The ‘S’ Factor – Unearthing the Classic Sparkling Wines of Austria
11th March 2019
Soft. Sensuous. Seductive. Sultry. Sumptuous. Satisfying. Sublime. Suggestive. Sekt!
And Austrian Sekt is one of the most unique and distinctive of all wines.
Austrian sparkling wine producers work to a precise trilogy which classifies the quality of all the
Sekt they produce.
The first level is known as “Klassik”. It involves strict controls on the origins and authenticity of all
the grapes and varieties used in the process. Further checks ensure that the maturing wine has spent
a minimum of 9 months on the lees before being considered for release.
So already, even at this very early point of Sekt production, the quality bar for Austrian Sekt is set
The second level is the “Reserve”. All Sekt classified in this category must have been produced
according to a strict law of traditional method bottle fermentation. This law states that all grapes
used in the production of traditional method sparkling wine (Premier Cru champagne) must be
grown, hand picked and vinified in a strictly designated zone, and under tight quality controls. The
maturation period must be a minimum of 18 months on the lees. No blends are permitted. The result
is an all-out terroir-driven wine, which can then be classified as vintage and finished in brut, extra
brut or “Brut natur” styles.
Finally, the highest possible level for Austrian Sekt production is known as the “Grosse Reserve”
(an equivalent to “Grand Cru” champagne). This wine can be made only from grapes grown
exclusively in specially designated vineyards in areas such as Langenlois, and … The regulations for
this final level are the strictest of all viticultural practices, from vineyard management to sorting
and pressing, fermentation and bottling, and right through to cellaring and the final release date. When buying Austrian wine, look out for the following information which you will find on all bottles:
Austrian Sekt with Protected Designation of Origin – Klassik, Austrian Sekt with Protected Designation of Origin – Reserve and Austrian Sekt with Protected Designation of Origin – Grosse Reserve may only be transferred to the consumer or poured at the place of distribution when the bottle is provided with the indication “Österreichischer Sekt geschützter Ursprung” (“Austrian Sekt with Protected Designation of Origin”).
The largest, most prestigious wine-producing zone in Austria, and one of the most beautiful in
central Europe is the Kamptal region. The name Kamptal derives from the river Kamp that flows to
the Danube less than 50km away to the north west of Vienna. This area of outstanding beauty is
hilly and mountainous, with steeply terraced, high-altitude, south-facing slopes and densely planted
vineyards. This restricts the use of machinery during harvest time and means the picking and
sorting of grapes must be done by hand. Together with its soil typology of silt, gravel and sandstone,
this location makes for outstanding wines driven by minerality, freshness, identity of place,
aromatics and purity of fruit.
The microclimate of Kamptal shares a latitude with that of Burgundy and supports organic
viticulture practices. The river Danube to the south, warm easterly airflows from the Pannonian
basin in the southernmost part of eastern Europe, and the Waldviertel, located to the north of
Kamptal, all play a vital part in contributing to perfect growing conditions for grapes in this area.
Varietals planted here include Chardonnay, Pinot blanc, Sauvignon blanc and the great Pinot noir.
But the standout wines must surely be those made from the Grüner Veltliner variety, planted closer
to the river Danube and producing intense, full-bodied, nutty and savoury wines. These are in
contrast to that of the cool-climate Riesling variety – planted at higher altitudes on steep slopes in
soils with a greater level of minerality, and producing powerful wines with great depth and
incredible ageing potential.
This region is also the location of the renowned wine-growing town of Langenlois – world famous
for the production of fabulous wines in both still and sparkling formats, and one of the finest
examples of highly organised viticultourism in the world! The labyrinth of underground cellars,
some dating back over 350 years, are the foundations for ageing great Sekt.
There are many fine producers in Kamptal and surrounding zones making wines of outstanding
quality, but three at the forefront of winemaking activity are:
Steininger – shaping today’s winemaking practices
Loimer – carving out a clear path for future generations of winemakers
Schlumberger – maintaining the heart of Austrian winemaking tradition as the oldest cellar in
Weingut Steininger is a family owned winery, run by Karl and Brigitta Steininger and their three
daughters, Eva, Anna and Lisa. Modern and innovative, the Steiningers bring freshness and a
sparkling zest to winemaking in Kamptal. The family even describe themselves in wine terms – Karl,
considers himself to be ripe, balanced and harmonic, whereas Eva is peppery with young freshness!
If any winemaking family have wine running through their veins, it’s the Steininger family.
In 1989, following a visit to Champagne and extensive research into winemaking in that area, the
Steiningers made the switch from generations of agriculturists to the world of viticulture, in
particular, the production of sparkling wines from both indigenous and international varietals for the
global market. Today, the Steiningers make wines of outstanding quality from the prestigious Grüner
Veltliner and Riesling, to Sauvignon blanc, Pinot blanc and Pinot noir, all with a strong backbone of
identity, character, enjoyment and fun.
For more info visit: weingut-steininger.at
Fred Loimer is the man at the helm of this 150 year old wine cellar. This is no ordinary winery. In
fact, the multi-award winning Loimer winery is at the forefront of the biodynamic movement in the
region. Four words describe the direction Fred is steering this incredible farming venture: organic,
biodynamic, respect and diversity. Everything that Fred holds to heart is practised in his winery.
Organic – Fred believes that everything should be done with full respect for the laws of nature. That
is to say soil, plants, animals, and humans all play vital and contributing roles in the cycle of organic
Biodynamic – Fred’s philosophy is simple: the only thing that’s constant is change, and we all have a
great responsibility and duty to help shape this change in a biodynamic way.
Respect – The Loimer family work in a totally sustainable and respectful way towards nature and
are continuously working towards minimizing their carbon footprint while contributing great wines
for us and our planet.
Diversity – In a region where Grüner Veltliner and Riesling represent over 75% of grapes planted, it
stands to reason that Weingut Loimer has followed this lead by producing outstanding wines with
these two varieties. However, being fiercely committed to diversity, the Loimers also produce very
distinctive wines from international varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot noir as well as
indigenous varietals such as Muskateller, Traminer, Rotgipfler and Zweigelt. Diversity, says Fred, is
our emotional capital!
For more info visit: www.loimer.at
Schlumberger wine cellars.
The Schlumberger wine estate, located in Vienna, is officially the oldest and most traditional winery
Although founded in 1842, the family story goes back much further to 1814 and the birth of Robert
Alwin Schlumberger. Robert once held a high position as winemaker with the prestigious Ruinart
pere et fils Champagne house and it is here at this famous estate that he acquired his knowledge for
making great Champagne. On returning to Vienna, he acquired vineyards on the Goldeck in Maital and
immediately set to work on producing sparkling wines similar to those he had both encountered
and made in France. Robert is also credited with introducing the first sparkling wine to Austria.
Fame followed at the 1862 London exhibition where Schlumberger sparkling wine was served to
Queen Victoria and given a place on the royal wine list. With fame came fortune and the start of an
ambitious new venture to import and plant noble French vines such as Cabernet and Merlot. It is
documented that Schlumberger was the first to plant and cultivate these varieties in Austria,
therefore a great deal of gratitude is paid to the family for this introduction. In 1875, Robert was
knighted with the official title of Elder von Goldeck and today, Schlumberger wines, which are
produced using grapes grown exclusively in estate vineyards located in Niederösterreich and
Burgenland, are enjoyed globally. The Schlumberger name is recognised as an international brand of
exceptional quality. No trip to Vienna, or indeed Austria, is complete without a visit to the estate and a tour of the 300 year old cellars. Only then can the wines of Schlumberger be fully appreciated in
all their glory.
For more info visit:www.schlumberger.at
Austrian Sekts are some of the most versatile food-pairing wines of all – marrying fantastically well
with classic or refined dishes such as oysters and caviar, while also partnering superbly with Asian
food, sushi and strongly spiced or aromatic dishes.
The following food pairings have been chosen to keep the spotlight on the wine by using dishes that
are easy to prepare at home with readily available ingredients.
Steininger Grüner Veltliner
The wine: Fresh green apple, blossom, citrus and warm spicy notes. Golden yellow in colour with a
fine perlage giving the wine richness, balance, length and elegance.
Food pairing: Grilled fillet of cod with fennel, lime and ginger salad.
The wine: Bursts into life with a “here I am” zesty acidity and lively perlage. The nose and palate
offer apricot, peach and citrus, all nicely balanced with a touch of finesse.
Food pairing: Steamed mussels in white wine with lemon olive oil and parsley butter.
Steininger Sauvignon Blanc
The wine: Opens in typical sauvignon fashion – crisp and zesty driven by tropical fruit notes. Very
elegant wine with lovely minerality typical of the region with a hint of spiciness and a long
Food pairing: Terrine of goats cheese, walnut vinaigrette and apple salad.
Loimer Extra Brut Reserve
The wine: Concentrated fine mousse with uplifting aromas of apple and lemon followed by notes of
toasted bread, finishing with vibrant acidity and minerality which plays on the palate.
Food pairing: Grilled salmon on toasted brioche with creme fraîche and chive.
Loimer Brut Ros é Reserve
The wine: Very elegant, opening with red fruits and warm spice, then an uplifting bite of freshness
and acidity to keep the party rolling, finishing with soft gentle fruit notes.
Food pairing: Fried king prawns, white wine and garlic butter sauce with fresh herbs.
Loimer Blanc de Blanc Grosse Reserve 2013
The wine: Intense, weighty and complex, with soft notes of toasted bread and beautiful minerality
running right through the wine which develops as the wine opens up.
Food pairing: Smoked trout with warm beetroot and horseradish salad.
Schlumberger Chardonnay Brut Reserve
The wine: Opens with soft notes of green apple and lemon with lively acidity. The wine is warm,
round, fresh and full-bodied, finishing with a lovely creaminess.
Food pairing: Potted smoked salmon, rocket, tomato and fennel leaf salad.
Schlumberger Pinot Noir Brut Reserve
The wine: This 100% Pinot Noir is salmon pink in colour. Opening with floral notes of rose and
violet. Bright acidity pushes the wine forward, towards soft scents of raspberry, blackberry and
some cherry. An elegant wine for that special occasion.
Food pairing: Linguine with seared scallops, artichoke hearts, roast walnuts and parmesan shavings.
Schlumberger Prestige Brut Reserve
The wine: A wonderful fine wine made from Pinot noir and Chardonnay offers up fresh red fruits,
very lively acidity and a fine perlage. Overall the wine is very delicate, rounded off with a touch of
elegance and a soft clean finish.
Food pairing: Grilled salmon steak with leek and dill cream sauce.
Very few wine producing countries or regions, anywhere in the world can lay claim to producing as
many great sparkling wines in such diverse styles and high quality as Austria.
In today’s world of winemaking, it is considered a success for any winery to produce one great
sparkling wine, a blessing if they produce two and a small miracle if they can produce three of the
highest quality. Austrian sparkling wine producers are not only very talented artisans, they are
blessed with all the gifts of nature, and they know how to use these gifts to incredible effect.
Next time you’re stuck at the crossroads of sparkling wine and debating whether to choose the left to
prosecco or the right to champagne, maybe you should take a completely different road to the great
Sekts of Austria. Prost! Zum Wohl! und Prosit!
Written by Graham Herbert.
Apart from writing about the wines of Germany, Austria and Italy, Graham is a full time organic farmer and wine tour operator in Le Marche, Central Italy. The farm is focused on producing high grade extra virgin olive oil and promoting family holidays and sustainable living at his Eco-Agritourism guest house. For more information visit. www.foglie-ridenti.com
Glass of Bubbly
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