While Austria’s wines have historically followed a similar approach to that of Germany – using must weight (sugar content) as a designation of quality – the same concern with broad-brushing all Austrian wines as being sweet emerged. Accordingly, Austria sought to further define quality for its dry wines, instituting the terms Steinfeder, Federspiel and Smaragd to indicate increasing levels of ripeness (still equated with quality) for Wachau wines that were dry on the palate. However, many in the industry felt that a more appellation-based system was needed. Enter the DAC.
Austria’s DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus) system was launched in 2001, with Weinviertel defined as the first in 2003 (taking effect with the 2002 vintage). To qualify for the DAC designation, the wines must be produced from specified grape varieties, which in the case of Weinviertel is 100% Grüner Veltliner. The Leithaberg DAC, which came on line with the 2008 vintage, is specified for both red (minimum of 85% Blaufränkisch, blended with up to 15% St. Laurent, Zweigelt or Pinot Noir) and white (single variety or blends of Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Neuburger and/or Grüner Veltliner). Wines that are produced within these DAC areas, but that don’t meet the DAC requirements must be labeled as Qualitätswein. Five other DACs presently exist, with a few more additions expected down the road.
In speaking about the effect of the DACs, Roman Pfaffl, Jr., winemaker for Pfaffl Winery, indicated that the system has not only improved wine quality, but also has encouraged more young winemakers to get involved in the industry.
In addition to the more general Klassik (classic) level, the Weinviertel DAC also allows for a Reserve level, as of the 2009 vintage, which represents the top wines of the region. While the requirements for Reserve include an increased degree of alcohol, more emphasis is placed on the taste profile expected for these wines. Specifically, Reserve wines should be fuller bodied, with “subtle botrytis notes” and oak aging is permitted (it sn’t for Klassik). A further qualification for all DAC levels is that a six-person tasting panel must unanimously agree that the wine meets the expected caliber for the respective level; without their approval, wines cannot be labeled as DAC.