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Austria Introduces New Qualifications for Still and Sparkling Wine

Earlier this month, Austrian wine made its fifth amendment in the last five years. The Wagram region became the country’s 17th Districtus Austriae Controllatus (DAC), a legal designation of quality and typicity for a geographic area. In addition, Sekt wines made with a protected designation of origin will take on the name Sekt Austria (PDO).

The Wagram recognition comes after seven years of exhaustive discussions. On February 2, the Austrian Minister of Agriculture, Sustainability and Tourism, Elisabeth Köstinger, signed the decree declaring that all wines labeled Wagram DAC must be dry by law, and white wines cannot be dominated by the influence of oak or any wood. The rules will start to apply with the 2021 vintage.

“It was a long process,” says Franz Leth of Weingut Leth, one of the committee members representing Wagram. “All parties needed to be happy and we finally came to an agreement to have a similar concept like in Wachau or in Styria.”

Wagram was known as Donauland until 2007. It spans over 5,000 acres of vineyards and can be divided into two considerably different zones. North of the Danube, bordering Kamptal, is large, flat terrain. Meanwhile, areas south of the Danube mainly consist of little villages in the Tullnerfeld basin, plus Klosterneuburg, a historic wine town that is home to Austria’s largest private wine estate, Stift Klosterneuburg.

Loess covers most of the vineyards north of the Danube. As a result, that part of Wagram is known for producing aromatic wines with bright fruit, spice and rich texture. South of Danube, the soil changes to sandy, silty, and argillaceous stone, as well as marl and loam. This difference distinguishes the wines from two subregions.

By introducing the DAC, Wagram producers aim to establish the typicity of the region’s wines. These regulations, first introduced in Austria beginning in the early 2000s, are similar in principle to France’s Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system. Like in all other regions, the Wagram DAC will divide wines into three categories: Gebietswein (regional wine), Ortswein (villages wine), and Riedenwein (single-vineyard wine).

Klosterneuburg cityscape view. A suburb of Vienna in the Lower Austria Weinviertel region.
Klosterneuburg, in the Lower Austria Weinviertel region / Getty

“This is a perfect opportunity to show what Wagram can produce, especially on the highest level of the pyramid,” says Leth.

The Gebietswein level permits the use of 13 traditional red and white grape varieties. Gemischter Satz, or field blends, and cuvée blends are also allowed at this level.

At the village level, or Ortswein, the DAC recognizes 27 protected designations of origin, and the number of permitted grape varieties is reduced from Gebietswein to seven. No blends are allowed, only monovarietal wines.

The pyramid’s peak is the Riedenwein, the legally defined, single-vineyard wines or crus of Wagram. These sites are represented through the flagship white varieties of the Wagram region, Grüner and Roter Veltliner, as well as Riesling.

“This is a perfect opportunity to show what Wagram can produce.”—Franz Leth, owner of Weingut Leth

In addition to the long-awaited Wagram ruling, the Austrian sparkling wine category, Sekt, and the Kremstal region also saw some changes. From now on, Sekt with a protected designation of origin can only be sold in conjunction with the terms Sekt Austria (PDO), Sekt Austria Reserve (PDO) or “Sekt Austria Grosse Reserve (PDO).

Bottles of Sekt in rack
Sekt bottles at Austrian Wine Summit / Photo Courtesy ÖWM / Bernhard Schramm

“By employing the designation Sekt Austria for sparkling wines with all Austrian origins, we are creating a clear position and profile for these premium wines, which come in three classes,” says Chris Yorke, CEO, Austrian Wine Marketing Board.

Austria’s Kremstal region is also gaining nine legally defined village wines, or Ortswein. As of this writing, the only Austrian wine region that still remains to acquire DAC rules is Thermenregion.

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