The most widely planted grape in Austria, Grüner, has a bouquet distinctly white pepper, citrus and sorrel. These are echoed in the mouth along with beans, iron and minerality. It is similar in body and texture to Riesling and like Riesling is a terrific food wine. Also, like Riesling don't be afraid of older examples. Grüner Veltliner ages beautifully and oh so slowly.
The Hofer family farms vineyards in Auersthal, a dead-still little wine village in the Weinviertel, just barely beyond Vienna’s northern suburbs. The gently rolling hills in in this village are made up of deep loess soils and are planted predominantly to grüner veltliner, in addition to some zweigelt and riesling. Additionally, the Hofers grow organic grains; rye, barley, and alfalfa. These grains are raised for consumption, and are used as cover-crops in their vineyards.
There was a time when only a small amount of wine was produced at the farm of Hermann Hofer’s parents, but the quality was worthy enough to motivate Hermann to increase production and begin making top-quality wine. Hofer has been making wine since the early 1980s and has been certified organic since 2001 by the group Bio-Ernte, whose standards exceed EU guidelines for organic grape growing.
It is rare to find such high quality wines farmed with such attention and responsibility, especially in the Weinvertel, Austria’s largest growing region and home to many commodity-wine producers. In the cellars at Hofer grapes are de-stemmed, macerated for only a short time, and then vinified in stainless steel with the goals of typicity and freshness in mind.
Appreciated for superior wines made from indigenous varieties, Austria should be on the radar of any curious wine drinker. A rather cool and dry wine growing region, this country produces wine that is quintessentially European in style: food-friendly with racy acidity, moderate alcohol and fresh fruit flavors.
Austria’s viticultural history is rich and vast, dating back to Celtic tribes with first written record of winemaking starting with the Romans. But the 20th century brought Austria a series of winemaking obstacles, namely the plunder of both world wars, as well as its own self-imposed quality breach. In the mid 1980s, after a handful of shameless vintners were found to have added diethylene glycol (a toxic substance) to their sweet wines to imitate the unctuous qualities imparted by botrytis, Austria’s credibility as a wine-producing country was compromised. While no one was harmed, the incident forced the country to rebound and recover stronger than ever. By the 1990s, Austria was back on the playing field with exports and today is prized globally for its quality standards and dedication to purity and excellence.
Grüner Veltliner, known for its racy acidity and herbal, peppery aromatics, is Austria's most important white variety, comprising nearly a third of Austrian plantings. Riesling in Austria is high in quality but not quantity, planted on less than 5% of the country’s vineyard land. Austrian Rieslings are almost always dry and are full of bright citrus flavors and good acidity. Red varietal wines include the tart and peppery Zweigelt, spicy and dense Blaufränkisch and juicy Saint Laurent. These red varieties are also sometimes blended.
Fun to say and delightfully easy to drink, Grüner Veltliner calls Austria its homeland. While some easily quaffable Grüners come in a one-liter—a convenient size—many high caliber single vineyard bottlings can benefit from cellar aging. Somm Secret—About 75% of the world’s Grüner Veltliner comes from Austria but the variety is gaining ground in other countries, namely Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the United States.