Top 100 Wines of Austria 2021

Crguk-Wine

Austrian winemakers who struggled with too much sun and heat before 2020 ran into a different problem that year when the weather flipped, with frequent rains and moderate temperatures the order of the day. Suddenly, the challenges they faced were the kind their parents also confronted: downy mildew, sluggish ripening of the grapes and ignoble rot. Parts of the Wachau were also hit by hail. Ouch! But the good news is the 2020 dry whites in the Top 100 Wines of Austria 2021 are exciting in spite of the conditions during the growing season and harvest, over which their makers triumphed.

2020 in Austria was a vintage in which the leading producers shone, thanks to an enormous amount of work in the vineyards doing canopy management, cutting out problematic fruit and sorting the better grapes at harvest. It was also a year in which more resilient grape varieties came out on top. Riesling proved itself to be a grape that copes with all the extremes of the new climatic situation: rain in 2020 and drought in years like 2018 and 2017.

Just look at the number of rieslings on this list, beginning with our No. 1 Austrian wine of 2021, the F.X. Pichler Riesling Wachau Ried Kellerberg 2020. This dry white masterpiece from Lucas Pichler has exactly the combination of power, complexity and wonderful balance that we expect from high-end Austrian dry whites.

Pichler’s sister Elisabeth and her husband, Erich Krutzler, also broke into the top of our Austria list for the first time with their rich and succulent, late-released Pichler-Krutzler Riesling Kremstal Ried Pfaffenberg Alte Reben 2019. It landed in the 10th spot – a great achievement considering we tasted more than 830 Austrian wines in 2021.

Another grape that copes with the new climatic conditions remarkably well is the red blaufrankisch, which was responsible for our No. 2 Austrian wine, the stunningly concentrated and elegant Moric Blaufränkisch Burgenland Lutzmannsburg Alte Reben 2019. It has the highest rating we have ever given to an Austrian red.

Lucas and Johanna Pichler of F.X. Pichler in the Wachau made our No. 1 Austrian wine, the F.X. Pichler Riesling Wachau Ried Kellerberg 2020, a dry white masterpiece. (Photo by Stuart Pigott)

Not far behind in ninth place is the Dorli Muhr Blaufränkisch Carnuntum Spitzerberg-Sptizer EL 2019, a radically fresh and mineral expression of this grape from the little-known region of Carnuntum, which is close to the borders of Hungary and Slovakia. In total, blaufrankisch accounted for almost 20 percent of the Austrian Top 100.

It’s also exciting to see a sauvignon blanc among the Top 10 Austrian wines for the first time. For us, the Tement Sauvignon Blanc Südsteiermark Ried Zierreg GSTK 2019 (No. 6, below right) is a world-class example of this grape, with great aromatic complexity. Congratulations are due to Armin Tement, because this is also arguably the best dry white made in the Styria (Steiermark) region in modern times. However, Tement isn’t alone, being joined by the Wohlmuth and Lackner-Tinnacher wineries from Styria in the Top 20, and a good handful of their Styrian colleagues follow further down the list.

READ MORE: TOP 100 WINES OF GERMANY 2021

The Chardonnay barrel cellar at the Kollwentz winery in Burgenland. (Photo by Stuart Pigott)

ELEGANT CHARDONNAY

International wine critics sometimes look down at Austrian chardonnay because this grape is planted globally and the wines often lack a clear regional character. But you certainly can’t say that about the very elegant and mineral Kollwentz Chardonnay Burgenland Gloria 2019, which placed fifth. For us, it was seriously impressive tasting this alongside the perfectly matured 2009 vintage of the same wine. So many high-end white wines from chardonnay’s homeland in Burgundy prematurely oxidize (the so-called premox problem) long before they reach this age.

Many experts would argue that with at least five years of aging in bottle, dry gruner veltliner often tastes remarkably like nicely matured chardonnay. 2020 yielded few high-end dry whites from Austria’s signature grape variety because of the rain during the harvest period for this relatively early-ripening grape. For us, the Prager Grüner Veltliner Wachau Zwerithaler Kammergut Smaragd 2020 in 12th position is the star among them, closely followed by the Nigl Grüner Veltliner Kremstal Pellingen EL Privat 2020. Both have the vitality, depth and finesse that are rare in this challenging vintage.

Before Austria switched to varietal white wines during the second half of the 20th century, cuvees were the norm, often as field blends. This year we tasted the most spectacular and extraordinary wine of this kind we have ever encountered. The Schloss Gobelsburg Niederösterreich Tradition Heritage Cuvée 50 Years NV (No. 3) has a tremendously complexity of mature aromas and radically reinvents this category. The production was also a serious quantity!

Schloss Gobelsberg doesn’t only produce non-vintage blends, though. The focus of the winery’s production is varietal dry riesling and gruner veltliner wines, and on Oct. 19 in London, the owner of Schloss Gobelsberg, Michael Moosbrugger, staged a very impressive tasting of his dry rieslings from the Heiligenstein vineyard site going back to the excellent 1971 vintage. However, back vintage wines like the stunning Schloss Gobelsburg Riesling Kamptal Heiligenstein EL 2001 don’t qualify for this Top 100 list, as only current releases are eligible. 

READ MORE: HEILIGENSTEIN DRY RIESLING: THE LEGEND OF SCHLOSS GOBELSBERG RISES AGAIN

Left: the small and underrated Traisental region of Austria, where many excellent gruner veltliners were produced in 2020. Right: the Schloss Gobelsburg Niederösterreich Tradition Heritage Cuvée 50 Years. (Photo at left by Stuart Pigott. Photo at right from @winery.schlossgobelsburg)

An important long-term trend in Austria is how most of the leading winemakers are placing ever more emphasis on their top vineyard sites. The process of vineyard classification, which is still unofficial, has moved more slowly in Austria than in neighboring Germany. However, the Austrians have been more systematic about this than their German colleagues. The next years will show who made the right call.

The news from Austria is that 2021 is a very exciting vintage for dry white wines, so expect a lot more gruner veltliners and rieslings in next year’s Top 100!

– Stuart Pigott, Senior Editor

The list of wines below is comprised of bottles tasted and rated in 2021 by the tasters at JamesSuckling.com. You can sort the wines below by vintage, score and alphabetically by winery name. You can also search for specific wines in the search bar. 

#mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; width:100%;}
/* Add your own Mailchimp form style overrides in your site stylesheet or in this style block.
We recommend moving this block and the preceding CSS link to the HEAD of your HTML file. */

The post Top 100 Wines of Austria 2021 appeared first on JamesSuckling.com.