Producers in Austria have introduced the first of the country's new 'DAC' appellation wines in a move that relegates grape variety to second place.

Until now, Austrian wines have been classified according to a bewildering array of grape varieties – some 21 officially recognised white and 13 red – and divided into a wide range of quality designations and styles from many different wine growing regions.

The new system brings denomination of origin to the forefront, and will see wine labels emblazoned with the name of wine growing region + DAC, which stands for Districtus Austria Controllatus (see above).

Only one grape variety per region will be entitled to the new classification, which is designed to combine a denomination of origin with a clear profile of taste and other characteristics.

More than 400 producers in the Weinviertel region of Austria, north of Vienna, are already labelling their flagship Grüner Veltliner white wines ‘Weinviertel DAC’. The wines have undergone a process of rigorous blind tasting to ensure they meet quality standards and show regional and varietal typicity.

Mittelburgenland, a high quality region on the Hungarian border, is expected to follow next with the 2003 vintage of its dense, long-lived reds made from local Blaufränkisch grapes.

By adopting the new system, Austria is hoping to create clearly identifiable ‘brands’ along the lines of Chablis, Chianti and Rioja, which dealers and restaurateurs will be able to market more successfully, especially abroad.

‘Only if consumers can get an idea of the taste of the wine by looking at the label will we get a competitive advantage in the long run,’ Michael Thurner, director of Austrian Wine Marketing Board, says. ‘Grape varietals are transportable, but not appellations.’

The biggest boost in sales is expected to be overseas, with Thurner forecasting a doubling of export figures within a few years. It is hoped that being able to promote an entire region will take the pressure off Austria’s smaller scale producers who have struggled to meet foreign dealers’ demands.

Further DACs should appear as local producers and dealers establish clear profiles for Austria’s other wine growing regions and decide which of a region’s grape varieties to focus on. All DAC wines will have to conform to strict regulations.

Although the Grüner Veltliner grape variety currently appears on trailblazing Weinviertel DAC wines, this may be dropped in the future. Grape varieties may be relegated to a bottle’s back label just as happens with Chablis, Chianti, Rioja and so on.

Written by Liz Hughes24 April 2003