Austrian wines have exploded on to the wine scene in the past few years which can often leave unfamiliar consumers confused and overwhelmed by the plethora of Grüner Veltiner and Blaufränkisch wines – many organic, most from small, single vineyard plantings. One of the best resources Austrian wine consumers can turn to are those that import the wines – the ones that really know them inside and out, know the market and know the potential each has to become your new favorite wine.

In the Interview with an Importer series, I’ll be sitting down with one or two importers of Austrian wine monthly in order to enhance the public’s knowledge of each importer’s portfolio, distribution, wine preferences and more.

Our first: James Wright of Winemonger Imports:
What makes Austrian wine so unique? What makes it stand out from other regions? 

The first thing to say about this is that Austria is made up of more than a dozen distinct regions, many of which grow distinctive autochthonous grape varieties under different climate conditions. In fact there is likely great wine made from as many different grape varieties as is done in France, which has a vastly greater area under vines. And it’s worth noting that Austria is very much a wine-culture like France.
What influenced your decision to work with Austrian wines? 
Proximity and place of wine within the culture—I like going to the opera and symphony in Vienna, and since Vienna is part of the wine-country, I’m right there. I love Burgundy, but Paris is a bad hike away—same thing in Germany, both favorite playgrounds Berlin and Munich are equally inconvenient to the wine regions. And I’m okay with the language in Austria.
Which producers do you import? Highlights? 
Stift Göttweig, Ebner-Ebenauer, Malat, Neumayer, Alphart, FJ Gritsch, J. Högl, J. Donabaum, Moric, Umathum, Wenzel, Feiler-Artinger, Etz, Rosi Schuster—highlights would be individual wines like the Neuburger from Alphart, the Moric Blaufränkisch 07, Weißburgunder Der Wein vom Stein 08 by Ludwig Neumayer, the Etz litre GV which is ridiculously delicious—and any St Laurent from Rosi Schuster; her son Hannes has become a master at working with this finicky grape.
Which states are you distributed in? NY NV NJ AZ WI CA DC VA MD PA MT WY IL
What’s your favorite Austrian varietal? Region? Why?
GV, Niederösterreich: great variety of expression within a small area—Blaufränkisch, Burgenland: which just sort of came out of nowhere and is now represented by a very rewarding stylistic variety of top-quality very expressive wines
What’s your favorite food & wine pairing for the season? 
Stift Göttweig Pinot Noir Rosé 2009 with Wolfgang and Eddie’s Soft-Poached Egg with Maitake, Porcini and Lobster at Restaurant Seasonal in West 58th St NYC
Where do you see the future of Austrian wine heading? 
Here in the USA we shall see the fashion pass and the wine remain. The position of gastronomy within Austrian culture is so strong and the wines are customarily made with the realization that they’re going to be consumed alongside other foods. This is very important, the affinity of wine for a culinary culture that remains very true to its heritage. So, we shall patiently await a bit of refinement and Sankt Laurent will take its place alongside Blaufränkisch as a premium red.
Anything else you’d like to add? 
Within the past year I’ve done two blind jury tastings for the Viennese publication Österreichische Gastronomie Zeitung—more than 400 wines on each occasion—and even though there is still a fair amount of [low quality wines] being bottled, the general standard of wine in Austria is improving steadily. It is frequently more often the concept at fault than the execution—for example most Pinot Noir seems still to have more in common with Santa Barbara than they do with Europe…

**Winemonger is owned by Stephan Schindler and Emily Weissman, James Wright is the Regional Manager for the East Coast