Salon 2020 – This Year’s Best Austrian Wines

The annual Wine Salon in Palais Coburg presented a tough jury's selection of the best of the current year. The setting was magnificent, the wines too.

A Viennese Salon is as far away from a western saloon as vintage Champagne from stale ale. Even the English “saloon bar” – pricier beer, fancier carpets – is a far cry. Here you get gilded baroque cupids, not flickering neon.  

Salon 2020 on September 8 was the Austrian Wine Marketing Board’s annual presentation of the country’s best wines, “The 270 winners of Austria’s toughest wine competition.”  The venue: The magnificent Palais Coburg, perhaps the inner city’s grandest palace hotel, looking out from its natural escarpment over the Ring and the middle-brow Marriott.  At the top table facing a mixed audience of wine biz worthies, bearded agro-warriors and journalists was Marketing Board’s director Chris Yorke, flanked by the Weinkönigin, this year Diana I., in elegant Dirndl and gilded crown – modern Austria’s true royalty.

Weather Woes

 “It’s been a difficult year,” Yorke didn’t have to remind the audience, “after several seasons of roller-coaster weather conditions in the vineyards” Too dry, too wet, too hot, and then hail …, the farmers’ usual litany of woes. “But none the less,” he concluded with satisfaction, “2018 and 2019 produced superb wines, further confirming Austria’s reputation as one of Central Europe’s quality producers.” Shameless, but it’s hard to blame him.

Then followed the awards. The Weinkönigin at Yorke’s side roll-called the winners, who were already marshalled tidily in the adjoining room. Each of the 25 men and two women received a framed certificate and posed long enough for the obligatory photo op. Polite applause; without the adrenalin fueled tension of unknown results, it was all rather repetitive.  

One of the growers, a diffident-looking middle-aged man, stepped briefly out of line with an unscripted and scarcely audible complaint on the process, but Yorke neatly intercepted. “Danke schön, Danke…”and firmly ushered him away. Two of the winning growers were women, unconsciously representing the two poles of the modern wine business: The one a sensibly dressed “farmer’s wife”, the other sleek and urbane.  The rest were men, some suave, older business types, but most lean younger men squeezed into neat dark suits, their healthy tanned faces suggesting they would rather be out in their vineyards. The business may be about the paperwork but making wine, after all, is a hard grind in field and cellar,. 

Either way, an invitation to sharing a glass.

Now it was time to see what the wine was really about; equipped with an elegant Zalto glass and a less elegant paper coffee cup for the discards, we set forth. The selected wines were neatly laid out, two to a table, with one of the growers on hand to pour and chat. Suddenly, the atmosphere relaxed, melting into a festive mood more like an alumni reunion.  Wine people know each other, and many of the top growers make it into finals year after year. 

No Hype

The prize-winning wines were uniformly superb. Several categories featured rarer grape varieties unique to Austria, like the charmingly delicate Rotgipfler or the Frühroter Veltliner. This was a special opportunity to get to know them.  The Winzerthemselves are often nonchalant about their award winning wines, whether still pleasantly surprised or comfortably confident is hard to tell. “Ach ja, ganz gut geworden …” (Well yes, not bad after all) was the typical reply to a well meant compliment. 

Trust Yourself

A good many of the wines – all selected in blind tastings – were modestly mid-priced, confirming what most of us have long believed: Try first and trust your own judgement, before falling for the great names on the fancy labels.  

And if some are perhaps a bit more expensive than most of us spend on our every-day wine, why not: Once or twice a week you can reach a little farther – otherwise what’s the point of living in the world’s only capital city that has more than a thousand vineyards less than an hour’s drive away?

Four Recommendations From an Impossibly Long list on the Salon 20 Catalogue

2019 Roter Veltliner – delicate, lightly fruity, a unique Austrian grape variety – direct from grower €7.50

– Weinbau Schabasser, Frauendorfer Strasse 16, 3133 Traismauer – weinbau-schabasser.at – Tel: 02783 6858 oder 0664 194 6483

2019 Riesling Ried Rittsteig – crisply fruity, as good as classical Rheingau – direct from grower €8.50

– Weingut Familie Ernst Frischauf, 3743 Röschitz – ernst@frischauf-wein.at – Tel: 029 84/36 56

2015 Zweigelt Limited Grande Reserve – rich, and soft for a Zweigelt – direct from grower €16,50        

– Weinbaubetrieb Leo & Dagmar Wunderer, 2020 Oberfellabrunn 55 & 7 – wein-leo-dagmar-wunderer.at  

– Tel: 0676 707 44 67 & 0676 620 22 45

And right here in Vienna:

2018 Wiener Gemischter Satz Bisamberg – delicious classical Viennese mix of 5 different grapes – direct from grower €16.50

– Weingut & Heuriger Christ, Amtsstraße 10-14, Jedlersdorf, 1210 Wien – Tel: 01 292 51 52

Simon Ballam
English, studied in NY and worked in London, Düsseldorf, NY, Fankfurt, Prague and Vienna. This covered stints in market research and the film industry, international advertising coordination and strategic planning. Currently business school lecturer and journalist.

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