Austrian wines on the rise: Richard Esling, October 6

After a year of extreme weather events during 2021 in the Northern Hemisphere, the prophets of doom have spoken of some of the worst wine harvests for decades across Europe, particularly in France, Germany and parts of Italy.

Austrian sparkling wines from Fred Loimer
Austrian sparkling wines from Fred Loimer

A combination of late frosts, hailstorms and damp, cool summer weather has wreaked havoc in the vineyards, in complete contrast to the weather of 2020. One European country which seems to have escaped the worst ravages of Mother Nature is Austria.

In terms of volume, an average harvest of 2.4million hectolitres is expected in 2021, roughly similar to last year. The main effect of this year’s weather has been to delay the harvest a little, but quality is looking promising, with the prospect of fruity and harmonious wines. The cool climate of Austrian vineyards helped protect from frost damage as the bud burst was later and avoided damage to the young shoots, so devastating in other parts of Europe.

With the vine growth cycle delayed, ripening of the grapes was later and harvesting only taking place towards the end of September and early October in many regions. This seems to have resulted in a very good balance of sugar and acidity levels, perfect for good quality wines. Not that it has all been a bed of roses. Severe hailstorms, very hot periods and torrential downpours have all played their part, but with careful vineyard management, both quantity and quality are looking good.

Austrian wines in general have come a long way in the past 30 or 40 years, with outstanding quality now produced in all wine categories. The grüner veltliner grape variety has become an international success story, appearing on wine lists worldwide and even the Austrian reds are gaining ground in export markets. Half-year figures for 2021 show a 25 per cent increase in value on export markets, helped by the reopening of the hospitality industry after the Covid-19 shutdowns.

One category of Austrian wines which doesn’t often spring to mind in the UK, is sparkling wine. Great efforts have been made by the Austrian wine authorities to improve quality over the past few years, with remarkable success. One of the foremost producers is Fred Loimer, who exports his wines – still and sparkling – to 55 different countries and has been producing traditional method sparkling wines since 2013. With vineyards in the Langenlois and cool Kamptal regions, climate warming has helped with riper fruit, but still retaining freshness.

Since 2015, a new quality system has been introduced in Austria. The top category is Grosse Reserve, with the wine ageing on the lees during the secondary fermentation in bottle for a minimum of three years. The wines of Fred Loimer, however, age for five years, giving extra depth and complexity to the wines. Having released a Blanc de Blanc Grosse Reserve in 2018, the latest addition is a Blanc de Noirs Grosse Reserve 2016 from Gumpoldskirchen. With low dosage in all his sparkling wines, these are exceptional wines both as an apéritif, but also throughout a meal. Sophisticated wines at the highest level, with deep, long flavours, fine bubbles and crisp, elegant finish, served in top restaurants from Oslo to New York.

Richard Esling is a wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. He runs agency and consultancy WineWyse, is founder and principal of Sussex Wine Academy and is chairman of Arundel Wine Society