With all the fuss that attends wines from France, California, and even Chile, Austrian vintages tend to fly under the radar. (My first inkling that I was missing out on something came from an Italian sommelier at an Italian restaurant, who had stacked his list with the fruits of Austrian vines.) Anyone interested in bolstering their wine knowledge shouldn’t miss out on these underrated (and underpriced) bottles. A good opportunity to learn more is the first-ever Austrian Wine Month in New York, which runs through November 22. Fourteen Brooklyn and Manhattan restaurants are participating, offering up prix fixe menus, flights, pairings, and rare glassfuls. The likes of Klee, Café Katja, and Thomas Beisl will be playing along, and stocking glossy travel guides to Austrian wine country as well, should you get really inspired. Three wine pros at participating restaurants share their tips below.
L.R. Laggy, Beverage Director at Watty & Meg – Austrian wines pair well not only with Austrian dishes but also with other cuisines. The wines are leaner and cut through richness — reds like Blaufränkisch will complement a schnitzel or a ravioli filled with braised pork, while the acidity or salinity of whites such as Grüner Veltliner work well with salads or octopus.
Elizabeth Christensen of Stone Park Café – Austrian wines are some of the most food friendly because they have great depth of flavor, elegant structure, and good acid. The whites, and Grüner Veltliner in particular, can go with anything from scallops to pork chops (one of my personal favorite pairings), making them favorites in restaurants because one bottle can work well with a variety of entrées at a single table. Austrian wines are also still tremendous values given their quality: you can buy an age-worthy bottle for less than $30 and hold it for years, and you can find liters of wine that will be far more quaffable at a party than anything from California for under $15. As far as shopping goes, I’d recommend checking out a wine shop with a good selection, and striking up a conversation with someone there. Let them know what you like and dislike and trust in their expert recommendation. If you haven’t got a quality store with good customer service near you, then “shopping by importer” is always safe: turn the bottle over and if the back label says “Terry Theise Estate Selection,” it’s sure to be delicious.
Nicole Friedrich, GM at Seasonal Restaurant & Weinbar – With a centuries-old winegrowing tradition, Austrian wines are of outstanding quality. But with their unique — and often hard-to-pronounce names — they are still lesser known than their Italian or French counterparts. Best known for its exceptional whites, ranging from spritzy and light to powerful and robust, Austria produces some excellent reds as well, from charming and fruity to full, meaty, and age-worthy. Here’s what you need to know about the most distinctive Austrian wines to start exploring:
For beginners, Grüner Veltliner and Riesling are the best known Austrian wines: ● Grüner Veltliner. This uniquely Austrian white is dry, with clear fruit and peppery spice. The wide spectrum of styles reaches from light and spicy to powerful, monumental wines. ● Riesling. Unlike German Rieslings, which may be sweet, Austrian Riesling is dry despite its peach, apricot, and citrus aromas — unless we’re talking about one of the country’s famous dessert wines, which are not to be missed. Nuanced and complex, Riesling can be enjoyed young or aged — its clean, racy acidity keeps the wine refreshing even as it ages. For dry Riesling, Smaragd wines from Wachau are worth seeking, as well as the sweeter Spaetlese and Auslese.
For more advanced wine explorers, try: ● Welschriesling. Spicy, refreshing, vibrant — and not related to Riesling at all. ● Gelber Muskateller. Grapey, musky, lean, racy with nuances of cinnamon and citrus peel, combined with a lean, compact palate and balanced by nervy acidity.
To show off (your wine knowledge): ● Neuburger. Full-bodied, nutty, and mild, brings elegantly reserved wines, with a discreet nutty aroma and powerful yet mild character. ● Zierfandler. Discreet spice, good structure, lingering finish, reminiscent of pistachios and almonds, but with increasing maturity it developes exotic fruit aromas.
For beginners: ● St. Laurent. Cherry and plum aromas, round tannins, on the palate it seems a darker relative of Pinot Noir, with which it is closely related. ● Blaufränkisch. Dark berries, herbal spice, medium tannins with deep fruit in its youth and more complex aromas and velvety texture brought out as it ages. ● Zweigelt. Cherry fruit, charming velvety feel. A primary red grape of Austria, it’s a cross of Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent. Fruit-driven when young, it gains complexity, roundness, and finesse with age.
Advanced: ● Blauer Portugieser. Grapy, soft, mild tannins, often with notable violet aromas. ● Blauer Wildbacher. Nettles and spice, rustic, pronounced acidity makes it a perfect rose grape with inimitable grassy notes, spice, and piercing acidity.