Wine lovers with long memories may be wary of Austrian wine. The so-called ‘anti-freeze’ scandal of the 1980s has cast a long shadow. For those readers who are puzzled by my opening comments, the problem was that a few of that country’s producers illegally added diethylene glycol (not anti-freeze, but with a chemically similar sounding name) to their wines to increase their sweetness. The addition apparently caused no harm to anyone drinking the wines but it shouldn’t have happened and it proved far from harmless to the Austrian wine industry, which was devastated with sales collapsing both at home and abroad.
It has taken decades to rebuild but now, 30 years later and backed by some of the strictest wine laws in the world, Austria is re-emerging as a producer of high quality wines at generally affordable prices. The local speciality is Grüner Veltliner, a grape that is becoming quite fashionable (with good reason) and there are some delicious Rieslings available, too, both dry, in the style of Alsace, and wonderfully sweet. But a combination of changes in consumers’ taste and a bit of global warming has meant that Austrian reds, at one time, a tiny part of their output, have become much more important. And that’s a good thing if a bottle I opened recently is a typical example:
Hans Igler’s Zweigelt Classic (Wine Society, £9.50) is quite light-bodied but full of flavour – blackberries, black pepper and a subtle hint of wood. The Zweigelt grape (another local speciality) gives it good, refreshing acidity and attractive soft tannins. Good for drinking now (decant an hour or so in advance) or keep another couple of years.
As someone who remembers the Austrian wines of the 1980s and the scandal that followed, it’s been good to see their re-emergence onto the international scene over the past few years. Austria today produces a range of reliable, good quality and good values wines – still mainly white but now their reds are clearly worth looking at, too.