Regions And Producers
Reading an Austrian wine label

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Flavoursome dry white wines, luscious sweet ones and - a recent trend - good reds offer a fascinating
range of wine flavours and increasingly impressive quality.

Grapes have been grown in Austria before the days of the Romans, but with a few exceptions the quality of the wines has remained unrecognized outside Austria itself. Its wine regions are highly distinctive. Long experience and local tradition have marked them out as particularly suited to certain styles of wine or certain grapes, and this has led to a tremendous variety among Austrian wines. Austria is first and foremost a white-wine country Riesling reaches such ripeness in the Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal regions that the must can be fermented dry to give wines that are rich but not sweet, easily comparable to the best of Alsace. Austria's indigenous white variety, Gruner Veltliner, is widely planted and produces light, peppery wines with firm acidity; and in the Wachau the grape sometimes gives wines as powerful as the Rieslings. The much cooler Steiermark (Styria) leads to wines of greater delicacy; this is the region of Klevner (Pinot Blanc), Welschriesling, Morillon (Chardonnay), and brilliant Sauvignon Blanc.

Great strides have been made to improve the quality of red wines. Local grape varieties such as the widespread Zweigelt, Blauer Portugieser and the underrated St-Laurent produce juicy, fruity wines best drunk young. Blaufrankisch (or Lemberger) is more tannic and higher in acidity, and some barrique-aged versions are made. Cabernet Sauvignon and Blauburgunder (Pinot Noir) are also encountered. The best reds come from the region south-east of Vienna, Carnuntum, and from the Burgenland. The Burgenland is also the source of some exceptional sweet white botrytized wine, as well as Eiswein. The wine scandal that crippled the industry in 1985 was uncovered here (chemicals were added to mimic "noble rot" sweetness); the ensuing corrective legislation has led to Austrian wines being the most strictly regulated in Europe.

Although some growers eagerly cultivate the fashionable international varieties, and a new generation of winemakers is keen to experiment with barriques and Bordeaux blends, Austria has retained its indigenous grapes and styles. There is nowhere else in Europe where, for example, you will encounter the bracing rose called Schilcher or the powerful, spicy white Zierfandler.

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