Austria’s efforts to develop a market for its red wines should centre on a flagship region rather than grape variety, according to many in the UK trade.
While Grüner Veltliner has secured a regular slot on the majority of serious wine lists, Austria has so far struggled to achieve similar success for its red wines.
Although Blaufränkisch is generally cited as the variety capable of producing the country’s highest quality red wines, it represents just 7% of Austria’s total vineyard plantings – half the area covered by Zweigelt.
Meanwhile Pinot Noir is proving a useful international benchmarking tool for the country, although many in the trade, including Andrea Bricarello, head sommelier & wine buyer for the Galvin restaurant group, feel the indigenous Sankt Laurent offers more successful results, even if plantings are very limited.
“It has a kind of Pinot Noir style but a richer, slightly gamier aspect that makes you think of more mature wines,” he explained to the drinks business. “To be honest if I want to go to Austria and drink red wines then I’d recommend Sankt Laurent instead of Pinot Noir.”
Amid this varietal debate, there is a clear consensus that Burgenland, which runs along the country’s eastern border with Hungary, is the clear regional leader for Austrian reds and should play a more prominent role in marketing efforts.
With over 50% of its 13,840ha dedicated to red grapes, Burgenland is also widely recognised as offering Austria’s highest quality red wines, as well as offering diversity thanks to its varied soils, climatic conditions and grape varieties.
“Burgenland for me is the centre for red wines,” Bricarello told db. “The best wines I’ve tasted have come from there and it’s very much the focus for us at Galvin,” he continued, arguing: “There should be a closer focus on regionality – the important thing is to get the Burgenland name out and develop it from there.”
This view of Burgenland’s supremacy is echoed by Jo Locke MW, buyer for The Wine Society, who described its red wine output as the “most consistent and numerous” of all Austria’s regions.
Indeed, noted Mark Pardoe MW, buying director for Berry Bros & Rudd, “There’s very little outside Burgenland. You get some lighter reds in Kamptal – Pinot Noir works quite well there. We’ve visited many places in the Wachau and Styria but you’re really looking to the far east of the country, south of Eisenstadt.”
However niche Austria’s red wines may remain in the UK, in those countries with a closer cultural affinity they appear to be gaining ground with greater success.
Willi Klinger, managing director of Austrian Wine Marketing Board, conceded: “The international awareness of Austria’s red wine quality is still limited to the connoisseur scene.” Nevertheless, he remarked, “In the German speaking world Austrian red wines have already gained a lot of respect.”
Picking out Germany, Switzerland and “increasingly” Benelux and Scandinavia as especially receptive, Klinger also pointed to promising signs from the US market. “In the US the connoisseur and wine writers scene has discovered Austrian reds from indigenous varieties with Blaufränkisch in the lead,” he reported.
Despite these calls from the UK for a primary focus on region rather than grape variety, Klinger indicated that Blaufränkisch continues to be the most important buzzword.
“In the past few months a very particular interest of sommeliers and specialist retailers in Blaufränkisch has come up,” he said of the UK market.”
Although the variety has formed a major focus for the generic body’s recent efforts to promote Austrian red wines across key export markets, Klinger acknowledged the close relationship between grape and place, remarking: “These wines mainly come from the typical regions in the Burgenland.”
For a more in-depth look at the performance and potential of Austria’s red wines, look out for the May issue of the drinks business.