Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Getting into the GrüVe: Austria's Premier White

Grüner Veltliner (pronounced Groo-ner Velt-liner) is the little white grape from Austria that never quite hit the tipping point. It has long been fashionable among the wine cognoscenti - sommeliers and wine writers - but it never quite captured the mainstream market like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or Argentine Malbec. This is a downright shame, as Grüner Veltliner is a world class grape capable of producing pleasurable and distinctive wines that don't break the bank.

Grüner Veltliner accounts for about a third of grapevine plantings in Austria, making it the country's most important grape. It grows in other Eastern European countries like Slovakia and the Czech Republic, but it's Austria that leads the pack in quality. Grüner Veltliner is grown almost exclusively in the Northeastern section of the country where regions like Wachau and Kamptal are believed to produce the most nuanced and complex versions of the wine.

In its simplest form, Grüner Veltliner is a dry, aromatic white (often sold in liter-sized bottles in the US and jugs in Austria) that offers up flavors of citrus, minerals and flowers. These are wines meant for drinking rather than thinking about; bring them on a picnic rather than lying down in the cellar. Some finer versions can age for a short while and become more honeyed and savory with time. However, if you're spending less than $20 a bottle, it's probably best to drink up now, as the wine will probably not be the type suitable for cellaring.

So then, how does one best explore the joys of Grüner Veltliner? The key is trying the different styles and appellations of the grape variety. A perfect, inexpensive introduction to the grape would be Artner Grüner Veltliner. Hailing from the region of Carnuntum (which is located just Southeast of Vienna), this zesty white exemplifies the simple pleasure Grüner Veltliner offers through its floral aromas and crisp acidity. It's nothing complicated or complex, but it's the type of light, refreshing wine that has one picking up their glass and asking for a refill often.

Another easy-drinking example would be Berger Grüner Veltliner from the acclaimed region of Kremstal (which is located further North of Carnuntum). Imported by a man named Terry Theise, a legend in his own right, this wine is a perennial best-seller. In Theise's own words, "Berger's wines are delightful and affordable." Theise believes that Erich Berger, the winery's proprietor, places an emphasis on making wines that possess charm and drinkability. It's a good thing its sold in liters - there's plenty to go around.

Also imported by Theise is Nikolaihof "Hefeabzug" Grüner Veltliner, a wine that displays the heights to which Grüner Veltliner can rise. Nikolaihof is a biodynamic producer located in the vaunted region of Wachau. Their Grüner Veltliner is complex and long-lived, much like the winery itself - it's Austria's oldest wine estate. The Saahs family runs the estate and sees to it that all the fermentation is natural using only indigenous yeast and that the wine is aged in large old oak. The wines spend a long time - up to 4 months - on the lees. Still, the wine should not be put on too high a pedestal. Mr. Saahs likes to say, "I like to drink wine, not study it." It's impossible to disagree.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

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