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.
Here’s round two: Klaus Wittauer of KW Selection.

What makes Austrian wine so unique?

Very aromatic and extremely food friendly wines – white and red wines and of course some of the best dessert wines in the world. Very natural wines – wines are made in the vineyards and not so much in the cellar – result is very interesting wines!!!!

What makes it stand out from other regions?

Austria is a very young wine region, yes we have been growing grapes for over 2000 years, but in the last 20 years most of the Austrian wineries have been producing better and better wines – especially in the higher quality level.

What  influenced your decision to work with Austrian wines?

I was a sommelier in a French restaurant from 1989 to 1996 and than a wine buyer for a specialty Gourmet store  – I tasted a lot great wines from all over the world, but whenever I tasted wines for Austria I was very impressed with the quality – I had a hard time finding those wines in the late 90’s so I decided to go to the VieVienum in 2000 – there I was even more impressed with the quality overall – just about at every table I had some excellent wines – that is when I tasted the wines of Anton Bauer the first time, I invited him to come to the US and I started importing his wines. In 2002 we formed and export company in Austria and added some more producers to our portfolio – my goal is to have a top producer form each wine region of Austria

Which producers do you import? Highlights?

As I already said – Anton Bauer – Wagram – wonderful aromatic Gruener Veltliners and also excellent red wines Pinot Noir, Zweigelt, but also some international grape varieties like Merlot and Cabernet

Leo Hillinger: Burgenland – Jois – Neusiedlersee – largest producer in my portfolio – slick package – modern winery – very elegant and smooth reds  with the top Cuvée being Hill 1 (just about every top wine list in Austria has this wine) unbelievable Pinot Noir, St. Laurent. An excellent Zweigelt and this year we started with a classic Blaufränkisch – very fruit forward with soft finish. Also new in the portfolio this year is a wine with 80% Syrah called Hillside – big hit!!!

Tegernseerhof – Wachau – Martin Mittelbach – already in 2000 this was one of my favorite wines at the VieVinum – winery is in Loiben next to Alzinger and Knoll – we never got much international press because the Mittelbach had also some vineyards in Krems and therefore could not be a member for the Vinea Wachau – so no Federspiel and Smaragd wines – in 2009 Martin Mittelbach sold off the vinyards in the Kremstal and became a member of the Smaragd club – we are going to hear more and more about Martin Mittelbach!!!

Steininger – Kamptal – Langenlois – one of the best Sekt Sparkling wine producers in Austria and one of the nicest families I know. Karl Steininger, the father of the Losium project and also a father of 3 very nice daughters also makes outstanding Gruener Veltliners fom the Kamptal – from light classic to the Grand Gru which is ached in large Acacia wood barrels.

Steindorfer – Burgenland – Apetlon – Ernst is my garage’ist winemaker – very small – originally I had him in my portfolio because of his outstanding dessert wines – he worked for many years with Alois Kracher – today besides still making some of the best dessert wines in the world he also specializes in small single vineyard red wines – he was just a Salon 10 winner with his St. Laurent Reserve 2007

Strauss – South Styria – Gamlitz – the Viennese people love their Sauvignon Blanc form Styria  – this region makes outstanding wines from those aromatic grape varieties like Gelber Muskateller, Sauvignon Blanc and Samling.

Meinklang – Weingut Michlits – Werner Michlits – Burgenland – Pamhagen – one of the up and coming Bio (demeter) wineries in Austria – there is a big movement in to that direction and Werner is a leader in Austria next to Nikolaihof

Netzl – Carnuntum- Goettlesbrunn – I call the Carnuntum  “Tuscany of Austria” on of the warmest regions with great red wines. I have been a big believer in Zweigelt and Franz Netzl specializes in this grape. Together with his daughter Christina he produces outstanding red wines – mostly with Zweigelt and some international varieties like Syrah, Cabernet and Merlot – which all do very well in Carnuntum .

Which states are you distributed in?

I work and live in Northern Virginia – so here we sell most of the KWselection wines, also in Maryland, Washington DC and North Carolina we do have an importer in New York and sell in New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Georgia, Texas, Indiana and a few other states.

What’s your favorite Austrian varietal? Region? Why?

Very difficult, but I have to say Gruener Veltliner – there are so many styles of Gruener and different quality levels – also there is no other country in the world who works with Gruener Veltliner but that is changing. Today, my entire portfolio is built on the fact that there are more wines in Austria than Gruener and I import many different varieties.

What’s your favorite food & wine pairing for the season?

Last week I had a Shrimp carpaccio with a Mango salsa and a Gruener Veltliner. Barbeque with Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch!!!!!

Where do you see the future of Austrian wine heading?

Once the people get to know Gruener Veltliner I think it could get as big as Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay – of course more wine regions will have to plant and produce Gruener before this happens so for now we are still pioneers with this variety and this also makes Austrian wines so unique. Gruener Veltliner, best dry Rieslings in the world, Gelber Muskateller, Pinot Gris and many other white varieties. [For red] Zweigelt, Blaufrankisch, St. Laurent, Merlot, Cab and Syrah

Anything else you’d like to add?

Check out Pinot Noir from Austria – big future !!!!