The world abounds with wine-growing regions that produce weightier wines than Steiermark – and certainly wines with a higher alcohol content. There are no other wines in the world, however, that express their typicity of origin in such a fresh, brilliant and elegant way as those from southern Styria.
All three Styrian wine-growing regions, with their unique specialities, are located more or less in the south of the state. In the west of this geographically distinctive hilly landscape, Schilcher reigns supreme: a piquant rosé that is one of the most unique terroir wines to be found anywhere in the world. In the Sausal hills and on the South Styrian Wine Trail, Sauvignon Blanc and Muskateller call the tune, while to the south-east in Vulkanland Steiermark, Traminer takes its radiant place alongside the other two varieties as an absolute jewel for wine connoisseurs.
Anyone who favours full-bodied wines will not be disappointed with the Pinot family’s presence in Steiermark. The Pinot Blanc that grows in the lime-rich soils here has an impressively subtle expression of refined minerality. Chardonnay, also known here as Morillon, can produce remarkably dense, full-bodied wines, despite their freshness. Just like the best Pinot Gris wines, these also improve with age.
Steiermark entered a new era with the 2018 vintage as all three wine-growing regions were awarded DAC status: Vulkanland Steiermark DAC, Südsteiermark DAC and Weststeiermark DAC. The regionally typical white wines – as well as Schilcher in Weststeiermark – are organised into the three categories of Gebietswein (regional wine), Ortswein (“villages” wine) and Riedenwein (single-vineyard wine). Wines given more time to mature before being released to the market may also bear the additional designation “Reserve”.
The new origin classification system is a deliberate strategy to underline the qualities of Steiermark’s wines. The traditional palette of grape varieties remains, but it places a focus on the local flagship varieties at the Ortswein and Riedenwein levels. The market-release dates of 1 March and 1 May have been specifically chosen to allow the wines adequate time to develop the typical character of their origin and realise their full potential – particularly Ortswein and Riedenwein.
Each new vintage is traditionally celebrated in Steiermark with the light Junker wines, which premiere in early November. In March of the following year, the dry Gebietswein is released for sale. Wine enthusiasts need to wait a little longer for the Ortswein and premium Riedenwein. Styrian winegrowers increasingly insist on a slower and more meticulous élevage so that the true Steiermark quality is recognised as an international benchmark.
Steiermark was formed from the Penninic and Austroalpine nappes, in the region of the Central Eastern Alps. The Northern Calcareous Alps and the crystalline rocks in the Joglland hills, the Sausal hills and the Kor Alps belong to the Austroalpine nappes. Basins in the Mur and Mürz valleys, as well as the Styrian Basin, form low-lying terrain. The wine-growing areas are located in eastern and southern Steiermark, at the place where the Central Eastern Alps disappear beneath the Styrian Basin, which merges with the large Pannonian Basin to the east. About three quarters of all vineyards in Steiermark lie on the sedimentary deposits of the Styrian Basin, while a good 20% of vines grow on the hard rock of the Austroalpine nappes.
A small proportion of vines are rooted in coarse-grained sedimentary river deposits, which are concentrated inside the basin. One distinctive feature here is the presence of volcanic basalts, slags and tuffs in the south-east; these soils are home to around 3% of Steiermark’s vineyards. The remaining basin deposits vary in grain size, as well as in carbonate content and degree of cementation. They range from silts and marl to sands, gravels, scree, rubble, sandstones and conglomerates, with limestone also appearing in some places. Various forms of gneiss, mica schist, phyllite and amphibolite – as well as the less common marble and limestone – make up the highly diverse rock inventory of vineyards in the Central Eastern Alps.