editor's note: This is an article I wrote for the fine Volks at the Austria Tourism Office. You'll be able to see it in all its glory in finer travel bureaus and airlines everywhere. Download a PDF preview of it here.
Discover ‘Too Many Notes’ in Austria’s Wine Regions
Upon hearing one of Mozart’s operas, 18th Century Austrian Emperor Joseph II famously remarked, “Too many notes, my dear Mozart.” While Joseph II may have initially overlooked the genius of Mozart, fortunately, he understood the artistry of Austrian wine. This enlightened monarch decreed that wine growers were permitted to sell wine directly to consumers. Modern Austrian winemakers honor the country’s storied wine history by producing quality wines that will strike a chord with any culinary adventurer.
The miracle of Austria is that all of its wine regions are incredibly easy to visit. In fact, once you step off the plane in Vienna, you have already arrived in one of the world’s most unique wine regions. No other country can boast of so much viticulture and wine-culture in its capitol city. During the Middle Ages, each district of Vienna (called Bezirk in German) worked its own vineyards. As the city grew and modernized, many vineyards were lost to concrete, asphalt, etc. Recently, there has been a trend towards replanting vines in the city. There are 630 wineries (that's one winery per 2,500 Viennese - my kind of town) in Vienna. White grapes dominate these urban vineyards. Grüner Veltliner, the quintessential Austrian grape, is common, along with Riesling and Chardonnay. These crisp white wines are the perfect accompaniment to Wiener Schnitzel, potato salad or any manner of wurst. For those who enjoy tasting in style, visit the Hotel Rathaus Wein & Design – a hotel made just for wine lovers. Alternatively, if you prefer surfing and sipping, take your laptop to Wein & Co., where you’ll find hundreds of Austrian wines alongside free Wi-Fi! Don’t miss this one-of-a-kind cosmopolitan wine experience.
While Austria’s wine experience begins in Vienna, it certainly doesn’t end here. In fact, hop in a car and take a weekend road trip towards the Southeast. If this is your first out-of-Vienna excursion, you might expect to encounter mountainous vistas. Surprisingly, the horizon stretches out towards infinity. Then, inexplicably, it appears as if you’ve arrived upon the shores of a great sea. Welcome to Neusiedlersee (Lake Neusiedl) in the state of Burgenland.
Were this the 5th century, you might be wary of visiting the lake. Thunder against a clear sky would mean only one thing: Atilla and his horse-mounted Huns are on the prowl. Run for cover! Fortunately, it’s the 21st century and the only danger in strolling around these environs is a flying stork with good aim and a vendetta.
To lovers of dessert wine, the lakeside vineyards are nirvana. This shallow steppe lake moderates the otherwise extreme climate, and creates the magical, misty conditions necessary for noble rot. Sweet wine has been the traditional calling card for many Burgenland vintners. Burgenland’s next generation of wine makers now offers intense, spicy reds made from grape varietals unique to Austria. If sweet wine isn’t your bag, uncork a bottle of Blaufränkisch next to a plate of barbecue. The next thing you know, you’ll dial up your favorite rib joint and beg them to stock some of your beloved Blau-Frank.
Suppose, at the start of your road trip, you turned left instead of right; and found yourself traveling alongside the Danube. Not to worry – drive on westward towards Lower Austria. Just past the city of Krems, you’ll encounter idyllic, terraced vineyards of the Wachau valley. Walking along a path through these ancient Weingärten, may lead you to spy an emerald-scaled Smaragd lizard. This sun-loving vineyard denizen is the mascot for the richest, most intensely flavored wines of the Wachau. Sip a Smaragd Riesling or Grüner Veltliner and your palate will be awash in flavors of peach, citrus, honey, allspice and white blossom. Are there too many notes in such a wine? In this case, ‘too many’, is just right.
After watching the fog swirl across the Danube, you’ll be enticed to extend your stay in Lower Austria. The more you explore this part of the country, the more you’ll be surprised. Visit Langenlois, the epicenter of modern wine alchemy in the region. This city’s most noticeable wine feature is the unforgettable Loisium - a latter day temple to wine making. This steel-skinned structure appears to have been designed by space age cubists. Stops at tasting rooms around Langenlois reveal not only traditional white wine, but also surprisingly good sparkling wine, and zesty reds.
During any visit to Austria, Mozart is understandably ubiquitous. You may even ask yourself if there is any corner of the country absent of Amadeus. Head south towards the state of Styria, and enter a Mozart-free (by Austrian standards anyway) zone: Graz, Austria’s second-largest city, is reported to have never hosted the Master Composer. What the city lacks in Mozart mystique is more than made up for by Graz’s amazing architecture. For example, the city’s new Kunsthaus (art museum) is known as the, ‘friendly alien’. You must see it in order to understand why the name is a perfect fit. After a day spent ogling architecture, you are bound to be thirsty. Take a short trip to southern Styria and discover countless wine oases. The architectural geist of Graz extends outward into the Styrian vineyards. Many wineries offer visitors chic tasting rooms. The contrasting natural backdrop in Styria is breathtaking. This region, sometimes referred to as the, “Tuscany of Austria,” is truly as beautiful a wine travel destination as can be found anywhere in the world. Sauvignon Blanc, the region’s signature grape, is often harvested on impossibly steep slopes of slippery schist and shale soils. Once in the glass, Styrian wine entices with scents of just-ripe redcurrant, white pepper and lime. Pair a Styrian Sauvignon to a plate of charcuterie on the veranda of a Buschenschank (rural café) and absorb the seductive, sensory delights of southern Austria.
Austria offers something unparalleled in the world of wine: A collection of destinations that are exciting, unique and easily reached. While travelers may worry that there is too little time to experience Austria’s complete symphony of wine, they will never bemoan the fact that Austrian wines offer too many notes. Cheers.