A little Austrian Wine History
Austria has a long history of cultivating vineyards and making wine that dates back to BC times. Vineyard planting and winemaking reached it's zenith during the 1600's with over three times the land under vine and Austria has now. The modern era of Austrian winemaking begins at the turn of the 20th century. During the last quarter of the 19th century, mildew and phylloxera ravaged much of Austria's vineyards and massive replantings would occur over the first half of the 1900's. 1922 sees the introduction of a new varietal that by the later half of the century would become one of the country's most important grapes, the red Zweigelt.
As if mildew, phylloxera and two world wars weren't enough hardship for the Austrian wine industry to endure, a huge scandal in 1985 threatened to destroy the whole industry. An illegal (and poisonous) additive was added wines destined for bulk wine production and shipped to Germany. Certain producers added Diethylene Glycol to bulk juice in order to add sweetness and body. When discovered by German wine officials, fines and prison terms for the guilty parties were levied, but the reputation of all Austrian wine was ruined for over a decade. It took over 15 years for Austrian wine sales to return to pre-1985 levels.
The positive result from DEG Scandal is that Austria now has some of the world's most stringent rules, regulations and testing of their wines. Also, in trying to distance themselves from sweeter style wines that could possibly be artificially sweetened, most producers in Austria now concentrate on dry style table wines although many fantastic sweet, dessert level wines are still produced. So don't be afraid of the skinny Riesling shaped bottles that many Austrian wines come in!
Regions & Varietals: As seen on the map above, Austria's vineyard lands are concentrated in the eastern regions. Austria's four most important wine regions are Neiderosterreich (Lower Austria), Burgenland, Steiermark (Styria) and Wien (Vienna).
Neiderosterreich, the most northern wine growing region gets the name lower Austria from altitude not longitude. Known for producing many of the country's best Gruner-Veltliners, it has Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal as the most well known sub-regions within Neiderosterreich.
Steiermark, the southernmost of the four main growing regions is known for producing many of Austria's best Non-Gruner white wines as well as great examples of the country's signature white.
Burgenland, is small (the 7th largest of Austria's 9 states) but very important in the world of Austrian wine. Known primarily in the past for producing some of the country's top dessert wines, although focus in recent years has shifted to dry white and red wine production.
Wien is easily Austria's most unique wine region, if not the most unique in the world. Wien (or Vienna in English) is essentially the vineyards in and around Austria's capitol city of Vienna. In recent years Vienna's signature wine, a white field blend known as Gemischter Satz undergone a renaissance thanks to small number of dedicated producers and has been elevated to DAC status (Austria equivalent of our AVA system, Italy's DOC system or France's AOC).