In the sea of wines available today there are some that exhibit truly interesting characteristics. One increasingly popular variety is Grüner Veltliner, an indigenous variety from Austria. This variety has silently infiltrated the world of wine lovers, those looking for something different than the wines with the ubiquitous vanilla flavor. Grüner, as it’s known among its fans, exhibits a wide range of scintillating aromas and flavors and refreshing acidity.
The origin of Grüner Veltliner is not exactly known although it was already found in Roman times. The grape was documented in the eighteenth century with the name Grüner Muskateller (grün = green). Today it is the most-planted white grape in Austria, accounting for more than 36% of the vineyard area there and principally found in the regions of Weinviertel, Kamptal, Kremstal, Wagram and Wachau. Although other varieties have similar names, Grüner Veltliner is botanically unrelated to Brauner Veltliner, Roter Veltliner or Frühroter Veltliner. DNA testing has shown that one parent of Grüner Veltliner could be Gewürztraminer although the other parent remains unknown and probably is not found in modern Austria.
After the second World War, Austria sought productive varieties that didn’t require much attention. Grüner Veltliner was a good selection in this regard as it thrives in various types of soils, and even at high yields it produces light and spicy wines. When grown in poor soils like those in Kamptal, Kremstal or Wachau, and with a restricted yield, the wines develop intense aromas and profound flavors and maintain a refreshing acidity. And thanks to this acidity the best examples, like the best Rieslings, can mature for decades in bottle. The lighter examples of Grüner Veltliner have a refreshing acidity with notes of fresh apple, citrus and grass, but the aroma most associated with Grüner Veltliner is white pepper, called pfefferl by the Austrians. The best examples are dry, full-bodied and with aromas of pepper and lentils and with bottle age can develop characteristics typical of white Burgundy, soft and nutty. The vast majority of Grüner Veltliners from Austria are dry. Look for the word “trocken” on the label which signifies “dry” in German.
On 9 June 2002, Jan Paulson of Rare Wine organized a competition, sponsored by VieVinum, of the best Grüner Veltliners of Austria and the best Chardonnays from Burgundy and California. The results were astounding, with Grüner Veltliner winning all three categories. Even more astounding was that the Burgundies appeared at the bottom of the list of 37 wines. Although one could criticize the competition on various grounds what is important is that the competition showed that Grüner Veltliner can produce wines of world-class quality, and that serious wine lovers who are unfamiliar with it should seek it out.
Just like Riesling, Grüner Veltliner can produce wines in various styles. It’s a popular selection in the production of Sekt, the sparkling wine of Austria and Germany. The young wines can be found in the Heuriger of Austria, the taverns that serve the new wines. Although not typical some enologists have experimented with oak-aged Grüner Veltliner. And in the tradition of dessert wines, Grüner Veltliner can produce excellent Eiswein, Beerenauslesen, and Trockenbeerenauslesen. Grüner Veltliner is excellent with various types of cuisine and is one of the few wines that can stand up to asparagus. The lighter examples are perfect as an aperitif or with various canapés, shellfish and salads. The more full-bodied and structured versions are great with veal, chicken, and fish with complex sauces. The best wines with bottle age can even accompany red meats. The wines are also very good with salmon, trout and Thai cuisine. The late-harvest sweet wines are delicious with apple-based desserts, or for a special taste treat try one of the “stickies” foie gras or paté.
Although Austria is the spiritual homeland of Grüner Veltliner, it is also grown in small quantities in the Pfalz region of Germany where it is known simply as Veltliner; in the Czech Republic as Veltlínské Zelené; and in Hungary as Zöldveltelini. There are also tiny quantities grown in California and in Otago, New Zealand.
Some of my favorite Austrian producers are:
• Weingut Wieninger, Viena www.wieninger.at
• Weingut Bründlmayer, Kamptal www.bruendlmayer.at
• Weingut Fred Loimer, Kamptal www.loimer.at
• Weingut Nigl, Kremstal www.weingutnigl.at
• Domäne Wachau, Wachau www.domaene-wachau.at
• Weingut Franz Hirtzberger, Wachau www.hirtzberger.com
• Weingut Emmerich Knoll, Wachau http://www.loibnerhof.at/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=13&lang=en
• Weingut F.X. Pichler, Wachau www.fx-pichler.at
• Weingut Rudi Pichler, Wachau www.rudipichler.at
• Weingut Prager, Wachau www.weingutprager.at
• Weingut Rainer Wess, Wachau www.weingut-wess.at
• Weingut Setzer, Weinviertel www.weingut-setzer.at
You can find more information about Austrian wines at Austrian Wine.