Austria – winds of change in the Wachau

terraces 2

Austria, the world famous wine country with a long track record and diverse climate, has excited wine lovers in continental Europe for decades.  Yet here in Asia, these wines are still hard to find and relatively unknown outside of wine circles.

How come?  Is it that 75% of its production is in white wine, the 1985 wine scandal still lingering, or perhaps Australia is top of mind in our part of the world?

I first came to contact with wine from Austria during my time in New York in the late 1990s.   Back then up-and-coming masters like Kurt Gutenbrunner of Wallsé started to put the elegant yet punchy Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners (aka Grüvee in short) in their by the glass offerings.  Soon many other Chefs jumped on the bandwagon and Austrian wine became hot!

Right after Y2K, famous wine writers including Jancis Robinson, a Master of Wine, ranked Austrian white wines on par with white Burgundies.  Fast forward 10 years and Austria has become known for a wide range of wines – some made from specialty grapes – Riesling, Grüner Veltliner and Muskateller for dry whites and Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch for elegant to full-bodied reds, but also produce Morillon (Chardonnay), Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Blends and Spätburgunder (known elsewhere as Pinot Noir) in its own signature styles.  Of course their sparkling wines and ultra sweet wines from the Neusiedlersee are not to be missed either.

I enjoy and can recommend wines from all regions, but what has amazed me in recent years is the change of direction by some vintners in the Wachau, Austria’s most regal terroir reigning high above the Danube River.  Here, winemakers like Peter Malberg of Veyder Malberg, Martin Muthenthaler and Leo Alzinger, are stepping away from the powerfully rich styles (labeled Smaragd according to the Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus classification), and focus on harvesting earlier to bottle wines, which remain full of character, feel gentle on the palate and have an agreeable alcohol level between 12.0-13.5%.

hochrain schiefer

Take a look at these steep terraced vineyards, which rise up over and above 400 meters, and you can literally feel the cool nights and slatey soils shaping this new style of wine.

Brandstatt spring 2011

I do hope some of you will be encouraged to seek out these multi-faceted wines, which suit the dining table and can also age up 10 or 20 years.  To my knowledge the Wachau producers available in Thailand are Veyder Malberg and Weingut Knoll, while neighboring Kamptal and Kremstal, produce similarly-styled white wines – look out for Loimer, Bründlmayer, and Salomon Undhof.

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