Classification of Austrian wine

News and commentary

  1. A wine lover’s guide to Austria. Brook, S. Decanter Magazine pp.108:114, June 2016. A good telling of the Austrian story, along with the unintended consequences of basing a classification system on regional typicity … so eg DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus) Weinviertel is tied to the gruner veltliner variety, with gruner-based wines satisfying the regulations being awarded that status. But wines based on other varieties are not entitled to DAC Weinviertel status, and must be labelled as plain Niederosterreich, a much larger region.
  2. In June 2016 a new 3-tier quality pyramid for Austrian Sekt was introduced, see my post.

The classification – introduction The classification and labelling of Austrian wine is perhaps not quite so complex as that of German wine, nevertheless an indication of sweetness is all too often lacking, which can be a barrier to new consumers. In any event, the quality of Austrian wine is expressed, starting from the lowest level, as:

Wein – wine quality starts in the basement, in EU terms this is wine without geographical indication, that is the equivalent of the former term table wineWein equates to for example, Italy’s Vino and France’s Vin de France. Within the EU, variety, vintage and country of origin are permitted on the label, additionally Austria stipulates a maximum yield of 67.5hl/ha.

Land wein – this traditional term, equating to for example the pre-existing vin de pays, describes the lowest level of wine with geographical indication, and replaces the EU’s PGI/IGP classification. Such wines originate from 1 of the 3 macro level wine-growing areas of Weinland (the far north-east), Steierland (the far south-east) and Bergland (the remainder to the west up to the Swiss border).

Qualitatswien – this traditional term, quality wine, equates to and replaces the EU’s PDO designation. Such wine is produced varietally or in a blend of approved varieties, grown in 1 of the 25 wine-growing regions.

These 25 comprise 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, a standard established in 2003.

Qualitatswein is indicated both on the label as such, and on the capsule end, by means of a red/white/red stripe pattern and state control number (example).

Map of the wine regions of Austria (Courtesy the Society of Wine Educators).

Qualitatswein – DAC
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:

  1. Eisenberg DAC – blaufrankisch
  2. Kamptal DAC – gruner veltliner, riesling
  3. Kremstal DAC – gruner veltliner, riesling
  4. Leithaberg DAC – blaufrankisch, chardonnay, gruner veltliner, neuberger and weissburgunder
  5. Mittelburgenland DAC – blaufrankisch
  6. Neusiedlersee DAC (promoted in 2012) – zweigelt
  7. Traisental DAC – gruner veltliner, riesling
  8. Weinviertel DAC – gruner veltliner
  9. 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.

Qualitatswein – Kabinett and Pradikatswein
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
These appear to be optional on the label, and 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.

The special case of the Wachau
The Wachau region has its own classification. It specialises in dry wines from gruner veltliner and riesling (though a very few wines with predicate are made), in a 3 tier quality system:

  1. Steinfeder – the simplest lightest wines, fresh and fruity, with max 11.5% abv, for early drinking.
  2. Federspiel – comparable to kabinett quality, Federspiel has more body with 11.5-12.5% abv, and needs a couple of years ageing.
  3. 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.

A word on co-operatives
Co-ops are important not just for small-scale growers in Austria, but for the wine volume produced, the leaders include:

  • Domäne Wachau – represents 30% of the Wachau vineyard, with over 400ha, specialising in gruner veltliner and riesling, and producing wine for the premium sector.  There is a little pinot blanc, pinot noir and zweigelt.
  • Winzer Krems – based at Krems in Kremstal DAC, about 1000 growers farm 1000ha, with gruner veltliner, riesling and a little chardonnay, blaufrankisch and zweigelt.
  • Winzerkeller Neckenmarkt – based in Burgenland, with 300 growers farming 300ha, of which 2/3 is planted with blaufrankisch and a third with zweigelt, with others such as cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir in the minority.

References

  1. Austrian Wine Marketing Board [online] accessed 18/02/17.
  2. Easton, S. Understanding Austrian DAC Labelling [online] accessed 19/02/17.

Updated: 19/02/17

About citbp

I am interested in everything about wine, from site selection to tasting.
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