We have been in Austria for better than a week, the first few days in Salzburg and now in Spielfeld down by the Slovenian border. We come here for the white wine and the beautifully steep rolling hills and valleys that people have compared to Tuscany. On the Austrian side of the border the wine industry is vibrant with a unique Sauvignon Blanc leading the way. More than a hundred Styrian producers, large and small, presented their 2012 offerings in Graz the other night. Lederhosen and dirndls were much in display, although we had not told it was dressy and stood out in our knocking around gear. No one seemed to mind. The Sauvignon Blancs were excellent. Bigger and more rustic than those in the Loire and not as grassy as those from New Zealand, these Sauvignon Blancs are consistently good year after year. Every producer also seemed to have a Gelber Muskateller. Made dry, the Gelber Muskateller is balanced by good acidity and has a pleasantly big mouth feel. There was just a small amount of Riesling, the soil is said not to be right, and some Gewurztraminer from the area around Klöch where we are headed later today. About the only reds were Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch. An indigenous rose, Schilcher, was featured by producers from the western part of Styria.
The wine scene on the Slovenian side of the border is more mixed. Prior to WW I this was the southern part of present-day Austrian Styria and you can hardly tell from the landscape whether you are in one or the other. The wines are mostly the same as well: Sauvignon Blanc, Gelber Muskateller, Weissburgunder, etc. The difference is that many of the small producers here are hurting, especially in the current economy. We visited one who spoke of too much wine by too many producers in a small country. Buyers at trade shows tell him that the few hundred cases of any wine he produces are too few for them to carry. The wines we tasted were very good. But when we left with a few bottles it was obvious that he was disappointed. He had counted on the Americans buying more.
Just a few miles away, we visited a spanking new high tech winery, the beneficiary of substantial EU funding. A family winery for generations, the present owners decided that the only way to survive was to become modern. The facility is not especially large, but it is as up to date as any we have seen anywhere. A fingerprint entry system guards the fermentation room. All the wines we tasted were good, but not markedly better than those found in more traditional Slovenian family wineries. The tasting fee was substantial however, a sure sign of modernization.
Dveri – Pax represents a third kind of winery in this part of Slovenia. Owned by a Benedictine monastery, it too is up to date. It is the one winery we have visited where you can drop in without an appointment. Dvrei-Pax is managed by professionals who treated us to a grand tour of the wine-making facility followed by an informative tasting. Their best is a dry Furmint called Siphon.