In Austria, there are 40 grape varieties – 26 white and 14 red – officially approved for the production of Qualitätswein or Qualitätswein with a special level of ripeness and/or method of production (Prädikatswein) and Landwein. The proportion of red wines by area planted has grown and now represents almost one third of Austria’s area under vines, which total 45,000 hectares.
Austria offers excellent sites for growing internationally known varieties such as Riesling, Weissburgunder, Chardonnay, Muskateller, Traminer, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. But even more important is the precious portfolio of domestic grape varieties, with Grüner Veltliner at the top of the list. This white variety alone accounts for almost one third of Austria’s plantings. In addition to Grüner Veltliner, other white varieties such as Neuburger, Rotgipfler, Zierfandler and Roter Veltliner – as well as the red varieties Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, Sankt Laurent and Blauer Wildbacher – are highly respected and, in fact, treasured once again.
Genetically, many grapes have Traminer and Heunisch as parent varieties. Traminer, one of the oldest European varieties, likely descends from wild vines that grew during antiquity. Heunisch is the name for a variety family that may have been brought by the Magyars from Hungary to Austria, where it quickly spread. At least 75 of the varieties known today have Heunisch in their family tree - for example, Chardonnay and Riesling.
Knowledge about viticulture and grape breeding have a long tradition in Austria. In fact, it has long been supported by the Federal Institute for Viticulture and Pomology at Klosterneuburg, which celebrated its 160th birthday in October 2020. It is the oldest winegrowing school in the world. The department for grape breeding is managed by Dr. Ferdinand Regner, an internationally recognized expert. His research in grape variety identification, with the help of DNA analysis, has earned outstanding recognition worldwide.
Overview of White Wine Varieties
There are 26 white wine grape varieties classified for the production of quality wine in Austria. This also includes many indigenous varieties, such as Grüner Veltliner, Zierfandler and Rotgipfler, that are virtually only found in Austria. Approximately two-thirds of Austrian vineyard area is planted with white wine varieties.
Overview of Red Wine Varieties
There are 14 red wine grape varieties classified for the production of quality wine in Austria, and approximately one-third of Austrian vineyard area is planted with red wine varieties. By far the most successful red wine variety is the Blauer Zweigelt, an Austrian crossing, of which there are many planted in regional vineyards.
Here, “autochthonous” refers to grape varieties that are almost exclusively the result of natural cross-breeding or mutation in a particular growing area, and have a long history in that area. Throughout their development, they adjusted well to the local conditions – and today give their best quality under these same conditions.
A “new breed” results from the intentional combination of two or more grape varieties (single or multiple crossings) with the focus on the new variety revealing all of the positive characteristics of the parent varieties while the negative characteristics are suppressed. Despite intense efforts, however, there has been only partial success. The cross-breeding of vines is both time- and cost-intensive. In Austria, new cultivars are bred at the Lehr- und Forschungsuzentrum für Wein- und Obstbau (Federal Institute for Viticulture and Pomology) in Klosterneuburg.