In 1985 a few Austrian wineries, part of a large, poorly regulated industry designed to produce quantity over quality, adulterated their mass-produced wines with a toxic substance, diethylene glycol (an ingredient in anti-freeze), with the intention of making their wines seem sweeter and more full-bodied. These wines were exported to Germany, and some were blended into mass-market German wines; this was discovered when German laboratories tested these wines for quality-control purposes. The scandal rocked the wine-industry. Concentrations of the substance were low enough that nobody died from the tainted wines, but worldwide demand for Austrian wine collapsed overnight.
But don’t despair, the following decade was a period of rediscovery for the Austrian wine industry, as it transformed itself from a bulk-producer of sweet wines to a nation producing far smaller quantities of high-quality wines. New wine laws introduced in 1993 have made Austrian wine one of the most highly regulated industries in the world, and the appellation system remains under continual development as forward-thinking producers, many practising organic or bio-dynamic viticulture, drive the quality and diversity of wine-production to new heights.
The international reputation has improved immensely with modern wine-drinkers continuously discovering the fascinating, top-quality wines from Austria. Whites like Grüner Veltliner, with its savoury delicacy and white-pepper complexity, and reds like the juicy, versatile Zweigelt and the enigmatic, dark-fruited Blaufränkisch offer a very different experience from the more familiar international line-up of Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon; Austrian wine, with many indigenous varieties and a long history, has its own unique character, a rich pre-existing identity, and just begs to be discovered and enjoyed.
If you are keen to explore Austrian producers, Friarwood recommends Weingut Gebrüder Nittnaus, who produce excellent wines from these unique Austrian grapes. Hans and Christine Nittnaus’ winery lies on the eastern shore of Lake Neusiedl in the heart of Gols, at the centre of one of the largest wine-producing communities in Austria. The family has owned vineyards for more than 300 years and has been running their own winery since 1986. They cultivate 57 hectares spread out over more than 70 different vineyard-parcels, two thirds of which is planted with red wine grapes, mostly indigenous varieties. They cultivate their vines in accordance with organic agricultural principles.
With thanks to Friarwood Wines for this article.