A good year for Austrian wines

wine column austria
Austrian wines, particularly those from 2009, offer high quality and good values. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Dave McIntyre
Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Spring is a fun time for wine lovers because retail shelves fill up with new releases of some of our favorite wines. These include the first arrivals from the most recent vintage.

You might have read about the excitement over the 2009 vintage in Bordeaux, about its glowing reviews and soaring prices, and thought: Who cares? Those wines are for collectors, and anyway, they won't be delivered for three years. But last year is being hailed as a superior vintage in many regions throughout Europe and the United States, and value-conscious wine lovers will be scouting out the best.

Austria is one place to look for exceptional value. Like Burgundy, Austria claims a "rule of the nines": any vintage ending in nine tends to be superb. There is no logic to that, but for some reason it has held true in Austria since 1959. Last year was no exception. The crop was sparser than average because of poor fruit set in spring and damaging hailstorms in the country's main wine regions. But excellent weather in summer and early fall helped the grapes ripen, and a cold snap during harvest helped maintain acidity in the later-ripening red varieties.

We might have to wait for those 2009 reds, but we can begin enjoying the white wines now. Austria's best-known white varietal is Gruner Veltliner, which resembles Riesling in its citrusy flavors and relatively high acidity. If you don't like Riesling because you think it's too sweet (and we should talk about that), Gruner is a good alternative. The 2009 Anton Bauer "Gmork" Gruner Veltliner leapt to the top of my list of this year's favorite white wines, especially when I saw its modest $11 price tag. It combines zesty lime with chalky minerality and a soft floral note that carries a whiff of spring. You'll be tempted to drink it now, but it should only get better with age.

Austria's new offerings are not limited to the 2009 vintage. Wines from the country's largest and most historic winery, Stift Klosterneuburg, are now available in the Washington area. Klosterneuburg, owned by a Catholic monastery since the 12th century, specializes in Saint Laurent, a red grape descended from pinot noir that shows its lineage with voluptuous texture. The winery is also noted as the birthplace of Zweigelt, Austria's best-known red variety, which is a cross of Saint Laurent and Blaufrankisch. The Klosterneuburg wines, which are exclusive to Bell Wine & Spirits in the District, feature an elegant oak-aged Saint Laurent from 2006 and a rich 2008 Gruner Veltliner that shows the benefit of bottle age.

So for Austrian wine, think good value, high quality (especially with the 2009s) and a chance to try some unfamiliar wines while drinking in a little history.

McIntyre can be reached at food@washpost.com.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company