Grapevine: The A-grade of Austria
Rosé. Prosecco. Pinot Noir. Three of the biggest categories in wine over the past decade have signified a demand for the lighter, fresher wines.
While the underlying trend remains intact, these specific styles have started to taper off just a little as more and more variety emerges for us among that larger overriding theme. Crunchy, juicy Grenache has probably found its way into your glass at some point, as may have a “lo-fi” Shiraz picked early and handled gently to again produce a crunchy lightweight example. This is the low-hanging fruit, though – familiar varieties produced in a way to suit the trend – but it’s also worthwhile exploring the varieties already suited to the trend yet not widely available.
Austria is a wine-producing country that deserves investigation for wines with lovely freshness and finesse at when compared to other common varieties at a similar palate weight. Sitting in central Europe pulls together several different climatic factors that result in long, warm (although not excessively hot) growing seasons with cool nights contributing to wines with relatively high levels of acidity in the grapes for the amount of ripeness they can achieve.
It helps that Austria is predominantly planted to their “native” grape varieties, albeit the marketing and sales efforts are made a little more difficult by grape varieties that not many will have come across. But once you become familiar with them, there is nowhere else in the world you can find them at the same calibre, and they genuinely offer a unique experience in the world of wine. Sankt Laurent combines the featherweight of the lightest reds you will find, often clocking in at barely more than 12 per cent alcohol, and yet the flavours can be so ripe, generous and delivered in the silkiest of textures that you wonder how they do it.
Blaufrankisch is commonly seen as the king of reds in Austria as it tends to be the most structured of the reds, with sturdy tannins and lively acidity built for ageing in the right wines they are still expressively aromatic with spice, pepper and ripe brambley fruits. The peppery quality is a common feature in Austrian wines, particularly in their most distinctive white, Gruner Veltliner.
Rounding out the trio of red varieties is Zweigelt, a cross between Sankt Laurant and Blaufrankisch named after its creator. It’s planted widely in Austria and often considered a workhorse variety. But that underplays it a little; varieties such as Grenache have often been labelled in a similar fashion and yet in the right hands they are more than modest reds.
Pittnauer produce a lovely little blend based on Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch. It pulls together a variety of aromatics from flowers to spice and vibrant fruit. The palate is just on medium-bodied, plush in texture with a lovely pull of fine tannins and acidity giving it a lively freshness. The interest here is that for its modest weight and easy-going nature, there is a depth and richness to the dark fruits with warm spices and peppery notes that put it on a different plane to other, more familiar light to medium-bodied reds.