First things first: Grüner Veltliner is the name of a grape varietal used to make white wines, and this is how you say it (72.0 KB wav file). You might also hear folks refer to it simply as Grüner, or even as GruVe (kind of like “groovy”), which is a moniker I don’t personally subscribe to.
You may have noticed this wine popping up on more and more wine lists as it has become quite the darling of sommeliers. Why? Because dry Grüner Veltliner wines have the uncanny ability to match with almost any food, including those notoriously difficult such as artichokes and asparagus. This new celebrity status has also landed it on the pages of magazines and newspapers, and we think the attention is well deserved.
So how does a glass of Grüner Veltliner taste? It tends to be a crisp, light-to-medium bodied dry wine with an edge of spice. It can have mineral, herbal, floral, and even fresh pea or lentil notes, and it’s known for having a slight white pepper taste on the finish. The grapes can also be harvested late and used to make dessert wine or even Icewine, as vintner Manfred Weiss does.
Austria is the best known country for producing Grüner Veltliner wines, where it makes up a third of all of their varietals grown: a total of about 43,000 acres of vines planted. It is primarily grown in the regions of the Weinviertel, Kamptal, Kremstal, Wachau, and the Donauland, of which the Wachau is perhaps the most famous.
It is in the Wachau region that a group of vintners established an association of winemakers called the Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus who closely monitor the quality of their wines through strict classification parameters. The name of the group dates back to Leuthold I von Kuenring (1243-1313, it’s what he called the heart of his estates) and today the association includes almost two hundred members and controls 85% of the Wachau vintage area. Recently the premier vintners of this group signed a manifesto of sorts called The Codex Wachau: The Charter of Pure Wine.
Belonging to this prestigious group are Josef Högl, Johann Donabaum, and Franz-Josef Gritsch, who still harvest their vineyards by hand: vineyards which range from those on the steep terraces of the hills, where crisp wines with a great mineral edge come from (the Donabaum Spitzer Point Gruner Veltliner Smaragd 2002 is a great example), to those at the foot of the hills in the short valley reaching to the banks of the Danube river where wines that are just as crisp but a bit fatter and more powerful are produced (as a contrast, compare the Spitzer Point to the Donabaum Loibner Garden Gruner Veltliner Smaragd 2002.) These wines are un-oaked, so it is pure varietal-meets-terroir that you are tasting. You can find much more detailed information about the terroir which influences these great wines here, at the Vinea Wachau website.
Earlier harvests of Wachau Grüner Veltliner go into bottlings which are labeled Steinfeder or Federspiel and are light to medium bodied, and the later harvest goes into the fuller-bodied, more complex Smaragd (go ahead, say it) wines. Many Austrians enjoy using the Steinfeder bottling of Grüner to make a drink called a G’Spritzer, which is half Grüner Veltliner and half sparkling water. Perhaps you think adding water to wine a bit sacriligous, but the Steinfeder wines are meant to be drunk young, are priced very low, and are pretty much built for this kind of treatment (here is a perfect one for G’Spritzer). For a far more detailed story about Steinfeder, Federspiel and Smaragd wines, check out our post about the full range of Austrian Wine Classifications.
For a slightly different style of dry Grüner Veltliner, one would have to look no further than the neighboring wine regions of Kremstal and Kamptal. Kremstal, named for the town of Krems at its center, borders the eastern edge of the Wachau while still remaining in the valley of the Danube. The wines here are perhaps more easily approachable than those of their western neighbor, with a softer fruit profile. Kamptal, named for its proximity to the Kamp river, is then just northeast of Kremstal, and is dominated by the Heiligenstein, or, Hell Rock. The white wines from here have a particularly spicy aroma. For a truly stunning example of what a Kamptal Grüner Veltliner wine can taste like, try the Melusine from winemaker Marion Ebner, which she crafted using vines planted in the reknowned Schloss Gobelsburg vineyards and vinified with just a bit of oak, rendering a complexity that will amaze your palate. You’ll also notice that the very shape of the bottle is different from those which hail from the Wachau: again, this is done by the winemakers to further establish their regional differences.
Be sure to chill your bottle of Grüner Veltliner just a bit before you drink it, and notice the way that it opens up and reveals its layers as it has a chance to breathe. Grüner Veltliner may indeed be a “hip” wine thing these days, but this is a wine that has been cultivated for hundreds of years, and its best examples can stand up against the finest whites that France has to offer- so suffice to say, this is not a trend that is passing. No, this is long overdue recognition for a wine you will find yourself reaching for again and again.