The Austrian Vintage 2011 – good wines, good quantities
March 23, 2012 - After a short dry spell due to the rather low quantities of recent vintages the Austrian vintage 2011 presents itself with elegantly balanced white wines and reds from perfectly ripened grapes. With the pickings for the last ice wines at the beginning of February 2012, the harvest of 2011, which finally replenished empty Austrian cellars with a yield of more than 2.8 million hectolitres, was brought to an end.
The wine year 2011 started with a relatively harsh winter causing also frost damage here and there, leading to crop losses in the affected regions such as for example the Weinviertel. Then, however, spring came, punctually and all-out. The above-average warm and sunny period lasted until early flowering, which proceeded under optimal conditions. One small drop of bitterness was the slight frost damage caused by a cool week at the beginning of May.
In the second half of June the general weather situation changed and an utmost instable and humid phase, lasting throughout July (much to tourists’ regret) followed. Just when fears for the grapes' vegetative development were raised, a sunny and warm August, largely without longer heat periods, turned tides. Anyhow, painstaking work in the vineyards proved to be essential in order to prevent sunburn of the ripening berries. For terraced vineyards with poor soils irrigation was a blessing.
The most important time slot before the main harvest was characterised by a wonderfully warm Indian Summer, going on without any precipitation until October 8th. By this time harvest was already almost fully completed in the Burgenland. These very pleasant conditions were also given for the rest of October. Austrian winemakers slightly feared drought stress which the vines were partly exposed to. The situation was aggravated by extraordinarily high temperatures at night, which led to a relatively quick reduction of acidity. The main harvest could be scheduled very well, since at the beginning the cooler morning hours could be made use of in order not to bring in too heated crop.
High degrees of ripeness, satisfying yield
Concluding from the now available data, the total Austrian wine harvest of 2011 will amount approx. 2.8 million hectolitres, which is a little more than the average of many years and much more than the yields of 2009 (2.35 million hectolitres) and 2010 (1.74 million hectolitres). There are, however, enormous variations depending on the region, such as for example a minus due to frost damage in the Weinviertel, and an almost two-digit plus in Styria, which remained untroubled by late Adriatic lows and dreaded hailstorms, which partially occurred in other regions, this time.
The above described circumstances of grape development clearly led to a very high degree of grape ripeness and corresponding levels of alcohol, as this was the case in 2006 for the last time. Extract values range from good to average, acidity values appeared to be rather close to the lower limit.
Even though the acidity is low from an analytical point of view, and stands in harsh contrast to the extremely high acidity values of last year, this characteristic is hardly experienced as a flaw sensorily. Most white wines present themselves very balanced and harmonious.
Because of the above described weather conditions, infections with downy mildew and powdery mildew did not occur widely. Fortunately also botrytis and other forms of rot also failed to appear, so that generally extremely sound crop could be processed to clean musts and wines. Generally, the characteristics of the varieties can be identified explicitly.
For the key variety Grüner Veltliner in Niederösterreich (Lower Austria) it was essential to sustain a good balance between alcohol and acidity, as well as a certain freshness and racy character with the lighter wines. In some regions it was difficult not to exceed the given limits for alcohol content for certain DAC origins. This vintage was, however, predestined for premium reserve wines and wines from specified sites with a high aging potential, since these do not count as much on youthful liveliness than on body and persistence. Many wines of the Pinot family have become excellent. Especially Pinot Blancs have hardly ever turned out to be so elegant and concise when harvested at such a high degree of ripeness. Our Rieslings, no matter what region from, deserve to garner overall accolades. They display such a brilliant fruit and clarity, which is extremely seldomly found at such an early stage. As far as the ‚exotic’ rarities such as Roter Veltliner, Rotgipfler and Zierfandler are concerned, one may also predict an excellent vintage.
In general, dry white wines turn out to be of a mature, partly very full-bodied type with a delicate acidity, which may rank between those of the vintages 2006 and 2007 qualitatively. Especially the full-bodied white wines, destined for a longer storage seem to be a class of their own. There are not any similarities with the past hot years such as 1992, 2000 or 2003. On the one hand the water supply was good in early summer and there were no extreme heat waves, on the other hand Austrian winegrowers have learned their lessons from the requirements of the past years.
Intense aromatic varieties and dreamlike reds
Styria can show fully-ripened Sauvignon Blancs and Muskateller wines, which nonetheless boast the varietal fruity nuances and a fine, racy style, which distinguishes them a bit from those from the rest of Austria. Here, one predicts a vintage, which will at least come up to, but presumably even exceed the great wines of 2007. And here, as well as in the north of Burgenland, which could bring about well-balanced white wines due to an early harvest, one points out the special merits of the Pinot varieties.
But 2011 also offered all climatic prerequisites in order to vinify excellent red wines. In the glass, they sparkle in shades of purple and combine high ripeness with an astonishing fruitiness and refined, soft tannins in the background. And it seems that they might well stand comparisons with similarly densely structured wines of 2006 and the particularly fruit-accentuated wines of 2009. All in all the gorgeous wines of 2011 may somewhat surpass both of the past great red wine years. These wines are thus solidly structured that they seem to be destined for an intense barrique aging. All varieties, be it Pinot Noir, St. Laurent, Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch or the Bordeaux varieties, which could similarly well exceed former vintages when harvested at an advantageous point of time, raise high expectations this year. Given all of the mentioned circumstances, also not so well-known places of origin for reds are going to present good results.
The dry weather in autumn did not prove to be advantageous for the production of predicate wines, since both, botrytis and frost, occurred very late in the year. Sweet wine production thus is going to be limited to its well-known strongholds in the northern Burgenland. But the extremely brave, who left grapes hanging on some of their vines, were awarded a small, but very interesting prize. In the first week of February in 2012 frost set in with might and main, so that dense ice wines with extremely high sugar contents could be harvested.