Nick Dobson of Wines of the World writes in his column:
"Austria is quite simply one of the most fascinating wine producing countries in Europe today. Steeped in culture and history, it has a winegrowing heritage stretching back over three millennia. Austria produces some of the best wines in the world, of unparalleled quality, from grape varieties not grown elsewhere. Yet remarkably, her wines remain relatively unknown and under-represented in the UK...
...Most of these [producers] are small family operations, offering wines of individuality, character, and outstanding quality."
"Austrian White Wines: a panorama of grape varietals, Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, of course, but also dry Muscat, rare varieties such as Zierfandler and Rotgipfler, and classic Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay and more.
If you are not already familiar with the delights of Austrian wines, then you are unlikely to have tried this variety before, for it is grown almost exclusively in Austria, apart from a small amount in Hungary and the Czech Republic. It is starting to be tried in a few other regions in the South Hemisphere and Germany, and deserves to expand further.
In Austria, it represents just over a third of the area under vine, so it is a very significant variety there - probably the most significant. I simply love Grüner Veltliner (GV); it is amazing stuff which deserves better recognition. It is incredibly flexible; not only does it produce wines which are simply delicious, they partner so many foods that you would not immediately imagine a good wine match for - it is arguably the world's most flexible grape at the table. Growers restrict yield in the interests of quality.
Just about all of Austria's greatest dry whites are made from Riesling. Many would say Riesling is the best wine grape in the world. To give of its best though, it is fussy about where it is planted - and it simply thrives on many outstanding sites in Austria - on mainly primary rock, or urgestein soils.
Austrian Rieslings are quite different from those commonly known from Germany or Alsace. In Austria, fine Rieslings are typically dry and substantial, some with as much as 14% alcohol, yet have a raciness and delicacy that is second to none. The minerality in these wines is also very distinctive. Often they have pronounced citrus aromas and flavours, and sometimes complex tropical fruits.
Neuberger / Neuburger
An Austrian white variety which is believed to be a natural cross between Roter Veltliner and Sylvaner, originating from the Spitzer Graben area in the Wachau. Relatively easy to cultivate, and not particularly demanding on soil types, although it does best on primary rock. Neuberger produces wines with relatively neutral fragrance, but which are refined and elegant, often with a pronounced nutty taste.
The best Neubergers are probably from the Wachau, but interesting examples are also found in Burgenland and Thermenregion, where Neuberger is also a popular heurige wine.
Roter (Frühroter) Veltliner
Not particularly well-named for a white grape variety, Roter Veltliner is a very old indigenous Austrian variety, thought to originate from Lower Austria, grown today there and also in the Kremstal and Donauland regions. Produces wines which are greenish-yellow, fragrant and fruity, with spicy aromas; can be quite acidic.
Not be confused with the inferior high-yielding standard Muscat (Muskat-Ottonel), this is an altogether better variety, but one which is hard to cultivate. It is grown only in small quantities, as it is very demanding on location, being sensitive to rot from fungal attacks and frost, although it is not fussy about soil type.
The wines are highly fragrant, with an intense floral bouquet, with the best having a sweet grassiness, and good acidity. They make an excellent summer wine. There are records of the Gelber Muskateller being grown in the Wachau as long ago as 1400, although there is also a long tradition of its cultivation in Styria and Burgenland. It is used to make wines in a variety of styles from dry all the way up to Prädikat, with the stronger examples having tremendous storage potential.
They are truly some of my favorite wines - such an aromatic nose!
Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc)
An international variety that is widely grown the world over. We think the best Pinot Blancs in the world might actually be made in Austria, where the variety is grown quite widely. The quality of Austrian Pinot Blanc wines is outstanding. In Austria, even mid-range Pinot Blancs are stylish, with flavours of almonds and good acidity. The best are concentrated, amazingly complex, and age well in bottle, some well in excess of a decade. I have asked winemakers a few times why they chose "Pinot Blanc" or "Weissburgunder" - whether there are cultural reasons. Usually the answer has been "it looked better on the label that way".
A natural cross of Traminer and Roter Veltliner, first documented around 1840 in Styria, but now grown principally in Thermenregion, where it has helped to establish the reputation gained by the wines of Gumpoldskirchen. The wines are golden-yellow with a prominent fresh spicy bouquet, and are rich and fruity, and often high in alcohol. Has to be tried - a fascinating wine
Zierfandler (also known as Spätrot)
Another oddly named variety - Spätrot (late red) is a white grape. Probably originally from Lower Austria, and now grown almost exclusively in Thermenregion, it is the other mainstay of the wines from Gumpoldskirchen. Only some 100 hectares are grown, making it very rare. The wines are golden yellow, and have a fruity bouquet and good acidity. Most is produced with some residual sugar, and it is often blended with Rotgipfler.
An international variety first planted in Austria over 100 years ago. The best Austrian examples are from Styria, but impressive wines can be found also in Lower Austria. The Styrians Sauvignons Blancs have a minerality that I have not tasted anywhere else.
The 2nd most widely grown grape variety in Austria after Grüner Veltliner, with some 8.9% of vineyards planted with it, mainly in Burgenland, Lower Austria, and Styria. It is quite picky about where it will grow, preferring protection from wind and soils that are not too dry. It produces fresh fruity wines which are spicy, and which are for the most part best drunk young; indeed it is a popular heurige wine.
Can also make excellent Prädikat wines."