Grüner Veltliner became the go-to wine for New York’s sommeliers in the late 1990s because it is an accommodating wine to pair with so many different types of food – fish, vegetables, white meat and even some red meat. It can age beautifully and takes on a texture and richness than is comparable to the great whites of the Côte d’Or. With a somewhat intimidating Germanic name it was given the sobriquet “Grü-Vee” or “Groovy” – and I just can’t but help think of Austin Powers when I hear that!
Since the 90s Grüner has fallen out of fashion somewhat in the big apple, but this doesn’t really upset the producers in its homeland of Austria as they can sell as much as they produce in the domestic market. It accounts for around a third of all vineyard plantings in Austria and is particularly valued given its status as the signature variety of the country. Riesling can produce profound wines in Austria, perhaps even more than Grüner, but Austrians don’t have the same sense of ownership (after all, the Germans and Alsatians have something of a claim to Riesling as well!)
The name actually means Green grape from Veltlin, which is in Lombardy. In the days before passport controls when borders were fluid it was difficult to say where was Germanic and where was Italic. Indeed a village called Tramin in the northern Italian region South Tyrol is thought to have given its name to the grape Traminer which is one of the parents of Grüner Veltliner. The white version of Traminer is also important as Savagnin in the Jura, and the pink version is also known as Klevener when grown in the northern Alsace village of Heiligenstein. A further mutation and it became Gewürztraminer “Spicy Traminer” – even more expressive.
The other parent of Grüner is the almost-extinct St. Georgener-Rebe which is just holding on in the village of Sankt Georgen am Leithagebirge in the Burgenland. If you can find a bottle of that you are a true wine geek!
Outside the Eastern Kingdom
Grüner is known as Veltlinske Zelené in Slovakia where it is the most widely planted grape. It also flourishes in the Czech Republic and just over the border from Austria into Italy. Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria also have a small amount planted.
In the New World it also has a foothold in the cooler regions of the USA (Finger Lakes, Oregon…), Australia (Adelaide Hills), New Zealand (Gisbourne, Marlborough) and Canada (Okanagan Valley, BC).
Grüner often does best on loess - silt, sand and a bit of clay mixed together. Other sites with loam tend to produce more full-bodied The sunny days and cool nights of Austrian summers are perfect for ripening with enough sugar and flavour but maintaining lively acidity.
So, is now the time to say “Anti-Freeze”?
For those (like me) old enough to remember, Austrian wine was enveloped in an adulteration scandal in 1985. Though the facts were slightly misconstrued, the damage stuck and the Austrian wine industry all but collapsed.
When trying to rebuild out of the scandal, super-tough regulations were announced so that no-one could doubt the quality of the product. Like many other wine producing areas, Austria set up an “Appellation Contrôlée” type system, using the Latin “Districtus Austriae Controllatus” or DAC for short. Interestingly (for geeks like me), instead of using Brix or Oechsle as measures of must weight (and therefore potential alcohol), the common measure in Austria is KMW. That’s one for the memory bank.
The drawback of having a DAC for a region is that wines must be made in an prescribed style to carry the name, otherwise they don’t have the right to use their home region’s name at all. This is one of the regions why the Wachau has stuck to its own classification system:
- Steinfeder for wines up to 11.5% alcohol level
- Federspiel for wines between 11.5–12.5%
- Smaragd must have a minimum of 12.5%
The D6 Wine Club Grüner Veltliner Tasting at Wine Workshop
And so to the event that prompted this post in the first place – a tasting at Dublin’s newest wine shop, The Wine Workshop, focused solely on “Austria’s Golden Child”. Our host(ess)-with-the-most(ess) Morgan Vanderkam will be writing her own blog on the event sometime soon, so I will link into that when published.
Ingrid Groiss Grüner Veltliner Weinviertel DAC 2013
Ingrid Groiss is a talented and passionate young winemaker from the Weinviertel. The Hare on the label represents the fertility of the land and harmony with Mother Nature (yeah OK, it does sound a bit hippyish!) Her vineyards are located in the Pulkautal at Haugsdorf and at Fahndorf near Ziersdorf – google maps is your friend! – and mainly have loess soils.
Weinviertel has a DAC designation for white wine only, and currently only for Grüner Veltliner. It was the first DAC to be created in 2003, effective for the 2002 vintage and onwards. This example has the secondary designation Klassik, which means it is made in a clean, un-oaked style with no botrytis apparent. If you like Alsace Riesling, give this a try.
Birgit Eichinger “Wechselberg” Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal DAC, 2013
Birgit Eichinger is another star from Kamptal. This is a single vineyard wine – that vineyard being Wechselberg. Although this is technically dry (2.1g/L of RS) it would still be a good match for spicy dishes – the fruit flavours make it taste sweeter than it actually is.
Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner “Tradition” Reserve, Kamptal, 2010
Schloss Gobelsburg is a major producer in Kamptal, and thankfully (given the quality) it appears on several wine merchants’ shelves in the UK, Ireland and elsewhere.
This “Tradition” is a clean, racy example that starts to show plenty of fruit a little while after being poured, with just a little of Grüner’s signature white pepper on the finish.
Schloss Gobelsburg “Lamm” Grüner Veltiner Reserve, Kamptal, 2010
This was probably my favourite wine of the tasting! Tasted blind I might have guessed an an Alsace Pinot Gris – it has the same oily, rich texture. Acidity isn’t forgotten, there’s a streak running through the middle of the richness that keeps it fresh and balanced.
Gritsch “Smaragd” Loibenberg Grüner Veltiner, Wachau, 2007
If you were paying attention above you will see that this is the biggest, boldest type of Wachau wine. From a single vineyard site, it is made in a fruit forward style but is robust enough to even pair with beef. Fermented to dry, it can reach 14.0% abv – that’s pretty robust in a white wine!
Claus Preisinger Grüner Weltliner, Weinland, 2012
A very modern label for a post-modern wine – a natural, orange wine.
Let’s tackle Natural first: The vineyard is certified Biodynamic and the wine is made with as little modern technology and intervention as possible. Zero sulphur is added at any stage, even bottling.
And Orange? Red wine is generally made with black grapes, and white wine is generally made with green grapes – in a different way, mainly in that the juice is pressed out of the skins then taken off quickly before colour and tannin leach into the juice. Now imagine green grapes given the red wine process – then you have orange wine! This has more colour than a typical white and noticeable tannin.
It’s not for everyone, but if you want to step out onto the ledge of wine’s high-rise, here it is!