Intensely dark, powerful red wines with a high alcohol content may have been all the rage in the 1990s and 2000s, but today’s trend leans towards lively, delicate wines displaying varietal typicity. This is very good news for the Austrian wine industry because refreshing, light-footed wines are one of the areas in which the country’s vintners excel.
The Austrian climate continues to be cooler than that in more southerly wine-growing countries. As a result, Austria’s talented red-wine producers have absolutely no trouble achieving lively fruitiness, light-footedness and good drinkability in their wines. When deciding on when to harvest, vintners no longer regard maximum sugar gradation as the be-all and end-all, but also pay attention to harmonious acidity, fresh, fruity aromas and a moderate alcohol content. Furthermore, winemakers are increasingly opting for shorter maceration – this means that fewer tannins are extracted from the skins, which tends to result in smoother red wines that can be drunk sooner. A somewhat paler, transparent red wine is also welcomed, promising both relaxed, enjoyable drinking and authenticity.
Zweigelt, the good all-rounder
The primal grape varieties of Austria have proven to be the perfect choice for producing charming red wines that are light-footed yet retain an intensity of aroma and a certain complexity. Zweigelt (Rotburger), Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent as well as Blauer Portugieser are all capable of yielding accessible, wonderfully fruity red wines that, when lightly chilled, are perfect for a hot summer’s day or to accompany a barbecue.
As the leading red wine variety, Zweigelt occupies over 45% of the total area under vine planted with red wine varieties in Austria, amounting to around 13,500 hectares*. It is found in all the wine-growing areas of Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), Burgenland and Steiermark (Styria). The uncomplicated Zweigelt is also the most common red wine variety in Wien (Vienna) and Bergland, which comprises the federal provinces of Kärnten (Carinthia), Oberösterreich (Upper Austria), Tirol (Tyrol), Vorarlberg and Salzburg. With its fruity notes of cherry and berries and its rounded, velvety tannins, Zweigelt has a talent for producing easy-drinking wines with a moderate alcohol content that can be drunk young. This wine is a very popular accompaniment to food, and a light Zweigelt, best when chilled to 14 °C, even pairs well with a traditional Wiener Schnitzel and potatoes, or with roast pork.
The Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent varieties, both found in Burgenland and in some areas of Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), produce some of Austria’s top red wines that strongly hold their own against their international counterparts. These are frequently of a more powerful style, even if the trend towards greater finesse and elegance is clearly evident in the top wine sector, too. Blaufränkisch also produces delicate, sprightly and lean wines that retain great complexity. On the other hand, surprisingly light and linear Blaufränkisch wines with a good structure can also be found, their lively acidity making for a refreshing, enjoyable drink.
The elegantly aromatic St. Laurent, a member of the Pinot family, can also yield red wines that are either powerful or elegant and light-footed, depending on the direction the winemaker takes. With its fruity notes and low tannins, St. Laurent pairs beautifully with strongly spiced Asian dishes, for example.
Pinot Noir, on the other hand, is predestined to produce light, fresh red wines. It is grown on around 600 hectares* in Austria, mostly in Burgenland and Niederösterreich (Lower Austria). In the Bergland region, it is the most common grape variety, even outstripping Zweigelt. Pinot Noir is characterised by its fine, red-berry fruit notes, transparent colour and silky elegance. Served lightly chilled, it is the perfect accompaniment to a barbecued salmon fillet seasoned with Mediterranean herbs or a tuna steak, for example. One thing is certain, the old dogma “only white wine with fish” has had its day – a light, fruit-led Austrian red wine is now seen as a very attractive accompaniment to fish, depending on how the latter has been prepared.
Fresh, juicy wines with a pale colour and delicate notes of raspberry are also obtained from the speciality variety in Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), namely Blauer Portugieser. Although the area under Blauer Portugieser may have reduced significantly – now down to around 500 hectares* – this wine is still much enjoyed, especially with a platter of cold cuts and cheese in a Heuriger wine tavern or Buschenschank. It also pairs outstandingly with both roast and fried chicken.
“Light and juicy red wines are a trend that is here to stay, simply because it is easy to enjoy wines that are low in alcohol yet have the juicy qualities that keep inviting you for another sip. And when it comes to light red wines in Austria, I can’t think of a region that can better deliver wines so flavorsome and juicy, yet light and elegant, like they are in Burgenland.”
Aleks Zecevic, Wine Enthusiast (US)
“Even when it's summery, I don't want to go without a nice glass of red wine. However, the wine must neither be too heavy nor too warm. An elegant St. Laurent or Pinot Noir tempered at 14 degrees in a beautiful Burgundy glass gives me great pleasure. Better to serve it a little too cool, the wine warms up by itself anyway. Red wines produced with carbonic acid maceration (Macération Carbonique) are a refreshing enrichment. This method keeps the wines lean and fruity – well chilled, they are a great pleasure.”
Bernhard Degen, Online Editor-in-Chief Gault&Millau (AT)
Looking for fresh and juicy reds?
Interested in the origin of the red wine in your glass? On austrianvineyards.com you will not only find the distribution of grape varieties for each wine origin, but also climate data for each vineyard or location.