Do you remember the story of the farmer whose only son and co-worker had a severe fall from a horse and nearly died? This becomes the best thing that ever happened to them because a war started soon after where huge losses were suffered, but the son was spared because he was disabled for a few years. On his return, the family progressed from subsistence farming to prolific success.
The path Austrian vintners chose was to institute the German quality-rating system and virtually eliminate low-quality, high-volume grape farming.
Well, the Austrian wine industry had a similar path; after 4,000 years of wine production it was decimated when some producers were caught adding diethylene glycol during cold vintages to boost the body and sweetness of wines. A world boycott soon followed, and Austria had to find a way to make a comeback.
The path Austrian vintners chose was to institute the German quality-rating system and virtually eliminate low-quality, high-volume grape farming. They also selected Grüner Veltliner as the signature grape, which was a perfect match for the climate and terroir.
Eureka, it worked like a charm because not only did consumers forgive and forget, but it also set a much higher price bar that is the standard to this day. Evidence of this is the premium prices especially their white wines command, even rivaling White Burgundies.
While the pricey Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings are well worth a swallow for the wine committed, even entry-level whites are typically of fine quality. As a matter of fact, if you like your wines light, crisp and bone dry, you will probably enjoy a $15 bottle more than a three-digit price version. You will get a variety of fruit components, floral character and unique corn and white-pepper notes. Trust me, this is a good thing.
At the higher end, expect a richer wine with additional minerality and ginger-honey notes; many have a touch of botrytis fungus, aka noble rot, on the grapes. These are really complex wine-geek wines.
Red wines make up about 30 percent of production although most are consumed locally. These tend to be medium bodied with spice notes, dark fruits and nice acidity, making them food friendly. Reds have traditionally been made from Blaufränkish (aka Lemberger) and Zweigelt grapes, but Pinot Noir is the rising tide in Austrian reds. I recommend the former two for two reasons: they are unique, as well as delicious, and the Pinot Noirs are pricey for their quality level compared to other world regions.
Food matches are as easy as looking at Austrian or German cuisines. Roasted and pan-sautéed meats, root vegetables and spaetzli are good starts; don’t be afraid of robust sauces. The spice profiles are sufficient for both whites and reds.
Austrian wine and food tasting can make for an especially fun drinking and learning evening with friends because most likely everyone will be on even ground as far as familiarity with the wines.