John B. Reyna
The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Me Drinking Austrian Red Wine
Updated: May 29, 2020
While we aren’t talking about the Von Trapps in this post, we are discussing another Austrian family—a family of black grapes that is.
Austrian white wines tend to get the majority of love in the US. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that. Austrian Gruner Veltliner and Riesling are superb, and thus they have been well represented on wine lists and wine store shelves for the past two decades. We will definitely blog about Austrian whites another day. But today is all about Austrian reds, in particular the delightful family of Blaufrankish, St-Laurent, and Zweigelt.
The three main Austrian black varietals are a literal family of grapes. In 1922, Dr. Fritz Zweigelt introduced Blaufrankisch to St-Laurent and the two had a baby—Zweigelt. Romantic, right?
In wine terms, when two vine varieties are bred to create a new variety, which is called a cross; Zweigelt is a cross from Blaufrankisch and St-Laurent.
Well, let’s meet the family.
Blaufrankisch is considered the best of the Austrian black varieties and is the second most planted black variety. It’s Austrian home is Burgenland, which we discuss below. The wines showcase aromas and flavors of blackberry, raspberry, red and black cherries, dark chocolate, allspice, and pepper. Tannin and acidity are generally medium-high with a medium body. The best examples are age-worthy.
St-Laurent (Sankt Laurent) is often compared to Pinot Noir and Gamay because of its juicy cherry fruit. It is a cross of Pinot and Savagnin so it comes from noble roots. The wines have aromas and flavors of cherry, raspberry, blackberry, tobacco, baking spices, and chocolate. Tannins are generally low and acidity is medium-high. Most wines have a medium body. St-Laurent is often the hardest to find in the US, but it is worth seeking out if you enjoy Pinot Noir or Gamay.
Zweigelt is the most planted black variety in Austria. Zweigelt produces deeply colored wines with soft tannins. The wines flaunt flavors and aromas of blackberries, raspberries, cherry, licorice, and black pepper. Generally, acidity is medium-high and tannins are low. The body ranges from medium-low to medium.
Austrian wine law and wine labeling
The majority of Austrian wine is designated with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), as opposed to Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) (labeled Landwein) or wines without a geographical indication (labeled as Wein). The PDO category is considered the higher order of the geographical designation. However, with that designation comes more stringent rules and laws regulating maximum yield, vineyard management techniques, and permitted varieties.
Four of Austria’s nine states are established PDOs: Wien (Vienna); Niederosterreich (Lower Austria); Steiermark (Styria); and Burgenland. If you had to pick a PDO to grab a red wine from, we’d recommend Burgenland. But don't skip on the other regions, we don't.
Austria has also developed 14 Districtus Austriae Controllatus (DAC). For a region to be awarded DAC status, the producers of that region must agree that a certain style of wine best reflects the area. For the wines within that DAC to carry the DAC label, the wines must conform to strict conditions including grape variety (or varieties) and a set of regulations to produce the desired wine.
While DAC sounds similar to PDO, DAC regions are smaller and focus on the purest expression of a particular area. For example, in the PDO of Burgenland, there are five DACs: Beusiedlersee; Leithaberg; Rosalia; Mittelburgenland; and Eisenberg. If a wine doesn’t qualify for one of the five DACs, then the PDO of Burgenland is used.
For those of you who were wondering about Qualitatswein and Pradikat levels, we will discuss those topics when we write about Austrian whites.
Wines we enjoyed for educational purposes . . .
Schneider, Sankt Laurent 2016, H. Mercer Imports, $25
On the nose, it came across as a lighter, greener Pinot Noir. Flavors and aromas of tart cherry, cranberry, eucalyptus, green bell pepper, and cedar. Acidity was medium. Tannin and body were both medium-low. Alcohol was 13% ABV. The finish was medium.
Meinklang, Blaufrankisch 2017, Nomadic Distribution, $27
This wine was unfined and unfiltered with 12% ABV. It had both bright fruit and earthiness in perfect balance. Aromas and flavors of black cherry, blackberry, cola, wet leaves, mushroom, violet, and nutmeg were abound. The tannins were medium but soft. Acidity was medium-high and the body was medium-low. The finish was medium.
Berger, Zweigelt 2015, Skurnik wine & spirits, $15
This was in a liter bottle, and thus quite a deal for a fun little red. Aromas and flavors of red cherry, cranberry, eucalyptus, tomato leaf, flint, violet, and tobacco. The tannins were medium-low but a bit astringent. The acidity was medium-high, and the body was medium-low. The finish was short.
If you like red wines with medium body, medium alcohol, and a variety pack of flavors, then you need to start drinking Austrian reds. Blaufrankisch, St-Laurent, and Zweigelt are all great food wines because of the medium-high acidity. Yet, they are generally lower in alcohol, ranging between 12% and 13.5% ABV, which means they are enjoyable without food. The lower alcohol ones can even take on a light chill. That’s perfect for the upcoming summer months. Still, they are nuanced enough to crack open at a dinner party or experience at a nice restaurant/bar. Plus, they don’t carry the same price tag as Austrian white wines. That’s enough to get me to start singing like Julie Andrews!
Singing my love to all,
P.S. All three grape varietals are produced in the US. We drank this beauty from California while we were in New Orleans for the holiday break.