As a country Austria is not much older than our own fair green Isle, it was founded in the aftermath of the First World War, but it has been producing wines for centuries, in fact there is evidence that Austrian wine was consumed in England as early as the 11th century. So with such a long history of wine production why are we only getting to know Austrian wines?
We have to go back to after the War, After World War I, Austria was the third biggest wine producer in the world, much being exported in bulk for blending with wine from Germany and other countries. However that intensive level of viticulture sowed the seeds of its own destruction. During the twentieth century Austrian wine became a high-volume, industrialised business, with much of it being sold in bulk to Germany. A run of good years in the 1980s saw massive yields of wines that were light and acidic,nobody wanted these wines. So clever Wine broker types discovered that if they added a little diethylene glycol, normally found in antifreeze, this sweetened and gave body to the wines and made them sellable!
It was difficult to detect chemically but the ‘antifreeze scandal’ broke when one of them tried, being extra clever, to claim for the cost of the chemical on his tax return. Although the amounts of glycol were less dangerous than the alcohol in the wine, and only a few middlemen were involved, exports collapsed and some countries banned Austrian wine altogether.
The antifreeze jokes still persist, but the scandal was the saviour of the industry in Austria. Strict new regulations restricted yields among other things, producers moved towards more red wine and a dry style of white wine that was what the 1990s market would demand, and the middlemen went bust forcing producers to sell direct and encouraging the expression of local terroir.
5/6 of Austria’s vines are white and of that the local Gruner Veltiner Grape accounts for almost a third, other popular varieties included Pinot Blanc and Muller Thurgau. Most of the reds are produced from Zweigelt, Sankt Laurenz and Blauer Portugieser. The most important region for wine is Niederosterreich and the adjoining regions of Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal. Each subregion produces a distinct expression of Gruner Veltiner.