The earliest wine harvest of modern Austrian viticulture surpassed the volume of the previous, above-average vintage 2017, at 2.75 million hectolitres. Once again, wines of very good to excellent quality are anticipated.
A vegetation cycle rife with challenges
Following a warm January, February and March were very cool, resulting in vines budding late. One positive effect of this is the fortunate fact that late frosts, like those which have occurred in the previous two years, did not threaten the vineyards in 2018. The second-warmest spring since the beginning of recorded weather led to a conspicuously early flowering in mid- to late May, an early advance in the vegetation cycle that then persisted throughout the hot summer. Apart from a few showers in June and thunderstorms in mid-July, summer also remained very dry. These combined factors of aridity and heat led to a considerable element of stress, especially upon terraced vineyards and recently planted parcels that could not be irrigated.
The consistently hot and dry weather led to the earliest harvest in memory: in Burgenland, for example, the first Qualitätswein (quality wine) was submitted for a federal inspection number on the 2nd of August. Right at the beginning of meteorological autumn, numerous Austrian winegrowing areas experienced relatively voluminous rainfall, which caused growers great concern, especially along the Danube and in the Steiermark (Styria). Fortunately, most of the rest of September and October was mild and sunny, so that the harvest could proceed in good order. Some winegrowers chose to start picking very early, given the temperatures and the September rains mentioned above, while other producers waited still, and preferred to harvest their vineyards later. In both cases, however, in spots where botrytis had appeared early, meticulous selection became necessary, which led to significant losses of volume in many Riesling vineyards in Niederösterreich (Lower Austria).
White wines in 2018: Fully ripened & true to form
In general, the 2018 white wines exhibit a high degree of maturity, and harvest volume is well above the long-term average overall. Must-weights lie roughly in the same range as in 2017 or even slightly above, and drawing further parallels between ‘18 and the previous year or the similar 2015 vintage is not inappropriate. And happily, it can already be predicted that the grand white wines will show no ‘hot spots’ in their makeup, despite unusually warm weather during the vegetation cycle. Learning from the experience of recent particularly hot years, Austria’s top winegrowers were able to hold off the dreaded sunburn and resulting tannin overload through meticulous vineyard work. In general, acid values are slightly lower than in 2017, although not readily perceptible to sensory examination in Grüner Veltliner or the Rieslings. There is no doubt: there will be certain bottlings of these varieties that match the demanding standard of the previous vintage and leave nothing to be desired in terms of varietal typicity and aromatic expression.
The aromatic varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Gelber Muskateller turned out to be typically expressive, but due to abundant rainfall in the Steiermark seem slightly lighter than last year, thus representing a certain exception to the rule. The wines of the Pinot family are quite lovely, showing significant harmony and early balance. The ‘exotics’ in the landscape of Austrian wines exhibit good breeding as well, with varieties like Roter Veltliner enjoying a certain degree of immunity to overbearing sunlight because of their dark pigmentation; one hears similarly positive things about the Thermenregion’s specialities Zierfandler and Rotgipfler.
An outstanding red wine vintage
There is euphoria all the way around among Austrian’s red wine producers: these high spirits apply on the one hand to all well-known centres of red wine production and on the other hand to all approved Austrian red wine varieties. Generally speaking, the grapes all achieved a very high level of ripeness, and the wines are rather dark in colour – even darker than the 2017s – quite powerful and concentrated, but also with a velvety background of tannin and adequate acidity, which give them appropriate backbone and satisfying balance early-on. Excellent results can thus be predicted both for the native Austrian red varieties Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and Sankt Laurent, as well as for the French globetrotters Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. With the unquestionably excellent red wine vintages 2015 and 2017 – as well as the somewhat cooler, but (among premium reds) also very impressive 2016s – for the first time we can even talk about a quartet of extremely promising vintages.
Looking to the dessert wines, this forecast comes a bit too early, but it appears that substantial Beerenauslese, Ausbruch and Trockenbeerenauslese are being vinified in the nobly sweet sector, along with racy Eiswein.