Austrian Wine: A Beginner’s Guide

An Austrian vineyard - a guide to Austrian wine

Today, we are exploring this wine country in the very heart of Europe: Austria (No, that’s not the place with the kangaroos! 😂). With autochthonous grape varieties, such as Grüner Veltliner and Zweigelt, and internationally renowned grapes like Riesling and Chardonnay, as well as quality and ecologically conscious producers, this small alpine country has it all! And just in case you have never heard of a Heuriger or enjoyed a Fluchtachterl at the end of a long night, we will give you all the information you need to impress any Austrian wine lover in this article.

An introduction to Austrian wine

After the launch of our German website and the arrival of an Austrian team member fresh from the mountains, it is time to discover the diverse wine of this small country which shares borders with eight countries and has a population of only around 9 million people.

Wine in Austria comes from an area of around 48,000 hectares. Due to the different climatic conditions and the Alps stretching across the west, the wine regions are mainly located in the east of the country, in the provinces Lower Austria, Burgenland, Styria and Vienna. The country has a long winemaking history dating back to the Celts and the Roman Empire. Today, Austria has a reputation for producing high-quality, unique wines that are good value for money and often prove to be the ideal pairing to local specialities like Schnitzel or Tafelspitz.

The most important grape varieties

Austria is mostly known for its dry white wines, with white grape varieties constituting almost two thirds of the wine production. Red wine varieties such as Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch as well as sweet wines made from the Welschriesling variety are also becoming increasingly popular. These are mainly produced in the south and very east of the country.

The most widely cultivated grape variety in Austria is Grüner Veltliner, which is characterised by its fresh acidity and fruitiness. Its vines cover a third of the total area of wine production in the country. The second place among white grape varieties goes to Welschriesling, which is often used to produce fresh and acidic wines but is highly praised for the sweet wines that can be made from it. Beerenauslese or Trockenbeerenauslese from this variety can have impressive aromatic complexity supported by a well-balanced acidity. Other common white grape varieties in Austria are Riesling, Chardonnay, Müller-Thurgau and Sauvignon Blanc.

The most successful and most widely cultivated red grape variety in Austria is Zweigelt, from which fruity, low-tannin and colour-intensive wines are produced. Another important grape variety is Blaufränkisch, which creates well-structured wines with powerful acidity and aromas of wild berries or cherries. Internationally known red grape varieties grown in Austria include Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Austria’s wine regions

Map of Austrian wine regions

Lower Austria: Lower Austria constitutes Austria’s largest wine region, providing a vast diversity of grape varieties, soil conditions and wine styles. Most of the wine-growing areas stretch along the Danube and the Slovakian border. Well-known wine regions include the Wachau with its dry white wines made from Riesling or Grüner Veltliner, Carnuntum, which is known for its red wines, and Kamptal, internationally known for its high-quality white wines. Here at iDealwine, you’ll find a fine producer from Kamptal; the Loimer winery produces excellent Grüner Veltliner and Riesling wines following biodynamic guidelines.

Vienna: Around the capital Vienna, there are around 600 hectares where vines are cultivated. Gemischter Satz is predominantly popular here. The blend is made from at least three different grape varieties that are planted and vinified together.

Burgenland: Burgenland is the easternmost province of Austria, influenced by a lot of sun and a continental climate. Due to these favourable conditions, Burgenland is especially known for its full-bodied and elegant red wines with Blaufränkisch being the most important grape variety cultivated here. Burgenland is also home to excellent sweet wines that are mostly made using botrytis grapes from the Welschriesling and Furmint varieties.

Styria: Today, Styria, and more specifically, its southern regions close to the Slovenian border, can be seen as one of the most dynamic Austrian wine provinces and it has gained popularity in recent years. Styria has a reputation for its dry white wines, with Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Welschriesling being the main grape varieties. A special feature of the region are the often very steep slopes, which mean that most of the vineyards are worked by hand.

Austrian wine classification

Austria has a similar classification system to Germany. If a wine has no geographical indication, it is simply called Wein, and Landwein corresponds to the French classification of IGP. Qualitätsweine are equivalent to the French AOPs and have a protected designation of origin which means that only certain grape varieties are permitted to be used in the wine production.

In contrast to the German hierarchy system, the Kabinett classification belongs in the category Qualitätsweine in Austria. Prädikatsweine from the land of Apfelstrudel predominantly designate sweet and dessert wines and are also subject to strict regulations – there is a maximum yield of 9000kg per hectare, neither the alcohol content can be increased nor can sweetening take place, and only certain grape varieties are permitted. Like in Germany, the Prädikatsweine subcategories are Spätlese, Auslese, Eiswein, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese as well as the additional category of Strohwein – a wine made from berries rich in sugar that are stored on straw before the grapes are pressed to further concentrate the sugar.

From 2002 onwards, Austria also introduced the designation of origin Districtus Austriae Controllatus (DAC) with the intention to not solely focus on the grape varieties, but mainly on the typical regional characteristics. There are currently 17 DAC regions in Austria, including Wachau, Kamptal and Carnuntum. For each DAC region, the regulation states the most important grape varieties that best express the respective terroirs. Some of the DAC regions have adapted another sub-classification system which goes Gebietsweine (regional wine), then Ortsweine (village wine) and Lagenweine (single vineyard wine) at the top of the pyramid.

UPDATE: Since this article was published a few weeks ago, there has been a big change in the Austrian wine classification system – during the final week of August 2023, the Austrian Minister of Agriculture officially announced the amendment of the wine law. From now on, it is possible to legally classify vineyard sites (or Lagen in German) in all Austrian wine-growing regions if they are DAC-classified. After a nomination by the Regional Wine Committees (RWK) and confirmation by the National Wine Committee (NWK), the best vineyards can be designated as Erste Lage (Premier Cru) or Große Lage (Grand Cru) after a standardised classification process.

The law has been prepared and fought for by the Österreichische Traditionsweingüter (ÖTW) ever since the association was founded 30 years ago. The goal of the association was to establish a systematic and official evaluation of Austrian wine regions. That has now been achieved after years of intensive work and handing over the responsibility for vineyard classification to the state in order to make it more consistent and transparent. This new law makes Austria the first and only country apart from France in which a classification of vineyards is possible on a legal level!

Specific Austrian wine vocabulary German-speakers might not even know…

If you ever come to Austria and decide to visit some wineries or bars in the cities, there are a few Austrian-specific expressions you should definitely learn! We have collected the most important ones in this article, but feel free to comment or write an email if there is an expression we forgot. 😊

Heuriger or Buschenschank: This designates a restaurant where the owner is only selling their own wine, as well as locally produced food. The term heuer is an Austrian expression for the current year, indicating that mostly young wine is sold here. You’ll find a countless number of Heurige around Vienna in particular that are open from the beginning of spring until the end of October/November.

Achterl: If you order an Achterlin Austria, you will get 0,125l of wine, which is how it is usually served in traditional restaurants. Other useful terms for long summer evenings are Stehachterl (standing-Achterl, a glass of wine drunken quickly whilst leaning against the bar), as well as Fluchtachterl and Panikachterl (literally escape-Achterl and panic-Achterl, the last and the very last glass of wine of the evening).

Sturm: If you come to the east of Austria in September, you will find this expression written on blackboards in every pub, and it is a storm that you don’t want to miss… Sturm refers to must whose alcoholic fermentation is just beginning, that has not been filtered yet and therefore has a cloudy colour. In Germany, the popular drink is called Federweisse.

Spritzer: Spritzer might be THE most popular drink in Vienna, and it is not the same as its Italian relative. Austrian Spritzer is made by adding one glass of sparkling water to one glass of white wine, mostly from the grape variety Grüner Veltliner. The best thing about it is that it’s impossible to forget to drink water whilst drinking your wine! 😉

With all the information gathered from this article, you are definitely ready to tackle the Austrian wine regions. And in the meantime, why don’t you have a look at our fine selection of Austrian and German wines?

Find all of our wines here