The Secret to Austrian Sekt: The Traditional Method & Origin

18th October 2023


The Love Story

We’re writing 1841, when German-born cellar master of Ruinart, Robert Alwin Schlumberger meets the Austrian Sophie Kirchner on a boat trip along the river Rhein. They fell in love, but since her parents did not allow her to move to France, Robert decided in turn to move to Austria, Vienna. A year later the Schlumberger house was founded which laid the foundation of Austrian sparkling wine history.

From Big To Small

Today there are around 114 wineries that produce sparkling wine, 10% of Austria’s vineyard surface is dedicated to the production of sparkling wine. The leading varieties are Welschriesling and Grüner Veltliner. While the cooler sites in the northeastern corner of the country at Weinviertel around Poysdorf are favoured, some of the most famous producers are based in the warmer Burgenland. Before we dive more into the current history and diversity of Austrian Sparkling Wine (a.k.a. Österreichischer Sekt), there is another important milestone in the development of the market. For a long time, only large cellars were allowed to market the bubbles, it was 1976 when Gerald Malat argued in front of the court that ‘small producers’ should be allowed to produce and market their own fizz. And the Winzersekt (or to be precise the Hauersekt for Austria) was born.

The Sparkling Wine Pyramid

No specific wine districts (DACs) produce fizz within their product specification. Unless you count in the Schilcher style which sometimes shares some ‘petillance’ in the bottle. So quality sparkling wine falls under the generic quality wine scheme which includes the names of the respected states (Bundesland), like Burgenland, Niederösterreich for instance. The Sekt Austria falls into one of the three categories in ascending quality order: Sekt Austria, Sekt Austria Reserve, and Sekt Austria Große Reserve. The generic level (Österreichischer Sekt) requires 9 months of lees contact if second fermentation happens in the bottle, and 6 months if tank method is the chosen vinification. With Reserve and Große Reserve (Grand Reserve) only hand harvest and bottle fermentation is permitted. The lees ageing goes up to 18, and 36 months respectively. Whole bunch pressing is required as well amongst several other criteria which aim to guarantee quality and authenticity for the product.

The Rising Starts

It would be difficult to make a complete list of the finest Austrian sparkling wines currently on the market. From the Steiermark Harkamp is certainly a name to look out for, the NV Solera III Extra Brut is exciting with its tropical fruit-driven notes. If you can get hold of some of the Blanc de Blanc from the Regele winery, you’re in for a treat as well. In Burgenland, the name Szigeti, both Peter and Norbert (each making their own sparkling today) have some exciting bottles to show. A-Nobis (from Norbert Szigeti) Grand Cuvée Extra Brut 2013, has spent almost 10 years on the lees before degorment, blend of Chardonnay and Pinot noir shows how graceful some sparkling wines can age next to the Lake Neusiedl. From Niederösterreich Willi Bründlmayer is certainly a name that rings a bell amongst wine connoisseurs, not just for their fantastic single vineyard Riesling but also the bubbles. Schloss Gobelsburg never disappoints with their generic category (Blanc de Blancs Niederösterreich Sekt g.U.) and of course let’s not forget Schlumberger who not only favours occasionally varietal (Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon blanc) sparkling wines but also personalises some of their bottles if requested.

Austrian Sekt, with its centuries-old tradition, is no longer a hidden secret. Its unique character, influenced by terroir, history, and an unwavering commitment to quality, has earned it a place on the global stage. So, the next time you raise your glass for a toast, consider reaching for a bottle of Austrian Sekt and savouring the effervescent taste of a centuries-old tradition that continues to captivate wine enthusiasts around the world. Prost!

Kristian Kielmayer, Dip WSET, Weinakademiker

Kristian Kielmayer BA, DipWSET

Economist with a degree in oenology, diploma holder of the WSET and certified sommelier by the CMS. He is a colourful, passionate communicator and a great storyteller and an educator.