Austria’s Underappreciated Wines | Which to Taste Now

Lower Austria’s Thermenregion is home to several signature varieties, as remarkable as they are rare.

In a wine world dominated by a limited number of superstar grapes like Austria’s Grüner Veltliner, it is illuminating to talk to a vintner who keeps old favorites alive. “Two hundred years ago, Zierfandler and Rotgipfler were among the most important grape varieties in the Thermenregion,” commented Bernhard Stadlmann of Weingut Stadlmann. We met at VieVinum, the biennial trade fair of Austrian vintners in the Hofburg in June. “Nowadays, there are only 72 and 113 hectares left of each.”

© Aleksandra Pawloff

Rotgipfler, a cross between the Traminer grape and the Rote Roter Veltliner, is an aromatic variety with elegant acidity. You often smell spices and taste fruits such as melon and mango. Zierfandler, also known as Spätrot (late red) for the light red color the grapes take on late in the season, leans more toward citrus. Both are rich in extract: During pressing and, in some cases, fermentation, their skin releases agents that form the basis of complex and storable wines. But as the industry moved toward easily recognizable (and marketable) varieties, both have drifted into relative anonymity.

Recently, however, with restaurants such as Le Bernardin in Manhattan and the summer popup of Eleven Madison Park in the Hamptons among its clientele, Stadlmann is leading a march of vintners who champion the typical but forgotten grapes of Lower Austria’s Thermenregion, just south of Vienna.

With a terroir reminiscent of Burgundy, vintners from the Thermenregion like Bernhard Stadlmann produces excellent pinot noir, as well as underappreciated local varieties like Rotgipfler and Zierfandler. / © Rita Newmann

Named for the hot mineral springs welling up along the fault lines between the easternmost reaches of the Alps and the Vienna basin, the Thermenregion is often likened to Burgundy, with spa towns like Bad Vöslau and Baden dating back to Roman times. In 1141, Margrave Leopold IV “The Generous” bestowed the vineyards of Thallern upon the Cistercian monks of Heiligenkreuz, who established an estate modeled after Clos de Vougeot, the order’s home in Burgundy.

They also introduced French grapes; to this day, the Thermenregion produces top-notch pinot noir, a quint-essential Burgundian variety. “Showing great difference over a short distance, the soil resembles the Burgundian terroir, ” Stadlmann confirms. The northern part of the region with its finely structured and mineral-rich sandy loam provides a particularly good ground for Zierfandler and Rotgipler.

Fit for a King

© Johanness Reinisch

Supplying the court in Vienna and Prague established the region’s reputation, while the 1784 Law of the Heuriger, which allowed vintners to sell their own wines without a restaurant license, led to the rise of the still-popular Buschenschanken wine taverns. Awards for Gumpoldskirchen and Perchtoldsdorf vintners at the World Fairs of 1855 and 1867 in Paris cemented the Thermenregion’s fame, culminating in Gumpolds-kirchner wine being served at the wedding of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1947. Made of Zierfandler, Rotgipfler or a blend of the two under stringent quality controls, the region’s most prestigious wine is now sold under the Königswein (King’s Wine) label, an international trademark.

“Showing great difference over a short distance, the soil resembles the Burgundian terroir.”

– Bernhard Stadlmann, Weingut Stadlmann

Since the 1970s, leading winemakers like Stadlmann and Johanneshof Reinisch have started making single-grape white wines from these historic varieties, but they remain largely under the radar as the Austrian Wine Marketing Board (ÖWM) focuses its energies on the widespread and popular varieties.

“Low yields don’t help to popularize the grapes, and their powerful character makes them harder to sell – even among Austrians, who like their wine young and fruity,” Stadlmann explained. So although the planted surface is increasing marginally, for now, Zierfandler and Rotgipfler remain specialty wines.

But with styles ranging from young and easy to complex with aging potential, the Zierfandlers and Rotgipflers from the Thermenregion may become your glass of choice, too.

Where to Buy:

Weingut Stadlmann

Wiener Straße 41, 2514 Traiskirchen.

Johanneshof Reinisch 

Im Weingarten 1, 2523 Tattendorf.

Gumpoldskirchner Königswein

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