Weststeiermark may only have 641 hectares of land under vine, but the wine-growing families here cultivate them diligently to create an astonishing variety of products: polished white wines from numerous grape varieties, as well as the zesty, acidic Schilcher which is the undisputed star of the region. Internationally recognised as a regional speciality, this unique rosé terroir wine is vinified from Blauer Wildbacher grapes, which are the predominant local variety.
The smallest wine-growing region in Steiermark was used for viticulture in ancient times – first by the Illyrians, then the Celts and later, the Romans. The vineyards here occupy a long, narrow strip of land that rises up to an elevation of 600 metres in the foothills of the Kor Alps and the Reinischkogel, and stretches southwards towards the Slovenian border.
This particular topography experiences significant warming during the day and protects the vines from harsh winds. The steep slopes are dotted with tiny, picturesque cellar houses and deep valleys mark the path from Ligist in the north, via St. Stefan ob Stainz and Deutschlandsberg, to Eibiswald in the south. Wine villages like Greisdorf, Gundersdorf, Wildbach and Wies are well worth a visit, as much for the impressive – panoramic views, as for the local wines. Other notable features of the region are its stone buildings, constructed from ancient gneiss and mica schist, as well as the Illyrian climate with its south European/Mediterranean influences and relatively high rainfall.
All these elements come together to explain the character of a distinctive type of wine produced throughout the region. Weststeiermark is traditional Schilcher territory – hence its nickname, “Schilcherland”. Blauer Wildbacher grapes occupy the majority of the area under vine here and serve as the basis for this famous pink-hued wine, which has recently witnessed an incredible upturn. Determined winegrowers have continually worked on Schilcher, transforming it from a rustic country wine with aggressive acidity into a wine of distinction prized for its notes of red berries (from strawberry to raspberry) and a refreshingly invigorating acidity. Schilcher was given special consideration during the introduction of Weststeiermark DAC in 2018. Weststeiermark is the only region in Steiermark allowed to label Schilcher with its protected designation of origin. Other typical Styrian white wines – such as Welschriesling, Morillon (Chardonnay) and Pinot Blanc – may also be labelled as Weststeiermark DAC or Weststeiermark DAC Reserve. In terms of Ortswein, Sauvignon Blanc is a key player.
The less common red varieties should not be underestimated, however, and neither should the Blauer Wildbacher, which produces sparkling and sweet wines that enrich the portfolio of Austrian wine with their individual style. These wines are labelled with “Steiermark” as their designation of origin.
Schilcher also plays a significant role in the success of wine tourism. The wine’s distinctive character makes it an authentic ambassador for one of the most untouched and strikingly beautiful wine landscapes in Europe.
- Weststeiermark DAC: Submission for the Federal Inspection Number from 15 January in the year following the harvest; for Welschriesling and Schilcher as of 1 December in the harvest year
- Weststeiermark DAC with designation of municipality: Submission for the Federal Inspection Number from 1 April in the year following the harvest, for Schilcher as of 1 February in the year following the harvest
- Weststeiermark DAC with vineyard designation: Submission for the Federal Inspection Number from 1 April in the year following the harvest, for Schilcher as of 1 February in the year following the harvest
- Additional designation "Reserve": earliest sales date 18 months (Schilcher: 12 months) later than prescribed in the respective level
- Weststeiermark DAC: max. 4 g/l; Riesling and Traminer must correspond to the designation “dry”
- Weststeiermark DAC with indication of municipality: max. 4 g/l; Riesling and Traminer must correspond to the designation “dry”
- Weststeiermark DAC with vineyard designation: max. 4 g/l; Riesling and Traminer must correspond to the designation “dry”
- Weststeiermark DAC: Designation of origin (incl. “DAC”) must be shown on the primary label (the label with all mandatory information) and the front label. Indication of vintage year is mandatory. Schilcher should be labelled “Schilcher Klassik”.
- Weststeiermark DAC with indication of municipality: Designation of origin (incl. “DAC”) and indication of municipality are to be shown on the primary label (the label with all mandatory information) and the front label.
- Weststeiermark DAC with vineyard designation: Designation of origin (incl. DAC) and vineyard name must be shown on the primary label (the label with all mandatory information) and the front label.
- Qualitätswein with the designation of origin “Steiermark” may show no more detailed indication of origin than simply “Steiermark”
Primary varieties for Ortswein
The majority of vineyards in this region lie on essentially acidic, crystalline hard rocks from the Austroalpine nappes, while those towards the east lie on predominantly loose, sometimes coarse rocks from the Styrian Basin. “Schwanberger scree” (which contains cubic-metre-sized boulders of crystalline rock) can be found in gullies reaching far into the Kor Alps and forms the substratum of the vineyards around St. Stefan, Wildbach and Schwanberg. In addition to the crystalline rock, another formation on the edge of the basin consists of greenish alluvial sands, which transition into fine-grained, sandy and clayey Florian beds towards the interior of the basin. These sands were deposited in the shallow Paratethys sea around 16 million years ago. The hard, crystalline rocks consist of hard plate gneiss, variable gneiss and dykite (pegmatitic in places), as well as garnet mica schist and, albeit less frequently, amphibolite and marble.
The white wines of Weststeiermark and the region’s marquee player Schilcher are traditionally enjoyed with dishes of local origin. They deftly freshen up the cold Buschenschank platter of ham, bacon, cheeses and spreads with their acidity. Schilcher is also ideal as a companion to Styrian fried chicken: the crispy breading calls invitingly for its powerful piquancy and intense fruitiness. But with Schilcher, one can also wander far into the distance with an Indian lamb biryani. And the wine is even more at home further east; in Japan it is considered an insider tip for sushi, with salmon and its roe or – rarely found here – with sardines.