What has Harry Potter got to do with the Austrian wine classification system?

What has Harry Potter got to do with the Austrian wine classification system?

I am not sure if you have had the time and well indeed interest to follow what has been happening in Austria of late?

It would appear that JK Rowlings and the whole cast of Harry Potter have been engaged to help in the creation of some pretty interesting new wine apellation and region names.

Austria being one of the worlds greatest wine democracies, it stands as one of the few wine making countries in Europe to challenge the existing codifcation of wine that were originally created back in the 1930′s.

There are 2 key classification systems in place  and they appear to happily co-exist side by side without much issue and or concern maybe it is because no one really understands them outside of Austria.

Firstly there is the Germanic, or the old way as leading wine writer Andrew Jefford describes it where names of wine were declared in very specific ways many of which we use today such as Auslese, Spatelese, Kabinnet and so on. These classifications define sboth style and structure but are rarely fully understood outside of Germany and Europe and everyone thinks that they refer to sweet wine when this is not the case.

I have become a lot more accustomed to this classification system but this like all thing Germanic is just the tip of the iceberg as the German wine system is underpinned by a vey complex yet as one would expect well defined 4 tiered system which is a topic all to itself.

The second classification is very Austrian and is referred to as Ausbruch which defines wines by the amount of sugar in the grapes at the time of harvest. Here is where the fun begins as we end up with names like Districtus Austriae Controllatus  (DAC) which sounds something more like Harry Potter would say when casting a spell, my personal favorite is Wachu Nobilis Districtctus which refers to the great grape growing region of Wachu which many of you may have heard of.

So in an effort to make this all a little simplier for the average wine lover here is a quick overview of how the wine the Austrian classification systems works and what the impact this has upon your drinking pleasure.


The first region in Austria to introduce a quality classification system was the Wachau area in the Danube valley in the north east of Niederösterreich which was ahead of the game when in 1984 a group of the top producers formed the Vinea Wachau and introduced their exclusive three tier classification system for dry white wine based on alcohol content.

Steinfeder, is allowed to contain no more than 11.5% alcohol, followed by Federspiel which should be at least 17° KMW and contain between 11.5% and 12.5% alcohol, and finally Smaragd which must contain more than 12.5% alcohol. Steinfeder, named after the local steinfedergras (stipa pennata) a local variety of grass found along the banks of the Danube, is extra light and delicately scented. Mainly drunk locally, its lower alcohol content allows the consumer to enjoy a glass or two of excellent wine and still keep their alcohol consumption in check.

The term Federspiel literally means “spring game” and refers back to the heritage of falconry associated with the Wachau. With it’s higher alcohol content it is more strongly flavoured and in contrast to Steinfeder, is routinely exported.

The final category, Smaragd, named after the local emerald coloured Idex lizard, is the most prized and is made only from the best grapes when they are at their ripest. These terms are unique to the Wachau and, because of their local associations, these terms would not be useful for classifying wines from other regions. So if you see the word Federspiel or Smaragd on your bottle of Grüner Veltliner or Austrian Riesling you’ll immediately know both the quality level and that it came from the Wachau.

DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus)

Hats off, then, to those enterprising people in the Weinviertel wine committee in Niederösterreich who ingeniously positioned their Grüner Veltliner when they pioneered the DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus) system in 2003.
The DAC classification system was based not just on meeting Qualitätswein standards, but on taste – and the taste had to reflect the local character.

Qualification for DAC status was to be annual and based on blind tasting. This was a clever example of the classic marketing strategy of identifying your U.S.P. (unique selling proposition) and telling your customers about it – and it was a lot more than that.

The DAC system meant that all the customer had to do was to find a bottle with Weinviertel DAC on the label and you’d have a good idea of what you’d be getting. The wines had a distinct “white pepper” taste that sat alongside the aromatic fruity spiciness that generally characterises the variety. This “Pfefferrl” characteristic was rightly identified as what made Weinviertel Grüner Veltliner unique, and was at the heart of their DAC requirements.

At a stroke they “branded” some of their top end Grüner Veltliners as well as giving them a legally recognised appellation. From the consumers perspective, it made choosing an iconic wine much simpler.

This classification system is now being more widely adopted and is nationally regulated with other wine growing areas being keen to market the unique characteristics that their microclimates and terroirs bring to their wines. Today 8 of the 16 wine growing regions in Austria have DAC classifications and it is anticipated that the others will join them.

Traisental, Kremstal and Kamptal have all adopted DAC Klassic and Reserve status classifications for their Grüner Veltliners

Within Burgenland, Mittelburgenland and Eisenberg have Klassic and Reserve status for their Blaufränkisch offerings and again in Burgenland, Leithaberg has really pushed the boat out by defining DAC Klassic and Reserve identifiers for Weißurgunder (Pinot Blanc), Chardonnay, Neuburger, Grüner Veltliner, and Blaufränkisch cuvées containing at least 85% Blaufränkisch.To qualify for DAC status in Austria, successful candidates must in addition to jumping through the general hoops for a quality wine, satisfy five out of six tasters that it demonstrates the charactistic taste of the area. For a Weinviertel Grüner Veltliner this means exhibiting the characteristic “Pfefferrel” taste while DAC examples of Grüner Veltliner from the Kremstal, with its Danube influenced climate and thick loess soil, need to demonstrate a more fruit-driven aroma with a gentler spiciness.

Finally the newest and the 9th DAC has just been added and this has been called Gemischter Satz (young,, unbottle field blends of mixed varieties of grapes that are grown near Vienna) . I would imagine this would be very close to many of our regional blends that we see here in Australia as they tend to be a far more simple and less complicated wine and style hence their popularities in many of the wine bars in Vienna.

Despite these rather complicated  and somewhat strange sounding set of rules the Austrians do make some really stunning wines like Gruener-Vetliner, Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder, Blauburgunder, Blaufrankish, Riesling, Zweigelt, Portugiser and Chardonnay, many of the styles produced are made closer to the styles that come from German region of Baden and Franken.

Next time you see one of these wines on a list when you are out for dinner or lunch why not give them a try as you may be very surprised and what you end up tasting as these often fine, fruit driven , off dry and dry styled wines are the perfect companion for a meal or with the warmer days approaching here down under for the Saturday or after work drink.

Sadly here in Australia we see such a small representation of the wines of Austria as many simply do not make the journey out of Europe for one reason or another, but despite this there are some great bargains & choices to be found so why when you see one of those strange sounding wine names on the list it is most likely from our namesake country Austria which if course we are often confused for.