The most important thing to keep in mind when looking at these wines is that they’re from Austria and not Australia, mate.
People mishear it. Stores put the wines on the wrong racks. Once you can hear and keep Austria in mind, though, understanding the wines is easy.
Gruner veltliner is Austria’s wonderful contribution to the white wine world. Lesser known, perhaps, are its red wines. While Austrian reds will never been as lauded or coveted as the Bordeaux, Burgundy or cult cabernets, some are unique standouts. They remind us how good lighter red wines are.
Austrian reds often manage to include the fruit character of a warm region and the acids of a cooler region. They are lighter on the palate, lower in alcohol and open up a whole new world of red wine pairings.
One outstanding combination hails from a world away — sashimi, raw fish, is a particularly good pairing. The cool, oily freshness meets the lightness and crispness of Austrian reds. It turns out that the pepper and spice of several Asian dishes, which I would typically pair with off-dry riesling or other aromatic whites, work well with light, spicy Austrian reds. The two big red grape varieties there are zweigelt and blaufrankisch (aka lemberger), both well-adapted to cooler temperatures. Both are best drunk when they’re young.
Zwiegelt gets knocked because it is most often one-dimensional. Blending it with something almost always will improve it. This zweigelt gets an assist from 20% merlot. Nastl 2018 Zweigelt-Merlot Klassik Cuvee is very bright up front with fresh berry and a hint of spice, with a medium to light body and pleasant acidity. $19. ♦♦♦♦
Heinrich 2016 Blaufrankisch Burgenland most likely showed more fruit character in its younger years. It has taken a more earthy turn, with subtle blackberry, cherry and spice with a lightness and crispness. $18. ♦♦♦ 1/2
Unafraid of unconventional closures, Austrian wines likely have the Stelvin twist cap closure or the “glass cork” you can remove by hand and save on a shelf somewhere.
Austria found a way to stand out on wine shelves and on your own wine rack. The capsule topping the wine bears the red and white bands of the Austrian flag. Find that to ensure you haven’t accidentally found the land Down Under.
GRADE: Exceptional ♦♦♦♦♦, Above average ♦♦♦♦, Good ♦♦♦, Below average ♦♦, Poor ♦