In the heart of Europe lies one of the world's great wine secrets. All around - south into Italy, north up the Rhine, east along the Danube - there are famous wine regions. But why is it we seldom hear about the great vintages of Austria? In the mid-1980s, a bunch of grasping racketeers were found to be putting something similar to anti-freeze into bulk wine. The stuff may work well for engines, but it doesn't do much for the human body. There was an enormous uproar and people all over the world stopped drinking Austrian wines. This was bad luck for winemakers in that scenic country, and equally bad for those of us who fancy light, delicate wines. Since then, Austria has passed ferocious laws to protect its wines, which now rank in purity with any on Earth. They are getting better to drink, too. Austria produces some startling marvels, and they are far too little known. Dr Peter Riha, a wine merchant who runs an import company called Solar Max (fax: 2554-0796), has for years been bringing Austrian wines into Hong Kong, but alas, they remain largely ignored. This is a double tragedy, because Austria's white wines go superbly with Chinese food. Many have an elusive floral character that adds magnificently to Cantonese dishes. Dr Riha's latest offering is the 97 chardonnay from Wieninger estate, located within the city limits of Vienna. Wineries like this are a true delight. You can grab a taxi outside the superb Opera House and in about 15 minutes be sitting on a wooden bench with a big blue glass of light white wine, listening to a bunch of hearty farmers bellowing out Teutonic drinking songs. There are about 750 hectares of vineyards in the Vienna wine region. The gravel and loam soils grow grapes that make the perfumed Austria specialities, vines like gruener veltliner, neuburger, riesling and a good red grape called blauberger. Increasingly, classic French varieties are produced, which is where the Wieninger clan comes into the picture. For generations, the family has been making wine at its 13-hectare vineyard at Bisamberg, a hill on the banks of the Danube, and selling almost all of it in their country restaurant. Now they also grow chardonnay, some of which they export. It's a nice wine made in stainless steel; you get to taste the genuine flavour of fruit. It's really elegant and at $149 presents good value. I took a bottle along to dinner recently. Five of us were meeting in a family restaurant. I got rave reactions from the others about how perfectly it went with the steamed prawns and the choi sum. Wine has been made in this region for 2,500 years. Scientists have dated the remains of old wineries where Celtic tribes made vintages long before the Roman legions tramped down the Danube to found their military port of Vindobona (hence Vienna). During the Middle Ages, wine production was enormous and vital to the economy. Austrians today delight in what they call 'Heurige' culture. Basically, this means that people who produce wine can sell it from their farms, along with food. It's a custom that goes back to the time when Charlemagne and his Franks ruled the area and has been law since Hapsburg Emperor Josef II issued a decree in 1784. There are now about 200 licensed wine restaurants and an astonishing 640 winemakers in Vienna. Now, that's what I call culture.