Skip to main content

A Guide to Austrian Wine Varietals

Austria is a formidable force in the wide world of wine. Landlocked with a modest population of about nine million, the European nation goes largely unnoticed, especially in the company of border-sharing counties like Germany and Italy.

Why should you take notice? Many, many reasons. Austria is a mainstay on most shortlists for strongest economies per capita and highest quality of life. It has a virtually immeasurable arts history, revolving around musical and cultural hubs like Vienna. The snow sports scene is other-worldly. And it’s home to some really good wine.

Most of Austria is set up quite high. In fact, only a third of the country lies below 1,600 feet in elevation. That means slow ripening and acid retention in many of the vineyards that dot the hilly landscape.

Interestingly, a scandal in 1985 wreaked havoc on the industry. Some producers were found to be adding diethylene glycol to their work, to convey a sense of texture and sweetness. This colorless, odorless liquid with a mildly sweet taste is found in some renditions of antifreeze. It was used as an illegal remedy of sorts for a few less than ideal vintages in the early 80s. German authorities picked it up in the lab and the Austrian wine scene was dealt an immediate and lasting blow.

But there was quite a bit of light at the end of that peculiar tunnel. The public started to look away from sweeter wines and so Austrian producers focused on crisper, drier whites especially. There was also a lack of trust at play among the larger producers. Smaller-scale operations helped resurrect the nation’s wine image, with a well-made Riesling here and a beautiful Blaufränkisch there. Before long, Austria was back on the scene and known by its European peers and beyond for much more than just late harvest-style supermarket wines.

This is the home turf of native varieties like Grüner Veltliner, Zweigelt, Zierfandler, and — as far as we can tell — St. Laurent (most believe it originated here). It’s also a great place for growing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Müller Thurgau, and Pinot Blanc. Set centrally within the continent, it’s far from shocking that viticulture has existed here for many, many years. Archaeological digs have uncovered signs of grape-growing in Traisental some 4,000 years ago.

Today, three major sections make up the Austrian wine map. Niederösterreich is the northernmost, producing the most fruit and home to some famous appellations like Wachau, Kremstal, and Kamptal, set along the Danube River. Burgenland on the central-east side of the country is a bit warmer and more known for its red wines and noble rot-affected whites. Steiermark is the smallest, known primarily for aromatic whites. All three major zones have their share of sub-regions.   

Now, check out a few Austrian wines to get you started.

F.X. Pichler Riesling

F.X. Pichler Riesling

It’s not cheap, but it’s a great representation of the country and its uncanny ability to make a multi-faceted dry white. F.X. Pichler makes some great Sauv Blanc and Gruner, too, but the Riesling tends to shine most brightly. This is not your grandmother’s mutated sweet Riesling. This is a pure and powerful take on one of the world’s great wine grapes. 

Türk Grüner Veltliner

Türk Grüner Veltliner

It wouldn’t be a proper list without the country’s most famous grape, Grüner Veltliner. This producer stresses the colorful nature of the variety, which can be everything from firm to refreshingly fruity to mineral-driven and even a bit spicy. There’s a lot of perfectly drinkable Gruner on the market but this riff shows the grape’s intriguing and more exotic side.

Hannes Reeh Zweigelt

Hannes Reeh Zweigelt

Zweigelt out of this microclimate along the Austria-Hungary border is really expressive, with the dark-as-night fruit flavors one normally associates with a heavier red. It’s comforting, too, with baking spice elements and a pretty, ruby red hue. Reeh’s Zweigelt releases are justifiably getting some buzz, with perhaps his best work yet to come given the winemaker’s relatively young age. 

Heinrich Hartl III Pinot Noir

Heinrich Hartl III Pinot Noir

It’s not easy to make a good Pinot. This southern Austrian producer’s work benefits from both the right growing climate and plenty of attention to details in the cellar. Sixth-generation winemaker Heinrich Hartl has absorbed his family’s rich legacy and expertise and is using it to make some really evocative red.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
The Ultimate Guide to the Mediterranean Diet
A mouthwatering tomato salad with olive oil.

Following the proper nutritional guidelines can determine both how you emotionally feel and how optimally your body operates. Unfortunately, there is no "one size fits all" diet, and there is still much debate among experts on what the best diet is. Each diet has its own guidelines addressing macronutrients, calories, what foods can and cannot be eaten, timing, and other restrictions.
Given the sheer number of options, the complexity of the characteristics of each diet, and the conflicting nutritional information and principles used to substantiate each diet, it’s no wonder so many of us are confused about what to eat and what diet is ultimately the best. After all, nutritionists, doctors, dietitians, and the medical community at large are themselves still at odds over much of the nutritional advice. However, the majority of experts routinely name the Mediterranean diet as one of the healthiest diets out there.

Compared to many other popular diets, the Mediterranean diet is one of the most well-studied, research-backed eating plans, with plenty of evidence to substantiate disease-mitigating effects and health benefits, and it consistently places high in the U.S. News and World Report's annual ranking of the best diets.
Therefore, among a seemingly endless candidate pool of potential diets, the Mediterranean diet stands out from the crowd and warrants consideration if you’re looking to overhaul your diet to improve your health. If you’ve never heard of the Mediterranean diet, or need a refresher on what it specifically entails, keep reading for our introductory guide to the Mediterranean diet that will help you learn all the basics you need to start eating well and feeling better.

Read more
A New Cookbook from a Leading Voice of West Coast Barbecue
Pitmaster Matt Horn stoking a fire for bbq.

Pitmaster Matt Horn is a self-taught craftsman. On most days, the California native is busy smoking and perfecting a unique culinary art -- West Coast-style barbecue. As a leading authority on this unique barbecue region, Horn's accolades are many, ranging from his acclaimed Horn Barbecue restaurant (awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand) in Oakland, California, to being named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs in America.

Now, Horn has authored a new cookbook, Horn Barbecue: Recipes and Techniques from a Master of the Art of BBQ, documenting every glorious detail of his distinctive style. The book is a testament to Horn's passion for the art of barbecue, a craft that represents a greater life purpose beyond the accolades.
"I just wanted to do something for once that wasn't driven by money, but something that touched my soul, something that really moved me," said Horn.
West Coast Style Barbecue
Pitmaster Matt Horn

Read more
Interview With Vice Wines Vineyard Founder Malek Amrani
Malek Amrani, founder of Vice Wines.

Ever wonder how much global effort goes into a simple bottle of wine? In addition to the liquid inside, that glass has to be sourced from somewhere. When the Trump administration put tariffs on imports, this included an 18-percent duty on glass. And when the price of that glass goes up, so does the price of a bottle. Alongside the fallout from wildfires, a decades-long Western drought, pandemic-caused supply issues, and a dwindling cork supply, the wine industry faces a deluge of issues.

Malek Amrani, the founder of Napa Valley’s The Vice Wine, is no stranger to this turbulence. After founding the artisanal maker in 2016, Amrani is experiencing firsthand the supply chain, labor shortage, and inflation issues beleaguering vintners, and subsequent consumers. A spike in orders for Vice wines over the last two years is tempered by what the company reports is a 30% price increase on labels, corks, and capsules (the protective, over-the-cork sleeves on wine bottle necks).

Read more