Styria (Steiermark)

Styria or Steiermark is the southernmost of Austria’s four broad wine regions.  Styria experiences a continental climate with hot summers and cold winters similar Austria’s other wine regions, however Styria’s location is at the crossroads between warm air from the Pannonian plain to the east, moist air from the Adriatic Sea to the south, and cool, dry alpine downdraft from the north and west.  The resulting weather is wetter than other Austrian regions and often highly variable.  Geologically, Styria likewise represents an array of soil types, with limestone, sand, gravel, slate, marl and volcanic rock all found near one another.  Adding to the complexity, Styria’s topography is characterized by vineyards planted on hillsides at elevations between 300-600 meters (1,000-2,000 feet) whose slope can face in any direction.

Styria is second only to Niederösterreich in total area but is responsible for only 9% of the country’s total wine production. In contrast to other regions where Grüner Veltliner dominates, Styria emphasizes white wines made of Welschriesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), and Morillon (Chardonnay).  While red grapes are planted, the most common, Blauer Wildbacher, is confined to Weststeiermark and is used to make schilcher, a fruity dry rosé that is best consumed soon after it is made.

Most white wine produced is dry in style and follows a three-tiered classification system, which becomes more specific as one goes from regional to village and finally single site wines (Riedenwein).  A trade group of 12 Styrian producers with longstanding commitments to quality wine, the Steirische Terroir und Klassikweingüter (STK) is in the process of further refining the classification system by identifying sites in the Südsteiermark and Vulkanland Steiermark that are of highest quality and worthy of distinction as Grand Cru (Grosse STK Reid) or Premier Cru (Erste STK Reid).

The term “klassik” on a label indicates a wine that emphasizes varietal character, having been fermented in Stainless steel with minimal lees contact and no malolactic fermentation. The term “lagen” denotes a wine that is richer in style with fermentation taking place in new or neutral oak barrels, extended lees contact and the option for malolactic fermentation.

Along with the regional system of classification are three Districtus Austriae Controllatus (DACs) which geographically divide Styria: Südsteiermark, Weststeiermark, and Vulkanland Steiermark.  The Südsteiermark is the smallest of the three DACs but contains over half of Styria’s total vineyards. Sauvignon blanc is the dominant grape here, though Chardonnay is also recognized for its excellent quality.  Vineyards in Südsteiermark are concentrated along the southeastern border with Slovenia, and contain many excellent sites whose quality is related dependent on their extreme slope for their ripening potential.  The Vulkanland borders Burgenland’s Eisenberg DAC to the south and is the warmest of the three DAC due to warm air currents from the Pannonian plain and Adriatic Sea.  The volcanic soils of the region are suited to the Welschriesling and Weissburgunder that grows here, and Traminer grown here can also reach sufficient ripeness for the production of dessert wine.  Weststeiermark has the smallest acreage of the three DACs and focuses on making fruity schilcher rosé.

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