Qualitätswein (quality wine) is a traditional Austrian term that is used to mean “wine with a protected designation of origin”. These designations of origin refer to the country’s generic and specific winegrowing regions.
European wine law differentiates between three main groups of wine:
- Wine with no specific geographical indication (referred to in Austria as “Wein” [wine] or, previously, as “Tafelwein” [table wine])
For “Wein”, the only permitted origin indication is: Austria
- Wine with a protected geographical indication (referred to in Austria as “Landwein”)
For “Landwein”, permitted origin indications are: Weinland, Steirerland, Bergland
- Wine with a protected designation of origin (referred to in Austria as “Qualitätswein”)
Based on the Austrian origin marketing strategy, Qualitätswein is classified as either “generic” or “specific” with further differentiation between DAC and non-DAC wines.
Qualitätswein can be produced from 40 approved grape varieties in nine generic wine-growing regions – which are named after their respective federal states – or the specific wine-growing regions listed below. The most important generic wine-growing regions are Niederösterreich, Burgenland, Steiermark and Wien. Within the framework of the designations of origin for generic Qualitätswein regions, winemakers are able to fully explore the scope of stylistic diversity of their region. The only limitation is the list of 40 permitted grape varieties for the production of Qualitätswein. Consumers enjoy a fascinating diversity of wines in this category, ranging from fresh and fruity wines made from aromatic grape varieties to high-quality branded wines and iconic cuvée blends.
Within Austria’s generic winegrowing regions, there are also a number of “specific” winegrowing regions. All specific wine-growing regions strive towards positioning their terroir wines with distinctive flavour profiles. The first step entails defining focal varieties and regionally typical styles. Once this has been accomplished, the region can apply to the Ministry of Agriculture – via the Regional Wine Committee and National Wine Committee – for DAC status. This then becomes law by means of a ministerial decree. If a region is subject to a DAC decree, wines from this region may only use the region’s name as the designation of origin on the label if they meet the typical stylistic features defined for that specific region. Qualitätswein made from other grape varieties can still be marketed using the name of their state’s generic winegrowing region (the federal state in which it was produced).
Austria currently has 17 specific winegrowing regions:
- 8 in the generic winegrowing region of Niederösterreich:
- 5 in the generic winegrowing region of Burgenland:
- 3 in the generic winegrowing region of Steiermark:
- Wien is a special case, as it falls into the categories of both generic wine-growing region and specific wine-growing region.
If a specific region believes that it has a clear focus with its wine and that only one or a few specific grape varieties and types represent the region, then use of that specific region’s name can be limited to just those particular types of wine.* A DAC status is a clear commitment from winemakers to respect the typicity of a region’s wines. After all, the region often shapes the style of the wines much more than the variety of grape or sugar content.
*Exceptions to this are the regions of Wien and Rust, where the winegrowing method (Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC) or the wine style (Ruster Ausbruch DAC) are rooted in the region in such a way that these descriptive terms have been legally protected.
So far, 17 of the 18 specific winegrowing regions (as of Feburary 2022) have confirmed their focus on regional typicity with a legally protected DAC status. Only wines that meet the defined criteria for that particular DAC are allowed to feature the name of the region on the label:
- Carnuntum DAC:
- Eisenberg DAC: Blaufränkisch
- Leithaberg DAC:
- Mittelburgenland DAC: Blaufränkisch
- Neusiedlersee DAC: Zweigelt
- Kamptal DAC: Grüner Veltliner, Riesling
- Kremstal DAC: Grüner Veltliner, Riesling
- Rosalia DAC:
- Ruster Ausbruch DAC: one or more white Qualitätswein grape varieties of Ruster Ausbruch style and quality
- Südsteiermark DAC: Welschriesling, Pinot Blanc, Morillon, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gelber Muskateller, Sauvignon Blanc, Traminer
- Traisental DAC: Grüner Veltliner, Riesling
- Vulkanland Steiermark DAC: Welschriesling, Pinot Blanc, Morillon, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gelber Muskateller, Sauvignon Blanc, Traminer
- Wachau DAC:
- Wagram DAC:
- Weinviertel DAC: Grüner Veltliner
- Weststeiermark DAC:
- Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC: a minimum of three white Qualitätswein grape varieties grown in and produced from the same vineyard (i.e. field blend)
Only one of Austria’s 18 specific Qualitätswein winegrowing regions have not established DAC status for their regionally typical wine (as of February 2022). Winemakers in this region can theoretically use their region’s name as the designation of origin for any style of Qualitätswein made using the 40 permitted grape varieties. In practice, a few focal varieties serve as flagships for this wine-growing region’s marketing strategy.