Austrian Wine 2018: A Promising Vintage

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Austria is expecting excellent wines from the 2018 vintage based on how kind the weather gods were and how well the producers managed inherent challenges.

Vineyards situated along the Danube river valley in the Kremstal wine region in Austria. Photo courtesy: AWMB

With the 2018 wine harvest, the earliest of modern Austrian viticulture, this vintage has surpassed the volume of the previous, above-average intage of 2017 at 2.75 million
hectoliters, with once again, the expectation of wines of very good to excellent quality, notes a news release from the Austrian Wine Marketing Board.

A challenging vegetation cycle
After a warm January, February and March were very cool, which meant the vines budded late. However, on the positive side, this meant that the late frosts, which had occurred in the previous two years, did not threaten the vineyards in 2018. This was. followed by the second-warmest spring since the beginning of recorded weather, which resulted in conspicuously early flowering in mid to late May, and an advance in the vegetation cycle that then persisted throughout the hot summer. What’s more, summer remained very dry except for a few showers in June and thunderstorms in mid-July. Dry weather with inadequate rain combined with heat led to a considerable element of stress, especially on terraced vineyards and recently planted parcels that could not be irrigated. This consistently hot and dry weather led to the earliest harvest in memory: in Burgenland, for example, the first Qualitätswein (quality wine) was submitted for a federal inspection number on the 2nd of August. This was followed at the beginning of “meteorological” autumn, by a deluge of rain in numerous Austrian winegrowing areas, which caused growers great concern, especially along the Danube and in the
Steiermark (Styria).

Fortunately, the weather gods smiled, giving the growers a respite with a mild and sunny summer that continued for most of the rest of September and October and the harvest could proceed in good order. Considering the temperatures and the September rains, some winegrowers chose to start picking very early, while other producers continued to wait for the grapes to ripen, and preferred to harvest their vineyards later.

In both cases, however, in spots where botrytis had appeared early, meticulous selection was necessary, which led to significant losses of volume in many Riesling vineyards in Niederösterreich (Lower Austria).

2018 White wines – fully ripened & true to form
In general, the 2018 white wines exhibit a high degree of maturity, and harvest volume is well above the overall long-term average. One can draw further parallels between ‘18 and the previous year or the similar 2015 vintage. Must-weights lie roughly in the same range as in 2017 or even slightly above, and happily, it can already be predicted that the grand white wines will show no ‘hot spots’ in their makeup, despite unusually warm
weather during the vegetation cycle.

Learning from the experience of recent particularly hot years, Austria’s top winegrowers were able to hold off the dreaded sunburn and resulting tannin overload through meticulous vineyard work. The acid values, generally speaking, are slightly lower than in 2017, although not readily perceptible to sensory examination in Grüner Veltliner or the Rieslings. Without a doubt, there will be certain bottlings of these varieties that match the demanding standard of the previous vintage and leave nothing to be desired in terms of varietal typicity and aromatic expression.

The aromatic varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Gelber Muskateller turned out to be typically expressive, but due to abundant rainfall in the Steiermark seem slightly lighter than last year, thus representing a certain exception to the rule.

The wines of the Pinot family are quite lovely, showing significant harmony and early balance. The “exotics” in the landscape of Austrian wines exhibit good breeding as well, with varieties like Roter Veltliner enjoying a certain degree of immunity to overbearing sunlight because of their dark pigmentation; one hears similarly positive things about the Thermenregion’s specialities Zierfandler and Rotgipfler.

An outstanding red wine vintage Austria’s red wine producers are full of euphoria at the prospect of a good harvest anticipated on the one hand at all well-known centres of red wine production as well as for all approved Austrian red wine varieties. Generally speaking, the grapes achieved a very high level of ripeness, and the wines are quite powerful and concentrated and rather dark in colour – even darker than the 2017s – but also with a velvety background of tannin and adequate acidity, giving them appropriate backbone and satisfying balance early-on. Excellent results can thus be predicted both for the native Austrian red varieties Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and Sankt Laurent, as well as for the international varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. With unquestionably excellent red wine vintages 2015 and 2017 – as well as the somewhat cooler, but also very
impressive 2016s among premium reds – it is possible to look forward for the first time to a quartet of extremely promising vintages.

Regarding the dessert wines, this optimism may be a little premature, although it seems that substantial Beerenauslese, Ausbruch and Trockenbeerenauslese are being vinified in the noble sweet sector, along with racy Eiswein.

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