A scandal rocked the wine world in 1985. It came out of Austria, and would change the wine industry forever. It sounds bad, but in the long term it actually had a positive effect, particularly on Austria itself.
By the 1980’s, Austria was primarily known internationally for its sweet wine, the majority of which was (and still is) produced around the Neusiedlersee. Many of these wines were exported and then bottled in Germany.
A lot of sun and long warm summers are required (more about that later) to produce sweet wines. But there were years when the summer did not offer ideal weather conditions, so the demand for sweet wines could not be met.
The facts got a little blurry in my research here, but the story goes that somehow, someone “figured out” that diethylene glycol (a primary ingredient of antifreeze) makes wines sweeter and more full-bodied while retaining character and flavour. The ‘ideal’ solution to produce enough sweet Austrian wines to meet international demands.
However, someone talked, and it was discovered that Austrian wines were tampered with. It did not take long for this fact to hit the headlines, causing a worldwide scandal.
(Another story is that a tax inspector wondered why an Austrian wine broker was deducting so much antifreeze from his taxes resulting in a wide-spread investigation).
It is noted everywhere that although a higher dose of antifreeze could cause, amongst other things, brain damage and kidney failures, there is not a single report of anyone getting sick after drinking the tainted wine.
Either way, the short-term result of the scandal was the complete collapse of Austrian wine exports; Austrian wines were boycotted world-wide, and Austria suffered a total loss of reputation of their entire wine industry. It took over a decade for the Austrian wine trade to recover from this event.
Disaster leads to Redemption
In the long term the scandal was actually very positive for Austria’s wine industry. The devastation is left behind resulted in the alteration of many wine laws, which are now among the strictest in the world. This led to a high standard of growing, harvesting and vinifying grapes. As a result, Austria now produces high quality wines!
It also allowed Austria to alter its focus from sweet to dry wines, which is actually a much better fit for this cool-climate wine country.
And there you go! All the drama, but we ended up with delicious, tasty and trustworthy wines. And you can buy them at Craftwines.
The right way to make sweet wine
There are different ways to make sweet wines (also called dessert wines). It’s actually a really interesting topic, so I’ve got a simple version for you here:
When grapes are harvested late in the season, they soak up the sun as long as possible. Grapes will have more sugar which means a sweeter wine. The sugar levels can be even higher when:
– grapes are dried in the sun (e.g. Amarone/Italy, Pedro Jimenez/Spain)
– grapes have lost water through noble rot/botrytis, a beneficial mould that punctures the grape skin (e.g. Sauternes/France, Ausbruch/Austria and Germany)
– grapes are picked when frozen. The sugar does not freeze but the water in a grape does, resulting in more concentrated juice when pressed (Eiswein/Austria, ice wine/Canada).
Fermentation is the process in which yeast turns the sugar in grape juice into alcohol, giving us wine. If the yeast (a living organism), is killed off, fermentation ceases so you have more residual sugar left over.
There are different ways to stop fermentation:
– Cooling the wine. Yeast cannot survive in a cold environment. So by cooling the wine down, there is still some sugar left that has not been turned to alcohol.
– Adding alcohol (specifically, grape brandy) will also kill the yeast and stop fermentation before all sugar has turned into alcohol, resulting in sweet fortified wine (e.g. Port or Muscat).
Interesting fact: Naturally sweeter grapes
Some grape varieties have more natural sugar than others. In Austria, you will find this with Riesling, Müller-Thurgau (Rivaner), Muskateller, Muskat Ottonel, Rotgipfler, and Zierfandler. This does not mean all wines from these grapes are sweet, just that their naturally higher sugar content makes them more easily suitable for sweet wines.
Being Austrian, these three wines have lively acidity that smoothly balances out the sweetness. Great with cheese, a fruit salad, or simply on their own!