When we think of Austrian wines, whites come to mind, and for good reason. At least 70 percent of the country’s wine production is white. But beyond its Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, remarkable sweet wines and other whites is a wealth of lesser-known reds. They are wines made from grapes only occasionally grown in other countries, such as Zweigelt, the most widely planted red; Blaufränkisch, one of Austria’s finest grapes; St. Laurent; Blauburgunder; and international grapes, including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
In fact, at a blind tasting I recently attended (at blind tastings, wines are served in numbered glasses and not identified until after the judging) in which Austrian reds were matched against comparable French reds, Austria’s wines were prominent among the top scorers. The spicy Pittnauer St. Laurent Alte Reben, for example, tied with a Côtes du Rhône as best of its group. Dark, intense and ripe, this St. Laurent had an incredibly long aftertaste. A silky Austrian Pinot Noir, Johanneshof Reinisch, edged out the Burgundy entry, a Clos de Vougeot. And in a flight of Merlot-based wines, the one garnering the most votes was the Austrian Markowitsch M1, a combination of Merlot and Zweigelt.
Weninger Veratina, a blend of Blaufränkisch, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zweigelt, carries a hint of dark fruits and a whiff of chocolate along with good structure and acidity. In its group of wines, it received a score that was more than twice that of Château Margaux.
And in a flight that perhaps best emphasized the quality that Austrian reds can achieve, Arachon T.FX.T. Evolution, a wine made of 50 percent Blaufränkisch plus Merlot, Zweigelt and Cabernet Sauvignon, came in first, garnering twice as many votes as the second-place wine, Château Mouton-Rothschild. Arachon, a rich and elegant wine, was ruby in its color, blackberry in the nose, concentrated in body and long in its finish. And, by the way, Arachon Evolution costs $55; Mouton-Rothschild is $100. Both wines were from the 2004 vintage.
Overall, Austria produces only 1 percent of the world’s wine, and Austrians themselves drink three-fourths of their country’s production. That leaves little to be exported. From that small quantity, however, it seems clear that we’re getting some of the best.
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