Austria has developed a strategy that gives every winegrower ample scope for innovation, but also enables regionally typical origin wines to be promoted as the stylistic benchmarks of Austrian wine. Qualitätswein (quality wine) is a traditional Austrian term that is used to mean “wine with a protected designation of origin”. These designations are:
Level 1: Generic Wine Growing Regions
Qualitätswein can be produced from 40 approved grape varieties in 9 generic wine-growing regions listed below. The most important of these wine-growing regions are: Niederösterreich, Burgenland and Steiermark.
Within the framework of the designations of origin for generic Qualitätswein regions, winemakers are able to fully explore the scope of stylistic diversity of their region, ranging from aromatic, fresh and fruity wines to iconic cuvée blends.
Level 2: Specific Wine Growing Regions
Within Austria’s generic wine-growing regions, there are also 18 “specific” wine-growing regions, all of which strive towards positioning their terroir wines with distinctive flavour profiles. Firstly, the region defines focal varieties and regionally typical styles, then can apply for DAC status (17 of the 18 regions currently have this). This DAC status is a clear commitment from winemakers to respect the typicity of a region’s wines.
For every wine-growing region, there are three tiers of specification:
RIEDENWEIN (e.g. Kamptal DAC or Ried Zöbinger Heiligenstein)
A “Riedenwein” or “Lagenwein” is the most specific designation of origin and naturally forms the top tier of the pyramid. These single-vineyard wines should be strategically positioned as big, complex, long-aged wines with good storage potential. Reflecting the individual character of particular vineyards, these wines are impressive when young and become even more expressive through increased ageing.
ORTSWEIN (e.g. Südsteiermark DAC or Kitzeck-Sausal DAC)
Situated between the Gebietswein and Riedenwein tiers, Ortswein refers to wines from a particular village or municipality. Wines in this tier are expected to have more body and complexity than those in the Gebietswein tier. Most importantly, though, they should have a pronounced character that is typical of their particular village or municipality, explained by localised climatic conditions and soil composition or due to historically site-specific wine-growing styles.
GEBIETSWEIN (e.g. Weinviertel DAC or Mittelburgenland DAC)
The Gebietswein (“regional” wine) tier forms the base of the origin pyramid – the style of these wines is representative of the whole of that wine-growing region. For example, dry white wines in this category are typically light, fresh or fruity. However there are also exceptions to this, such as a regional wine that has a more powerful style brimming with character (e.g. Leithaberg DAC).