Special Feature – Wines from Austria

Re-defining Austria

by Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason, Michael Godel, and John Szabo MS

This article was commissioned by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board.

Austria has an ideal situation in the world of wine with a latitude similar to Burgundy, a dramatically continental climate resulting in highly aromatic and refreshing wines with structure and substance. If Austrian wine hadn’t been on your radar until now, it isn’t because it is a recent phenomenon. The country boasts over two thousand years of wine growing history due to its early Roman occupation as early as the 1st century in Carnuntum. Austria’s international wine presence is much more contemporary with export rising rapidly. Since 2004, Austria has almost doubled its export value from 80 to 159 million Euros in 2017. The country’s burgeoning natural wine scene has added further dimension to its surprisingly vast portfolio of styles and varieties.

(The WineAlign crü recently sat down to a tasting of dozens of wines from Austria and have chosen seventeen to highlight in this article. All recommended wines are available in Ontario, either at the LCBO, the LCBO Online Store, consignment or private order through the agent. Jump directly to our recommendations listed by region.)

AWMB / Bernhard Schramm

The winegrowing regions of Austria cover over 46,515 hectares of land – that’s more than Burgundy but fewer than Bordeaux. The most prominent and prolific region is that of Niederösterreich situated on either side of the Danube with well-established sub-regions of repute such as Wachau and Kamptal. Yet there is a great deal more to explore, such as the picturesque hills of Steiermark, Burgenland’s Lake Neusiedl, and Wien (Vienna) located atop the capital itself. Soils here are as diverse as the regions and are largely responsible for the vast differences in styles and character. The “loess” soils of Niederösterreich are particularly distinctive made up of wind deposited silt, loosely packed and held together by a small amount of clay and calcium carbonate. Alongside are found crystalline stone terraces. Both calcareous and volcanic soils exist as well with the former found largely in northern Burgenland and Südsteiermark and the latter in Kamptal and Steiermark.

Although many international grape varieties thrive here, the indigenous white grüner veltliner and the popular reds – zweigelt, blaufränkisch and st. laurent – dominate the dry wine scene. There are also many rarities on the indigenous side showing real promise such as: zierfandler, rotgipfler, roter veltliner, neuburger and the Viennese field blend known as Wiener Gemischter Satz.

The Birth of a Classification System: Austria’s Erste Lagen

Late last year I was invited to partake in the Traditionasweigüter Erste Lagen Preview Tasting undertaken by the Austrian Winegrower’s Association, Österreichische Traditionsweingüter (ÖTW). The association is made up of 62 member-producers who have joined the laborious and exacting process of vineyard classification, i.e. determining the future “Erste Lagen” (cru) sites. The dramatic growth of the association with 26 new wineries signing on just recently (6 from Vienna and 20 from Carnuntum) is a sure sign of confidence in the goal and the process. The tasting invites local as well as foreign media and trade to participate in evaluating wines from vineyards that have Erste Lagen (cru) status, to determine whether they remain significant enough to keep their status, as well as new vineyards that have potential to become future Erste Lagen sites.

 Erste Lagen preveiw in Carnuntum

Erste Lagen preveiw in Carnuntum (Sara d’Amato)

The ÖTW estimates the process will take between 30 and 40 years to complete having started in 1992. Based on an annual review of this growing collection of wines, a new classification system is being born. Sitting alongside some of the world’s most influential wine critics, it was an exciting moment to play a small role in the development of Austria’s evolving classification system. Not all regions subscribe to the Erste Lagen classification system, most notably, the Wachau who established its own bylaws with the early establishment of the Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus in 1983. Wachau specific labelling terms such as “Steinfeder”, “Federspiel” and “Smaragd” denote natural alcohol content and give an indication of style. Styria has also not chosen to opt in as a divergent system of classification development is underway with a focus on wine quality. Whereas, in the Danube, classifying the significance of the vineyard itself, in Burgundian form, has proven a successful venture.

The development of this new system is complex but is objectively measurable. In his introduction to our task at hand, the President of the ÖTW, Michael Moosbrugger, of the well-respected Schloss Gobelsburg, said that the new classification system has nothing to do with the quality of the wines. The key message was: “we are measuring for significance”. The ÖTW are not trying to create a wine classification system but rather a vineyard classification system. The process not only involves the aforementioned, regular sensory assessments of sites but also stringent scientific process that includes thorough geological surveys and varietal experimentation.

AWMB / Griesch

A Brief History

Historically, Austria lagged behind European wine producing trends such as the evolution of single varietal wines and away from field blends for most of the 20th century. The nation was further setback by the antifreeze crisis of the 1980s which caused an overhaul of labelling terms and regional definition standards. The progressive cluster of wine regions around the Danube which include Kamptal, Kremstal and Traisental were the first areas to move into a 3-tiered system classified as either: Gebietswein (regional), Orstwein (village) or more restrictively as Reidenwein for those of single vineyard origin. To give some perspective, the Danube region represents just under ¼ of Austria’s total land under vine and includes 700 single vineyards. Instead of racing to a reasonably satisfactory system of classifying those vineyards, the ÖTW has decided to take it slow and do it right. Unlike the German VDP, the ÖTW has the potential to classify all sites that can eventually be used by members and non-member wineries alike, ostensibly being written into Austrian wine law.

The first formal classification of these vineyards occurred in 2010 identifying 53 “Erste Lagen”, or “premier cru” sites. Eight years later, the classification now includes 72 vineyards with the regions of Wagram and Vienna now included. If classified, the wines will be labelled with the  1ÖT (Erste Lagen) classification symbol and also the name of the vineyard (“Ried”).

What’s next? Discussion regarding “Grand Cru” — Grosse Lagen sites may be next up for classification once the Erste Lagen sites are firmly determined. Currently, an Erste Lagen could lose its status if it is deemed not significant enough during this 3 to 4-decade long process of evaluation and others can be awarded status. The ratio of single vineyards wines being classified as Erste Lagen will likely settle around 15-20% while the ÖTW is targeting a Grosse Lagen classification of 3-5% . Here is a complete list of classified “Rieds” categorized in regions with producers.

Where Does the DAC fit in?

“Districtus Austriae Controllatus”, DAC for short, pairs region with typicity, or more specifically, denotes wines that are the best expression of region. When you see the term DAC on a label prefaced by the name of the region, ie. Kremstal DAC, it refers to a wine with a “regionally typical profile”. Wines with a DAC designation are restricted to a defined growing region with permitted grape varietals, alcohol levels and sweetness and must exemplify the typical style. Historically, grapes were grown in a field blended style which is why there are a multitude of grapes grown throughout Austrian regions. In fact, there are 40 permitted, quality grapes of which the winemakers can choose from but not all make the best wine in all sites. Varieties that best display their typicity in certain regions have become their top-quality specialties. Ensuring that wineries in a region are “putting their best foot forward” is another way to look at the function of the DAC. It stands to reason then that the wines of Erste Lagen classified vineyards must also have DAC status if they are to be top expressions of their region.

The Reds of Carnuntum

This new region being inaugurated into the ÖTW classification is significant for reds with over 900 hectares planted to vine. Its soils are a mix of sandy gravel, loess and heavy loam. There is still work to be done in terms of quality but there is momentum and optimism to be felt. Carnuntum runs from Vienna in the west to the Slovak Republic to the east and its land has revealed a wealth of archeological treasures from Roman times as by the end of the 1st century, it was a legion occupied village of over 500,000 inhabitants. This historically steeped area is also home to a collective of growers that make up the “Rubin Carnuntum” working to promote both cultural richness and premium wine growing. The region began its process of Erste Lagen classification in 2006 with geological surveys and other scientific research. We had the opportunity to taste some of the first wines to be classified and those notes can be found here.

Our Picks Region by Region (All the wines below are available in Ontario either at the LCBO, the LCBO Online Store, consignment or private order through the agent.)

Region: Vienna


Vienna (AWMB / Gerhald Elze)

A true urban viticultural region, the vines of Vienna slope towards the city and offer breath-taking views of the metropolis. The 637 hectares of land under vine are conveniently located and serve to stop the spread of urban sprawl due to its green belt status. A traditional style of note that makes a great impact in Vienna (Wein) is that of Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC co-planted grape varieties of at least three different varieties – they tend to be aromatic, dry and with no notable wood flavour. If a Gemischter Satz carries the name of a single vineyard, it may be off-dry and must be held back longer before release. Each suburban district features different soil types, slope, aspect and varying dominant grape varieties.

Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC 2015, Vienna ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – With a nervy, tense and almost leesy profile, this compelling, biodynamically produced field blend is issued from a top-quality producer of this genre. Highly drinkable and very appertif friendly with a lightly peppery note, pleasant apply bits, sweet lemon, blossom, pear and exotic lychee.

Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC 2015


Region: Steiermark (Styria)


Südsteiermark (AWMB / Anna Stöcher ([email protected]))

Steiermark is a refreshing wine producing region divided into three regions each showcasing a distinctive specialty. Look out for the intriguing rosé known as “Schilcher” produced from the pink-skinned blauer wildbacher variety in the west. In the Sausal region, aromatic varieties are key, such as sauvignon blanc and gelber muskateller, while Vulkanland Steiermark to the southeast is known for aromatic blends featuring welschriesling and traminer.

Südsteiermark DAC

Grown on the steep hillsides of Südsteiermark, premium sauvignon blanc leads the charge among a number of aromatic whites such as welschriesling, weissburgunder and chardonnay. Modern with a savvy, internationally-focused approach, this region is highly progressive and focused on clean winemaking with pure expression of variety. One of its leading villages is Gamlitz, two incarnations of which we recommended below.

Sattlerhof Gamlitz Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Südsteiermark ($35.35)
Michael Godel – Gamlitz is in Leibnitz, which is in Styria, also known as “the little hill,” originally from Gomilnitz, likely a reference to the Slavic Gomilca. It’s a very different take on sauvignon blanc quite apposite to the Südsteiermark in that it’s so aromatically quiet, demurred and yet confidently layered. You just gotta taste this.
Sara d’Amato – This isn’t your showy Südsteiermark sauvignon blanc but it is deliciously nervy. Savory, dry and offering notably high quality of fruit and very authentic expression of variety. Salty, crunchy even in texture with an abundance of fresh lime and grapefruit. Mid-weight and showing restraint and precision.

Sattlerhof Gamlitz Sauvignon Blanc 2017

Sattlerhof Gamlitz Morillon 2017, Sudsteiermark ($34.85)
David Lawrason – Morillon is Austrian chardonnay, and this snappy, super-fresh example is an intriguing and delicious variation on one of the world’s most popular grapes.
Michael Godel – Gamlitz-Leibnitz-Styria is the locale of “the little hill.” Just as the take on sauvignon blanc was quite apposite to the Südsteiermark, so is this morillon in relation to chardonnay around the continent. Gamlitz just has this way of playing hard to get, not so much being closed but acting aromatically demurred and yet, so intricately variegated. The chic styling and refined acidity speak to the terroir, in this case for chardonnay, without heft of glück and yet with plenty of bite. Hard to equate to any chardonnay anywhere else.
Sara d’Amato – So much flavour has been coaxed from this morillon (chardonnay) with unique notes of umami, egg, soy and brine with fresh apple and peach. The palate offers an equal degree of dimension and concentration yet has an ethereal quality. Nervy but balanced with a mid-weight mouthfeel.
John Szabo – This stands right up there with Chablis for sheer drinkability, saltiness, and (sea)-food friendliness. Excellent length, too.

Sattlerhof Gamlitz Morillon 2017

Sattlerhof Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Südsteiermark ($30.55)
David Lawrason – The southern region of Sudsteirenmark grows gorgeous sauvignon and Satterhof is a star. This is super fragrant and compelling, squeaky clean with bold intensity.

Sattlerhof Sauvignon Blanc 2017


Region: Burgenland


Burgenland (AWMB / Lukan)

Burgenland is largely a red wine growing territory due to its hot continental climate. Yet, there are some variances within such as Eisenberg in the south where peppery, stony and elegant blaufränkisch is grown due to cooling influences from Steiermark. Particularly notable in the region is a sweet wine of noble rot known as Ruster Ausbruch (a style that is partway between a Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese Pradikät level).

Winzerkeller Andau Grüner Veltliner A 2018, Burgenland ($16.96)
Sara d’Amato –This very fresh and youthful Burgenland grüner has a highly expressive nose offering a generous degree of sweet lemon and lime, blossom, along with cream soda and sarsaparilla – an intriguing combination. A great deal of flair with flavours of almond and creamy lemon with a pleasant dichotomy of savory-sweet.

Winzerkeller Andau Grüner Veltliner A 2018

Heinrich Neuburger Freyheit 2016, Burgenland ($43.75)
Sara d’Amato –A natural, non-interventionist style made from biodynamically grown fruit. The producer recommends it “shaken” in order to show off its raw cloudiness, a result of its unfiltered and unfined nature. Refreshing acidity and punchy sourness permeate the finish making you pucker and smile.

Heinrich Neuburger Freyheit 2016

Heinrich Pinot Noir 2017, Burgenland ($28.95)
John Szabo –  Patience required: like all of Heinrich’s wines, this pinot will need several more years, 2-4 or so, before reaching optimum drinking, but will be worth the wait.

Heinrich Pinot Noir 2017

Heinrich Zweigelt 2016 Burgenland ($28.40)
John Szabo –  A very successful Zweigelt, surely one of the top examples in Austria.

Heinrich Zweigelt 2016

Pittnauer St. Laurent Dorflagen 2016, Burgenland ($30.20)
John Szabo –  It’s tough to pin down the varietal character of St. Laurent with so many different iterations, but here’s a multi-vineyard blend from the cooler corners around the Neusiedlersee that achieves what it sets out to be, namely a lively earthy-fruity, modestly structured red from minimalist winemaker Gerhard Pittnauer.
David Lawrason – Pittnauer offered several noteworthy wines to this exercise. This is a quite deeply coloured, ripe and ready St. Laurent, with classic blackberry/plum fruit, gentle white pepper and spice.

Pittnauer St. Laurent Dorflagen 2016

Pittnauer Blaufrankisch Heideboden 2017, Burgenland ($24.95)
John Szabo –  Another fine wine from Pittnauer, properly fresh and elegant, from one of his top crus.

Pittnauer Blaufrankisch Heideboden 2017

Pittnauer Pittnauski 2015, Burgenland ($35.80) Agent:
David Lawrason – This is a super-ripe, delicious blend of Austria’s three main red varieties. It is quite full bodied, rich, elegant yet retains a core of freshness. There is a hint of meatiness. The focus and length are excellent.
Sara d’Amato – A ripe and sultry blend of blaufrankisch, zweigelt and St. Laurent with a pleasant nuttiness in the mix from gentle maturity. Fresh and savory with a beautifully carved-out palate and a long, complex finish.

Pittnauer Pittnauski 2015


Located on the western shores of Lake Neusiedl from the slopes of the Leitha Range, wines of the Leithaberg DAC come in both reds (chiefly blaufränkisch) and whites of specified varieties. The wines grown here characteristically exhibit a natural viscosity and often show a stony character.

Heinrich Chardonnay Leithaberg DAC 2015 ($35.55)
John Szabo – Exceptionally complex, stony, deeply flavoured chardonnay, a brilliant wine from Heinrich.
Sara d’Amato – An undeniably compelling chardonnay from the Leithaberg DAC that fits the opulent profile of the appellation. Lightly dusty with a leesy/yeasty note and high-quality oak. Its voluptuous nature and tapestry of flavours is complimented by finely balanced acidity that keeps the palate upbeat. Offering integrated wood spice and a solid core of fruit.

Heinrich Chardonnay Leithaberg 2015


Region: Neiderösterreich (Lower Austria)

Weinviertel in Niederösterreich

Weinviertel in Niederösterreich (AWMB / Weinkomitee Weinviertel, Haiden Baumann)

Neiderösterreich, the largest growing region of Qualitätswein, is situated in the northeastern part of Austria along the Danube River. It is divided into 8 sub-regions with the famed grüner region of Weinviertel and Vienna to the north, followed by the regions of Kremstal, Kamptal and Traisental, along the tributaries to which these regions derive their names. Alongside the Kremstal are the steeply terraced vines of the Wachau and close-by the Wagram region where roter veltliner has taken hold. Warmer areas of Carnuntum and Thermenregion are planted to red varieties such as zweigelt, blaufränkisch and St. Laurent in the latter.

Winzer Krems Sandgrube 13 Grüner Veltliner 2017 ($13.95) General List at the LCBO
John Szabo – Easy drinking, light and crunchy, though also notably ripe and perfumed, there’s a bit of extra heft in this latest version of Winzer Krems’s basic but respectable grüner and a fine value.

Winzer Krems Sandgrube 13 Grüner Veltliner 2017


The region was renamed Wagram from Donauland in 2007 and refers to the gravelly substrate deposited by the Danube River which cuts the region in half. Wagram is sandwiched between Kamptal and Vienna and features grüner veltliner of a rich and opulent style with a great deal of spice from loess dominant soils. Look out for wines made from the local roter veltliner here as well. This specialty of Wagram is a pink-skinned, white grape that is a parent to many of the veltliner varieties including grüner veltliner. In order to excel, roter veltliner needs top quality, low-yielding sites of which most are reserved for the more desirably popular grüner veltliner. Although Wagram used to be “up-and-coming”, it has now firmly established itself as a region worth seeking out for high-quality production.

Familie Bauer Grüner Veltliner Kabinett 2018, Wagram ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – An impressive grüner at a small price. This version, very typical of Wagram, offers characteristic notes of almond, white pepper and citrus fruit. The palate has a distinct light creaminess that adds substance and intrigue while a hint of volatility adds a slight edge. A sophisticated mineral presence is notable on the palate along with nervy acidity and a surprisingly substantial mouthfeel.

Familie Bauer Grüner Veltliner Kabinett 2018

Familie Bauer Roter Veltliner Terrassen 2018, Wagram ($18.95)
David Lawrason – A bit of a walk on the wild side from a red gruner variation, that has rendered a quite powerful white wine. The nose is very generous and expressive, and the palate is as well.

Familie Bauer Roter Veltliner Wagram Terrassen 2018


A smaller and more recently defined growing region with only 815 hectares under vine thus far. Its DAC was created in 2006 showcasing opulent and spicy grüner veltliner along with racy riesling. Narrow terraces on calcareous, gravelley soils give way to wines that are rich and ample but notably vibrant.

Huber Grüner Veltliner Terrassen 2018 ,Traisental ($18.95) July 6, 2019 VINTAGES Release
John Szabo –  An arch classic grüner from the wind-blown loess soils of the Traisental, from one of the region’s leading producers.
David Lawrason – Very good value in a very generous, rich and riper style of gruner veltliner, from a consistently fine producer.

Huber Terrassen Grüner Veltliner 2018

This article was commissioned by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board. As a regular feature, WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery or region. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the profile. Wineries and regions pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, and its content, is entirely up to WineAlign.