typically used for again, and typically it’s enjoyed young. Portugieser Blauer is lighter-bodied and easily enjoyed, with a refreshing fruity and floral nose and hints of spice.

St. Laurent

St. Laurent has a highly disputed origin. It’s suggested to have originated in France and was brought from Bordeaux through Alsace to Central Europe. St Laurent accounts for just 1.6% of the country’s overall plantings

There are significant plantings in both Germany and the Czech Republic. St. Laurent is one of the crucial grape varieties in Austria, mainly found in the lower Austria regions of Thermenregion and Burgenland regions.

Austrian St. Laurent is usually an age-worthy wine. It has the typical floral, herbal, and cherry aromas found in the wines of this region. It can be a fantastic fragrant, red-fruit scented, medium-bodied wine with fresh acidity.

St. Laurent is thought to be a descendant of Pinot Noir. And under the right circumstances, it can be made into an elegant wine, like a spicy pinot noir. That being said, it is a difficult grape to cultivate and can be considered too much of a challenge to many winemakers.

The bottles will also typically be medium-bodied with a fair amount of tannins. Because of their tannins, they are also food-friendly wines. A glass of St. Laurent would pair nicely with dishes made with mushrooms, beef, roasted game birds, primarily duck, or truffles. 

Pinot noir

Pinot Noir production is still in its infancy in Austria. However, the pinot noirs that are being produced are proving that this grape is well-suited to the Austrian climate. The pinot noirs coming out of Austria are fresh, cool, lifted, and comparable to the pinots made in Burgundy but at a much better price point.

Pinot, like St. Laurent, is a difficult grape to grow. It is known to be finicky and is susceptible to diseases.

So if you find a good producer, keep track of them to make sure you get good quality in the bottle.

Summing up Austrian red wines

The vineyards of Austria are relatively new when it comes to producing these wines. But Austria is fully capable of making rich and dark aromatic red wines.

The Austrian red is typified by being very approachable and having great fruity flavors like cherry, oak, and dark berries. They’re often light but can be dark and be a great drink to accompany food.

The truth is Austrian wine is underappreciated. What this underappreciation really means is that wine lovers can find great value for their wine cellar.

It’s nice to think you can get a taste of Vienna just by filling up some glasses and sitting down to a fantastic meal with one of these great wines.

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