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Weinviertel DAC - fruity, peppery, fresh. With this uncomplicated taste Grüner Veltliner from the Weinviertel wrote its success story. But the Weinviertel vintners also have exciting wines in store, especially outside the DAC, because grape varieties, wine styles, geology and soils are diverse.

For many years, the Weinviertel region in the north-east of Austria bobbed along. The region, always in the shadow of Kamptal, Kremstal or Wachau, took plenty of time to catch up with the "Austrian wine miracle". The gradual upswing only began 15 years ago with the introduction of the first Austrian wine of origin - Weinviertel DAC - and a suitable marketing strategy. The associated striving for quality and a clearly formulated message for consumers have since been able to noticeably improve the image of the Weinviertel.

Grüner Veltliner Today, DAC is not only the flagship of Austrian wine in general, but especially that of the Weinviertel. "Fruity, peppery, fresh" sums up well the rather uniform and recognisable style that many consumers appreciate in the everyday Weinviertel Veltliner. Today, no grape variety other than Grüner Veltliner is allowed to bear the origin "Weinviertel" on the label. White and red quality wines have to be content with the indication of origin "Niederösterreich".

In flux

The production of Weinviertel DAC wines is steadily increasing; in the 2016 vintage it amounted to five million bottles. But by no means all of them correspond to the common, fresh, crisp image of the DAC. Since 2009, therefore, strong Veltliners that have been matured for longer (partly in wood) can be given the designation of origin "Weinviertel DAC Reserve". Most recently, the number of powerful reserves, thought of as the top product of a winery, has risen particularly sharply. New from the 2015 vintage onwards is that wines qualify for a Weinviertel Reserve exclusively through an expert tasting and that the previously necessary winery certification is no longer required.

Events outside of the Weinviertel DAC are also developing dynamically. A lot of great Grüner Veltliners are coming onto the market outside of the DAC, and the idea of quality has also left its mark on the other grape varieties.

The Weinviertel clearly reflects the general structural change in Austrian viticulture. The number of farms is decreasing, as many small and part-time winegrowers are giving up viticulture. Large wineries, on the other hand, are becoming larger and more professional. An illustrative example: the renowned winery R&A Pfaffl in the southern Weinviertel was already considered one of the larger wineries in 2000 with 30 hectares of vineyards - today it calls 110 hectares its own.

Three quarters white

With 13,900 hectares of vines, the Weinviertel comprises almost one third of Austria's winegrowing area. About 6,700 hectares Grüner Veltliner take up almost half of it. What happens in the other half? Among the white grape varieties - according to the 2015 basic vineyard survey by Statistics Austria - Welschriesling is in second place with more than 1,000 hectares. It has its focus in the north-eastern part of the Weinviertel, where the (sometimes unjustly) underestimated variety is primarily used in the production of sparkling base wines.

Other varieties are Riesling (560 ha) with a slight upward trend, followed by Müller-Thurgau (545 ha), which is steadily decreasing in area, Pinot Blanc (440 ha) with a slight decline in area, and Chardonnay (270 ha). The fashionable varieties Gelber Muskateller and Sauvignon blanc are also in vogue in the Weinviertel, and the winegrowers like to plant them - but with 170 and 120 hectares, respectively, their share is still manageable. Varietal rarities such as Roter Veltliner as well as Traminer and Pinot Gris enrich the assortment.

Two-eighths red

In the 1990s, red wine boomed all over Austria and even in the Weinviertel there was considerable planting of red grape varieties; Zweigelt in particular came into fashion. The tide turned after a few years, however, and the "red wine glut" was averted when the winegrowers turned their attention to their parade variety Grüner Veltliner.

Nevertheless, red wine now occupies almost a quarter of the Weinviertel's vineyard area. Well-known "red wine islands" are the Pulka Valley and the area around Retz in the north-west of the Weinviertel. Individual locations in the north or south have made a name for themselves not only with Zweigelt, but especially with Pinot noir or St. Laurent. However, with 64 and 85 hectares respectively, the area of these varieties remained small - in comparison to the leader Zweigelt with 1,600 hectares, which also in the Weinviertel generally produces fruit-driven, accessible red wines with smooth tannins. Blauer Portugieser and Blauburger follow in second and third place in the area ranking - both varieties have lost a lot of area in recent years. Merlot (105 ha) and Cabernet Sauvignon (73 ha) have smaller shares. The production of rosé is increasing, both as still wine and as sparkling or semi-sparkling wine.

Uniform terroir?

The rolling hills of the Weinviertel stretch north of the Danube to the Austrian-Czech border in the north, to the Slovakian border in the east and to the Manhartsberg on the border with the Waldviertel in the west. The climate is by no means homogeneous. Although a temperate continental climate dominates, in the south and southeast very warm air masses from the Pannonian lowlands often flow in, allowing the grapes to ripen earlier.

The rough division into the three zones "Veltliner-Land" in the northeast, "Weinviertel West" and "Weinviertel Süd" also indicates that the terroir of the Weinviertel is not as uniform as it sometimes appears to the outside world.

Let's take a look in depth. One usually associates famous wine-growing regions with typical soils and rocks: slate on the Moselle, limestone in Champagne, crystalline in the Wachau... But what characterises the Weinviertel? Loess. Fertile loess soils dominate in numerous locations in the east, west, south and north, but the small-scale terroir differences are just as numerous.

Basic terms

"Terroir" results from the interplay of soil, small-scale climatic influences and the winemaker's signature. Terroir is responsible for the subtle differences in wines and makes the subject really exciting.

"Soil" is the name given to the living part of the earth's crust. It is formed by the weathering of the rock in the subsoil. In addition to the geological source rock, climate, relief, water and soil organisms are also relevant for soil formation. The soil supplies the vine with oxygen, water and nutrients. The parent rock influences the water balance and the natural nutrient content of the soil - so geology always has a say.

Guiding rock loess

The processes leading to the formation of today's Weinviertel soils began after the last ice age about 10,000 years ago. Loess soils are widespread in the Weinviertel and one characteristic feature is the thick, yellow loess walls along sunken paths and cellar lanes. Loess is an aeolian sediment - it was transported by the wind. During the ice ages it was blown out of the river terraces in the Alpine foothills and deposited again in the lowlands. Loess is the basis for fertile soils on which many grape varieties - and especially Grüner Veltliner, feel at home - as the water retention capacity is good and the supply of nutrients is balanced. In addition to loess, there are also deposits from rivers - gravels and sands, which, like the loess, originate from the ice ages. Gravels and gravels deposited by the Urdonau can be partially consolidated into conglomerate.

The Weinviertel can be divided geologically into five zones:

1. granite of the Bohemian Massif in the far west.

At the westernmost edge of the Weinviertel there are foothills of the Bohemian Massif, which is very old in geological terms, with crystalline rocks. The term "primary rock" often used in the wine scene for crystalline is a geologically incorrect collective term for crystalline rocks such as granites, gneisses and slates. Isolated granite peaks protrude into the western Weinviertel as island-shaped foothills. Weathered granites repeatedly form the geological bedrock in the area of the town of Retz and south of it. Around the well-known wine village of Röschitz one finds both deep loess (e.g. Ried Galgenberg) and crystalline (e.g. Ried Reipersberg and Ried Steinleiten), where Riesling is often found.

2. molasse zone with and without limestone

The majority of the western Weinviertel is part of the Molasse zone, where loose sedimentary rocks such as clays, sands, gravels and in places also limestones predominate. These deposits of the Molasse Sea consist of alternating sequences of sandy and silty layers, as found above all in the Pulkautal, in the area around Mailberg and Schöngrabern. The Mailberg Buchberg is built up of the white, horizontally stratified Leithakalk. In the Retzer Land, the lime-free "Schlier" can also be found, silty-clay marine deposits with thin sand layers.

3. wash mountain zone as a narrow band

The Waschberg zone running through the middle of the Weinviertel is also called the "cliff zone" and separates the western from the eastern Weinviertel. It stretches as a narrow band from the Waschberg near Stockerau, which gives it its name, in the south over the Leiser Berge, Staatz and Falkenstein to the north. There are some crystalline blocks here, but the bright white, hard and splintery Ernstbrunner limestone, which builds up the Staatz cliff and the Falkenstein mountains, is particularly striking.

4. flysch in the south

The flysch zone includes the easternmost foothills of the Alps, which frame the Korneuburg Basin in the southern Weinviertel. The flysch, which is prone to slipping, was formed by deep-sea deposits and consists of alternating sequences of soft and hard layers that were consolidated to form clay marl and sandstone. Such layers can be found, for example, on the steep slopes of the Bisamberg near Langenzersdorf north of Vienna.

5 Vienna Basin in the East

The entire eastern hill country of the Weinviertel is classified as part of the Vienna Basin (incl. the Korneuburg Basin), which is filled with sediments - gravel, sand and clay. As an independent depositional area of various rocks, it is located at the transition of the Alps to the Carpathians. Loess and clay are widespread, but limestone is also sometimes found in the Vienna Basin, for example on the Steinberg near Zistersdorf, where the subsoil subsided along a fracture.

The subsoil of the Weinviertel is therefore characterised by diversity: loess and loam, crystalline, flysch, gravel and limestone. The interplay with different grape varieties and the personal styles of the winemakers creates a lot of exciting things. Today's top wineries in the Weinviertel also include those that consistently go their own way. Some run their wineries according to organic or biodynamic guidelines and try out new wine styles. They do without primary fruit aromas through cold fermentation, preferring instead to focus on depth and structure, sometimes working with mash fermentation, ageing in amphorae or even in granite barrels, with little added sulphur and generally as little intervention as possible in the cellar. This is how terroir becomes tangible - for example at Herbert Zillinger in Ebenthal, Johannes Zillinger in Velm-Götzendorf, Ingrid Groiss in Breitenwaida or Martin Obenaus in Glaubendorf.

The current BEST OF Weinviertel with links to more than 200 freshly tasted wines can be found here.

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