Discovering the Diverse Wine Region of Austria’s Burgenland

Masterclass on wines from Austria’s Burgenland at Cafe Katja on 79 Orchard Street in New York City.

Burgenland. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the area, it’s wine territory in Austria – the easternmost part to be exact – and home to some of Austria’s finest wines. It’s also one of Austria’s most diverse, offering whites, rose’s and reds in several styles, ranging from sparkling (sekt), to dry whites and reds. There are also sweet varieties including Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines made from botrytised grapes, Strohwein or Schilfwein crafted from dried, unbotrytised grapes, and Eiswein, (ice wine), produced using frozen, unbotrytised grapes. Burgenland has 11,904 hectares of vineyards across the region that have been designated Districtus Austriae Controllatus (DAC), a label given to quality wines that reflect the unique characteristics specific to the terroir in each of these areas. Burgenland is the warmest region in Austria, and its mild Pannonian climate, abundant sunshine, and seasonal rainfall create the ideal conditions for cultivating wine grapes. The dense, and loamy and clay-dominant soil in Eisenberg hill country to the south, Mittelburgenland in the center, and Neusiedlersee to the east, typically produce structured and mineral-driven red wines with bright tannins, while the combination sand, silt, and clay-dominant soil in the mountainous areas of Rosalia tend to yield fruity and spicy rose’ and red wines. These areas are the sites of quality Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt production.

A diverse collection of wines from Austria’s Burgenland.

Blaufränkisch, (also known as Lemberger and Franconia), and dubbed the Pinot Noir of Eastern Europe, is descended from the now nearly extinct white varietal Gouais blanc (aka Weißer Heunisch).
Blaufränkisch is genetically linked to a number of grapes including Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Zweigelt.

Blaufränkisch is a medium-bodied, mineral-driven red grape with bright acidity, lively tannins, and a fresh blackberry, cherry and dark stone fruit, along with mocha and spice flavor profile.

Zweigelt, (also known as Rotburger), is the most widely cultivated red grape in Austria. Zweigelt has roughly the same level of acidity, but is comparably lighter-bodied and less tannic than Blaufränkisch. Zweigelt is well-structured, with a juicy cherry and mixed berry, as well as pepper, licorice, and espresso flavor profile.

Leithaberg to the west in Burgenland is also fine
Blaufränkisch wine territory. But the schist, gneiss, and limestone-rich soil, and climate characterized by warm days and cool nights (thanks to the area’s proximity to Lake Neusiedl and the Leitha mountains) in the venerable wine region of Leithaberg, provide ideal natural conditions for cultivating a diverse number of white wine grapes like Weissburgunder, Chardonnay, Neuburger, and Grüner Veltliner.

Weissburgunder (also known as Pinot Blanc), is a variant of Pinot Gris. It’s inherently light-bodied and delicate, with a refreshing minerality and acidity, and a citrus, orchard, and white-fleshed stone fruit, along with subtle acacia and honey flavor profile.

Neuburger is derived from Sylvaner and Roter Veltliner. It tends to have a mild acidity, and a subtly floral and herbaceous, and sometimes nutty flavor profile.

Grüner Veltliner comes from Traminer and St. Georgen. It’s an autochthonous white varietal, meaning it’s native to the area. It’s medium-bodied, with a fresh acidity and minerality, and a zesty citrus fruit, and spicy flavor profile.

Neusiedlersee, including the underlying southern lakeside area of Seewinkel, is a site of Prädikatswein production. Prädikatswein is a classification used to distinguish fine Austrian wines in order of the ripeness of the grape used. These wines are placed into five categories including spätlese, auslese, beerenauslese and eiswein, strohwein, and trockenbeerenauslese. The humidity (especially in the fall), encourages the development of the fungus Botrytis cinerea on grapes. Grapes that have undergone botrytis have less water and higher sugar concentrations. Welschriesling, also referred to as Graševina, is one of the varietals used to make Prädikatswein sweet wines.

Welschriesling is a relatively light-bodied, white varietal, with a pronounced acidity, and a crisp citrus, orchard, and tropical fruit, and ginger root flavor profile.

Ruster Ausbruch a sweet wine produced in the wineries around the city of Rust situated along Lake Neusiedl to the west, is renowned for its balanced acidity and minerality, and its rich and silky candied orchard fruit, along with acacia and honey flavor profile.

Sparkling wine (sekt) is also made in Burgenland. It can be produced using the traditional method where the wine undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle, or as pétillant naturel (pet-nat) in the méthode ancestrale style, a process that allows the wine to complete its initial fermentation in the bottle without the addition of external yeasts. Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling, and Sauvignon Blanc are often used to make sekt and pet-nat. Sekt tend to be crisp and refreshing, with a balanced acidity and minerality, and a floral, and citrus and orchard fruit, as well as delicately herbaceous and nutty flavor profile. Burgenland has six DACs. Mittelburgenland DAC was established first in 2005, followed by Leithaberg DAC and Eisenberg DAC in 2008, Neusiedlersee DAC in 2010, Rosalia as an independent DAC in 2018, and most recently, Ruster Ausbruch DAC in 2020.

Some more wines we explored during the masterclass.
Pairing Burgenland dry and sweet wines with classic Austrian dishes.

Check out the following wines to take a palatable tour through Burgenland wine territory. These wines pair well with such savory Austrian culinary classics as wiener schnitzel (breaded and fried veal or pork cutlet), Vienna sausage, knödel (meat-filled dumplings), and tafelspitz (boiled beef). along with desserts such as apfelstrudel. Crisp and floral Austrian white, refreshingly acidic Blaufränkisch red, and silky and honey-sweet
Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wine varieties are equally good pairing candidates for chili and peppercorn beef, grilled cumin-scented lamb, pad Thai, and other similarly spicy global fare.

Three Burgenland wine gems.

Zantho Andau Winery, Grüner Veltliner, 2020 100% Grüner Veltliner
Fermented in stainless steel tanks.
Bone dry and lean, with a fresh acidity, and a green apple, herb, and pepper flavor profile.

Thomas Straka Rechnitz Winery, Welschriesling Rechnitz, 2020 100% Welschriesling
Aged 10 months on the lees in new oak casks.
Bottled without filtering and fining.
6 grams of residual sugar per liter.
Fresh, with a bright acidity.

Winery Kolfok, Grüner Veltliner, Vulkan Alte Reben (GV), 2019
100% Grüner Veltliner harvested from 50 year-old vines. Aged 8 months in large neutral oak casks without fining or filtration.
Ripe grapefruit and apple, and vanilla flavor profile.

Winery Gernot & Heike Heinrich Gois
Blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Muscadet
Aged 1 year on the lees.
Smooth, balanced, and quite dry, with a hint of cloudiness (unfiltered wine), and a subtle fruit, and an herb, vanilla, and cream flavor profile.

Winery Kolfok Neckenmarkt, Querschnitt Rotburger & Co., 2019 Blend of 95% Zweigelt and 5% Syrah
Structured and bone dry, with bright tannins, and a violet and sour cherry flavor profile. The carbonic element of this wine recalls Beaujolais (not to be confused with Beaujolais Nouveau).

Winery Hareter Weiden am See, Pinot Noir, ohne, 2018 100% Pinot Noir
This wine was produced during a particularly hot year (especially in September and October).
Pronounced ripeness and acidity.
The Pinot Noir grapes used to make this wine was the second varietal to be harvested after Sauvignon Blanc that year.
Smooth and structured, with pronounced, but well-rounded tannins, and a violet, raspberry, and herbaceous, as well as a mildly gamey, and menthol flavor profile.

The Szigeti (bottle on the left) is a fabulous sekt that you can find at Cafe Katja. It’s particularly ideal for summertime drinking.

Winery IBY Horitschon, Mittelburgenland DAC,
Blaufränkisch Red, Hochaker, 2018 100% Blaufränkisch
This is the winery’s second DOC vintage.
Aged in second use, neutral oak barrels.
Harvested from clay soil-rich vineyards.
Round, with a balanced acidity, soft tannins, and a good texture, as well as a blackberry, blueberry, and earth flavor profile.

Pairing a series of Burgenland whites with a traditional Austrian-style smoked salmon.

Winery Jalits Badersdorf, Eisenberg DAC Reserve, Ried Diabas, Blaufränkisch, 2017
Single-vineyard wine produced from 100% Blaufränkisch grown on schist-rich soil.
Very lean, and bone dry, with a refreshing acidity, and a raspberry, red stone fruit, and oak flavor profile.

Eichenwald Weine Horitschon, Mittelburgenland DAC Reserve, Ried Durrau, Blaufränkisch, 2017 100% Blaufränkisch Aged 2 years in new French oak.
The flavor characteristics of this wine are reminiscent of Syrah. Full-bodied, with round tannins, good texture, and a spicy finish, as well as a mixed dark berry, mocha, and pepper flavor profile.

A few more winning Burgenland wines.

Winery Prieler Schutzen am Gebirge, Blaufränkisch, Ried Marienthal, 2017 (sweet wine) 100% Blaufränkisch
2017 is considered young for this type of wine. It can keep for 30 years. Aged in large, new oak barrels to allow the natural qualities of the grape to show through. (The French sweet wine Sauterne from Bordeaux is aged in new oak barriques).
Balanced and elegant, with a good minerality, and a sour cherry, thyme, and concentrated herb flavor profile.

Eichenwald Weine Horitschon, The OAK Cuvee, 2017 Blend of Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon
Aged almost 2 years on the lees.
Smooth, with refined, robust tannins, a long and pleasant finish, and a well-integrated alcohol intensity, as well as a balanced acidity.

Pairing a quartet of Burgenland reds with a classic Austrian-style grilled steak.

Winery Heidi Schrock & Sohne, Rust am See, Ruster Ausbruch, 2018, “On the Wings of Dawn.” (sweet wine) Blend of Welschriesling and Furmint
18 grams of residual sugar per liter.
Aged for 2 years in new French oak barrels.
Elegant, with a silky texture, a balanced acidity, and a grapefruit, pineapple, and herb, as well as a grassy flavor profile.

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