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Austrian Wines - A general view

Wine Making Countries

When you think about wines from the 'Old World', which I suspect means Europe, thoughts tend to move towards France, Italy and the Iberian peninsula. When pushed, you might come up with Bulgaria as a source of cheap red plonk, you may even think of Hungary and its noble Tokaj, but I'd be surprised if Austria got a mention.

When you think about wines from the 'Old World', which I suspect means Europe, thoughts tend to move towards France, Italy and the Iberian peninsula. When pushed, you might come up with Bulgaria as a source of cheap red plonk, you may even think of Hungary and its noble Tokaj, but I'd be surprised if Austria got a mention. There's a few reasons why Austria's wines aren't so well known, and the foremost of these is that the Austrians are very fond of their own wines. As late as the 1960s there were virtually no exports, then slowly with new technologies coming on line Austrian wines began to find their way beyond the national borders.

Although there is some local red production, Austria, like Germany, is best at its white wines. Only the eastern part of Austria makes wines and many of the wine-producing areas are clustered around Vienna , with a few minor areas running along the border with Hungary southwards towards the Slovenian border. No other capital city is as close to vine as Vienna; there are vineyards in the residential parts of the city, while the surrounding hills are covered in vines. Much of the wine consumed in Austria is called 'Heurige', a word that doesn't translate easily, but which means roughly the 'house wine'. It's sold by the jug or by the label-less bottle in taverns and sells very cheaply. When it's good it can be sensational; young, zesty and bright. In the little wine-growing villages surrounding Vienna wine-taverns abound, with many of them laying claim to a Beethoven concerto or two.

To the south-east of the capital, bordering on Hungary, is the Burgenland, which adopts its neighbours custom of making sweet wines. The are is bordered to the west by Neusiedler Lake, which is twenty miles long, but only four foot deep. Its most famous wine is Ruster Ausbruch from the town of Rust. The wine is somewhere between a beeren- and a trockenbeerenauslese, which is to say high in sugar, and was once compared to its renowned neighbour Tokaj. Fine, luscious wines are made in the areas surrounding the lake, perhaps the best known being those of the Esterhazy estate.

The best known of the Austrian wine regions is the Wachau, some 60 kilometres to the west of Vienna. Here the Danube runs through a range of foot-hills up to 1,600 feet high and in places the northern bank is as steep as some stretches of the Mosel. But unlike the Mosel there are no great estates or single vineyards; here the pattern is more that of many small growers with mixed vineyards producing a variety of grapes. Over a thousand growers have organised themselves into a co-operative based in Durnstein, whose castle was where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned.

Wine of the Week

Freie Weingartener Wachau, Smaragd, 2000

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