Austrian Wine Trade comes to London


The Austrian Wine Trade held its annual London tasting at the Institute of Directors on 21 February, with over eighty firms represented, showing a wide range of wines from recent vintages. Many of the winemakers were there, some looking for representation in the British market, but most supported by their UK agents.

Austrian wine only has a small presence in the UK market, but it is growing in importance. Traditionally, it was known for very young dry white wines from the Grüner Veltliner grape, and for the very sweet dessert wines from the banks of the Neusiedlersee. The growers are enthusiastic that we should taste their better quality dry wines, both white and red.

Crisp and White

I started by trying a range of Grüner Veltliners, mainly from the Vienna area – there are major vineyards within the city limits. The 2006 wines, which were bottled in the last few weeks, show excellent spicy fruit, and clearly demonstrate the effects of the terroir of the different vineyards – some have a honeyed character, others strongly mineral characteristics. The wines of 2005 and 2004 have more maturity, and equal individuality. Look out for a prädikatswein from a good grower at about £10 a bottle.

The Riesling wines take longer to develop, and most producers were showing the 2005 vintage, although a barrel sample of 2006 was already showing good varietal character. Dry rieslings start at about £10, with auslese/noble selection wines with some botrytis character and residual sweetness are available from about £15. Cheaper ‘rieslings’ are often made from the welsch or lutomer riesling grape. French varietals such as Pinot Blanc (weisser burgunder), Chardonnay (morillon) and Sauvignon Blanc are starting to be planted to appeal to the international palate.

Full and Red

Only 25% of Austrian wines are red, and most serious wines come from two indigenous grapes, Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt (a cross between Sankt Laurent and Blaufränkisch). The other varietals, including Pinot Noir and Roter Veltliner can produce rather thin, pale wines in Austrian conditions. 2006 produced some very good Blaufränkisch wines, although these are not ready to show yet. Conditions were difficult in both 2004 and 2005, so you would be advised to seek out wines from the 2003 vintage or before, and rely on the advice of you merchant.

Late Harvest

The sweet wines are the favourites of many of the winemakers, especially the famous names such as Sepp Moser and Opitz. The grapes regularly take noble rot in the mistier areas, and can stay healthy to make ice wine on higher sites. You can’t always guarantee it though: Willi Opitz showed us the must from Pinot Noir grapes which he had picked on 14 February! This patch had been left to freeze for ice wine, but picked up botrytis very late in the season. The grapes continued to shrivel, and when they were picked contained 45% sugar. Tasting a tiny spoonful of must, there was no obvious red colour, but intense marmalade fruit and high acidity. He thinks that after three years of fermentation, and a few more in bottle, the ‘Valentineswein 14/2/2007’ will get to about 4.5% alcohol, just enough to preserve it.

Coming slightly down to earth, there were a big range of ausbruch, trockenbeerenauslese and ice wines, made from all kinds of grapes, often in blends including Chardonnay, Welsch and Rhine Rieslings, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer, but also red ones from St Laurent and Pinot Noir. Prices range from £15 a half bottle upwards, with the ice wines often being cheaper than the heavily botrytised sweeties. Any are worth trying at the end of a meal or a tasting.