If you are into wine and love exploring wine regions, names like Bordeaux, Tuscany and Napa Valley no doubt will sound familiar. Possibly, this list will go on with many more regions around the world that have earned themselves a place on the list of intriguing wine tourist areas. Unless you are a hardcore wine aficionado, Steiermark will likely not be on your radar.
South Styria, nestled along Austria’s rugged southern Alpine border whilst making excellent wines for a long time, is indeed still one of the hidden gems in wine tourism.
One of the reasons might be that Austria’s wine regions in general are located away from the country’s main tourist cities such as Salzburg and Innsbruck – with the exception of a lively but small wine scene in and around Vienna.
In fact, wines from Austria are in general among those lesser known internationally. Which does not give them the credit they deserve. Austria is the European country with the most stringent wine legislation and quality and sustainable production is the main priority among winemakers. On the other side, Austria produces only a very small quantity of wine annually. Austrian wines are therefore difficult to find outside of the country.
Background: Wine region South Styria
Located less than an hour’s drive from Graz, Austria’s second-largest city, beautiful Styria (Steiermark) is Austria’s prime region for agriculture, known as the green heart of the country.
It is also one of four the official wine regions in Austria, further divided into three local winegrowing areas: South Styria, western Styria and Vulkanland. Vineyards are plenty and the region is a culinary hotspot, studded with many small Buschenschänke, the local name for a traditional wine tavern serving hearty local food.
South Styria, as the name suggests, is located in the most southern part of Styria. The best way to explore the area is to follow the South Styria Wine Road, which runs from from Ehrenhausen to Leutschach.
There are under 2.5 hectares of vineyards in South Styria, producing round about 10% of all Austrian wine, and roughly 75% of the vineyards are planted with white wines.
Sauvignon Blanc is the most prominent planted grape. The variety is also used to make small quantities of sparkling wines produced using the traditional method (with the second fermentation taking place in the bottle). Other major white varietals are, Welschriesling, Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder), Muskateller and Morillon (the local name for Chardonnay).
Red varieties are dominated by Blauburger, Zweigelt or Blaufränkich.
Hirschmugl Domaene am Seggauberg
Hirschmugl winery was founded just over 10 years ago by owners Anton and Astrid Hirschmugl, converting an old fruit orchard into a vineyard. Having sustainability and organic growing on their mind, the majority of the newly planted grapes belonged to fungus-resistant PIWI varieties, including Muscaris, Cabernet Blanc and red variety Cabertin.
Perched on the slopes of a gentle rolling hillside and surrounded by a thick forest and endless rows of vineyards, the winery’s cellar and tasting room offer breath-taking views over the surrounding landscape.
Hirschmugl in the short time of its existence has gained a name as one of the best organic wineries in Austria. It is in fact considered a pioneer in producing PIWI wines, which are made from fungus-resistant grape varieties. In the vineyard and the cellar, there is a high focus on sustainable and natural working processes.
Around the Hirschmugl estate and vineyards, various types of non-poisonous adders can be found. Their presence is considered to be an indicator of an intact environment, achieved thanks to a natural way of working in the vineyard. The winery has therefore decided to adorn their bottles with the image of an adder as a symbol of their strong sense of working with nature.
Below, read my tasting notes on three of the winery’s white wines.
Muscaris is a relatively new grape variety and part of the so-called PIWI grapes which are largely fungus resistant. The variety was created in Germany in 1987 from crossing Solaris and Muscateller grapes.
In the glass, it’s a lively light yellow with green reflections.
On the nose, aromas of ripe mangos, crisp green apples, kiwi and juicy passionfruit, followed by notes of chopped hazelnuts, fresh sage leaves and delicate orange blossoms.
On the palate, dry with a slim body and refreshing fruit acid. Notes of lemon, fresh tangerine, peaches and hearty green pepper and a hint of basil. Long finish.
Hirschmugel Muscaris is great for aperitive and also pairs well with Antipasti and fish.
Hirschmugel Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc)
In the glass, a light yellow with emerald green reflections.
On the nose, aromas of ripe lemons, peeled apricots and peaches, fresh kiwi and tender elderflower followed by a stony minerality in the bouquet.
On the palate, a lively fruity acid with notes of stone fruit, limes, crisp green peppers and exotic star fruits. A long and dynamic finish.
The Hirschmugel Weissburgunder pairs well with Antipasti, pizza, pasta and fish dishes.
I have paired it with a plate of spinach-ricotta gnocchi with sage butter. The fresh and green flavours from the spinach coupled with the richness of the brown sage butter work well with the balanced style of the wine.
You can find the recipe for the spinach-ricotta gnocchi here.
Hirschmugl Cabernet Blanc
Cabernet Blanc is a fairly newly grape variety, created in 1991 from a crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon and an unknown hybrid grape variety. It is another of the fungus resistant varieties on the rise in certain areas, in particular Germany and also increasingly Austria.
The variety makes full-bodied wines with a certain spice and great aromas that can be consumed young but also yields a good aging potential.
As for the Hirschmugl Cabernet Blanc:
In the glass, a deep yellow with green reflections.
On the nose, aromas of fresh lemon zest, Granny Smith apples, tender elderflower, green bell pepper, ground white peppercorns, chopped basil and fresh sage leaves.
On the palate, a slim body with tangy fruit acid. Lively and spicy, with a light exotic touch and a long finish.
Cabernet Blanc work well with a large range of food, including fish dishes with herbs, asparagus, Mediterranean vegetables, hearty pasta dishes, white meat, spicy Asian dishes and sushi.
I have paired the Hirschmugl Cabernet Blanc with a green and white asparagus tart which works well with the tangy acidity of the wine.
Check out the recipe for the asparagus tart here.
There is a good reason to add Austrian wines to your list. That said it can be tough buying Austrian wines outside of the country as the annual production is small and therefore exports are limited. Should you come across a bottle of Austrian wine, however, I’d really recommend to go for it.
I’ve very much enjoyed tasting the Hirschmugl white varieties which tell a lovely story of naturally produced wines. Pouring a glass of either of the three not only was a real pleasure enjoyed with matching food. The wines also make you want to visit and explore the winery and its surrounding area to unearth more of the hidden gems of South Styria.
It’s definitely on my bucket list now.