This blog post was written by ex-Roberson employee Max Margaritoff
The sun is out, temperatures are rising and you are packing up your things to hit the park for a sunbathing session or a get-together with your friends to fire up the BBQ. All that is missing is an aromatic mineral white wine to make your day complete. The whites of Austria, in particular Riesling and Güner Veltliner, are the ideal wines for the summer, as their acidity is purely refreshing yet their aromatic characteristics and depth make them also ideal companions for your BBQ and summery salads. But how do you find your new favourite white wine from one of Austria’s many winegrowing regions? Similarly to the German label, the Austrian wine label, too, can be difficult to decipher as it includes many Austrian-German terms and phrases that can leave you in more uncertainty than intended. Here are some of the most important terms, commonly found on an Austrian wine label explained, so that you can pick your next bottle of Grüner Veltliner without being left confused!
Though generally following the German quality classification system (Prädikatswein, Qualitätswein and Landwein), the Austrian Prädikatswein category does have slightly different meanings and categories.
Prädikatswein is divided into seven different distinctions (Prädikat), the classification is based on the ripeness level of the grapes.
- Spätlese. Means late harvest. Grapes are fully ripe.
- Auslese. Means ‘selected harvest’. All grapes are fully ripe and are sorted with all unripe, damaged or unhealthy grapes removed.
- Beerenauslese (BA). Means ‘selected harvest’. All grapes are fully ripe and are sorted with all unripe, damaged or unhealthy grapes removed.
- Stohwein/Schilfwein. Means straw or reed wine. The wine is made from fully ripened and sweet grapes that prior to processing were air-dried for a minimum period of three months on straw or reed.
- Eiswein. Means ‘ice wine’. The grapes were both harvested and processed during a naturally frozen state.
- Ausbruch. Means ‘break-out’. In most regions in Austria outside of the town of Rust on the Hungarian border, these wines will be termed Beerenauslese. The wines are made exclusively from dried, botrytis affected berries.
- Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA). Means 'dry berry selection’. Wine produced primarily from dried, botrytis affected grape berries. The best quality wines will be made primarily from berries with noble rot.
Qualitätswein is the second tier after Prädikatswein in the Austrian wine classification. If you see this term on the label (usually on the back), you can be certain that the wine is made from the list of classified Austrian grape varieties and only from one officially recognised wine-growing region.
Landwein means ‘country wine’. Similar to the Vin de Pays the Landwein category falls under the IGP category in Europe. A more detailed declaration of the wine-growing area or a larger site is not permitted on the label.
In order to make things a little more confusing, Austrian wine law recognises a second classification system, which in the designated areas with the DAC title, takes precedence over Prädikatswein classification. DAC stands for Districtus Austriae Controllatus, which literally means ‘protected Austrian declaration of origin’ and serves as a designation for both the region itself (like Kamptal) and its wine style. In this way the DAC is very similar to the French AOP, rather than the German wine classification system or Prädikastwein. Introduced in 2001, the first of the now nine DAC regions was Weinviertel DAC, approved in 2003. There are nine Austrian DAC regions with the approved grape varieties for each of the respective DAC.
It is also worth noting that each DAC can make either Klassik or Reserve wines.
- Klassik. Not a legal term, ‘classic’ wine style refers to lighter, more fruit driven wines that have moderate levels of alcohol.
- Reserve. These wines are usually more full-bodied and aromatic style of wines, often with some oak influence. The wines need to show the vintage on the label, have at least 13% alcohol by volume, must be made from recommended varieties (see DAC) and be typical for its grape variety and regional origin. Finally these wines shall not be released to the market for sale right away.
Finally it is worth looking at the third (and final) classification system, that you may encounter when scanning the label for one of the many Austrian-German terms: Vinea Wachau. Wachau is one of Austria’s most famous wine-growing regions, and known to produce world-class white wine. Founded by the winemakers in 1983, Wachau opted-out of the DAC and instead continues their quality classification system based on the style of the wines. This system is divided into three categories found on the label: Steinfeder, Federspiel and Smaragd.
- Steinfeder. The name literally means ‘stone feather’ and is the lightest one in style. The stonefeather is a type of grass that grows in and around the vineyard terraces in the Wachau. Like this grass, the wines have a light, fruity and crisp structure with a maximum alcohol content of 11.5% ABV.
- Federspiel. The name is derived from falconry, and describes the return of the falcon to its Master. Falconry historically was a favourite pastime for the elite in Wachau. The wines are medium in weight and always between 11.5% and 12.5% ABV. The wines are meant to resemble the power and finesse of the falcon.
- Smaragd. This term denotes the best and most valuable wine of the Vinea Wachau wine-makers and always have at least 12.5% ABV. These wines often present some of the best wines made in Austria and can, arguably, be ranked among the best in the world. They are rich and full-bodied and often very complex wines. Smaragd literally translates to ‘emerald’, and refers to the emerald-green lizards that are home in the sun-drenched wine terraces of the Wachau.