Drinking interesting wine in Austria, and without a drop of antifreeze (I hope)

In wine, reputation is everything.  You may position yourself so as to gain a reputation for fine wine, or for cheap and somewhat nasty plonk that the masses gulp down, or you may do something stupid like drop some poison into your wine to make it taste better, then get caught!

The Austrians (no, not Australians, although we both wear lederhosen on weekends) got busted adding antifreeze to their wines in 1985.  “Why mention it, that was so long ago?”  Even to this day when I mention Austrian wine to people I get the occasional “Oh, they made that antifreeze stuff”.  The scandal did a hell of a lot of damage to the Austrian wine brand and it took until 2001 for Austria to sell as much wine as it had done pre-scandal.  People went to jail and laws and testing regimes were made much stricter.

Another long lasting reputational impact has actually been on French wine.  Somewhere along the Chinese whispers line people have heard that “it was the French that done it”.  My in-laws in Ireland wouldn’t drink French wine when I lived there in the naughties because “they had put anti-freeze in their wine” and even The Simpsons did an episode where Bart was working in a French winery and they forced him to buy, add, and drink antifreeze wine.

The reason why it was done is important to the Austrian wine story.  It was only done by a small handful of people in a small part of Austria and it was apparently done to meet contractual arrangements.  Sweet Austrian wine was popular and the producers involved in the scandal had to supply a huge amount of sweet wine to the German mass market.  The thing is, you need good weather with some warm days late in the season to produce sweet wine and this wasn’t happening in Austria in the early 80s.  The rumour is that antifreeze was added to prolong the wine but it was actually to turn dry wine sweet because the conditions just weren’t producing sweetness naturally.

???????????????????????????????Thankfully so much has changed with Austrian wine and the trend for really sweet wine has faded in favour of deliciously crisp, but still fruity, wines.  No need for antifreeze (but be concerned if the trend tilts back to sweet 😉 ).  I’ve drunk some great Austrian wine over recent years.

A little while ago I was lucky to spend some time in Vienna and Graz (my favourite Austrian city).  It was mid-summer and I was drinking some beautiful white wine.  I can clearly recall sipping deliciously crisp, slightly peppery and spicy but still quite simple wine, made of the Austrian grape Grüner Veltliner from northern Burgenland while snacking on Austrian-style antipasti.  Yummo!

And then there’s the other interesting local grapes like Zierfandler and Rotgipfler.  But above all these were the sensational Austrian Rieslings I drank.  Austria really do make great Riesling.  I had some good and very interesting Sylvaner-Riesling blends too.  And I had some rubbishy Welschriesling.  Maybe I was unlucky, and I kept trying, but they all seemed rather dull and boring.  Apparently the grape can make great sweet wine but let’s not go there!

It was while I stayed in Graz that I had my epiphany on Austrian wine.  Graz, with its UNESCO world heritage listed Historic Centre, Schloss Eggenberg (Eggenberg Palace), and The Schlossberg (a beautiful big old clock tower on the hill overlooking the city) is a wonderful place often overlooked by travellers.  It also sits on the edge of an often overlooked wine region of Austria, Steirerland (Styria).  I had an interesting Sauvignon Blanc, which is widely grown in the area but it was actually the red wines that took me by surprise.

Austria isn’t known for its reds but about 30% of their wine is red, often from Blaufränkisch, Blauer Portugieser, Blauburger, St. Laurent and/or Pinot. These can all make some interesting red wines.  But it was a couple of very enjoyable Zweigelts from the hills of Steirerland south of Graz that I found most interesting of all.  It’s probably the toughest area in Austria to grow wine yet these Zweigelts hit the spot.

???????????????????????????????The Erich & Walter Polz Klassic Zweigelt was the perfect red wine match for my pork schnitzel with its light to medium body that packed some decent fruit and spice.

The Winkler-Hermaden Blauer Zweigelt Klassic was also delicious with a bit more body and quite a decent array of fruit flavours along with a bit of minerally spice and had with, ummm, another pork schnitzel for lunch on another day (the Austrians do the best schnitzels and always with a side of potatoes and cucumber done different ways and usually with a bit of paprika sprinkled over the top).  I liked this wine enough to buy two bottles that I brought all the way home to Australia tucked away in my bag.

They were relatively light to medium bodied red wines but had the perfect complexity levels and flavours to go with Austrian food, being perfect summer reds that were enjoyed while sitting at the many outdoor cafes around the old town centre!

So, I strongly advise giving Austrian wine a good go, especially their reds even when it’s warm, unless you’re really into sweet wine of course.  😉

Author: Conrad

Advertisements

63 comments

  1. This is just astonishing. I had no idea. My husband’s family are Austrian, from the Tyrol. They are the proudest group of people I have ever encountered and they constantly drink imported Austrian wine. My mother-in-law in particular loves Riesling. I wonder if they knew about this! Who would ever think of doing this? Anyway, glad it is no longer the practice. Food for though here and great inspiration.

    Like

    • Hi Beth. I suppose the producers panicked about not being able to meet their quota of sweet wine. Money can drive people to do all sorts of crazy things. Chemists were involved in the scam and apparently the formula was very sophisticated and totally undetectable by the human palate. It was a chance testing of the components of one of the wines in Germany that hit onto it all.

      I have no doubt that your in-laws know about this but, of course, their pride would keep them from discussing it openly. It matters not nowadays anyway because Austrian wine is the best it has probably ever been!

      Like

    • Lucky you living in such a beautiful area! I’m jealous. We actually ducked down to Maribor and visited The Old Vine while we were there, the oldest grape producing vine in the world at over 400 years old. I bought some lovely Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling from the wine shop but would loved to have got hold of a bottle of wine made from the old vine, although apparently it isn’t the best drop even though it is given away to dignitaries. Maybe that’s why it is given away! lol.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%BDametovka

      Like

  2. The glycol scandal was the best thing that ever happened to Austrian wine, which was a cheap mass-produced definitely-to-be avoided liquid earlier. Due to the scandal, there was a big push to improve quality – which then led to very nice wines.

    Like

  3. Do not get curious and cick a photo while in the middle of typing a comment.

    If there is such a thing as Austrian Rieslings is there such a thing as French Quislings? After all a famous Austrian (ne’ German) had such a relationship with a certain Frenchman.;)

    You have a lovely summer cottage Conrad. What’s the electric bill like, bro?

    Your wine bottle coveralls look like the farmer is exposing some tender bits.;)

    Fun read, looks like a great time and great wine was had by all named Conrad and his photog wife.;)

    Cheers.

    Like

  4. I always wondered why did they put antifreeze in the wine, I guess now its difficult to drink a sweet wine without growing fears.
    Graz seems really nice.

    Like

    • Nah, all Austrian wine is fine now. After 16 years in the cold they have learned their lesson. When people visit Austria they seem to concentrate on Vienna and the western side including Salzburg and the Alps into Switzerland. Graz just isn’t in the vicinity so it gets missed, but it isn’t to be missed!

      Like

  5. Ah, you know, to some people the French and the Austrians are the same people! I hear this a lot here in America. “Oh, you know, it was somewhere over there,” they will say as they fling their hand in the general direction of THERE. And when I say anything about ‘here in America’, I am pretty much relegated to the actions of those in Northeast Texas/Southwest Arkansas! Imagine that! You probably couldn’t find a decent bottle of wine here to save your life!

    Like

  6. Yikes, I don’t remember this story! But thanks for educating me today. My forebears tended to make their own wine (waay before my time!), and I’m pretty sure antifreeze wasn’t in the recipe!

    Like

  7. Who thought drinking antifreeze was a good idea?! Can’t you die from that stuff? I was wondering why they would do it in the first place. Thanks for the explanation. And what are lederhosen? They sound like pantyhose or something.

    Like

  8. I love my reds, but I still won’t drink Austrian or French wine! I’ve stuck to Italian and Spanish for over a decade. Interesting article.
    I’m from Canada and have found a Canadian Cabernet I like.

    Like

    • I love Italian and Spanish wine too. Actually, I like any good wine, I’m not country specific. I used to only like certain wines then I decided to try local wine while travelling and that opened up a whole new world for me. I’m glad you have found the type of wine you like though, wine appreciation is totally an individual thing.

      Like

    • Good question. Apparently the added sweetness of sugar would be very noticeable, sort of like when sugar is used to sweeten orange juice. The antifreeze formula somehow gave a real natural (strangely enough) wine type sweetness and also added body to the wine turning it into something that actually tasted relatively good.

      Like

  9. Never, ever cared for riesling. Thought it was because it is way too sweet for my liking. Now I know the real reason. Don’t care for gewurztraminer either. Again too sweet. Maybe I’d like it without the antifreeze.

    Like

  10. Your post reminded me of an unplanned excursion to Graz 20 years ago. We got ‘stuck’ there for 10 days, hiking up the hill, sitting in the cafe’s, driving to Hungary and drinking the vino. Good times! I think I will have to look in my shoebox for the pictures. Cheers…

    Like

Please let us know your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s