If Austria’s international reputation for white wines has beefed up recently (led by Riesling and Grüner Veltliner), the red part of the Austrian wine equation is doing its best to balance the scales. This is a fascinating competition to watch. Austria’s cracking white wines are in the ideal place for modern wine tastes right now. They are dry and marked by charging electric acidity balanced with fragrance on the nose and bold fruit on the palate. There is a punch to these wines. But Austria’s red wine contender from Burgenland has its own set of tricks. These are silky and energetic wines. They bring attractive fruit flavours like cherry and blackberry and deliver them in a medium-weight package. These wines pack a one-two combination you might say. First the initial attack of fresh fruit and zing followed by a sort-of roundhouse as the flavours and aromas impact and reverberate and resonate.
It All Depends On What Neighbourhood You Come From
The great dichotomy between Austria’s north-western whites and Burgenland’s reds has just about everything to do with where they live. Geography is really what dictates – after all this is wine. Although the distance between them may not be great but there are profound differences between the regions. In Wachau and the Kremstal the climate is shaped by a more alpine influence and the moderating effect of the Danube river. The great Riesling and Grüner Veltliner vineyards of this dramatic landscape are refreshed by cooling breezes. But in Burgenland a warmer, more continental climate prevails. This is the Pannonian basin. The huge Pannonian plain dominates Hungary and parts of several countries on Hungary’s periphery. In fact, the winemaking tradition of Burgenland has at least as much to do with its Hungarian neighbours as with its Austrian brethren in the west.
Burgenland’s Neat Wine Niche
Modern wine tastes are turning more and more to fresh and bright reds with lower alcohol levels and cheerful fruit flavours. There is a demand for less “bombshell” and more “ballet”. I also think its partly due to the search for alternatives to higher-priced Burgundy wines and the tyranny generally of Pinot Noir. Grapes like Nerello Mascalese from Etna and Mencia from Bierzo are creating acclaimed niches on wine menus. Austria’s Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and Saint Laurent are part of this wine vanguard.
This three-some of Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and Saint Laurent are perfectly at home in Burgenland. It looks like an easy thing to do from the outside – just let Burgenland’s native grapes express themselves according to the local climate and soils. But there was a time when Austria’s red wine producers were trying to achieve a more recognizable international “normal” for red wine. It didn’t work very well – the wines were average – but then the producers went back to basics and back to their roots. The lessons of winegrowing on the Pannonian plain were resurrected and a new classic expression of red wine was unleashed.
For wine tours to Burgenland check out the following great companies:
The Trinity Of Burgenland Reds
Blaufränkisch is only one of the very convincing red wine grapes grown in Burgenland. You’ll also find single varietals or blends with Zweigelt and Saint Laurent. In fact the latter might turn out to be the most exciting. All of the three produce elegant, fresh and exciting wines. But today the story turns largely around Blaufränkisch. It is the second most commonly planted red grape variety in Austria and the most commonly planted red variety in Burgenland. The origin of the grape is mysterious and it is not unique to Austria (it is common in Hungary and Germany as well) but it is putting its stamp on the current Austrian wine scene. All you have to do is check the wine list in a decent restaurant or wine bar and it is likely to be there.
The Wine Roads of Burgenland Start In Vienna
If you are thinking about going to Austria for wine tourism here is the most compelling thing to keep in mind: Vienna. Travel to Austria means you get to visit what is arguably the world’s greatest treasure in terms of cities. Vienna is a miraculous combination of Austrian efficiency and seriousness together with Austrian excellence in art and culture. Vienna demands a couple days in your schedule. If you are here in winter for skiing then Vienna has some of the best Christmas markets anywhere. Vienna is one of the world’s capitals for music (from waltz to jazz to classical) and for art (make sure to visit the unsurpassed Kunsthistorisches museum). There’s also the Schönbrunn Palace which is not to be missed. To get a head start on Austrian wines while in Vienna take the time to visit both a traditional “heuriger” wine tavern as well as some modern wine bars. One of the best and most picturesque heuriger is Sirbu located on Kahlenberg hill with heavenly views over the city. For wine bars that will give you a chance to try some of the best of Austrian wine try the following:
Heunisch & Erben on Landstrasser Haupstrasse17 has an immense range of Austrian wines.
Vinothek Rochus on Rochusmarkt 16-17 has great wines and very friendly service
And for more on what’s going on and what to do in Vienna check out the local English language magazine Vienna Würstelstand
On The Road from Vienna
The travel planning for getting out from Vienna to Burgenland or the Danube area is satisfyingly easy. There are many excellent tour companies (see our list above) but the really cool thing is that the Kremstal and Wachau regions are only an hour’s drive away. Likewise the Burgenland is only about an hour going the other direction! Serendipitously Vienna has contrived to place itself perfectly in the middle! And this is without mentioning that Vienna literally has vineyards within its boundaries and is itself a distinct wine region. Austria is an unbelievably good wine destination no matter which direction you go from Vienna.
Meet Some Of The Winemakers
Meinklang is one of my favourite producers for very distinctive wines
Uwe Schiefer Winery is a highly-awarded wine produced in the Eisenberg sub-region
Weingut Heinrich makes a beautiful range of wines on sites near the Neusiedlersee (Lake Neusiedler) … and their website is fantastic as well
Weingut Moric is Roland Velich’s highly regarded project
Weingut Dorli Muhr is the re-branded incarnation of the collaboration between Austrian wine celebrity Dorli Muhr and Portugal’s famed Dirk van der Niepoort (re-branded due to the end of the marriage)
Anita and Hans Nittnaus have been leaders in the recovery of Burgenland’s personality and the re-discovery of great quality
Weingut Pittnauer makes a range of very elegant wines from both traditional Austrian varieties and international ones as well
Weingut Wachter-Wiesler is another top producer and commanding name in modern wines from Eisenberg
Sepp Moser grows great wines in both the Kremstal and the Lake Neusiedler regions
www.austrianwine.com provides a wealth of information for all of Austria’s wine regions
www.weinburgenland.at is a very good site to dive into the details of Burgenland
www.austria.info is a great source for information about travel and tourism in Austria generally
Photo Credits: OWM Marcus Wiesner; OWM Egon Mark; Weingut Heinrich; Austrianwine.com