What do Grüner Veltliner, Blaufränkisch and rarities like Rotgipfler, Zierfandler or Sankt Laurent have in common? They are all indigenous Austrian grape varieties, which are all still planted there.
Whites: an extended family
Austria’s outstanding player at all levels among white grapes is Grüner Veltliner: invigorating, peppery and refreshing wines, medium-weight examples with firm body, but also highly concentrated, profound and fascinatingly complex bottlings. Three other Austrian whites, Neuburger, Rotgipfler and Zierfandler, are related to each other through the Roter Veltliner grape variety (no relation to Grüner Veltliner) and claim it as a ‘parent’. Roter Veltliner produces distinctive, elegant and extract-rich wines, primarily in the regions of Wagram, Kamptal and Kremstal. Rotgipfler, a crossing of Roter Veltliner and Traminer, is also characterised by high extract. It grows almost exclusively in its native Thermenregion, delivering wines with subtle acidity and often-exotic fruit aromatics. It is frequently blended with Zierfandler (also known as Spätrot) – a crossing of Roter Veltliner with a Traminer-like variety, producing the regional specialty ‘Spätrot-Rotgipfler’. Zierfandler also produces wines in the Thermenregion with high extract, prominent acidity and delicate floral notes. The final variety in the collection is Neuburger, a crossing of Roter Veltliner and Sylvaner, which is mostly grown in the Wachau, Thermenregion and Leithaberg, yielding robust wines with spicy-floral or nutty notes.
A trio of reds
In addition to the large number of indigenous whites, several red wine varieties have their origins in Austria. The best-known of these is Blaufränkisch. First mentioned in the 18th century, today it delivers impressive wines with distinctive terroir, profound fruit and vibrant acidity, especially in Burgenland and Carnuntum. The red speciality of the Thermenregion is Sankt Laurent, a member of the Pinot family. Very demanding of both vineyard and winegrower, with appropriate care it yields powerful wines with subtle fruit, often with earthy notes. The most widely cultivated red variety in Austria, Zweigelt (originally called Rotburger) was created by crossing Blaufränkisch with Sankt Laurent in 1922 at Klosterneuburg, and is vinified both in easy-drinking styles as well as yielding powerful, concentrated and ageworthy barrique wines.
The generous 2018 vintage
This vintage delivered a good quantity of great quality wine from all varieties. Higher than usual spring temperatures carried on through to the earliest harvest since records began. Grapes of very fine quality were harvested in all of Austria’s wine-growing regions, promising generous wines with moderate alcohol and balanced acidity.