13/03/2016 8:30 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

Why Austria Is Becoming One Of The Coolest Wine Regions In Europe

Ruth Dsouza Prabhu

While all eyes were focused on the recently concluded Oscars and Leo finally got to take one home, another set of awards of the same magnitude in a different industry took place a little while ago. The Travvy Awards are the 'Academy Awards' of the American travel industry and Austria was chosen as the best wine tourism destination in Europe.

The jury comprised 39,000 travel agents who evaluated tour organizers and travel bureaus, as well as destinations, tourism products and tourism organizations. In the category 'Best Wine Travel Destination - Europe', Austria took the prize, beating world-famous wine regions such as Bordeaux and Tuscany.


Austria is divided into wine making regions, each with a specialty

The nation of Austria has but a small presence on the European map in terms of size. But, that is about the only aspect small about this nation. Why do I say this? Let's look at it from the perspective of wine shall we? The Grüner Veltliner is to the world of wine today, what Chardonnay once was.

The Grüner Veltliner is to the world of wine today, what Chardonnay once was.

In a conversation with Michael Moosbrugger, the manager of the famous Schloss Gobelsburg winery in Austria, a lovely story emerged about how the Grüner Veltliner catapulted in style onto the international arena.

The story goes that close to two decades ago, the American consumption of Chardonnay was so high that market shelves were at breaking point from all the brands of the world trying to cater to this need. Naturally, sommeliers, with their vast knowledge, grew quickly tired of this trend and began what is famously known as the ABC movement or 'Anything But Chardonnay' movement. The idea was to bring in newer wines and showcase them to the world. That is when Austria brought out its ace--the Grüner Veltliner.

Here was the perfect alternative to the world's demand for a wine that cut across all most palates--lean, yet acidic, the GruVee gave to the world a wine that could be paired with just about anything. Today, Austrian GruVees feature predominantly in sommeliers' notes on must-haves across the world.

Experiencing Austrian Wines

Earlier last year I visited Austria on a wine tour and was honestly not prepared for the sheer variety on offer. While the face of Austrian wine may be the GruVee, the country is divided into specific wine-producing regions, each of which has defined varietals that they work on. The Austrian Wine Board has taken immense pains to set up an industry that is scientifically managed, well distributed in terms of land, grape varietals and production. Plus, it takes on aggressive marketing for it all.

The beauty of wineries in Austria is that while some of them have moved with the times and invested in the latest of technology, a large number of them follow traditional methods. So traditional are they that the cellars of castles and monasteries, once the bastions of wine-making, are still fully functional and with little (if any) modern technology to help them in their processes.

[C]ellars of castles and monasteries, once the bastions of wine-making, are still fully functional and with little (if any) modern technology to help them in their processes.

Take the unique wheeled casks put into operation by Michael Moosbrugger at Schloss Gobelsburg. When Austrian wineries took up extensive modernization in the 90s, Michael was hesitant to introduce stainless steel tanks and temperature control into cellars that did the job unaided all this time. Why bring temperature to the wine when you can take wine to the temperature, he thought and devised the wheeled casks. These are moved to different temperature zones, without requiring a pumping system in place. Want to experience the difference? The Domaene Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner 2009 is your perfect sample!


Michael Moosbrugger with the wheeled casks of Schloss Gobelsburg

The Kellargasses (translating to Cellar Streets) are another brilliant experience of the wine offerings of Austria. Entire streets, located outside the main cities of wine-growing regions are lined with multi-storied chimney-less homes. These surround wine estates that are run in a family-style way. The estates are border-less and there is never a worry of encroachment. These little homes are the faces of small wineries that have a press house and a sales outlet. Walk down some of these charming streets in Weinviertel, Wagram, Carnuntum and Burgenland.


Inside the Wien Blick Keuriger, by Anton Mayer in a Kellargasse in Wagram

The wine region of Niederösterreich is famous for the indigenous Rotgipler grape. This grape is grown only across 100 hectares in Austria. Another indigenous grape is the Roter Veltliner, the parent of the Rotgipler. It pairs excellently with meats, starch-based foods and cheese.

If palaces are your thing, then the Austrian wine industry has several that continue to make wines under their historic banners. Take Palace Esterházy whose cellars go all the way back the 17th century. The wine producing here has moved to a classy facility today, but the palace is still home to the largest wine museum of the country. It houses 700 exhibits, including the largest preserved wine barrel of the country and the oldest Baumpresse (an ancient Austrian basket wine press) in Burgenland.


A display at the Palace Esterházy

Not to be missed when experiencing the wines of Austria are their liquid gold--the sweet wines. Prominent among them is the Schilcher, with a strong berry finish.


Austrian wines make for a superlative pairing with international cuisines

With more than a hundred Grüner Veltliner labels being bottled in the country, this varietal stands as the nation's top wine product, accounting for a third of the country's production. As a wine-making nation, Austria has a long way to go before it catches up with the likes of France and Italy, which have sheer size to their advantage. Austrian wines are making international inroads, though, at an amazing pace and with good reason.

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