Austrian wine-growers faced strong challenges right from the beginning. With the difficult weather conditions in 2008 – hail, heavy rain and long-lasting fog in nearly every winegrowing area – ripening of the grapes was by no means simple.
In the vineyards, growers had to utilise every bit of their experience and know-how in order to pick pure, ripe grapes at just the right time (in some cases, this was very late in the season), especially in light of the unusually early break-out of Peronospora (downy mildew) several months beforehand.
Yet, despite the relatively high harvest quantities - which filled up nearly empty stocks – scepticism about the results of such a labour-intensive vintage developed. But after the first tasting of the young wines, vintners’ moods were completely uplifted. Through their focused quality-oriented work, wines of fruitiness and panache from a wide range of ripeness levels were produced. After fall 2008, even the most optimistic did not expect such gratifying results!
So much has been said about the last harvest season, that it’s best to mention just the important basics. The relatively early bud break and the uncomplicated June flowering period were very positive, while the unusual hailstorms early on brought the first setbacks. Dampness lasted more or less throughout the entire vegetation period, which resulted in the onslaught of disease, especially downy mildew. Because of this, wineries across the board - not just the biologically-run ones - had to deal with considerable yield losses. Plus, sugar ripening in the grapes progressed very slowly because of the very wet, cool weather in September and October. But some very beautiful days during the second half of October and the first half of November thankfully provided pleasant conditions for the harvest.
Range diversity; racy structure
For the dry white wines, all of the extensive work in the vineyards led to pure, authentic wines with fruity varietal typicity and pleasant, racy acidity. The high alcohol levels that marked the 2006 and 2007 vintages barely show up in the 2008 wines. However, the extract content and the overall balance of the wines are very pleasing. The acidity is firmly positioned and is not aggressive. All white varietal wines have demonstrated in their early tasting phase typical and continuously developing varietal characteristics – something that was not evident in other late vintages such as 2004 and 1998. Because of the 2008 vintage’s long vegetation period and late harvest times, very straight, pointed summer wines with plenty of temperament and fruit play are expected – as is often the case with such vintages. Marked piquancy and expressiveness denote wines such as the ever-trendy Muskateller and the crispy Welschriesling, with its sassy acidity and balanced vibrancy. Even the rosé wines, which are once again very much in demand, are showing their merits and guaranteeing their roles as charming companions to warm Spring days and mild Summer evenings.
Multi-faceted Veltliners, fruity Rieslings, attractive Burgundies
Austria’s flagship variety, Grüner Veltliner, shows again this year its astounding range of quality and maturation levels. Abundant are light-bodied, filigreed Veltliners, like those of the Wachau’s Steinfeder–level as well as the Weinviertel DAC - whose peppery spice character is sometimes accompanied by green undertones. Beautiful apple or pear fruit notes in the background lend to a compelling expression. Of course, all of the Veltliner specialists in the Weinviertel and along the Danube have produced premium wines, albeit some in smaller quantities. Dry, mighty Spätlese wines with up to 14 % vol. alcohol are not so easily found, although straight-forward, nervy wines from wine sites known for deep acidity have been produced. For lovers of Grüner Veltliner, there are many variants available – enough to satisfy even the highest of expectations.
It is a bit more complicated for the very late harvested and traditionally slow-ripening Rieslings. But they do feature that highly desirable stone fruit, and the racy acidity structure as well as the occasional touch of Botrytis proves to be no problem for this varietal.
Surprisingly, the Burgundy varietal wines are showing impressive success. This is true especially with those from the northern Burgenland, where necessary ripeness is rarely difficult to achieve. Also an attractive acidity structure has helped to solidify the important consistency and firmness of the wines.
The south as beneficiary
After having an outstanding 2007 vintage - which is showing to be more multi-layered than the 2006 - the Steiermark is now expecting its white wines from 2008 to be well above average - especially because the vineyards in the south were exempted from the fall rains. This meant that the times of harvest could be selected without worry. Powerful Morillons (Chardonnays), nutty Weißburgunders, Muskatellers that are as clear as a bell, weighty Traminers and ideal Sauvignons - which show the perfect mix of piquant spiciness and deep, yellow fruit - are showing beautiful results. Therefore, it is expected that the Styrian winegrowing areas will be presenting the most structured white wines of the vintage.
The Red 2008s: slender and with fine fruitiness
The difficult weather conditions during 2008 marked also the character of the red wines. Fruit-toned but gently smooth red wines are expected – many with certain nervousness and that show more body and extract than those from the 2005 vintage. It remains to be seen whether or not there will be top wines reaching the power of 2006 or the elegance of 2007. Overall, slender, red berry-toned wines are a sure thing, with the early ripening varietals showing favour. Also, the Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, St.Laurent and Pinot Noir varietals are leaning towards a slender, fine blossomy character.
A Sweet and even Icy Finale
The clean, late-setting Botrytis that appeared in the 2008 vintage made for high-quality and especially aromatic Spätlesen and Auslesen wines. Also the Beerenauslesen and Trockenbeerenauslesen - most of which are still maturing in tanks or barrels - reveal impressively clear fruit and beautiful harmony. Shortly before the end of the year – beginning on the night of December 28th - a late cold period was utilised for the gathering of Eiswein grapes. This was indeed a frosty but conciliatory farewell to a challenging vintage.