At a blind tasting of white wines at London's Groucho Club late last year, seven out of the top 10 places were taken not by the usual suspects from France, California or South Africa but by Austrian Chardonnays and Grüner Veltliners the crisp yet full-bodied wine grown mostly in the east of the country. In the U.S., people began talking the wines around 1999, when chef David Bouley opened Danube, a New York City restaurant inspired by Viennese cookery with a wine list long on Veltliners. Says Bruce Sanderson, senior editor of Wine Spectator: "Chefs and sommeliers in top restaurants around the country love the unoaked and vibrant whites with food."
This year, Austria for the first time introduced a system of appellation of origin, clearly identifying individual wine-growing areas, most of them within easy reach of Vienna. Why aren't Austrian wines world-famous? After all, Austrians drink some 33 L of wine per person per year, well above Germany, whose wines are better known. The reason is that 80% of the annual production is consumed within the country. And you can expect to pay around $30 a bottle for a premium Austrian wine.
By contrast, domestic tipplers can buy directly from the wineries at just a fraction of the price. So if you're visiting Vienna, do as the Viennese do and pick up a bottle of Grüner Veltliner Lamm from Weingut Hirsch or a Zweigelt Föllikberg from Weingut Kollwentz-Römerhof. Prepare to be surprised.