A field guide to drinking Austria

Published 10:33 a.m., Monday, June 25, 2012

Some tips for buying Austrian white wines. Because many 2011 wines have yet to arrive, retail prices and alcohol levels aren't listed below.

The benchmarks
Some standouts among the releases from the warm, friendly 2011 vintage:
The wines of Alzinger (importer: Terry Theise/Michael Skurnik Wines), in rare supply, are pristine expressions of the Wachau, especially the 2011 Steinertal Smaragd Gruner Veltliner.
Emmerich Knoll's (importer: CircoVino) 2011 Schutt Smaragd Riesling is a coriander-tinged classic, and don't overlook his 2011 Loibner Federspiel Wachau Gruner Veltliner.
Under Lucas Pichler, the F.X. Pichler (importer: Weygandt-Metzler) wines are better than ever. The 2011 Kellerberg Smaragd Riesling is timeless, while the 2011 Urgestein Terrassen Smaragd Gruner Veltliner is an affordable star.
If you think dry Riesling is too austere, seek out Weingut Hirsch (importer: Terry Theise) for Hannes Hirsch's textural mastery in wines like the 2011 Zobinger Gaisberg Reserve Kamptal Riesling, rich with jasmine blossoms.

The upstarts
The wines of Peter Veyder-Malberg (importer: CircoVino) are a challenge to find. But the 2011 Weitenberg Wachau Gruner Veltliner demonstrates the intense fruit of 50-year-old vines.
Pichler-Krutzler (importer: Weygandt-Metzler) wines are becoming a benchmark for New Austria. Seek out Gruner Veltliner from the Supperin or Wunderberg vineyards, or Riesling from Trum or In Der Wand.
And while the Wagram's Bernhard Ott (various importers) has a hit in his basic 2011 Am Berg Gruner Veltliner, wine naturalists are craving his Qvevre Gruner Veltliner, fermented on skins in clay amphorae. The fig-leaf-scented 2010 is a fantastic example of that winemaking mode.

A hidden strength
Austrians adore dry Gelber Muskateller (Muscat) as an aperitif, but it can be much more. Examples from Gritsch (importer: Valkyrie Selections), Ecker (importer: Terry Theise) and, unexpectedly, Nikolaihof, are serious, complex wines.

A cool take
Colder, high-acid 2010 is the vintage most likely on shelves right now. Find our recent picks at sfg.ly/PD2Apx.

The liter bottles
Still a great deal. Look for 2011 releases from Hofer, Etz and Ecker.