Austria enjoys such a reputation for stunning scenery, winter sports, Viennese pastries, and picture postcard palaces that it is easy to forget that a bevy of fine wines flows from the terraced hills and lakeshore vineyards of this alpine nation. In fact, Austria enjoys an unbroken thousand year viticultural history, dating back to 955 A.D. and the decree by Otto I to replant the Austrian vineyards - the first such attempt since the departure of the Romans. In fact, Vienna is the only world capital to sustain an economically viable wine industry within its borders. Moreover, Austria presently adheres to the most stringent laws and the highest standards of wine production in the world and turns out many charming, flavorful, natural tasting wines, thanks to legislation mandated in the 1980's. White wines dominate the Austrian wine trade in both quality and quantity, despite an increasing number of delicious reds from such unique varietals as Blaufrankisch and Zweigelt. Fine white wines are made from native Austrian varietals as well as a host of other European varietals, but unlike Germany, her neighbor to the north, the vast majority of white wine made in Austria is dry. The best and most intriguing of these white wines springs from either Riesling or the native Gruner Veltliner, the spicy, quintessential Austrian varietal, which suddenly seems the rage in the finest eateries around the globe. From Vienna to Los Angeles to Hong Kong, Gruner Veltliner is popping up to accompany an increasingly eclectic international fare that defies the ordinary Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc accompaniment. In addition, Austria crafts fine white wines from Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Rulander (Pinot Gris), and Sauvignon Blanc, the best of which can compete with the finest such examples from France and elsewhere. The major wine growing areas of Austria are scattered throughout the eastern third of the country, but none can claim to be more beautiful than the Wachau, the majestic valley of the Danube, located some 100 kilometers north of Vienna. This high, narrow Danube valley, between Melk and Krems, is recognized as one of the most stunning river landscapes in the world. In 1994 the Wachau was recognized as a Conservancy Area of international value and awarded the European Nature Protection Diploma. In Durnstein, at the heart of the Wachau, lies the Freie Weingartner, the world's best cooperative. Although we rarely feature wines from cooperatives, simply because most collective endeavors turnout less than stunning wines, we felt compelled to feature Freie Weingartner, simply because the dedication, commitment and quality coming from this small cooperative is second to none. In the Wachau, where the average vineyard may only be a couple of acres, Freie Weingartner has become the most reliable and viable source of fine wine, especially under the direction of the now legendary Willi Klinger. For its outstanding production of Wachau wines, Freie Weingartner Wachau has been voted International Winery of the Year by the influential magazine, Wine & Spirits, garnering the prestigious award in 1999. This is the fist time an Austrian producer has achieved this award. Like most first rate Austrian wineries, the Freie Weingartner specializes in Gruner Veltliner and Riesling wines, which all of the greatest wine publications and critics have lauded. Robert Parker's Wine Advocate has counted its Gruner Veltliner and Riesling among The World's Greatest Wine Values, while Decanter, the most prestigious British wine journal calls its wines some of the best there are. We hardily concur, and believe you will, too.