Special Austrian Wine Report: The Stellar 2021 Vintage and Top Ten 2021 Wines From Vienna

By John Szabo, MS

This feature was commissioned by Austrian Wine.

© Austrian Wine / WSNA
A bright autumn was the basis for a dream Austrian vintage

Finally Some Good News About Climate

In the midst of so much bad news about climate change, and especially climate extremes, there is some excellent weather-related news to report: last year Austria enjoyed one of its best vintages since the turn of the century. “Crystal-clear wines from perfect grapes,” reads the press release from Austrian Wine, “a year that we will be hearing about for many years to come.”

It’s common of course for marketing agencies to hype up the latest release, but a visit to Austria in late May for the bi-annual VieVinum tasting, plus additional winery visits around Vienna, confirms the hyperbole. I will be buying a lot of wines, especially whites, from the 2021 vintage. It’s a vintage for lovers of purity, freshness and precision, highlighting what the country does best, a return to what the wine trade tends to call a “classic” vintage.

Others Not So Fortunate

The news is somewhat bittersweet in the European context. Austria recorded an average harvest: “With a harvest volume of around 2.4 million hectolitres, the 2021 vintage is in line with the long-term average,” reads the harvest report). Meanwhile, according to the OIV (Organisation Internationale de la Vigne et du Vin), production in France (ranked second in global production) and Spain (ranked third) is sharply down. “France’s 2021 wine production level is one of the lowest productions seen since 2000. It is 19 percent lower than 2020 and 14 percent below its last five-year average level. Spain’s 2021 wine production has fallen by 14 percent compared to 2020 and is 8 percent below its last five-year average.” Production is down globally by about 3 percent.

France in particular suffered natural calamity heaped upon disaster in 2021, starting with devastating spring frosts. Part of the challenge posed by a warming climate is earlier bud-break, leaving vines exposed to spring frosts for a much longer period than in decades past, increasing freeze risk. France’s early warm spell last spring was followed by three days of sub-zero temperatures in April that decimated vineyards from Champagne to Provence. Then, hail, excessive rain, drought, fires and more befell the country.

Austria, too, suffered hail damage, especially in the Weinviertel northeast of Vienna, as well as the Wachau and the Mittelburgenland. But an un-seasonally cool and dry April, and a wet and gloomy May delayed bud break until after the dangers of frost had past.

© Austrian Wine / WSNA

September and October Make the Vintage

But ultimately it was a glorious September and October that “made” the vintage: “A bright, sunny phase took hold, lasting six whole weeks with only two days of rain. By the middle of September, the nights had already turned cool, which meant that there was a marked difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures. This promoted the formation of outstanding aromas in the white wines and vitality in the reds.”

Pressure from mildews and unwanted botrytis were also kept at bay, and a last nudge of ripening provided, by a prolonged period of föhn winds, the warm, dry Alpine winds that can raise the temperature by as much 14˚C in a few hours in parts of Switzerland, Germany and Austria.

“2021 was quite dry, but August was unusually cool and with enough humidity so that acidity was protected. September and October were beautiful, sunny, dry, and cool,” says Rainer Christ, owner/winemaker of the Christ winery in Vienna. It’s a vintage that will make us happy for the next decade.”

Fred Loimer of Weingut Loimer in Langenlois is similarly enthusiastic, describing 2021 as the “best in many years, especially for grüner veltliner,” echoing the sentiments of vintners across the country. Indeed, it is a spectacular year for whites in general, with the warm days and cool nights of September and October preserving not only acidity, but sharpening aromatics as well.

2019 and 2021: Two Excellent Vintages to Compare and Contrast

The differences between 2021 and 2019, the last highly touted and excellent vintage in Austria, are stark, like opposite ends of the spectrum. Whereas the 2019s are characterized by richness and opulence thanks to warmest and driest June on record and a July and an August that were almost as hot, 2021 is appealing for its contrasting character, and for its transparency. Veteran winegrowers reported some of the most beautiful, completely healthy grapes at harvest of their careers, the ideal reflection of a vineyard’s expression without the homogenizing effects of botrytis or the common wine flaws associated with other vine diseases.

And given the perfect fall weather, growers could pick and choose their harvest time, making it an excellent vintage by which to judge house style and winemaking intentions. Those that opted to roll with the delicacy and vibrancy of the vintage, the majority of what I tasted, made memorable wines with the acid structure to mature positively in the cellar.

Final Conclusions

The 2021 vintage from any trusted vintner is one to buy in quantity.

Special Buyer’s Guide: Ten of the top 2021 Wines from Vienna

The following wines were tasted and rated during a pre-Vienum trip to the capital city’s outskirts. Note that several top cuvées had not yet been released, nor is this a fully comprehensive of Vienna’s best.

Click here for a full list of wines and vintages tasted in Vienna in May.

© Austrian Wine / WSNA

Weingut Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz Bisamberg 2021
Le Sommelier Inc.
John Szabo – A field blend of Burgundian varieties (pinot blanc pinot gris and chardonnay). 2021 saw a late bud break turn straight into summer; August was more like Autumn, days were mild but nights cold, all of which served to preserve acidity. September improved, with sunny days and cool nights, and the result is appealing juicy wines with high acids coupled with fully ripe but fresh fruits. The 2020 is closed on the nose for now, but also notably spicy, earthy even, with more explosive palate, fleshy but firm and succulent, with a fine range of green, white and yellow-fleshed fruit flavours, well integrated lees. Excellent length, great complexity – a classic in the making. Best from 2024.

Zahel Wiener Gemischter Satz Grosslage Nussberg 2021
The Small Winemakers Collection
John Szabo – A blend of 4 vineyards from the 19th District, Grinzing, on the Nussberg hill, fermented in 600l barrels made from Viennese oak, coopered by Stockinger. Chardonnay, pinot blanc and pinot gris. 13% alcohol. Lovely and floral, clean, lean and fresh, but textured and with significant concentration and depth, and length. fresh, sweet green herbs, lemon-lime citrus flavours lead. A sheer delight to sip – the. most sharp and “Chablis” like of Zahel’s gemischter satz wines.

Weingut Christ Wiener Gemischter Satz Bisamberg Petershof 2021
No Ontario Agent
John Szabo – Christ farms the oldest organic vineyard in Vienna, planted in the 1980s on the Bisamberg and farmed organically from the beginning. Christ took it over in 2014. The Pertershof is the only gemischter satz in the Christ portfolio in which grüner isn’t the dominant variety, it’s fourth behind weissburgunder chardonnay and riesling, with also a splash of welschriesling. The 2020 is clean and fresh, flowery, moderately aromatic, offering green fruit and sweet green herbs. Lovely fresh, zesty, palate enlivening, with crunchy fruit. 13%. Drink or hold mid-term.

Hajszan-Neumann Wiener Gemischter Satz Nussberg 2021

Hajszan-Neumann Wiener Gemischter Satz Nussberg 2021
Le Sommelier Inc.
John Szabo – Weissburgunder dominates, followed by riesling, grüner veltliner, neuberger, welschriesling and traminer. it’s in the more recent “classic” range of Hajszan-Neumann, i.e. filtered and sulfured, though made with less control than Wieninger’s eponymous wines. Its, clean, herbal, sweet and fragrant, with ripe, yellow-fleshed fruit, lively acids, and excellent length. Certainly classic, indeed a superb vintage for this wine.

Weingut Christ Riesling Ried Zwerchbreiteln 2021
(No Ontario Agent)
John Szabo – From rare terraced rows running parallel to the hill on the Bisamberg, 47 year old vines in this vintage. Flysch soils (compressed sandstones) yield yellow-fruit-driven flavour compounds. It’s clean, fresh and lively on the nose, not yet developed, still effervescent, lightly flowery, with green apple, tangerines. Very good length; best after 2024.

Zahel Oma Zahel Wiener Gemischter Satz 2021

Zahel Oma Zahel Wiener Gemischter Satz 2021
The Small Winemakers Collection
John Szabo – An homage to Alex Zahel’s grandmother, “oma”, now 90 years old. The nose is light and fresh and flowery, citric, full of spring flowers, a throwback to Viennese field blends of yore, intended to be simple and drinkable, fresh and lively. This is delightful wine, lean but not shrill in texture, just lively. 12% alcohol.

Edlmoser Wiener Gemischter Satz Mauerberg 2021
(No Ontario Agent)
John Szabo – The green label is made from several vineyards in Mauer (in Vienna’s23rd district).  It’s a step up in complexity from the ‘entry’ blue label, but still in a highly drinkable style. It’s left for about 3 hours on skins before pressing, allowed a long, slow fermentation, lasting into January (though not too cold, up to 20 degrees), left on lees until March or April. No fining. Fresh and flowery, fresh sweet herbs, spring flowers, lime and green apple, with notable CO2, natural, bottled after cold storage in tank. Crunchy, happy, lively white wine.

Weingut Wieninger Wiener Grüner Veltliner 2021
Le Sommelier Inc.
John Szabo – From vineyards on both sides of the Danube, on the Nussberg and Bisamberg hills. The 2021 is mildly aromatic, but much more explosive on the palate, very ripe, almost tangerine-driven, with characteristic white pepper. Broad and fleshy, satisfying and dense. An excellent ‘entry level” to be sure.

Hajszan-Neumann Gemischter Satz Natural 2021
Le Sommelier Inc.
John Szabo – A single vineyard wine, fermented in amphora on skins for 4.5 months. Really lively and fragrant, tonic and refreshing, herbal – a nose you can get into, almost white vermouth like. The palate is firm and grippy, but not overly astringent, with fine flavour range and length.

Weingut Fuhrgassle-Huber Roter Muskateller Neustift am Walde Ortswein 2021

Weingut Fuhrgassle-Huber Roter Muskateller Neustift am Walde Ortswein 2021
(No Ontario Agent)
John Szabo – Weingut Fuhrgassle – Huber is one of less than a half dozen producers of roter muskateller in Austria, also very rare elsewhere, in the muscat family. The skins turn red at full ripeness, though without sufficient anthocyanins to make even a pale rosé. This is explosively aromatic, not soapy but floral, highly terpene-driven. A delicious wine to drink during at aperitif hour. Worth discovering and preserving.