Austrian wine is mostly known for the multiple expressions of its flagship white variety, Grüner Veltliner. Grown predominantly in Niederösterreich, where it is indigenous from, it produces wines with lively acidity and flavours ranging from crunchy to ripe stone fruit. The best examples are said to have a distinct spicy edge.
But there are many other varieties to discover in this fascinating wine country, equally influenced by the Germanic and Austro-Hungarian traditions. Riesling does extremely well on the crystalline hard rock slopes of the Wachau, where it is the main variety.
In Burgenland, Pinot Blanc/Weissburgunder, Pinot Gris/Grauburgunder and Welschriesling perform very well, with great examples of the variety hailing from this region. In some areas (namely Leithaberg) the limestone soils give the two Burgundian varieties the ideal conditions to show their best. Welschriesling, on the other hand, grows mostly on the northeastern and eastern banks of the Neusiedler See; the same characteristics which make it one of the favoured varieties for the region’s renowned botrytis wines (transparency of flavour, acid retention) also shape enjoyable, vibrant dry wines.
And then there is of course Furmint, which Austria shares with Hungary along its eastern border. Although mostly of Tokaji fame, Furmint has a long-rooted tradition in Burgenland where it’s being actively revived by passionate winemakers.
Further south, in Styria, you will find idiosyncratic Sauvignon Blancs known for their trademark minerality.
It’s also worth thinking beyond the whites when seeking Austrian wines for the hotter months of the year. The country’s leading red grapes – Sankt Laurent, Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt (a crossing of the latter two) – all have the capacity to produce lively reds, with restrained alcohol and a firm acid backbone.
Although mostly known for luscious, robust wines, notably from Carnuntum, when handled lightly Zweigelt produces fruit-forward very drinkable pours. Sankt Laurent, member of the Pinot family, is a very suitable blending companion – as is Pinot Noir itself – for lighter styles, adding a streak of mineral freshness.
Focus on balance and sustainability
Austria has emerged, in the past couple of decades, as a hotspot of sustainable viticulture and winemaking; just over 15% of the total vineyard area is certified organic, with a fifth of this certified biodynamic. Driving the trend is a vibrant community of winemakers building upon tradition and championing fresh approaches to traditional styles while also exploring worldly trends. Some of the most delicious pét-nats and orange wines, for example, hail from Austria.
Overall, the country is a perfect, plentiful source for lovers of low-intervention, yet very well crafted, wines, with the added benefit of being generally quite restrained in alcohol. Again, perfect for summer drinking!
Summer wines evoke the inevitable barbecues and garden parties. But also relaxed midweek dinners, either with company or alone, after a hard day’s work.
These wines all share a natural affinity with food; albeit light on their feet, underpinned by vibrant acidity, they have the necessary structure and texture to pair with a variety of dishes – not least those vegetables and sausages sizzling in the grill.
But as with all things in summer, you should keep it simple and keep it cool. Take a cue from Austria’s own Buschenschänken and simply make sure you have a good selection of cold cuts, cheeses and salads at the ready. Buschenschänken are tavern-like spaces run by the wine producers themselves and only allowed to sell the producer’s own wine and cold foods. They are known for their homely feeling and local delicious produce. Only open a few days (and months) per year they truly set the mood and create a very summery sense of communal joy. Which is what wine should be all about.