The lucky number for the world of Austrian wine seems to be the 9, since when the year ends with this numeral – like 1999 and 2009 (‘the Niners’) – the vintage often turns out to be particularly fine. This legendary series continues in 2019: despite heat and drought, the white wines are vivaciously fresh and the reds show excellent depth. And at 2.3 million hectolitres production, 2019 is in line with the long-term average in terms of volume.
Unstable weather in springtime, hot summer & mild autumn
The warm winter of 2019, with its meagre precipitation – not much of a winter at all, actually – was followed by an inconsistent spring: April was again very warm, while the coldest May since 1991 brought a great deal of rain and retarded the development of the vines; fortunately there were no late frosts anywhere to damage the prospects. In retrospect, this wet period figured undoubtedly as a stroke of luck because it made a decisive contribution to ensuring that the vines and clusters survived the torrid summer months unscathed. Ultimately, it also contributed to a noticeably different sort of aromaticity than in the previous vegetation cycle, in which this ‘water reservoir’ was not available. The vines blossomed at a normal time and under favourable weather conditions, so that any losses due to coulure fell within narrow limits.
Summer got under way with the warmest and driest June since temperatures began to be recorded, and continued with a July and an August that were almost as hot, although the heat waves were not as extreme as in 2017 and 2018. Thankfully, there was no hail damage.
With the end of August a cooler period began, which above all brought with it pleasantly mild nocturnal temperatures, which also exerted positive effects on the fruit aromas and acidic structure of the wines. Autumn continued very mild and consistent, so that the primary harvest could be conducted according to plan and in an unhurried fashion, especially since there was no more significant rainfall. The grape material achieved full ripeness in all winegrowing regions and displayed the picture of perfect health, since hardly any fungal infections or development of rot had occurred, thanks to the summer’s high temperatures.
White wines of rare elegance
Invigorating freshness coupled with a radiantly clear expression of fruit are characteristic for all of the white wine varieties, accompanied as well by structural acidity that is rather striking for such a warm year. Accordingly, the white wines are expressing a singular sense of elegance and harmony at an early stage of development.
Niederösterreich’s (Lower Austria’s) leading variety Grüner Veltliner turned out more varietally expressive and multidimensional than it has been for a long time – in addition to the characteristic white pepper snap and tobacco-like spice, 2019 offers especially vivid fruit flavours, which give the lighter versions a great deal of dynamic tension, substance and expressiveness. The Rieslings – in their strongholds from the Wachau via the Kamptal and Kremstal to Vienna’s Nussberg – are extremely juicy and fruit-driven, again supported by a racy framework of acidity.
Almost the same can be said for the Burgenland appellations, where – for example, in Leithaberg – very well-structured and aromatically mature Weissburgunders (Pinot Blancs) and Chardonnays were vinified. In addition, their alcohol content is rather moderate compared to some of the previous hot years.
Winegrowers in the Steiermark (Styria) also enjoy an excellent vintage, in which the wines appear to be in perfect balance at an early stage. Their famous Sauvignon Blancs and Muskatellers are delightful – with abundant fruit, but without being overpowering or monolithic in any way.
Likewise, the more and more highly-prized local specialties such as Roter Veltliner, Rotgipfler, Zierfandler and Furmint – as well as the still-ascendant Wiener Gemischter Satz – have all benefited in flavour from the aforementioned optimal conditions.
Vintage comparisons and forecasts – inevitable and unavoidable – often mention 2017 and 2015, which, however, may have turned out a little more powerful in some cases. But: 2009, 1999 and 1979 are also sometimes cited, and so does the legend of the ‘Niner’ live on? In any case, the expected long-term cellaring potential of the current vintage seems to be a reasonably sure thing, which it would then have in common with the vintages just mentioned.
Top red wines yet again
The outlook for the red wine vintage – which should be regarded as equally positive – could begin with a gratifying as well as surprising backward glance, since Austria has now recorded five very good to excellent red wine vintages in a row starting with 2015 (possibly with small minuses for 2016). A phenomenon that until recently nobody would have thought possible!
The 2019 wines are thus far consistently deep in colour, extremely concentrated and rich in extract, although acidity and tannins also appear to check out at an impressive level. All in all, well-structured and firm red wines of consistent depth and complexity can be predicted, which should seamlessly follow the great red wine vintages like 2011, 2015 and 2017. This applies to all red wine centres as well as all red grape varieties, although it should be noted that climate change is particularly beneficial for varieties such as Cabernet and Syrah, which in Austria used to experience difficulty reaching full maturity. But Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and Sankt Laurent as well were naturally favoured with optimum ripeness and a completely pristine state of health, so that well-balanced wines full of juice and power can be expected. Of course, this also applies to Pinot Noir, although in such hot years, vineyard management and the choice of harvest date for this capricious grape variety are particularly important.
Modest harvest volume for sweet wines
It is still too early to make accurate predictions about dessert wines. In the Seewinkel on the eastern shores of Lake Neusiedl one can expect very fine botrytis-affected wines. On the other side of the lake however, there will be hardly any Ruster Ausbruch due to massive bird damage perpetrated by swarms of gluttonous starlings. Apart from a couple of nights, any substantial nocturnal frosts remained completely absent; frozen grapes for Eiswein could be only picked in isolated instances. Overall, the volume of sweet wines will be quite limited.
- 2.3 million hectolitres
- Consistent with the long-term average
- Wet month of May provided water reserves for summer
- Summer: hot and dry
- Mild autumn with cool nights encouraged aromatic development
- Consistently healthy and fully ripened grape material
- Grüner Veltliner (Niederösterreich) varietal typicity, with distinctive fruit aromas
- Riesling (Niederösterreich, Wien) juicy and fruit-forward
- Weissburgunder and Chardonnay (Burgenland): firmly structured and fully ripened
- Sauvignon Blanc and Muskateller (Steiermark): full-bodied, harmonious fruit
- General long-term cellaring potential expected
- Profound depth and complexity in all winegrowing regions
- Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and Sankt Laurent harvested completely healthy
- Cabernet and Syrah also reached full maturity
- Long-term cellaring potential expected
- lovely Spätlesen; fine fruit, good supportive acidity
- fine botrytis wines in the Seewinkel, hardly any Ruster Ausbruch (bird damage)
- There was almost no nocturnal frost for harvesting Eiswein
- Small harvest volume for nobly sweet wines