Meinklang, Gruner veltliner, Qualitatswein, Burgenland, Austria, 2013
What is Qualitatswein?
Austrian wine law replaces the EC’s PDO/AOP with its own traditional term Qualitatswein, or Quality Wine. Such wine is produced varietally or in a blend of approved varieties, grown in 1 of the 25 wine-growing regions, and shows a red/white/red stripe pattern on the capsule end to indicate this, as this wine does. Burgenland is one of the 9 growing regions at the generic federal state level, the other 16 being specific growing regions, of which 9 are DAC areas – Districtus Austriae Controllatus, which was established in 2003.
Map of the wine regions of Austria (Courtesy the Society of Wine Educators).
DACs are legally defined quality dry wines from specified varieties, that show regional typicity and place of origin, and are produced subject to the most stringent regulations, they are, along with their approved varieties:
- Eisenberg DAC – blaufrankisch
- Kamptal DAC – gruner veltliner, riesling
- Kremstal DAC – gruner veltliner, riesling
- Leithaberg DAC – blaufrankisch, chardonnay, gruner veltliner, neuberger and weissburgunder
- Mittelburgenland DAC – blaufrankisch
- Neusiedlersee DAC (promoted in 2012) – zweigelt
- Traisental DAC – gruner veltliner, riesling
- Weinviertel DAC – gruner veltliner
- Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC – gemischter satz is the growing of several varieties in the same vineyard, to be harvested together and vinified as a field blend into a single wine.
Also under the qualitatswein umbrella are kabinett and pradikatswein, neither of which are used at the DAC level, so for example DAC Kamptal Beerenauslese Riesling does not exist. So kabinett and predicate wines are designated either at the generic federal state level, for example Niederosterreich or Burgenland, or at the specific growing region level, for example Wagram (Wachau is a special case, see further below):
- kabinett(wein) – maximum residual sugar of 9g/l, and maximum alcohol of 13% abv, chaptalisation is forbidden. Grapes for kabinett have the lowest must weight requirement of qualitatswein.
- pradikatswein – or wine with predicate, that is with special qualities. This caters for wines with even higher natural residual sugar, different harvesting,vinification and maturation methods. The predicate levels, with increasing level of must weight, and residual sugar (RS) in the finished wine, (except 3, 4 and 5 which have the same minimum RS), are:
- Spatlese – made from fully ripened grapes.
- Auslese – made from overripe grapes.
- Beerenauslese – made from selected overripe grapes together with grapes affected by noble rot (botrytis cinerea).
- Eiswein (ice wine) – made from grapes that are harvested and pressed whilst frozen, ice (water) is left behind and rich sweet juice extracted.
- Strohwein – made from grapes dried off the vine, for a minimum of 3 months, raising and concentrating the sugars, acids and flavour precursors.
- Ausbruch – made from grapes affected by noble rot to which healthy ripe grapes are added.
- Trockenbeerenauslese – made from grapes affected exclusively by noble rot.
Classic and Reserve
Any wine growing region, DAC or not, can additionally use these 2 terms to differentiate between:
- Classic – dry, medium-bodied wines, and
- Reserve – opulent, dry wines which are harvested later and aged longer, for example DAC Kremstal Reserve.
Generic RS indicators (appears to be optional on the label), can be used in all 25 growing regions:
- Extra trocken (extra dry) – max 4g/l
- Trocken (dry) – max 9g/l, if there is no more than 2 g/l difference between sugar and acidity. For example a wine with 7g/l residual sugar must have at least 5g/l of acidity to be classed as dry.
- Halbtrocken (off to medium dry) – max 12g/l
- Lieblich (semi-sweet) – max 45g/l. Most do not use the term on the label because of the association with German wine.
- Suss (sweet) – min 45g/l.
What about other quality levels?
Well there is Land Wein, which equates to the EC’s PGI/IGP classification. Such wines originate from on of the 3 macro level wine-growing areas of Weinland (the far north-east), Steirerland (the far south-east) and Bergland (the remainder to the west up to the Swiss border).
And at the bottom, wine without geographical indication
The equivalent of the old table wine, in official terms, wine without geographical indication. This is termed Wein, similar to Italy’s Vino and France’s Vin de France. Variety, vintage and country of origin are permitted on the label, additionally Austria stipulates a maximum yield of 67.5hl/ha.
And then there is the Wachau with its own classification
The Wachau region specialises in dry wines from gruner veltliner and riesling (although a very few wines with predicate are made), in a 3 tier quality system:
- Steinfeder – the simplest lightest wines, fresh and fruity, with max 11.5% abv, for early drinking.
- Federspiel – comparable to kabinett quality, Federspiel has more body with 11.5-12.5% abv, and needs a couple of years ageing.
- Smaragd – comparable to auslese quality, Smaragd is named after the small green lizard that basks on the steep sun-exposed hillside rocks. The best and ripest grapes are used, max RS is 9g/l, 12.5% abv plus, needs plenty of time, and ages well.
Wine Folly has an article on gruner veltliner, as does Sally Easton, and something on its ability to age, she notes that it spans the widest range of style, like chardonnay, and can compete at the top end with white Burgundy. Most are drunk within 3 years of harvest, though the best can go for a decade, and may take on the character of an aged Hunter Valley semillon or white Burgundy.
This wine: An organic wine from a biodynamically farmed estate, varietal gruner veltliner, screw cap closure, 11.5% abv, Out of This World organic supermarket, £14
WSET style tasting note
Appearance: clear and bright, pale intensity lemon, showing tears.
Nose: clean on the nose, of pronounced intensity, developing, with an opening aroma of bruised green apple, then stewed apricot, lemony-lime, grapefruit pith, with honeyed and nutty hints.
Palate: an off-dry wine, with high acidity, a low-key gummy grip, medium alcohol and a medium body, medium (+) intensity, with a smooth silky texture, with flavours of sweet dessert apple, warm grapefruit flesh and apricot skins. A medium (+) length with a clean warm citrussy finish.
Quality: a very good quality wine, with brisk acidity perfectly balancing the alcohol and residual sugar, and completely harmonious with the strident level of flavour intensity and flavour palette. The wine shows a modest level of flavour concentration, with developing complexity witnessed by tertiary honeyed and nutty notes on the nose, so far. Flavour intensity follows through to a decent length, albeit a little shorter than expected.
Readiness for drinking/potential for ageing: This wine is ready to drink now. It has probably been vinified in stainless steel with some ageing in old neutral oak. The balance of acidity to alcohol plus residual sugar is perfect, and there is a good level of flavour intensity, which follows through on the slightly disappointing length. It is showing signs of tertiary development with notes of honey and nuts. In the end the balance is perfect, there is developing complexity, but the level of concentration is not great, further witnessed by the length, this would lead to the conclusion that this wine will continue to develop and improve in the short-term, over perhaps 2 to 3 years.