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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

10 red wines to drink now: Austria edition

A variety of Austrian red wines. There’s more to Austrian wines than grüner veltliner — its reds range from juicy and refreshing to satisfyingly complex. (Tony Cenicola/The New York Times)

By Eric Asimov

Austria is best known for its white wines, grüner veltliners and rieslings primarily. But it also produces brilliant reds, which, because they often seem like afterthoughts, can be great values.

Why do they seem so relatively obscure? Partly, it’s because grapes like blaufränkisch, which has great potential for making complex, contemplative wines, and zweigelt, the most widely planted Austrian red variety, are not well known to Americans, who often gravitate to the familiar. It’s well worth taking the plunge, though, because these wines can be superb, ranging from juicy thirst-quenchers to complex, elegant wines capable of aging and evolving.

I recently went shopping for Austrian reds in New York retail stores and found 10 bottles that I highly recommend. I opted mostly for more accessible bottles, ranging from roughly $20 to $45, but these are the sort of wines that can fit most any occasion. Stepping up to wines often from single vineyards intended for longer aging might run $50 to $100, but even they tend to be excellent values relative to wines of similar high quality.

In the 25 years or so that I’ve been regularly checking in on Austrian reds, I’ve seen a remarkable evolution. Early on, I saw a lot of stolid, oaky wines that were aiming primarily for power, particularly among blaufränkisches, at the cost of grace and subtlety. That was a sign of the times, when the biggest, loudest wines seemed to be most valued by many critics.

It was also an era when many Austrian producers seemed as if they were trying to make robust wines patterned after cabernet sauvignons rather than exploring the more delicate qualities of blaufränkisch. But, as with much of the winemaking world, the North Star of many producers shifted over time from the sturdiness of Bordeaux to the grace of Burgundy. Austrians followed suit, and blaufränkisch has long since found its place in the constellation of lithe, nimble reds.

Zweigelt is another matter. In my experience, the grape, a cross between blaufränkisch and Sankt Laurent, another Austrian red, is light and spicy. Producers rarely get too ambitious with it, opting for juicy, tart, refreshing wines that can be delicious but don’t achieve the complexity of which blaufränkisch is capable. It is often used in blends.

Here are the 10 bottles in order of price.

Pittnauer Österreich Pitti 2022, 12.5%, $19

Pittnauer is a reliable Burgenland producer that farms organically and biodynamically. Its wines are often good values. This one, 70% Zweigelt and 30% blaufränkisch, is light, agile and earthy, easy drinking, but with a little more substance than a knock-back wine. (Savio Soares Selections, New York)

Heinrich Burgenland Blaufränkisch 2018, 12%, $20

This is a superb entry-level blaufränkisch, made from biodynamically farmed grapes on sites around Lake Neusiedl, already with five years of aging. The years have softened whatever tannins were in the wine. It’s now earthy and a touch stony, with flavors of dark red fruits that persist in the mouth. (Winebow, New York)

Meinklang Österreich Blaufränkisch 2021, 12%, $20

Meinklang is a family-run biodynamic farm that, along with cattle, grains, fruits and vegetables, grows grapes and makes excellent wines, whether blends or varietal bottles like this blaufränkisch. The 2021 shows off the grape’s easy-drinking side. It’s pure, bright, lively, spicy and absolutely delicious, and it’s ready to drink right now. (Zev Rovine Selections, New York)

Claus Preisinger Neusiederlersee Puszta Libre! 2022, 11.5%, $20

Claus Preisinger is a longtime biodynamic farmer in the Burgenland region of eastern Austria. This easygoing bottle, from the region east of Lake Neusiedl, is made mostly of zweigelt with 20% Sankt Laurent and 20% pinot noir. It’s a chillable red, juicy and highly refreshing. (Volker Wine Co., Houston)

Rosi Schuster Burgenland Blaufränkisch 2020, 13.5%, $23

This excellent earthy, stony, dark-fruited blaufränkisch, from organically farmed vineyards, is smooth and balanced with well-integrated tannins. Hannes Schuster now manages this estate that was founded by his parents, Rosi and Franz Schuster, in the 1970s. (Winemonger, San Anselmo, California)

Straka Burgenland Blaufränkisch Greenschist 2020, 12.5%, $23

Thomas Straka farms organically in the Eisenberg region in the foothills of the Alps in the southern part of the Burgenland. This blaufränkisch, from green schist soils, is simultaneously bright and earthy, lively and refreshing yet savory and mineral. (Winemonger)

Rosi Schuster Burgenland Sankt Laurent 2021, 11.5%, $24

Sankt Laurent, Saint Laurent in English, is a popular grape in central and Eastern Europe. Schuster produces a particularly good version with spicy flavors of red fruits and impeccable balance. This would be as versatile with food as a pinot noir. (Winemonger)

Koppitsch Weinland Ret 2022, 10%, $25

Alex and Maria Koppitsch make natural wines in eastern Austria. They categorize Ret as a “fun wine,” and that’s exactly what it is, low in alcohol, bright and juicy with just a touch of refreshing bitterness. The wine is made up of 80% Zweigelt and 20% Sankt Laurent, farmed organically and biodynamically in alluvial soils and aged in steel and acacia vats. I’d serve this lightly chilled at casual gatherings, and I’d make sure I had plenty of bottles on hand. (Jenny & François Selections, New York)

Moric Burgenland Blaufränkisch 2021, 13%, $33

No winemaker has done more to elevate blaufränkisch than Roland Velic of Moric (pronounced Moritz). Almost anything he touches is superb, whether whites, blends or varietal wines. This is Moric’s entry-level blaufränkisch, yet it captures all of Velic’s emphasis on grace and elegance. The 2021 is fresh and focused, floral and minerally, the sort of wine that will go with a wide variety of foods. I’d love to have it with a roast chicken. His single-vineyard wines are more expensive but exquisite. (Winemonger)

Christian Tschida Österreich Kapitel I 2022, 12%, $42

Christian Tschida farms organically or biodynamically and makes natural wine, mostly without the addition of sulfur dioxide. Needless to say, the wine is ungefiltert, unfiltered in German, as the label puts it. This is made of cabernet franc. It’s pure, with earthy, spicy flavors of red fruits and just a hint of tannins, balanced and harmonious. (Jenny & François Selections)

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