Laughing, I can still recall the reaction of my friend, a master sommelier. Josef Mantler, owner of the winery Mantlerhof, had sent me two bottles of his Roter Veltliner wine, and when I invited my friend Master Sommelier to taste the wine, he commented in a puzzled manner, “Roter Veltliner?? What’s that?” Most wine lovers outside of Austria would probably have the same reaction.
Indigenous to Lower Austria, Roter Veltliner is a very old variety that today is principally planted in Wagram, but is also found in small quantities in Kamptal, Kremstal, the Wachau, Weinviertel, and in the vineyards around the city of Vienna. In 2009 there were only 193 hectares (477 acres) of Roter Veltliner recorded in all of Austria, representing a mere 0.4% of all white grape varieties planted in the country. Roter Veltliner is one of the parents of the Austrian varieties Frühroter Veltliner, Neuburger, Rotgipfler, and Zierfandler. Although they have similar names, Roter Veltliner is botanically unrelated to the much more important Grüner Veltliner. Occasionally one hears of Brauner Veltliner, a natural mutation of Roter Veltliner.
Roter Veltliner is not particularly fussy about the type of soil in which it is planted, but it does prefer warm locations like south-facing hillsides. The vine is sensitive to frost, the grapes ripen late, and yields are inconsistent. These characteristics have probably contributed to its 25% decline in plantings in the past ten years. The ripe grapes contain relatively high amounts of natural acids, extracts, and sugars which contribute longevity to its wines capable of ageing eight to ten years, and in some cases even longer. Because of the pretty rosy red color of the ripe grapes the vine is named Roter Veltliner (“rot” meaning “red” in German). The wines are typically elegant, fruity and fragrant with notes of red fruits, almonds, earth, and minerals. Rich on the palate the wines retain their freshness due to an elevated level of acidity.
Although there are few hectares planted to this archaic variety there are specialists who still care for their old vines. Setzer is the winery which probably produces the most well-known Roter Veltliner wine. Some ten years ago the winery entered into an agreement with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra to produce their own emblematic wine, the Roter Veltliner Wiener Symphoniker. Other wineries specializing in wines from this variety are Hagenbüchl, Leth, Mantlerhof, and Rudi Pichler.
You can find more information about Austrian wines at Austrian Wine.