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Can’t you just see yourself, on a ship cruising the Danube from one charming Austrian wine town to another, sipping their world-class wines while wondering how you ever got so lucky? This is a possible dream, the more so because the Danube and many wine towns it connects — Krems, Spitz, etc. — are so close to Vienna, itself one of Austria’s four main wine regions.

I sampled many again last month at several outstanding Austrian wineries in Niederosterreich (Lower Austria), Burgenland and Steiermark (Styria), three of Austria’s four major wine-producing regions. The fourth, Vienna, has suburbs with more than 700 hectares of vineyards.

Most prominent among Austria’s wine-producing appellations is Wachau, lying in the Niederosterreich region (Austria’s largest) surrounding Vienna. If you’re already in Vienna, then Wachau lies just to the west, its rocky breast thrusting upward from the Danube. An important part of Austria’s winemaking success story since the 1990s are the extremely high-quality Wachau wines from a historic, legally protected segment of steep, terraced vineyards between the wine towns of Melk and Krems.

To Wachau’s east is Kremstal, and farther northeast, embracing the river Kamp, is Kamptal.

Southeast of Vienna is the lake-laced Burgenland region, noted for great dessert wines such as those of Kracher and Opitz, both situated near Neusiedler See (Lake Neusiedl), Austria’s most important district for producing high-quality Pradikatsweine (sweet wines). “Noble rot” essential to sweet wine grape harvests enjoys perfect conditions here in autumn because the lake’s huge surface helps regulate temperature and humidity. Austria has produced dessert wines since 1617 and in recent years they’ve often won top awards at international wine tastings.

Last month in Burgenland I visited such wineries as Johan Munzenrieder in Apetlon (fax +0043 2175-22596), and Franz Weninger (fax +0043 2610-4216550) and Rotweingut Iby (+0043 2610-42292) in Horitschon. All are outstanding wine producers. Iby typifies the artisinal ability of Austrian winemakers with his limited-production grappa, made from grape pits, stems and seeds. From scratch, Iby studied hard how to make it, then made it, adding such an extraordinary flourish that even an Italian grappa connoisseur would be rapturous.

I recommend that if possible you visit these wineries as part of an Austrian wine-country tour, and others such as, in Lower Austria, Undhof Salomon in Krems-Stein (+0043 2732/83-22678), Peter Dolle in Strass (+0043 0275-2857), Jurtschisch in Langenlois (+0043 2734-211611), the high-quality co-op Metternich-Sandor in Strass (+0043 2735-76440), Dinstlgut Loiben in Loiben (+0043 2732-855 1625) and Winzer Krems in Krems (+0043 2732-855 1116). Schloss Gamlitz in Gamlitz, Streiermark (tel: +0043 3453-2363) typifies the high quality of wines from this region in Austria’s scenic southeast corner. Most of these wineries export their wines to Japan and will have them at Vinexpo.

Note that Austria’s most widely planted grape is Gruner Veltliner, a true chameleon in its changing character but unchanging in its fascination. Unusual among white grapes are the Bouvier, used in Burgendland for dessert wines, and the Scheurebe, a cross of Riesling and Sylvaner. Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Chardonnay (Morillon to Austrians), Riesling — a great grape in Austria — and, unrelated to it, Welschriesling, round out Austria’s white grape cavalcade.

White wine comprises about two-thirds of Austria’s wine production, but that ratio is edging toward parity.

Amid the glory accorded Austria’s superb dry and sweet white wines, its red wines, too, have quietly gained acclaim, and especially those from Burgenland. Most widely planted among Austria’s red grapes is Blauer Zweigelt (usually called Zweigelt). Blauer Spatburgunder (usually Spatburgunder) is what Austrians call Pinot Noir, and an interesting red grape believed to be a Pinot Noir descendant is St. Laurent. Rounding out the reds is Blaufrankisch, full of black cherry, blackberry and raspberry flavors, and one to add to your must-sample list.

St. Laurent has similar fruit flavors and Zweigelt, too, is rich in black cherry fruit. Keep an eye on Austria’s exciting red wines.

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