Central European wine identity: myth or reality?                             ©2011 Julia SevenichDespite changing national...
Per capita                             Vineyard Production Export             consumption in                              ...
Quality wines are made from over 200 different grape varieties in Central Europe.Most of the wines are single-varietal win...
Geographic labels of origin that do not mention the grape variety are less prolific inCentral Europe, but do exist in area...
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Central european wine identity


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Central european wine identity

  1. 1. Central European wine identity: myth or reality? ©2011 Julia SevenichDespite changing national boundaries throughout history, scholars assert a distinctCentral European culture based on similarities emanating from historical, social andcultural characteristics. Central Europe is often viewed as the area of cultural heritageof the Habsburg Empire and this is particularly true from a wine standpoint.. Despitethe fact that “Central Europe” is not a legally defined and protected geographic regionof origin for wine in current or past legislation, it is worthwhile considering theidentity of Central European wine from a cultural aspect. Do the wine regions ofAustria, Alsace, Alto Adige, the Czech Republic, Friuli, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia,Slovenia, and Switzerland share a common identity?Central European wine cultivation is highly fragmented. Wine grapes have usuallybeen one of several different crops on small agricultural farms. The average grapegrower in Central Europe has less than two hectares of vineyards. Post WWII saw thefirst wave of agricultural farms specializing in wine grapes and subsequently a growthin the number of grape growers producing and bottling their own wines rather thanselling grapes to larger producers and cooperatives. Magnifying this fragmentedstructure is the fact that Central Europe has always been multi-lingual and multi-national. Borders of the various countries and legislations have changed and beenredefined multiple times. As fragmented as this may appear, this is actually a bindingaspect because this diversity is universal throughout Central Europe and has provideda breeding ground for one of the world’s richest sources of creative and intellectualtalent.Central Europe is geographically encompassed by the Alps to the west and theCarpathian Mountains to the north and the east. The climate for wine cultivationcan be defined as continental and in all parts of Central Europe where the climate ismoderate enough, wine cultivation thrives. Central European vineyard area coversover 330,000 hectares and is in 5th place in global wine production behind France,Italy, Spain, and the USA. The importance of wine in Central European lifestyle canbe observed in the vineyard area, production volume, export and annual per capitaconsumption in the graphic below.
  2. 2. Per capita Vineyard Production Export consumption in Ha HL % litres per year Austria 49.900 2.628 19,60 29,50 Alsace 15.353 * * * Alto Adige 5.000 * * * Czech Republic 17.700 821 10,30 17,20 Friuli 18.700 * * * Germany 102.000 10.261 34,50 25,20 Hungary 75.000 3.222 18,60 26,90 Slovakia 17.600 363 35,50 12,10 Slovenia 17.300 664 6,40 34,20 Switzerland 14.820 1.039 1,92 38,90 Statistic source: OIV 2007 *Regional statistics not available. National per capita wine consumption in litres per year for France is 52, for Italy 45The continental climate that reigns in Central Europe has greatly influenced the choiceof grape varieties planted for wine production. For the most part, the climate is cooland over 50% of the vineyard area is planted with white wine grape varieties. CentralEurope is responsible for 75% of the world’s Riesling vineyard area (source:Fischer/Swoboda “Riesling”) which is planted mostly in Germany, Alsace andAustria. The exquisite off-dry Rieslings of the Mosel with low alcohol levels are aninimitable style that is admired around the world. The Rieslings in general fromCentral Europe are viewed globally as role models for the variety. Black grapevarieties are prevalent only in the Pannonian Plains of Burgenland in Austria andHungary which comprise the warmest parts of Central Europe. An estimated 20-30%of the world’s Pinot Noir is planted in Central Europe which is the region’spredominant black grape variety. Riesling and Pinot Noir are followed by severalother varieties. Grüner Veltliner has recently established itself as a popular brand fromAustria. There are hopes that the unique Blaufränkisch (synonyms: Kékfrancos,Lemberger) will also establish itself as a brand, for it certainly has a unique profileamong red wines and is a variety that is found nearly nowhere else in the world.Welschriesling (synonyms: Olasz Rizling, Laški Rizling) and Müller Thurgau(Rivaner) are likewise varieties that are associated nearly exclusively with CentralEurope. The significance of Grüner Veltliner, Müller Thurgau, Welschriesling andBlaufränkisch after Riesling and Pinot Noir can be seen in the graph below.
  3. 3. Quality wines are made from over 200 different grape varieties in Central Europe.Most of the wines are single-varietal wines and carry the name of the variety onthe wine label. This is also demonstrated in Alsace, Alto Adige and Friuli which lie incountries that otherwise generally use geographic labels of origin rather than varietallabelling. As one can see in the graph below many of these varieties are found acrossseveral countries and sub-regions in Central Europe.
  4. 4. Geographic labels of origin that do not mention the grape variety are less prolific inCentral Europe, but do exist in areas where a unique wine style has been establishedover a long period of time and this wine style employs more than one variety.Examples of this are the botrytized sweet wine specialties Tokaij and RusterAusbruch. Dry white, dry red, botrytized sweet wine, sweet wine from dried grapes,ice wine and sparkling wine are all produced in Central Europe. Production of fortifiedwine has little tradition here. There are styles that are unique that have established aninternationally recognized identity. Besides the botrytized sweet wine specialtiesmentioned above, there are also the Trockenbeerenauslese from Austria and Germany,Rosenmuskateller from Alto Adige and Picolit and Ramandolo from Friuli.Central Europe is a dynamical historic concept, not a static spatial one. “CentralEurope” is not a legally defined geographic region and its manifestation as anidentity on a wine label shall remain a myth. Despite this, the concept is a realityin a wine cultural sense. This is documented by the common grape varieties sharedamong the different sub-regions, many of them autochthon grape varieties that arefound nearly exclusively in Central Europe. Also testifying to wine’s significant rolein Central European culture is the relatively high annual per capita consumption andits use as a regular beverage with meals. Wine is the beverage of choice at diplomaticand public celebrations as well as at business and private dinners. The Roman Catholicreligion continues to be the most prevalent religion in Central Europe and wine is apart of the religious ritual at mass. A rich heritage is documented by historic andunique Central European wine styles that continue to be treasured and sought-after ona global scale in today’s modern wine world. Grape varieties can be planted anywherein the world as is demonstrated by two indigenous Central European varieties Rieslingand, more recently, Grüner Veltliner. It is important not only to highlight the variety inbranding for a global market, but also the geographic region of origin. There existseveral terroir of very high pedigree in Central Europe - terroir that leaves aninimitable stamp. Measures should be taken to ensure high qualities and authenticexpressions of these terroir and this uniqueness should be communicated to consumersclearly. A movement away from varietal labelling in favour of clearly definedgeographic regions of origins can be observed in Central Europe. The Austrian DACsystem is now a part of that country’s wine legislation. The beginning of a movementtowards vineyard classification is also observed among various vintner associationsthroughout Central Europe. It is not just the variety, but inimitable terroir and historicwine culture that lend Central European wine its unique identity and point ofdifference on the market. Although “Central Europe” may never be found on a winelabel, there are unique terroirs from the region that have established internationalrecognition and respect and there promises to be more in the future.