Although understanding an Austrian wine label is similar in many ways to reading a German label there are nonetheless some important differences to take into account regarding the terminology used and indeed of Austria's wine classification system itself. As with German wine the most important grape variety in relation to the best quality wines, historically at least, is the noble Riesling variety although it only accounts for less than 4% of the total area under vine. There are thirty five varieties in all (13 red and 22 white) allowed for the production of quality wine. The most important indigenous varieties are Grüner Veltliner (the most widely planted variety and capable of producing racy and exciting wines) for whites and Blauer Zweigelt (sometimes called Rotburger or simply Zweigelt) for red wines. The latter is a hybrid cross of the two native Austrian grape varieties St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch. Just as German wine grapes are graded on the Oechsle scale so Austria has its own scale to measure ripeness. This is known as KMW which stands for Klosterneuburger Mostwaage. 1° KMW is approximately equal to 5° Oechsle.


Austrian Wine Classification

After the anti-freeze scandal of 1985, in which some wine brokers adulterated their wines with diethylene glycol, the market for Austrian wines outside of Austria itself was devastated. After this date rigorous enforcement of wine regulations coupled with a focus on quality wine production has resulted in a new appreciation of Austrian wines. The basic level is known as Tafelwein (table wine) the grapes for which must measure at least 10.6° KMW and to which sugar may be added (chaptalisation). The grapes for Tafelwein may be harvested from any combination of regions within Austria.

The next level of wine classification is Landwein which corresponds to Germany's Deutsche Landwein and the French Vin de Pays. The legal minimum must weight for Landwein is 14° KMW, the addition of sugar is again permitted but the region of origin must be shown on the bottle label, one of the four official winemaking regions which are Weinland Oesterreich (Lower Austria and Burgenland), Steiermark (Styria), Wien (Vienna) or Bergland Oesterreich. In the European Union-wide system it qualifies as an IGP, or Indication of Geographical Protection. The origin of production of such wine is therefore recognised and protected.

The next category is Qualitätswein which is analogous to the German QbA system. The grapes for this category must be at least 15° KMW and sugar may be added to the must to raise the potential alcohol measurement up to 19° KMW in white wines and up to 20° KMW in reds. The area of production within one of the four regions must be stated. Niederösterreich (Lower Austria) comprises the areas of Wachau, Carnuntum, Kremstal DAC, Kamptal DAC, Thermenregion, Wagram, Traisental DAC, and Weinviertel DAC with Grüner Veltliner providing 44% of the total regional production; Burgenland, the warmest grape growing region comprises Mittelburgenland, Neusiedlersee, Neusiedlersee-Hugelland and Südburgenland areas; Steiermark (Styria) comprises Weststeiermark, Südsteiermark and Süd-Oststeiermark; finally Wien (Vienna) formerly an area associated with lowly table wines that, thanks to quality conscious producers, now yields some remarkably good wines. Included under the Qualitätswein class are Kabinett wines. Unlike in Germany where such a wine is the first level of the Prädikatswein category in the Austrian classification it has its own regulations whilst still being classed as a Qualitätswein. Kabinett must be made from grapes with a ripeness level of at least 17° KMW, it must not exceed 13° alcohol by volume, the maximum residual (i.e. unfermented) sugar level must not be greater than 9gr. per liter and sugar may not be added to the must at all.

As with German wines Austria also has a higher quality wine category called Prädikatswein which is sub-divided by ripeness of its grapes with clearly defined KMW levels. Chaptalisation, adding sugar to the must in order to boost alcohol or sweetness levels, is not allowed.

The Maximum allowed yield per hectare (2.47 acres) for the three categories of Landwein, Qualitätswein, and Prädikatswein is 9,000 kg (19,841 lb) of grapes or 6.750 hectoliters of wine per hectare. If more than this is harvested and subsequently fermented into wine then all of the wine must be declassified to the simple Tafelwein category.


Austrian Prädikatswein

This is, by tradition, the top level series of classifications within the Austrian wine industry, however, just like Germany, a new way of classifying high quality wines has emerged (DAC wines) although unlike in Germany it was enshrined in Austrian wine law in 2001 coming into effect in 2003. (DAC wines will be covered after this section on Prädikatswein.) The hierarchy of Austrian Prädikatswein in ascending order is:


  • Spätlese - The harvest for these wines must be at least a week after the beginning of grape picking in that particular area and the grapes must measure a minimum of 19° KMW. Wines produced from these grapes may go on sale on March 1st. of the year following the harvest. For other Prädikatswein this date is May 1st.
  • Auslese - The "selected harvest" grapes for these wines must be at least 21° KMW and the ripe bunches will have some degree of noble rot (botrytis cinerea). Although these are sweeter wines they are in no way cloyingly so and make good drinking wine, i.e. not specifically to accompany certain foods or indeed dessert.
  • Beerenauslese (BA) - These are very ripe specially "selected berries" or grapes which are affected by the above mentioned botrytis. The ripeness level is at least 25° KMW and the grapes therefore have a high level of residual sugar.
  • Strohwein / Schilfwein - Straw or reed wine, referring to the practice of laying the harvested grapes out to dry on straw or reed mats for a period of three months or so. Near the Neusiedlersee in Burgenland the local reeds are used. These days the grapes can be protected from both the elements and predators by using very long poly-tunnels. The drying super-concentrates the grapes to produce dessert wine. The grapes must measure at least 25° KMW at harvest.
  • Eiswein - Wine made from grapes which reach at least 25° KMW and which are harvested before dawn while the berries are still frozen and subsequently rushed to the winery for pressing whilst still frozen to extract the sweetest, most concentrated flavours.
  • Ausbruch - Wine made from grapes measuring at least 27° KMW. This level was legally incorporated into the classification system in 1970 to recognise a practice that was used in the area around the town of Rust. In fact today most of the wines are still Ruster Ausbruch wines. The original rationale was that by mixing strongly nobly-rotted grapes with the must from Spätlese, Auslese or Beerenauslese grapes the sugar in the extra-ripe grapes could be dissolved more quickly and a faster fermentation initiated. Today the designation refers mostly to wines made from grapes that exceed the Beerenauslese minimimum KMW but which fall short of the highest category of Trockenbeerenauslese.
  • Trockenbeerenauslese - Made from the sweetest grapes (min. 30° KMW) that have been left on the vine once infected by botrytis cinerea to dry and shrivel yielding the most concentrated juice to produce the most luscious dessert wines.


Districtus Austriae Controllatus (DAC wines)

The DAC classification is a modern one which came into effect in 2003 and which approximates to the system of appellations used in other, non-German speaking, wine producing countries such as France, Italy and Spain. The regional typicity of the wine is of paramount importance here rather than the ripeness/sweetness of the grapes at harvest. Geographical origin, style of wine and even grape varieties are proscribed within its regulations. Each of the eight hitherto created DACs has two styles of wine, a lighter, fruitier one termed Klassik and a second named Reserve which is for weightier wines that have either seen a little oak or which may have a degree of concentration caused by botrytis but which are used to make wines that are dry. The current DACs and their grape varieties are as follows:


  • Eisenberg DAC - Blaufrankisch grapes
  • Kamptal DAC - Grüner Veltliner, Riesling
  • Kremstal DAC - Grüner Veltliner, Riesling
  • Leithaberg DAC - Gruner Veltliner, Weissburgunder, Chardonnay, Blaufrankisch
  • Mittelburgenland DAC - Blaufrankisch
  • Neusiedlersee DAC - Zweigelt
  • Traisental DAC - Grüner Veltliner, Riesling
  • Weinviertel DAC - Grüner Veltliner

The DAC system has not supplanted that of Prädikatswein, however, in the DAC regions the DAC classification does take precedence creating a situation where the wine drinker may be forgiven for experiencing a degree of confusion. It is a case of two separate wine-worlds colliding, the traditional indigenous one and the modern more outward-looking one.


Wachau Classification

Just in case you're not confused enough by everything above the wine producing district of Wachau, in the far east of Austria, has its own classification of local wines governed by an association of producers called the Vinea Wachau Nobilus Districtus. There are three quality designations, all covering dry white wines. The first is called Steinfeder. Its grapes have to be at least 15° KMW, chaptalisation is not allowed and all of the grape must has to be completely fermented and the alcohol by volume can not exceed 11.5%. It is a wine for local consumption in the main - you may well encounter it when holidaying in Austria. Federspiel is the middle category of dry, white Wachau wines being made from grapes with a minimum must weight of 17° KMW with an alcohol by volume of between 11.5% and 12.5%. Again no added sugar is permitted. Federspiel can be likened to a Kabinett in terms of weight and quality. The top Wachau wines are designated Smaragd after the green lizards that inhabit the vineyards. The grapes, which must reach a minimum of 19° KMW are harvested at least 1 week after the beginning of the harvest for that grape variety in the district.


Glossary of Austrian Wine Label Terminology


  • Abfüller - Bottler or shipper.
  • Erzeugerabfüllung - Wine bottled by the producer.
  • Extra Trocken - Extra dry wine, up to 4 gr./liter residual sugar.
  • Gutsabfüllung - Estate bottled wine.
  • Halbtrocken - Medium-dry (literally half-dry), between 9 - 12 gr./liter residual sugar.
  • Lieblich - Medium-sweet (off-sweet), between 12 - 45 gr./liter residual sugar.
  • Prüfnummer - The code number given by the Austrian wine testing authorities. Austrian Qualitätswein, Prädikatswein and DAC wines undergo a chemical analysis, a tasting commission comprising state authorised experts and, in the case of DAC wines, a further test to confirm grape and regional typicity before being granted the Prüfnummer. The presence of this number on the bottle together with the Austrian red and white striped capsule confirms a wines has passed these qualitycontrols.
  • Rotwein - Red wine, about 30% of Austria's total production.
  • Sekt - Dry sparkling wine, most is from the Vienna region and is made from either Grüner Veltliner or one of the Pinot grape varieties.
  • Smaragd - Wine with a minimum of 12.5% alcohol by volume and a maximum of 9 gr./liter of residual sugar produce in the Wachau region.
  • Süss - Sweet wine, in excess of 45 gr./liter residual sugar.
  • Trocken - Dry wine, up to 9 gr./liter residual sugar.
  • Weingut - Wine estate.
  • Weinkellerei - Winery.
  • Weisswein - White wine.
  • Winzergenossenschaft - Wine growers' co-operative.


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