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Austrian Wines Are Underrated and Underappreciated

Here’s a question for our wine loving friends: what country or wine region is the most underrated and unappreciated in the wine growing world?

Arguments can be made for a number of locations. Greece? Sicily? Portugal? All reasonably answers. But we would add Austria. Specifically, Austrian red wines deserve a much greater share of attention.

The grape zweigelt -- a varietal introduced in 1922 as the result of a cross between indigenous Austrian grapes blaufrankish and St. Laurent -- creates consumer-friendly wines that resemble beefed-up merlot. They are usually reasonably priced from $15 to $20 and can complement a wide range of foods, especially red meat dishes and bolder stews. Try it during the summer with barbecue.

The star of the Austrian red wine show, though, is pinot noir. Pinot noir is a cool climate loving grape that thrives in the continental climate of Austria. Austria’s primary pinot noir growing areas are in the same longitude as the Cote D’Or in French Burgundy, the gold standard for this noble grape.

We recently conducted a tasting of zweigelt and pinot noir from Austria, courtesy of Klaus Wittauer of Austrian wine importer KW Selections and distributor Tom Cox of Siema Wines.

We have tasted many Austrian wines over the years but found it instructive to taste a selection to compare and contrast their qualities and characteristics. Before diving into the red wines, it should be noted that Austria produces some outstanding still and sparkling rosés.The Mittelbach Zweigelt Rosé 2020 ($14) displayed a beautiful pink vibrant color and delicious refreshing notes of strawberry and floral notes in the nose and mouth.

The Leo Hillinger Secco Rosé N/V ($18) is a delightful sparkling wine made predominantly from pinot noir grapes. This long time favorite of ours displays refreshing cherry and strawberry notes in a beautiful bargain-priced package.

Our favorites of the zweigelts we tasted were the Leo Hillinger Zweigelt 2019 ($20) and the Paul D. (Winemaker Paul Direder) Zweigelt 2020 ($12). The Hillinger Zweigelt is made from organic grapes and is a pleasing table wine featuring notes of plums and cherries in a ready to drink format. A little chill will make this refreshing red wine a great accompaniment for outdoor summer quaffing.

The Paul D. displayed a similar profile but with the addition of a intriguing distinctive element of black pepper.

The Steininger Zweigelt Sekt 2015 ($30) is a red sparkling wine made entirely from zweigelt grapes. It wowed us with its ripe cherry fruit expression. The wine is food friendly and should be served chilled.

Of the three Austrian pinot noirs we tasted, three performed at an outstanding level. At $21-22 for world-class pinot noir, these wines are table-pounding values. The two 2019 pinot noirs we tasted already had a slight maturity that equalled well-made Burgundy from France.

The Anton Bauer Wagram Pinot Noir 2019 ($22) presented a mature, elegant ripe cherry expression that greatly impressed us. The Henrich Hartl Thermenregion Pinot Noir Classic 2019 ($21) was a dead ringer for a 5–10-year-old premier cru burgundy, It revealed mature dried ripe cherry notes in an elegant package.

Although two years older, the Leo Hillinger Pinot Noir Eveline 2017 ($22) created the impression of a younger wine that leaned more to the style of California pinot noir with very ripe and clean fresh cherry fruit.

Post and Beam

Post and Beam is a new entry level of wines from Napa Valley icon Far Niente. Sold at a fraction of the tariff for the flagship brand, these wines deliver quality and relative value with the pedigree of Napa Valley and the Far Niente winemaking team as credentials.

The Post and Beam Chardonnay Napa Valley 2020 ($40) is a good example of the current trend in California to tame over the top intense tropical fruit and the overt display of toasty oak that some find over-bearing. Well made with ripe apple notes, and a whiff of background oak and cinnamon.

The Post and Beam Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2019 ($55) offers a classic cherry, berry and cassis exposition with soft tannin and balanced oak. A well-priced package for those seeking a premium Napa experience at a more modest price.

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