The world abounds with viticultural regions that produce weightier – above all more alcohol-laden – wines than the Steiermark. But nowhere, are there any fresher, more brilliant – and thus in a very elegant manner regionally typical – bottlings to be found on the planet than in the south of the Steiermark.
Region & Wine
All three Styrian winegrowing regions, with their incomparable specialties, are located more or less in the south of the federal state. In the west of this geographically distinctive hill country, the Schilcher reigns supreme, a savoury rosé that is one of the most distinctive terroir-wines to be found anywhere. In Sausal and on the South Styrian Wine Road, Sauvignon Blanc and Muskateller call the tune, while to the southeast in Vulkanland Steiermark, the Traminer takes its radiant place alongside those two as an absolute jewel for connoisseurs.
The most widely planted Styrian variety Welschriesling, its bouquet reminiscent of green apples, has far more fans than many wine critics would dream of.
Wine aficionados who favour opulence and body will be quite pleased with the Pinot family in the Steiermark. Weissburgunder grown in limestone-rich soils is quite impressive for its subtle expression of refined minerality. Chardonnay, also known here as Morillon, can sometimes turn out rather robust even with its fresh and crisp nature – and like the best Grauburgunder (Ruländer, Pinot Gris) also improve with years of cellaring.
2018 rang in a new era for wines of the Steiermark. All three winegrowing regions have been elevated to DAC status: Vulkanland Steiermark DAC, Südsteiermark DAC and Weststeiermark DAC. The regionally typical white wines – as well as Schilcher in Weststeiermark – are organised on the three levels Gebietswein (regional wine), Ortswein (“villages” wine) and Riedenwein (single-vineyard wine). Wines given more time to mature before being released to the market may bear the additional designation “Reserve”.
The new system of origins consciously underscores the merits of wine from the Steiermark. The traditional palette of grape varieties remains intact, with the focus on locally favoured varieties at the Ortswein and Riedenwein levels. The market-release dates of 1 March and 1 May were chosen so that the wines have adequate time to develop the character typical to their origin and can fully realise their potential, especially at the Ortswein and Riedenwein levels.
Each new vintage is traditionally celebrated in the Steiermark with the light “Junker”, which premieres in early November. In March of the following year, the dry Gebietswein (regional wine) comes on the market. For Ortswein (“villages” wine) and the great Riedenwein (single-vineyard wine), the thirsty must wait a little longer. The Styrian winegrowers are vinifying these wines ever more slowly and more methodically, so that genuine Styrian class unmistakeably becomes world class.
The Steiermark was formed upon an area of the Central Eastern Alps, from the Penninic and Eastern Alpine geological units. The Eastern Alpine unit includes the Northern Limestone Alps and the crystalline rock in the area of Joglland, in Sausal and the Koralpe Range. Lowlands form the basin in the Mur and Mürz Valleys and the Styrian basin. The winegrowing areas are located in the east and south of the region, where the Central Eastern Alps plunge under the Styrian Basin, which in turn develops into the great Pannonian Basin to the east.
About three quarters of all vineyards in the Steiermark are planted on sedimentary deposits of the Styrian Basin, while about twenty per cent of the vines grow on hard rock of the Eastern Alpine Unit. A small proportion is growing upon primarily coarse-grained alluvial deposits that concentrate in the basin.
One special feature here is provided by the volcanic basalts, slags and tuffs of the southeast; they are home to some three per cent of the Steiermark’s vineyards. The remaining basin deposits alternate both in grain size, in carbon content and degree of solidification. They range from silts and marl to sands, gravels and rubble, from sandstones and conglomerates to localised manifestations of limestones.
Gneisses, mica schist, phyllite, amphibolite – and less frequently marbles and limestones – make up the highly diversified lithic inventory of the vineyards in the neighbourhood of the Central Eastern Alps.