If ever a wine region captured the zeitgeist for white wines, it has to be Styria or ‘Steiermark’, in South-Eastern Austria. With their moderate alcohol content, zippy fruit flavours spanning the varietal spectrum and crisp, clean but also layered, elegant textures, the region’s Sauvignon blanc wines are an undeniable match for today’s consumer preferences.
These qualities have not been lost on the region’s producers – Sauvignon blanc vineyards in the area have grown apace in recent years, surging by nearly 30% in just five years (2016-2021). Styria is not about to challenge Sauvignon behemoths like New Zealand or France in terms of acreage, but its singular vineyard sites shaped by unique weather patterns, dizzyingly steep inclines and multiple soil types broaden the stylistic spectrum for Sauvignon enthusiasts. Mirroring the global popularity of Sauvignon, Styria has embraced the variety in earnest, shunning stereotypical iterations of the grape and instead developing its own idiosyncratic renditions as knowledge of both the variety and its relation to the local terroir has been honed.
There are currently more than 900 hectares of Sauvignon vines across Styria’s three wine regions, which is approximately 20% of the total white varietal range. After extending its footprint by nearly 200 hectares between 2016 and 2021, Sauvignon now ranks as the most planted grape variety, ahead of Welschriesling. Predictably, in Austria’s most mountainous wine region, many of the vineyards are located on steep slopes – inclines can reach 80% or more in places. This, combined with the strict quality requirements introduced with the DAC Steiermark system of origin, make manual vineyard work virtually unavoidable – and hand-harvesting is mandatory.
In 2018, Styria entered a new era when all three of its wine regions were declared DAC – aka Districtus Austriae Controllatus – status, officially recognising its regionally typical designations. The DAC pyramid has three quality levels: the regional DAC category Gebietsweine; village-designated Ortsweine; and single-vineyard Riedenweine. Within each of the classifications, winemaking techniques differ – use of stainless steel tanks aims to preserve primary aromas whereas partial oak fermentation and/or partial malolactic fermentation, or even skin contact in some cases, lend depth and ageability. Consequently, the resultant Sauvignon wines are stylistically diverse – some of them are designed for early-drinking, whilst others have a propensity to mature. The DAC system itself specifies the release date of the wines, ranging from March 1 after the harvest for DAC Gebietsweine to May 1 for DAC Ortsweine and DAC Riedenweine.