Austrian wines are primarily dry white wines usually produced from the Grüner Veltliner grape. However, Austria also produces some sweeter white wines, such as dessert wines made around the Neusiedler See. Red wines made from Blaufränkisch (also called Lemberger or Kékfrankos in neighbouring Hungary), Pinot noir, and regionally developed wines like Zweigelt make up around 30% of the total wine production.[1]

In the 1980s, four thousand years of Austrian winemaking history became overshadowed by the “antifreeze scandal.” The “antifreeze scandal” revealed that many wine brokers in Austria had been adulterating and contaminating their wines with diethylene glycol. Unsurprisingly, this controversy completely devastated the Austrian wine market and forced the Austrian wine industry to stop the subpar bulk wine manufacturing. As a result, the industry repositioned and switched to quality wine producers.

Austria makes Riedel, the most expensive wine glasses in the world. Weingut Bründlmayer, Weingut F.X. Pichler, Weingut Franz Hirtzberger, Weingut Hutter, Weingut Eigl, and Wellanschitz are just a few of Austria’s most popular makers of fine wine glasses.

Austrian wine

Elph, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Austrian Wine History 

There is archaeological proof that grapes were grown in Traisental 4000 years ago. Researchers in Zagersdorf discovered grape seeds in urns that date back to 700 BC.[2]

The Celtic La Tène culture’s bronze wine flagons from the 5th century BC were discovered in Salzburg’s Dürrnberg[3]. Following Marcus Aurelius Probus’ (Roman emperor: 276-282) decision to lift the moratorium on grape cultivation north of the Alps, viticulture flourished under the Romans. Welschriesling and Grüner Veltliner both seem to have been made close to the Danube since Roman times.[4]

Marcus Aurelius Probus Giovanni Battista de’Cavalieri, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The invasions of the Bavarians, Slavs, and Avars after the collapse of the Roman Empire harmed the winemaking industry. However, beginning in 788, vineyards underwent a significant rebuild under Charlemagne’s dominion and introduced new wine presses. Following Otto the Great’s successful defense against the threat posed by Magyar incursions in 955, the Church nourished and promoted Austrian viticulture among the public. [5] In 1208 and 1230, the names of the first vineyards were Kremser Sandgrube and Steiner Pfaffenberg.[6]

Taxes, War, and Wineries

As Vienna became a regional hub for wine trafficking on the Danube in 1359, Rudolf IV instituted the first wine tax, known as Ungeld.[7]

The wine industry grew and blared in the 16th century, but the Thirty Years War and subsequent conflicts of the 17th century had a negative impact, in part because of the period’s high taxes and because of the direct interruption caused by conflict. Maria Theresa and Joseph II consolidated and combined several drink levies to promote vineyards in 1784.

On August 17, 1784, an imperial decree established the Austrian heritage of inns called Heurigen. This order, named after the German phrase for “new wine,” permitted all wineries to offer locally farmed food with their wine year-round. The arrival of the wine for the new season would be announced to clients by fir trees that hung over their doorways [8].

Biological Invaders

The 19th century saw the introduction of several biological invaders in the form of fungi-related illnesses. Powdery mildew (Uncinula necator) and downy mildew were among the first of them (Peronospora). The Federal Institute for Viticulture & Pomology was established in Klosterneuburg as a result of these fungal diseases arriving from North America. Later, in 1872, the Phylloxera root aphid descended over central Europe and wiped off the majority of the vineyards.

Although it took the industry several decades to recover from the biological invaders, superior grape types like Grüner Veltliner became replaced by inferior ones. Austria was the third-largest wine producer in the world after World War I,[9] with much of it being sold in bulk for blending with wine from Germany and other nations.

However, the intensification of viticulture in Austria following the world wars sowed the seeds of its destruction. Austrian wine developed into a high-volume, industrialized industry during the 20th century, with the bulk of its exports going to Germany.

The Antifreeze Scandal

A sequence of favorable years in the early 1980s witnessed massive yields of light, dilute, and acidic wines, which nobody wanted. As a result, the majority of wine brokers realized that adding a small amount of diethylene glycol may make these wines more marketable. This substance, frequently found in antifreeze, gave the wine sweetness and body.[10] The impurity was challenging to detect chemically; however, the “antifreeze scandal” broke out when one of the brokers tried to claim the chemical’s cost on his tax return.[11]

Glycol concentrations were less harmful than alcohol, but alcohol is more harmful than glycol in wine, and there were few intermediaries in play. Some nations have completely outlawed Austrian wine as a result of this major controversy.

The antifreeze jokes persist and continue, but the scandal was the savior and favored the Austrian wine industry. Due to the market need for dry white wine in the 1990s, growers went toward producing more red wine due to the tight new restrictions limiting yields. Additionally, the intermediaries failed, pushing producers to sell straight to consumers and promoting the expression of regional terroir.[12]

Perhaps most importantly, the tradition of wine production in Austria underwent a substantial transition toward a focus on quality as opposed to the lax standards that allowed the scandal to occur in the first place.

In response to the incident, Austria established the Wine Marketing Board of Austria in 1986. Austria’s EU membership drove subsequent wine legislation changes. The new DAC system of geographic appellations, introduced in 2002, is perhaps most notable.

Grape Varieties of Austrian Wine

Currently, 35 grape varieties produce quality wine in Austria. With 63 percent of the total vineyard acreage, white wines continue to dominate, but red wines are gaining popularity. Zweigelt, a red wine grape variety, is the second-most significant grape variety in Austria after Gruener Veltliner, the country’s most well-known wine (37 percent). Zweigelt, which dates back to the 1920s, is a more recent type than Gruener Veltliner. Welschriesling, a white wine variety, and Blaufraenkisch, a red wine type, are both important grapes in Austria (each 8 percent of the vineyards).

White Grapes

Welschriesling, a historic grape variety, produces the magnificent rotdessert wines of the Neusiedlersee. It also produces unremarkable and uninteresting dry wines for young consumption, along with Müller-Thurgau (Rivaner). In the 1850s, Neuburger is said to have been discovered in the Danube as flotsam. Now, nevertheless, it is a hybrid of the Silvaner and the historic Roter Veltliner. Additionally, Frühroter Veltliner goes by the name Malvasier, which implies a connection to the Malvasia grape family in the Eastern Mediterranean. Dessert wines from the Neusiedlersee include both Muscat Ottonel and Bouvier, a member of the muscat family and a parent of the Orémus (Zéta) grape used to make Tokaji.

There were great hopes for Goldberger, a cross between Welschriesling and Orangetraubebred in Klosterneuburg. However, following the first planting wave, interest has waned.

The native grapes of the Thermenregion, Zierfandler (Spätrot), and Rotgipfler create Spätrot-Rotgipfler when blended. Sauvignon blanc is referred to as Muskat Sylvaner, Pinot gris is known as Weißburgunder, Weissburgunder, or Grauburgunder in Austria. [13] Furthermore, Austria uses far fewer Riesling grapes than Germany, but the very limited quantity planted produces some of Austria’s most popular dry white wines.

Austrian wine

Red Grapes

The typical red grapes of the area include Blaufränkisch and Blauer Portugieser, found in the blend of the Hungarian wine Egri Bikavér. The more “serious” of the two varieties, Blauer Portugieser creates youthful, fruity red wines. Midway through the 19th century, Saint Laurent immigrated to France and appeared to have strong Pinot noir (Blauerburgunder) ancestry. Additionally, Saint Laurent is difficult to grow yet capable of producing high-quality wine. In western Styria, a cult rosé called Schilcher is made from a wild grape variety most likely native to the region Blauer Wildbacher. Rössler is the most recent kind developed at Klosterneuburg.[14]

Zweigelt (also known as Zweigeltblau, a hybrid between Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent) and Blauburger (Blaufränkisch and BlauerPortugieser), which were developed in Klosterneuburg in the 1920s, make up about half of Austria’s red wine production today. The latter is simpler to cultivate and is typically mixed; both may be converted into lighter styles for young consumption. The former generates robust wines for maturing.[15]

Austria is now rated 16th among the nations that produce wine.

Austrian wine

Blaufränkisch by Ulrich Prokop, 15.Oktober 2005

Current Austrian Wine Production

Wine production in Austria has been around for ages; many credit the Celts and Romans with its discovery (circa. 700 BC). Another historical illustration is the signature wine “Gruener Veltliner,” produced in the 10th century and now accounts for 37% of Austria’s vineyards. Austria produces one percent of the world’s wine, and they export thirty percent of their production. The US is Austrian wine’s third-largest export market, behind Switzerland and Germany.

Austria grows wine on the eastern side because the country’s western areas are hilly. Sixty percent of the vineyards in lower Austria are spread over the largest of the region’s four wine-growing regions. Additionally, this is where Austria’s top-notch white wines are produced, including the Gruener Veltliner, delicious Rieslings, and some older varietals like Zierfandler or Rotgipfler.

Also read:

Burgenland, the second-largest wine-producing area in Austria, has ideal conditions for robust red wines like Blaufraenkisch, Zweigelt, and Laurent. Additionally, it offers scrumptious and decadent dessert wines like Eiswein and Trockenbeerenauslese. Styria, located in the south of Austria, is the country’s third-largest wine-producing area. Styria produces outstanding Sauvignon Blanc, Welschriesling, Gelber Muskateller, and Weissburgunder with around 10% of Austria’s vineyards. Last but not least, the Austrian city of Vienna is the fourth wine-growing area. No other capital in the world can match Vienna’s 1,600 acres of vineyards. This city’s location along the Danube River offers optimal growing conditions for Riesling and other white wine types.

Austria has 113,000 acres of wine-growing land under management by 23,000 winegrowers. Small family wineries that have been producing wine for centuries make almost all of Austria’s outstanding wines.

Want to read more? Try these books!

The Wines of Austria (Classic Wine Library) Wine in Austria- The History


  1.  “Zweigelt Wine”. Wine-Searcher.
  2.  “Viticulture in Austria – a journey in fast motion”. Wines from Austria. Archived from the original on 21 February 2007.
  3. ^ The conventional history of the Celts Archived 6 April 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  4.  ^ Blom, Philipp (2000) The Wines of Austria Faber & Faber ISBN 0-571-19533-4
  5. “Viticulture in Austria – a journey in fast motion”. Wines from Austria. Archived from the original on 21 February 2007. 
  6.  ^ Schamberg, Anne (5 July 1998). “Austrian wines pour a rich heritage all their own”. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007.
  7. “Viticulture in Austria – a journey in fast motion”. Wines from Austria. Archived from the original on 21 February 2007.
  8.  “Viticulture in Austria – a journey in fast motion”. Wines from Austria. Archived from the original on 21 February 2007.
  9. “Viticulture in Austria – a journey in fast motion”. Wines from Austria. Archived from the original on 21 February 2007.
  10.  ^ “Some wine to break the ice”. Lancet. 2 (8449): 254. 1985. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(85)90300-9. PMID2862427.
  11. ^ Schamberg, Anne (5 July 1998). “Austrian wines pour a rich heritage all their own”. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007.
  12. Dobson, Nick. “Austrian Wine – an Overview”. Nick Dobson Wines. Archived from the original on 21 April 2013.
  13.  ^ Jump up to:a b c d e “Austria The Wine Country” (PDF). (includes vintage guide). Austrian Wine Marketing Board. 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2007. 
  14. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e “Austria The Wine Country” (PDF). (includes vintage guide). Austrian Wine Marketing Board. 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2007. 
  15.  ^ Jump up to:a b c d e “Austria The Wine Country” (PDF). (includes vintage guide). Austrian Wine Marketing Board. 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2007.

Categories: Country Profiles, Old World, This Day in Wine History | ArticlesTags: , , , By Published On: May 29, 2022Last Updated: February 26, 2024

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