Austria’s red grape varieties – what makes them special?

While Austria is well known for its white wines, in particular its Grüner Veltliners and premium dessert wines, not many people realize that one third of the vineyard area is planted to black grapes. Fourteen black grapes varieties are approved for quality red wine production. Amongst them are indigenous varieties such as Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent, as well as international grapes with the vast majority of the vines in Burgenland.

Of Christof Höpler’s 50 hectares of vineyards, 45% of his production is dedicated to red wines with 50% white wines and 5% dessert wines.  Black grapes Blaufränkisch, St. Laurent and Zweigelt, are planted on the warmest sites on south or southeast facing slopes alongside Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Pinot Noir.  These prime spots mean they fully capture sun and warmth to allow for full tannins and flavour development.

Blaufränkisch buds early and ripens late and is well suited to the climate in Burgenland.  It thrives on the limestone and schist soils of the Leithaberg Mountains. Its thick skins protect it from Botrytis fungus during the lengthy ripening cycle and it naturally retains a high acidity.  At Höpler, it has consistently shown well over the last seven years which included two very warm vintages. Christof attributes this to the combination of soil, leaf and yield management as well as the fact that the vines are now 19 years old.

International varieties such as Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet are often used in blends with Austrian grapes. One such example is Höpler’s K7 Cuvée which combines Blaufränkisch with Syrah and Merlot.  The 2016 featured in Cellar Offering 267 has delicious spicy character with supple silky tannins and a fine texture. Like the white wines of Austria, the reds are great food wines complementing rather than dominating flavours.