Fresh off a trip to Austria and Vivinum in Vienna at the end of May, I'm pleased to share my adventures in Styria, Austria's southernmost wine region along the Slovenian border. Despite the picture and title above, South Styria and Vulkanland are the wettest regions in all of Austria. I can attest to rain half the time I was there, hence the incredible greenery and cooler climate. As seen in the big map below, the winemaking part of Styria is split into 3 regions: West Styria on the left in blue, Vulkanland in green to the right and teensy South Styria in orange in the middle. The rest of Styria in grey is all mountainous Alps with no vines planted (as is the case with most of the western half of Austria). Styria accounts for roughly 10% of Austria's wine production. More than half are mountain vineyards with extremely steep slopes of up to 90% incline!!! Hence, handpicking is mandatory by law in all three DAC appelations. Sauvignon Blanc is Styria's most planted variety and is grown in all three regions, albeit with differing characteristics due to the changing soil types, exposures and altitude. Sauvignon Blanc has historically always been present here on both sides of the border in addition to Morillon, brought over by the monks from Burgundy.  Unlike the rest of Austria where viticulture was initially cultivated by the Romans, Styria had wine production by the Celts long beforehand.

Styria on the Slovenian border; circled in green, 3 hours south of Vienna circled in orange (on smaller map of Austria)
Invited by the Austrian Wine marketing board, myself and a small international group of buyers set out from Vienna by bus on a three day tour to visit the three winegrowing regions of Styria. We visited vineyards and met and tasted with a slew of local winemakers, most not imported yet stateside. Fortunately,  there is a small representation of the region's wines available here in New York which are included in this email for your discovery and enjoyment. Styria's main grape is Sauvignon Blanc, followed by Welschriesling, Weissburgunder, Gelber Muskateller, Morillon aka Chardonnay, Traminer and a teeny bit of Riesling. There are also some red grapes; Blauer Wildbacher in Western Styria, and a smattering of Pinot Noir and Zweigelt, although the latter are not allowed in the appellation wines. As I had discovered in other all white appellations in Austria, all meats including beef can be paired with white wine!

As illustrated in the map to the right, South Styria is divided into 5 distinct geological regions. Kitzeck-Sausal to the north in green is all schist and thus the only subregion to have riesling, which we will explore with the wines of Wohlmuth. (in addition to their Sauvignon Blanc). Ehrenhausen in deep blue to the southeast is all limestone and hence home to fabulous Morillon, aka Chardonnay. We will explore those with the wines of Tement and Kogl. The southernmost region, Leutschach, in light blue, is home to the famous OPOK soils. At first glance, Opok looks like schist but it is in fact striated, compressed layers of extremely fine grained calcareous marl with sand and clay from previously being an underwater seabed! Hopefully we'll have a producer from that area in the not too distant future; I visited with several. Although South Styria is the smallest region in Styria, it is by far the largest wine growing region with twice to triple the amount of vineyards than it's larger neighbors to the east and west. We will also explore Sauvignon Blanc from the Slovenian side of the border with Tement's Domaine Ciringa.To the immediate left is West Styria, home to the Blauerwildbacher grape and its Schilcher rose wines. Unfortunately, for the purposes of this article, we have none at the moment.

To the east of South Styria lies Vulkanland, the smallest winegrowing area of the three DAC appellations. Although the largest surface wise, it is basically a chain of volcanic pearls strung together from north to south. These pockets are where the vineyards are found. As seen in the geological map to the left, the region in orange is  comprised of extinct volcanoes. The climate is characterized by the transition from the hot, dry Pannonian climate from the east to the warm, humid Illyrian Adriatic climate from the south. The region borders with Slovenia to the south and Burgenland  and a teeny sliver of Hungary to the east. The hot Pannonian steppe winds penetrate far into the south of the volcanic country across this border, making the region the warmest of all Styrian wine-growing regions and also predestined for red wine cultivation. In addition to Zweigelt, some St. Laurent from neighboring Burgenland is grown here. On our drive all the way to the south and west to visit Tement on the Slovenian border, we stopped in Vulkanland in the town of St Anna and had a wonderful visit with local winemakers from the neighboring hilltop towns. In addition to explosive Sauvignon Blanc, this volcanic soil is wonderful for other aromatic varieties. We will taste this with the wines from Neumeister and their thrilling Gemischter Satz made from predominantly Gelber Muskateller.

Clockwise from top left: Christof Neumeister, Tamara Kogl. Alwin Tement and Gerhard Wohlmuth
Consider this email an introductory course into the multifaceted splendors of this under the radar region. I would recommend getting a bottle of each wine to see what pearls they offer and pairing it with some cheese, charcuterie and their regional treasure: pumpkin seed oil! Drizzle some liberally over some burrata and tomatoes with a glass of any of these wines and you'll be singing "Yodelaydeehoo" in no time! PROST!
-Giselle Hamburg

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