Nov 09: Austria has been known as an excellent white wine producer, especially Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, but after the infamous scandal of 1985 that was followed by strict wine laws and creation of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board (AWMB), a lot of emphasis is also being placed on red wines, resulting in the superlative quality, writes Subhash Arora who feels that they might not be at their pinnacle yet but are fast competing with the best of Bordeaux, Burgundy and other high quality red wines
Austria has always been regarded as a small white wine country with 67% of the surface areas growing white varieties like Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, diagonally opposite vine-growing in a much warmer India where over 60% of grapes grown are red varieties. But Austria’s distinctive red wines have also been getting more attention in recent years, along with their prime white grapes.
It is primarily Austria’s indigenous grape varieties that are attracting remarkable attention on the international stage, the sort that make a country or region represent a unique opportunity for consumers.
Renowned wine critic Stuart Pigott who tastes Austrian wines for James Suckling loved the Austrian Blaufränkisch in his 2019 vintage report. For him, this is the grape variety with which Austria currently makes the strongest showing in the red wine department- aromatic with a unique freshness that arises from the interplay of tannins and crisp acidity.
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Awarding 98 points each to the two highest-rated Mittelburgenland 2017 and Eisenberg 2015, Pigott says “both wines demonstrate the personality and sensibility of grand cru Burgundies with the uniqueness of Austria. This is what the world wants.”
Zweigelt- Red wine with excellent PQR
Zweigelt-also known as Rotburger, is Austria’s most widely planted red variety. It is a cross between Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent, an off-shoot of Pinot Noir as mother and unknown father (thus Pinot Noir is the grandmother of Zweigelt). With an abundance of fruity charm and harmonious structure, this Austrian red wine is also gaining an ever-increasing international fan following. Scoring 89–92 points from Suckling, it indicates the general high standard that Austrian Zweigelt has achieved, offering a stellar relationship between quality and price.
Red Wine explosion since 2015
Chris Yorke, the new CEO of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board (AWMB) is very enthusiastic about this red wine. He sums up by saying “the whole world already knows that Austria produces top-class white wines. Now it’s our red wines that are making international headlines. No wonder; since 2015 we’ve had a run of top vintages for Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, St. Laurent etc. If you are still not convinced, try one of these wines-slightly chilled, with your seasonal dishes and you will fall in love with them.” Having tasted hundreds of their red wines during several winery visits, tastings and wine shows in Austria, Subhash Arora endorses his views.
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Willi Klinger, CEO of Austrian Wine Marketing Board till December 2019 released a book co-authored by him, ‘Wine in Austria-the History, a Compendium of over 500 pages- an excellent resource book on Austrian wines. Writing about the quality of Austrian wines, he explains that their red wine experience is a relatively recent phenomenon. One of the pioneers of this rapid upwards trend has been Anton Kollwentz.
Speaking at a vertical tasting in September 2012, in Palais Coburg, a hotel with the finest wine cellar in Vienna, Anton had this to say regarding the general status of knowledge of red wine vinification in Austria prior to 1985: We just didn’t know anything about the red wines then. The teaching from Germany was that two- thirds of fermentation should take place on skins and one- third in the cask. We were always nervous about choosing the right time. There were also problems with the colour- and the added colouring matter disappeared after fermentation. It took us time to learn how to stabilize the colour. Today the best Blaufränkisch wines from Moric, Muhr-Van der Niepoort and Triebaumer receive over 95 points in Robert Parker’s Wine. Advocate.
Both Sankt (St). Laurent and Pinot Noir are slowly being taken seriously in international export markets. In April 2011, Pinot Specialist Allen Meadows. Also known as Burghound, arranged 3 wines from the famous Domaine de la Romanée Conti (La Tache 2007, Romanée St. Vivant and Echézeaux 2002) of Burgundy and other premier wineries from Central Otago, New Zealand, Oregon and Markowitsch from Carnuntum, Austria.
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In a blind tasting, the Austrian wine was judged to be clearly the most impressive Pinot Noir and Markowitsch was adjudged the Most Preferred Winery. Many such tastings have shown that Austria has been making excellent red wines-both from indigenous and international grapes.
USA & China Top Importers
Two thirds white wine, one third red – this proportion is also reflected close to parallel in the export figures: in 2019, red wines made up 32% of the total export value at 58.6 million euros. The most important export markets were Germany (€29.6 million), Switzerland (€9.4 million), the USA (€4.6 million), China (€1.9 million) and the Netherlands (€1.6 million). There is no significant share of the reds in India.
Austrian Red Wines in India
Unfortunately, Austria is known in the Indian wine market for its Grüner Veltliners though being a bit expensive they have not been able to make much of a dent. Red wines have been not so lucky since the wine drinkers are still not so experimental or knowledgeable about these two delicious red varieties. Aspri Spirits and Wines had been adventurous enough to have tied up with Schloss Gobelsberg, a premier winery of the monks making superb white and red wines with Michael Moosbrugger at the helm, and has been importing two white and two red varietals. But their relative low volumes and high taxes, making extremely high fixed expenditure do not justify their imports. They do sell to high-ended restaurants which have discernible clients. But due to these establishments being closed for a long time, the on-trade market has been totally disappointing. They now hope to register the labels next year only.
But this is a perfect example of the myopic vision of our government. Because of high customs and high excise duty, there is hardly any sale of these wines costing above Rs.4000. There is a very good potential demand but only if the prices are lower. The product will be higher priced than the equivalent Indian wines even at lower taxes. Even if there were some sale, it would be money in the government’s pocket. But a lost sale means the duties are lost to the government-forever.
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One hopes these reds will be available to the discerning customers when the restaurants open to a decent capacity. In the meanwhile, the Australian reds-particularly Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and Pinot Noir are constantly ascending in quality.
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