In Carnuntum, visitors will find the biggest archaeological site in Austria. The area around the Roman settlement, established 2,000 years ago by the military commander Tiberius, developed into the first extended area of vineyards. The evidence of this is to be found in archaeological finds and plant remains. But to date only the smallest part of the area has been excavated. It's the wines that provide the information from the historical depths of the soils. This small and authentic region, centred on Göttlesbrunn, impresses with stunning cuvée red wines. There's an open invitation to sample their special products with a breath of the ancient world from the vintners of the Rubin Carnuntum, as part of the Carnuntum Experience. The programme ranges from the majestic Baroque festival in Schloss Hof, a Habsburg hunting lodge near the Donau-March-Auen national park, to vineyard tours and intimate "Wine&Dine" evenings on wine-growing estates and in restaurants.
The wines of the Kamptal valley, which opens up above Krems towards the Danube, draw their sun-kissed maturity from the south. They acquire their succinct clarity of expression from the cool following wind coming in from the Waldviertel region and the mix of clay, loess and prehistoric rock. Grüner Veltliner and Riesling are planted here. The pride of this region comes from vineyards such as Jurtschitsch or Bründlmayer. Just as these wine-makers - together with 700 other wine-growers from Langenlois - were ground-breakers in the new self-appreciation of (Lower) Austrian wine, so they have found their avant-garde match in the Loisium World of Wine Experience. Surrounded by vineyards, the Loisium is a futuristic cube in brushed aluminium. As a visitor centre, with a representative vinotheque, it is the starting-point for a subterranean journey into the soul of wine. Beneath arched cellar ceilings up to 900 years old, impressively dramatised using sound, light and projections, visitors can come closer to unlocking the secrets of this Biblical drink in a full sensory experience. Installations reveal the particular art of creating wine. From myth to modernity, in a tour taking in a Baroque wine-maker's home and a contemporary vineyard. The cellars are particularly celebrated in March for Loisiarte, the literature and music festival in the Loisium, as wine and fine cuisine enjoy an atmospheric staging.
High elevations, quickly falling away over narrow rock terraces down towards the Danube - that is characteristic of the landscape of the Wachau region, rich in monasteries, attractive churches and old town centres, extending from Melk to Krems. Riesling and Grüner Veltliner dominate here as well, whilst the thermal interplay of day and night and the crystalline rock soils are supplemented by centuries-old, sophisticated use of the terrain and the position of the sun in the sky. Heat-retaining walls and rocks create tiny microclimates, which find their expression in dry-aromatic grapes rich in minerals. Multiple award-winning estates such as Jamek, Hirtzberger and Domäne Wachau maintain this noble reputation, and their vineyards welcome visitors. In addition to outstanding gastronomes (there are starred chefs at the Landhaus Bacher and Donauwirt), you can equally delight in simple, ultra-friendly bars known as "Heurige". Sometimes these temporary inns operated by the small wine-makers are to be found in cleared garages or right in the vineyards themselves, with a romantic view over the Danube.
Tracing a wine route, you cross the Wagram region - a mighty expanse of flat terrain starting to the east of Krems and following the Danube along its left back as far as Bisamberg, near Vienna - and are led up to the Weinviertel, the largest area of planted vineyards in the country by some measure. The vineyards nestle down between the sand-heavy hills of, for instance, Retz, Poysdorf and Bad Pirawarth. The roads leading to the villages are known as the "Kellergassen" (cellar roads). The delicious odour of freshly-pressed grapes accompanies autumn walks, and if you want to enjoy more than the smells you can visit many of the wine-makers, either in their cellars or on their estates. In the DAC ("Districtus Austriae Controllatus") quality mark, barely 10 years established, the ambitious wine-makers of this region have not only paid their own tribute to the Roman past with this Latin phrase, but have elevated its geographical origin to a brand. It's a mark of confidence even for the small wine-growing areas such as the Kremstal valley or the Traisental valley near Sankt Pölten, which lie outside the Weinviertel region. For wine-makers are now increasingly embracing the principle of pressing wines typical of their region and with a clearly-defined taste. The most dominant variety by some margin in this wine-making region is the Grüner Veltliner, generally producing a fruity-fresh wine with low alcohol content. It is characterised by typical hints of "Pfefferl", a piquant spice reminiscent of pepper. From the international perspective, "Grü Ve" is Austria's house wine, and its richly-varying forms found here make it unique.
In the Vienna Basin, at the south-eastern run-off of the Wienerwald, lies the "Thermenregion". Its name derives from the numerous healing springs that well up there and are channelled into the historic and attractive baths from the era of the Habsburg Monarchy. The vines in this area benefit from the influence of the Pannonian climate, with hot summers and dry autumns, and from the accumulation of a very wide variety of soils and positions. The aspect that fascinates wine-lovers is the variety in such a small area. Native grape varieties such as "Zierfandler", also known as "Spätrot", and "Rotgipfler" flourish and grow only here. Both are in fact white wines, and the Spätrot-Rotgipfler cuvée is particularly well-regarded. The vines of the Burgundy family also thrive very well here. Pinot blanc and Pinot noir (also known as "Blauburgunder" in Austria) are harvested here by hand - delighting the palate of those who truly know their wines. The proximity to the capital has seen the development of a culture of "Heurige" bars, combining rural tradition with urban elegance.
In Perchtoldsdorf, right on the outskirts of Vienna, the wine-makers' houses run along the mediaeval city wall. All year round, albeit only ever for a short time, the "Hauer" (as the wine-makers call themselves here) open their tidy courtyards and serve their wines to visitors. With long wooden benches and tables in the gardens and interiors, their homes are transformed into "Heurige". Only their own wine is served, and the name "Heuriger" also refers to the most recent vintage. The high aspirations of the wine-makers similarly extend to this white wine. In addition to it, they offer a selection of red and white wines typical of the region. Most of this wine is, however, drunk during the period it is being served, and little is left over for trade sales. The ultimate in visiting a "Heurige" comes with the buffet and its fine home cooking, frying and baking, putting some gourmet restaurants - playfully - in the shade. The high point of the year is the "Hiata-Einzug", the harvest festival celebration of the Perchtoldsdorf "Hauer". In former times, it was determined by the point when the vines needed protecting, but nowadays it is the harvest itself. A young wine-maker's son carries the "Pritsche" - a crown weighing 70 kilos and tall as a man - up to the church and dances with it. After the church service, the mood turns to generous celebration in a packed market-place over young wine and accompanied by riotous singing.
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