[Updated December 2022]
1934 in Vienna 73,6% of the wine trade was in Jewish hands.
[Wein in Österreich: Die Geschichte]1
Austrian wines are the best-kept secret of the wine world […]
The innovative and quality-driven approach to winemaking has transformed Austria into one of the world’s most exciting places for individual styles.
[Philipp Blom, “The Wines of Austria“]2
Before the German historian and journalist Philipp Blom became the author of The Wines of Austria3, he was a student in Vienna in the 1990s. One night — walking down the street with a friend who was an aspiring opera singer, but working as a cook — he wholeheartedly laughed at what he believed to be an ironic comment from this particular friend, “you know, Austrian wines are really excellent!” Due to Blom’s reaction, his frustrated friend took him down to his cellar to grab a couple of bottles to sample. At the end of the night, several glasses of Austrian wine later, he was a convert and started to study and investigate the matter further.
Austrian Wines Date Back to the Romans
I know that if Austria is famous for wine, then it is because of its world-class white wines. But this is about the local red wines, which likewise, do have a long-standing tradition dating back to the Romans in Carnuntum. Carnuntum was a city of 70.000 people at the time, right outside of Vienna on the banks of the Danube. Apparently, the Romans lifted their Italian monopoly for the wines from Carnuntum, indicating how good they must’ve been.4 However, the oldest archeological findings in Austria related to the production of wine date back to as far as the ninth or tenth century BCE.5
Red & White on Seder6 Night
The local predominance of white wine over red wine is demonstrated on another (unfortunately) unsurprising occasion. Of course, there are Viennese Jewish families who traditionally drink four cups of white wine on Seder night at Passover—as opposed to the four red wine cups typically consumed—because otherwise the Goyim, the gentiles, might assume they are drinking the blood of an innocent Christian neighbor’s child. This assumption would be absurd if it wasn’t for the fact that it is historically, unironically serious. This theory is especially ironic on a night when wine is supposed to symbolize royalty and freedom, whilst at liberty to get a bit tipsy.
But there’s also another halachic reason, a point in Jewish law, to prefer white wine in Austria for the arba koisos, the four cups of wine on Seder night. If there is an existing white wine that is ultimately better than the red wine, Ashkenazi Jews say that the white wine should be used instead. Therefore, this post has been written in order to shed light on the underestimated red wines.
Kiddush7 Wine from Austria?
Before you assume, this is NOT about sweet red Kiddush wine, which surprisingly does still exist today in Austria. It is being produced in its highly strict and kosher form here in Austria, however, the number of potential customers has remained very low due to the Austrian history, which falls back to murder and exile towards its Jewish population. So for whom do they produce kosher wine8 in Austria, economically speaking? As we have established, it can’t be for the handful of kosher Jewish families in Vienna.9 Believe it or not, the Chinese market seemingly values a Hechsher, a rabbinical seal of approbation (a rabbi’s product quality certification, if you will), as China appears to lack trustworthy local authority in this field.
A Pro Approach to Wine Tasting
Also, be warned that this is not the post of a recognized maven. But this fact, in this instance, approaches to my claim of fame: I’m using the eyes, the nose, and the palette of a complete amateur, probably just like yourself. Although, really appreciating wine requires training as most things do.
Our own preferred taste for adventure and discovery is what led us to new, authentic, and very tasty fields. A good amount of effort went into combining these notes. It took us considerable time to taste all this wine, especially at the slow rate of one or two glasses per day — at least for most of the evenings. It wasn’t too cheap in the end, either. We tasted a seemingly endless amount of, in Austrian terms, cheap red wine bottles in the €10-30 Euro range (approximately $10-30 USD), but we definitely tried to stay on the lower price end. In my experience, this kind of money can buy you much more AND better-tasting wine in Italy or in Israel than in Austria.
Nobody paid me a cent to make this post, unfortunately. If you’d rather trust professional wine tasters, I’d recommend the current edition of something like the German language so-called Falstaff Guide to Austrian Red Wines 2022: The Best 1300 Red Wines Tested, Described, Rated by Peter Moser.10
The best Austrian red wine according to the jury is Werner Achs‘ estate’s11 excellent, luscious, blackberry and cassis tasting, ruby colored cuvée “Xur” 2019 (a cuvée of Blaufränkisch, St. Laurent, and Zweigelt). But this also comes at a price of €35 Euros (approximately $40 USD). Number two, René Pöckl estate’s12 stunning “Rêve de Jeunesse” 2019 (a cuvée of 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 20% Syrah, 20% Zweigelt) comes at €60 Euros (approximately $70 USD). But you get hints of raspberry and cherries with silky tannins. Sigmund Freud who drank high-tannin Italian Barolo wines would probably have enjoyed its heftier barrique flavor which would have been well suited to accompany his cigars.
We were trying to focus on small red wines, meaning not too expensive and not too eccentric. Nevertheless, like anywhere else, if you are willing to pay the steep prices, you’ll get some pretty good wine in Austria. See the post Austria’s Red Wines Are Ready For Prime Time at the Wine Mag for more details.13 One takeaway for me from that article is that local grape varieties like Blaufränkischer, or St. Laurent, not to mention their child Zweigelt, are made to taste like berries that are probably not at their best, paired with much wood.
Pictured here is the 2018 cuvée (80% Blaufränkisch, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Zweigelt) by the acclaimed Kollwentz estate14 called “Steinzeiler”. It received 19/20 points in the 2022 edition of Gault & Millau15 and is available for €60 Euros (approximately $70 USD). This superb wine is not what we were looking for with its heavty tannins and tobacco taste from a small barrique barrel. It is another fine wine to go hand in hand with Professor Sigmund Freud’s cigars.
To put it bluntly, we didn’t like most of the little red wines we tasted. They were nothing to write home about, at best. Many were overly acidic, had harsh tannins, or were outright flat, with sometimes a strange bouquet or unpleasant aftertaste.
But some were good, a few were excellent and one or two were outstanding. We liked the mellow red berry, wild cherry, or cassis-tasting wines with just a hint of wood like barrique (oak). And above all, softer tannins — still a rather classic taste overall, but, again, emphasis on lacking harsh tannins and wood. If you like these kinds of simpler wines, keep reading.
Most of the wines we sampled were from the Austrian state of Burgenland in the east of the country, bordering the Hungarian plains. Burgenland used to be Hungary until 1918. Most of our selected wines were from this state, which is also in the heart of the central European region called Centrope.
The Sheva Kehillos
Jews in Austria have been involved in the wine trade industry since the 12th century, at least when a certain Shlom is known to have owned a vineyard in Vienna.16 So, for good measure, we also had a few of the Austrian kosher wines from the two kosher wine producing wineries. One is Wohlmuth estate17 with its Menorah Kosher, a Cabernet Sauvignon. The other winery making kosher wines is the Hafner estate,18 whose production is also VEGAN and organic. The latter estate is situated in Burgenland state, in the so-called former Siebengemeinden, Hét hitközség in Hungarian, or Sheva Kehillos (שבע קחלת),19 literally the “seven communities” region to be precise:
- Eisenstadt (In Hungarian Kismarton; In Hebrew abbreviated as א״ש),
- Mattersdorf/Mattersburg (In Hungarian Nagymarton; In Hebrew מטרסדורף),
- Kobersdorf (In Hungarian Kabold; In Hebrew abbreviated as ק״ד),
- Lackenbach (In Hungarian Lakompak; In Hebrew abbreviated as ל״ב),
- Frauenkirchen (In Hungarian Boldogasszonyfalva; In Hebrew abbreviated as פ״ק),
- Kittsee (In Hungarian Köpcsény; In Hebrew קיצע), and
- Deutschkreutz (In Hungarian Sopronkeresztúr, Németkeresztúr; In Hebrew צעלם, צלם).20
There’s a comprehensive historical documentary out there, featuring hundreds of photographs, highlighting the once flourishing communities and their yeshivas, and detailing the rabbanim, the rabbis who served there: The Sheva Kehillos – Memories of Torah Life In The Western Hungarian Oberland Communities by H. Frischman.21
Before the Holocaust, there was indeed a strong Jewish presence in Burgenland’s countryside (40-50% of the population in some towns).22 The communities were established after 1670, when Prince Esterházy of Galántha accepted the Jews that had been expelled from Vienna by Leopold I, the Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia. But the Jewish population seems to date back much further, at least to Roman times. As a matter of fact, there was a local archeological sensation back in 2008 when an amulet from a roman era burial site of a two-year-old child was finally deciphered. Surprisingly, the golden amulet dating back to the 3rd century BCE was inscribed with the Hebrew prayer “Shma Yisruayl” (שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל or Hear O Israel), one of the most important passages of Jewish prayer.23
Mattersdorf in Austria & Israel
But what about Mattersdorf? It is a famous Chareidi neighborhood, a religious neighborhood of strict obedience to orthodox Judaism, located in Jerusalem. Kiryat Mattersdorf is named after the eponymous Austrian town. Indeed, its namesake is here in the state of Burgenland, bordering Hungary. Kiryat Mattersdorf was founded in 1958 by a Holocaust survivor, the former Mattersdorfer Rav, Rabbi Shmuel Ehrenfeld, whose ancestors had served as Rav of the Austrian town of Mattersdorf for centuries until the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938. The lineage of great rabbis started with his great-great-grandfather, the Chasam Sofer, in 1798. Indeed, once upon a time here in Austria, the famous Chasam Sofer had been the rabbi of the town and there were renowned Yeshivas around. For a reason unknown, Austrians changed the name of the city to Mattersburg in 1924, so if you were to look in a map today, search for Mattersburg.
By the way, the kever, the grave of the venerated rabbi, is in Pressburg, Bratislava in Slovak, right next to Kittsee, one of seven towns of the Siebengemeinden, the Sheva Kehillos. The tomb is a prominent destination for the orthodox crowd coming to Vienna as the twin town is easily accessible from here via shuttle, local train, or even a charming boat ride on the Danube through the Danube-Auen National Park.
But since the Shoa, every inch of the place — as well as the vineyards — has been aryanized. Ten towns, including Eisenstadt, were declared “free of Jews” (Judenrein). At least 30% of the Jewish population from Burgenland was executed in concentration camps, many others were murdered on the spot and buried in mass graves. The synagogues were torn down, the Jewish houses systematically destroyed, and the cemeteries forgotten.24 This complete destruction took only half a year and was conducted by the locals with mass furor and wild rage. Resultantly, not one single Jew was left in the Sheva Kehillos. In the face of this annihilation, there is one strong disclaimer here: like with everything and everyone in this region of Europe, you cannot be sure of their family’s connection, role, involvement, or even just attitude to the extermination of Europe’s Jews. That is how life goes here in Austria, and I definitely understand if you prefer to abstain from regional wines. However, as one’s wrath is rather quick to fade, and you probably may not shy away from driving a Mercedes, you might as well have a glass of red wine: particularly from, let’s say, Tseilem (Deutschkreuz in German), or one of the other areas of the former Sheva Kehillos.
Finally, here it goes… but bear in mind that every time you taste a wine, it is in fact, and I can’t stress this enough, as Philip Blom puts it, “a unique encounter between the momentary constitution of a wine and that of the taster.”25 That is why we drank the bottles over the period of more than one day, thanks to our very clever and affordable vacuum system called Vacu Vin wine saver (this is not an affiliate link!). Also, we bought another bottle of each of our favorites at the end of our testing period, to do something one could call ‘a grand finale.’ (Amongst all the bottles we bought, only one was faulty; it had simply turned completely flat, probably due to inadequate storage.)
The grand finale was in fact a proper blind testing we set up for us at our home here in Vienna. The next day, we took the winners over to our friends’ house — Dikla and Omer Sharon, and his parents Dalia and Oded (almost a pro wine taster) — to go through one last round of sampling.
Our Favorite Estate
Our favorite wines were all from different estates, but one estate really stood out as we liked everything about it. From this particular estate (at all prices), we tasted: “Blaufränkisch Eisenreich” 2020 (Blaufränkisch) which was good, “Alter Weingarten” 2019 (90% Blaufränkisch, 10% Zweigelt) which was excellent, and “Perwolff” 2019 (Blaufränkisch) which was outstanding, but it costs over €50 Euros (about $60 USD) and its availability is quite limited. This fine estate is the Krutzler estate26 from south Burgenland.
Our Top Choices
Our favorite bottle according to the women in our group was undoubtedly Prieler estate’s27 affordable “Johanneshöhe” 2018 (Blaufränkisch). It’s like a grape juice turned wine, soft and smooth. The men in our group found it to be a little flat. (Prieler’s bottle is a screw cap but blind testing eliminated that probable bias and it came out as a winner with the women!)
Interestingly, the men in our group unanimously chose their favorite wine to be the beautifully named “Utopia” 2018 (60% Blaufränkisch, 40% Merlot) by the venerable Ernst Triebaumer estate28 located in the town of Rust on the western shore of Lake Neusiedl (Fertő tó in Hungarian) in the state of Burgenland. (ErnstTriebaumer estate also produces one of Austria’s iconic red wines: The €60 Euros, or about $70 USD, barrique flavored “Ried Mariental” made out of Blaufränkisch grapes.)
The above-mentioned “Alter Weingarten” by Krutzler estate and Kollwentz estate’s berry-scented “Blaufränkisch Leithakalk” 2017 both came in second place. The latter has a little bit more barrique, almost too much.
My pick here was two bottles that come from the state of Lower Austria from the same estate. They are both a DAC29 wine from just outside Vienna, the “Carnuntum Cuvée” 2019 (80% Zweigelt, 10% Blaufränkisch, and 10% Merlot) followed by the “Rubin Carnuntum” 2019 (Zweigelt) both by the Markowitsch estate.30 I guess for economical reasons, the “Carnuntum Cuvée” does, alas, come with a screw cap.
As a side note: Markowitsch estate also makes the famous and celebrated “M1” cuvée (80 % Merlot, 20 % Blaufränkisch). But it did not enter the competition for its €80 Euros ($90 USD) price tag and its strong barrique flavors.
I’d also like to cite these two fine little reds: First, the delectable “Blaufränkisch Klassik” 2019 by Gager estate31 located in the heart of Deutschkreutz, or Tzeilem. They concentarte solely on the production of red wine! The fantastic little red, the “Blaufränkisch Klassik” 2019, simply ripened in a steel tank, is delicately fruity, and tastes like blackberries. Unfortunately, here too, the screw cap doesn’t add much to create a nice wine tasting experience. Gager also produces the highly regarded “Blaufränkisch Mittelburgenland DAC Reserve Ried Mitterberg” 2019. (At the time of writing this, we were unable to buy less than a box of six, which was too much for us. Meanwhile, we were able to taste a bottle and we were delighted. I’m sure, it would have faired very well in our competition.)
Second, the somewhat slightly woodier but very mellow “Tiefschwarz” 2019 (30% Blaufränkisch, 70% Zweigelt) by the Schwarz estate.32 Sweet berries and ripe tannins make up this little red wine. (From our testing we can report that this wine needs to breathe a lot. Let it oxidize. You won’t regret it.)
Best Kosher Bet
Among the many kosher wines by the Hafner estate, the Pinot Noir Reserve 2018 stood out. Hafner’s simple Pinot Noir 2020 is also very delectable. In Austria, Pinot noir is usually called Blauburgunder (literally Blue Burgundy). So these wines are from the Sheva Kehillos region too.
If we had to choose three more Austrian kosher wines, we would probably go with the DAC “Neusiedlersee Duck” 2018 (Zweigelt), the Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 and the Syrah Reserve 2013 also by Hafner estate. The latter was by far the oldest wine in our selection.
One thing for sure though, with kosher wines in particular, and wines generally, they should go well with, not red meat or cheese, but a hot and spicy, shabbosdike cholent (See our cholent recipe)!
In fact, we would happily drink mostly everything from Hafner estate, including their delectable white wines, any day — or Shabbos or Yom Tov.
In general, we expected to get a lot more for our money. Overall, we were a little disappointed with the wines. Cuvée mixtures often faired better for me. I don’t know nor do I want to know what the Austrian obsession with pure single-grape wines is all about.
All the wines needed ample breathing time! They were much better after a couple of hours even though we properly decanted all the wines into a carafe, let them oxidize there, and poured them back again into their respective bottles.
And, in the end, we did spring the €52,95 Euros (about $60 USD as of writing this) and splurged for another bottle of “Perwolff” 2019 by Krutzler. With €60 Euros (about $70 USD) we bought another “Rêve de Jeunesse” 2019 by Pöckl. And for €35 Euros (or about $40 USD) we also got another bottle of the already mentioned “Xur” 2019 by Werner Achs, the wine that won the Austrian jury’s highest notes. We then blind-tested all three against our own less expensive winning bottles. By the way, in the above-mentioned Falstaff Guide to Austrian Red Wines, the “Perwolff” 2019, Werner Achs’ “Xur” 2019, and René Pöckl’s “Rêve de Jeunesse” 2019 are all three rated 97 out of 100 possible points. But the magazine A La Carte gave the “Perwolff” and the “Rêve de Jeunesse” a straight 100/100.
You may be wondering whether we preferred the cheaper wines over the Perwolff, right? Well, you should find out for yourself, as these are all doubtlessly fine bottles of wine. As for us, we were leaning towards…33
Quite a potpourri, right? Believe me, we had a great time preparing this post. And we learned a lot about wines, geography, people and history.
Also, it was a good excuse to wish a LeChayim (Jewish drink toast in Hebrew, לחיים, meaning “to life!”) and not wait until Purim for a glass of wine. Drinking alcohol is indeed an integral part of the Purim holiday celebration — in fact, the Talmud instructs Jews to get so drunk that they can’t tell the difference between the phrases Arur Haman (“cursed be Haman”) and Baruch Mordechai (“blessed be Mordecai”).34
Let’s finish with what all red wines have in common: they stain. Here’s a big spill of red wine from the closing of Shabbos at the Havdalah ceremony35 Hasidic rabbi’s style where the Havdalah candle is extinguished with the wine, not over a plate but directly onto the table:
Names and Places in the Sheva Kehillos Region Mentioned in this Post
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- Willi Klinger (Editor), Karl Vocelka (Editor), Wein in Österreich: Die Geschichte. (Brandstätter, Wien: 2019), p.476
- Philipp Blom, “The Wines of Austria” (Mitchel Beazley, London: 2000/2006)
- Cf. Introduction to Philipp Blom, “The Wines of Austria” (Mitchel Beazley, London: 2000/2006)
- See this introductory note by the excellent Glatzer estate: https://www.weingutglatzer.at/en/our-vineyard/ or compare with Philipp Blom, “The Wines of Austria” (Mitchel Beazley, London: 2000/2006) p.4
- Philipp Blom, “The Wines of Austria” (Mitchel Beazley, London: 2000/2006), p.3
- Jewish ritual service and ceremonial dinner for the first night or first two nights of Passover.
- Benediction and prayer recited over a cup of wine immediately before the meal on the eve of the Sabbath or of a festival.
- See the Wikipedia article on kosher wine: Link https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosher_wine
- The 2001 census in Austria counted 8140 Jews in Austria, of which 6988 were living in Vienna. The Jewish community, however, believes that there are around 15,000 Jews in Austria. See Wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_in_Vienna#Second_Republic_(Since_1945)
- Peter Moser, Falstaff Rotwein Guide Österreich 2022: Die Besten 1300 Rotweine, Verkostet, Beschrieben, Bewertet (Vienna: 2021)
- Werner Achs estate link: https://www.wernerachs.at/
- Pöckls estate link: https://www.poeckl.at/
- Anne Krebiehl, Austria’s Red Wines are Ready for Prime Time (Wine Mag, May 8, 2018) Link: https://www.winemag.com/2018/05/08/austrias-red-wines/
- Kollwentz estate link: https://www.kollwentz.at/en/
- Gault & Millau link: https://at.gaultmillau.com/?locale=en-GB
- Willi Klinger (Editor), Karl Vocelka (Editor), Wein in Österreich: Die Geschichte. (Brandstätter, Wien: 2019), p.473
- Wohlmuth estate link: https://www.wohlmuth.at/
- Hafner estate link: https://wein-shop.at/?lang=en
- See Wikipedia’s entry on Siebengemeinden. Link: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siebengemeinden
- Güssing (In Hungarian Németújvár; In Hebrew גיסינג) was another town in Burgenland with a Jewish community. When until 1918 the Burgenland was under Hungarian rule, the community of Sopron (Ödenburg in German) was closely connected to the Seven Communities.
- H. Frischman, The Sheva Kehillos – Memories of Torah Life In The Western Hungarian Oberland Communities (A. Frischman, Jerusalem: 2015).
- There’s a book in German: by Jüdisches Burgenland (Metroverlag, Vienna: 2012).
- University of Vienna, Medienportal: https://medienportal.univie.ac.at/presse/aktuelle-pressemeldungen/detailansicht/artikel/archaeological-sensation-in-austria-scientists-from-the-university-of-vienna-unearth-the-earliest-e/
- “After 1945 and into the 21st century there were no organized Jewish communities in Burgenland; the cemeteries were cared for by the Vienna community’s Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien (Kobersdorf, Lackenbach) or the individual communities (Deutschkreutz, Eisenstadt, Kittsee, Mattersburg, Frauenkirchen). The Verein Schalom association helped to rebuild and care for the cemeteries. Many of the relics of the communities were preserved in the special department of the Burgenlaendisches Landesmuseum in Eisenstadt, and the Juedisches Zentralarchiv des Burgenlandes, which is part of the Burgenlaendisches Landesarchivs.” Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2008.
- Philipp Blom, “The Wines of Austria” (Mitchel Beazley, London: 2000/2006), p.XIII
- Krutzler estate link: https://krutzler.at/en/
- Prieler estate link: https://www.prieler.at/
- Ernst Triebaumer estate link: http://www.triebaumer.com/
- Districtus Austriae Controllatus loosely based on the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system
- Markowitsch estate link: https://www.markowitsch.at/en/
- Gager estate link: https://www.weingut-gager.at/
- Schwarz estate link: https://www.schwarz-weine.at/
- … the Perwolff, dolorously for our wallet.
- Obviously, the Misnagdim, a religious group that resisted the rise of the Hassidim, insists that simply having a nap does fulfill the commandment too.
- See Wikipedia’s on Havdalah. Link: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Havdalah