I have gone wine tasting in many places, mostly centered on the sunny U.S. state of California, but I have to say that tasting in Burgenland, Austria was perhaps the most unique and wonderful experience I have had the pleasure of so far.
The experience I am used to usually involves:
- Going to a winery or winery tasting room,
- Being offered a couple of pre-selected set tastings to choose from, with a set price and specific tasting order,
- Once selected, the tasting room attendant pours each wine for you, in the specific order they would like you to taste the wines in, while they explain the nuances of each individual wine.
Wine tasting in Austria, I have found, is much more casual and relaxed than that. They simply ask you what wine you’re interested in trying and then they pour it for you. That was really it.
I was recently visiting Burgenland, Austria, in the eastern part of the area very close to the Hungarian and Slovakian border. This region is known for a plethora of white wines and the landscape, although fairly flat, is very peaceful and serene. It’s made up of a number of vineyards of varying sizes – from small farms (maybe 50 or 100 feet wide and 300 yards long) to larger vineyards (similar to what you might see in the Santa Barbara or Sonoma regions of California).
We had decided to go wine tasting for my daughter’s birthday and the first winery we stopped at was the Salzl Winery. This was a serious full operation on the vineyard. It had a more modern feel to it and yet the tasting was still very casual; we were mostly left to explore on our own… which was an absolutely wonderful experience. After our tasting we took a full guided tour of their facility. We saw their bottling line in full operation, the oak barrel aging room, and the stainless steel fermentation tanks. We also got a chance to see one of their vineyards located directly behind the tasting room. It was a wonderful slow experience where we spent the better part of 3 hours or so.
The following day we went to the town of Rust (pronounced Roost) one of the quaint 17th-century towns bordering Lake Neusiedl. The town is filled with old-world charm and a number of wine tasting rooms. It’s called the town of Storks and Noble wine. Their wine-making tradition dates back over 500 years! It was no wonder I enjoyed their wines so much. There was also a different sort of beauty to the wine tasting experience in this town; a lot more casual and café-like. The places I visited weren’t fancy corporate tasting rooms – the tasting were held in lovely courtyards, surrounded by 16th and 17th-century architecture, rambling vines, and the soft sounds of birds chirping.
The first tasting room we came across in Rust was Peter Shandl. We entered the tasting room and saw some empty tables and looked around for someone who was working there… we could not find them. A resident, who lived above the tasting room, called the person we were looking for and she came riding up on a bike a few minutes later. We took our places around our selected table and were presented with a menu of wines. We started down the list and tasted between 10 and 15 wines in such a relaxed manner, enjoying each one, and talking about what we liked and didn’t like. There was no formal presentation, no limit to the number of wines to taste, and no particular order that we had to taste them in.
I was told by my friend that if we don’t buy wine after the tasting, we simply leave a few euros and we’re done. I never tested this theory since I typically bought wine, or someone else did, at each of the places we did our tastings.
Upon leaving Peter Shandl, we decided that one tasting today simply wasn’t enough… so we found another cool place called Feiler-Artinger. This time we didn’t need to look for or wait for anyone to assist us. The owner immediately attended to us upon entering, gave us breadsticks, and asked us which wines we wanted to try. We tried rosé, sparkling, and a variety of whites. They were all so good. We had a few reds… but they seemed to be fairly young so I’d like to see what happens with them after they age a few more years. The owner was very gracious and gave us a bit of background on each of the wines as we tasted. We all had a fantastic experience at this tasting.
This region of Austria boasts a number of great varietals – some of which are easy to find in the United States such as Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Then there are the ones that are more typical just to this region – many of which I had never tasted before (with the exception of Grüner Veltliner and Blaufränkisch).
The local varietals we tasted were (click the name for more information on that specific wine):
- Gelber Muskateller (or Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains)
- Grüner Veltliner
- Muskat Ottonel
- Orange Traminer
- Ruster Ausbruch
- Weissburgunder (or pinot blanc)
Many of the wines produced in the Burgenland region are from smaller producers or wineries. Most of the wines we tasted were whites with very low alcohol content (anywhere from 11% to 13%, though some of the whites we had were as low as 10%).
Overall, I preferred the white wines I tasted much more than the reds. The whites had a nice balance of acidity and fruit, plus the low alcohol content made them refreshing and very easy to drink. Several of the reds I tasted I really liked, and given more time to age I feel that they would really come into their own (most of those were either Blaufränkisch or Cabernet Sauvignon). I didn’t take much in the way of notes while tasting, focusing more on experiencing the wines themselves and my wonderful company, so you’ll need to look at the websites I linked above to get more specific information on each type of wine if you are curious.
In most of the locations we visited the locals did speak English but if you speak German – even better. Though just about any language barrier can be overcome by simply pointing… or there’s always Google Translate. I must say the wine tasting experience is not only fantastic but you’re going to taste a lot of really great wines from varietals that are not so common in the U.S., particularly in California.
There are so many places to taste wine in the small towns of Burgenland that I’ll need to go back and do a lot more exploring of this wonderful wine region. I not only enjoyed the wines I tasted, I really enjoyed the relaxing and less formal tasting atmosphere.
Again, unlike in the U.S. where they typically tell you a little bit about each wine, the tasting profile, how much is produced by the winery, how many barrels, how many cases, etc. I noticed that in Austria they pretty much leave it up to you to ask questions if you are interested in doing so. Sometimes they would say a few words about the wines, other times nothing at all. Perhaps it was because of the possible language barrier… maybe they assumed we didn’t understand German (which, in my case, is not true).
They seem to have a much more relaxed attitude regarding their wines and tastings – basically:
- If you like it, great!
- Do you want to buy it? Yes? Fantastic!
- No? Ok, no big deal. All is good… and if you want to know more about the wines I will be happy to tell you more.
Talking up the wine and pressuring you to buy did not seem like it was their main goal for your experience at the winery or tasting room. It really feels like it was more about just tasting the wines and exploring what you like… and then maybe making a purchase.
For me, the biggest disappointment was the fact that I could not buy as much wine as I would like to! Why? I would’ve liked to have bought cases and cases of a few of the wines since I tasted so many wonderful wines that simply are not easily found in the United States. Of course shipping it all home would cost me far more than it would be worth.
My recommendation for you?
- Taste wines in every location that you can.
- Buy a few bottles to drink during your stay in the area.
- Enjoy them thoroughly!
- Take a few bottles home if you can manage to make that work.
Mainly simply enjoy the experience while you are doing it and the unique varietals that you won’t be able to find easily in the United States.
Want to learn more about Austrian wines, wineries, and producers? Visit Austrian Wine – the site is a fantastic resource for wines and wineries in the area.
Have you been wine tasting in Austria?
How was your experience?
What wines were your favorite?
Let us know in the comments below!