Austrian reds: don’t laugh

Supplier: “Hello Matt, what would you like to taste?”

Me: “The St Laurent – I’m just tasting St Laurents at the moment.”

Supplier: (shoots another writer an incredulous look) “Just St Laurents? That’s very…er… specific of you.”

Cue much laughter from the two of them.


OK I admit it. It’s a bit niche. I was probably the only person just tasting indigenous red varieties at last week’s annual Austrian tasting. But on the strength of what I tasted, they deserve to be better known.

Think of Austrian wine and what comes to mind? Well for the average person on the street, not much; many people aren’t aware they even make wine, as you don’t often see it in the shops. The more dedicated wine drinker would probably suggest Riesling or Grüner Veltliner. Due to Austria’s cool, marginal climate for grape growing, crisp aromatic whites were always going to be a strong suit. Riesling is planted all over the world now, from Chile to New York to South Africa to Germany. Grüner is still very much an Austrian speciality, but that too is getting better known now, having found its way to New Zealand – so far with mixed results.

But what about its three indigenous red varieties, Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and St Laurent? Thanks to their high acidity, Zweigelt and young Blaufränkisch are better drunk with food. Zweigelts would go well with game birds, lamb with herbs, duck or goose. Blaufränkisch is a bit more robust and fuller-bodied, so could stand up to roast beef or lamb. The most versatile is St Laurent, which would work in the same way as Pinot Noir, so partnering dishes like game birds, rabbit, lamb breast, roast mushrooms and other earthy yet not too strongly flavoured dishes.

The proportion of red varieties grown has doubled over the last two decades and now represents one-third of Austria’s vineyards. As interest in German Pinot Noirs increases, it won’t be long before people start taking more notice of Austrian reds as well.

Zweigelt (aka Blauer Zweigelt)

  • 6,480 hectares grown, some of the best from Neusiedlersee, south-east of Vienna.
  • The most commonly planted red grape in Austria. Some good wines, but doesn’t seem to quite hit the heights of the other two.
  • A crossing of Blaufränkisch and St Laurent, it was developed in 1922 by a certain Professor Zweigelt (no relation to Doctor Zoidberg).
  • When crops are kept low, it can produce some interesting wines that can age for a while, but they tend to be better drunk young and fresh.
  • Can work with oak, but often produced without using any.
  • Typically exhibits sour cherry and spice (cinnamon); low-ish tannins but very high acidity.
  • A bit like Gamay (when grown in the Loire), Dornfelder, or Corvina (Valpolicella).

Blaufränkisch (the Germans call it Limberger, the Hungarians Kékfrankos, the Bulgarians Gamé)

  • 3,230 hectares grown, some of the best from Mittelburgenland, south of Vienna.
  • A characterful grape, this can produce very good wines.
  • The latest ripening of the three reds, it tends to be ready around two weeks after the others.
  • Due to this slow ripening, it prefers a warm site or a slope that faces the sun. Has a tendency to have unripe, green, stalky flavours otherwise.
  • Works with or without oak, and can age well.
  • Medium to full-bodied, again with notable high acidity and medium to strong tannins; blackberry and raspberry flavours and subtle spice.
  • A bit like fuller Gamay (when grown in a Beaujolais Cru like Morgon), Barbera, or Minervois La Livinière.

St Laurent

  • 780 hectares grown, some of the best is from Burgenland, to the south and south-east of Vienna and Thermenregion, just south of Vienna.
  • An ancient crossing of a Pinot vine (probably Pinot Noir) and an unknown, perhaps extinct, variety.
  • The name refers to the Feast of St Lawrence on 10th August, when the grapes usually start to colour.
  • Difficult to grow and doesn’t give much fruit, so not that common.
  • Can work with oak and can age well.
  • Similar to Pinot Noir in character, but slightly deeper in colour thanks to thicker skins, lighter in alcohol, and can give particularly spicy, meaty/gamey flavours in warmer years.
  • Low to medium strength velvety tannins; strawberry, raspberry and plum aromas, good acidity – but not as acidic as Zweigelt or Blaufränkisch.
  • A bit like Pinot Noir (when grown in Oregon/Burgundy/Germany).


Some highlights:

Umathum, Zweigelt, 2010
100% Zweigelt grapes from Burgenland, Austria
£13.65, available at

Bright purple. Slightly stinky, farmyard aromas. Medium-bodied with intense bright flavour and a lovely silky texture. A touch of sweetness to the berry fruits that helps to balance the marked acidity, but a long savoury dry finish. 91 points, good value.

Sepp Moser, Reserve Zweigelt, 2008
100% Zweigelt grapes from Neusiedlersee, Austria
£16.60, available at

Dark aubergine in colour. Sweet blueberry and blackberry fruit, touch of spice. Full-bodied, firm tannins and marked acidity. Some complexity from the oak and age. Savoury finish. 90 points, fair value.

Krutzler, Classic Blaufränkisch, 2010
100% Blaufränkisch grapes from Südburgenland, Austria
£11.95 available at Savage Selections

Black pepper, violets and red berries. High acidity, but great purity of flavour. No oak. Vibrant and perfumed. 90 points, good value.

Tinhof, ‘Gloriette’, Blaufränkisch, 2009
100% Blaufränkisch grapes from Burgenland, Austria
£29.50 available at Savage Selections

Pepper, black cherries, and something slightly citric on the nose. Medium- to full-bodied, intense concentration. Perfect level of oak lending complexity and roundness, but not enough to affect the bright, fresh finish. Some spice, particularly clove and a touch of cola. Excellent, very drinkable. 92 points, fair value.

Tinhof, Feuersteig, St Laurent, 2009
100% St Laurent grapes from Burgenland, Austria
£15.95 available at Savage Selections

Juicy strawberry and blackcurrant, slight whiff of something dairy. Medium to full-bodied, with good concentration, medium to long length. Touch of spice. Lovely balance. 90 points, good value.

Pittnauer, ‘Alte Reben’ St Laurent, 2009
100% St Laurent grapes from Neusiedlersee, Austria
£27.85, available at

Medium purple/red. Juicy red berries, raspberry and a touch floral. Also some spicy/smoky notes and pepper. Medium bodied, with young crunchy tannins and good strong acidity. 91 points, fair value.

…and although it is a Pinot Noir, I wanted to include this because it is really good:

Schuster, Eisenhut, Pinot Noir, 2008
100% Pinot Noir grapes from Wagram, Austria
£15.95 available at Savage Selections

Pale pinky red. Intensely smoky nose, like roasted spices. Medium bodied with sweet fruit. Cherry, vanilla, strawberry, raspberry and redcurrant. Dry finish. Compellingly interesting. 91 points, good value.