Just enough Gruner to Get you Grinning
(a sort of an introduction)
Those who started with wine since the mid-nineties haven’t had to cope with the emotional strain of adding this variety to their mental winelists; it was part of the picture into which they themselves were painted.
But for the older generation, it proved somewhat of a challenge to hear that the top white grapes Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc had an additional companion to round out the handful: Gruner Veltliner. For some, this proved too much of an inconvenience; they spun out on the learning curve and pretended it didn’t exist.
Recently a normally reliable scribe put forth the hypothesis that it was the umlaut on the a that made people shy away from the grape Blaufrankisch, although from our vantage point selling the stuff, it doesn’t look like anybody has shied very far away. So as far as the umlaut on the u in Gruner goes, if your keyboard doesn’t come equipped with an umlaut u key [editor note: we can't use the umlaut, it seems to mess up things when posted], or you can’t find the option key on your Mac, or have forgotten the ascii code on your PC, relief is in sight! The spelling Gruener is quite acceptable in the best German language circles, and will help get folks away from saying anything groanworthy like grooner.
The first vowel is halfway between Groon the old King Crimson song (the b side of their seminal single Cat Food) and the grin that you grin when the wine goes in – halfway between u-and-sometimes-y.
And that’s not just an empty toddle down musical Memory Lane, but it occurs to me just now that if one were obliged to eat cat food, Gruener Veltliner would probably go with it just fine. It’s a grape that excels in situations where others fear to venture. Couple exceptions: to cope with the edible extremity of the Scoville scale, or with fresh tomatoes, unoaked Sauvignon Blanc is in fact better. But GV works wonders with layered flavors, with Asian and Asian (con)fusion, hot hams from sty-town and all sorts of things that once called the water home. And it absolutely shines alongside steak tartare. Go fish go fig… (yes, figs are a good companion as well, ‘specially in the company of prosciutto and gorgonzola ‘longside a heavyweight GV)
GV is a character wearing many faces, an actor with many masks. At the basic level, when it comes out of the spigot in a tavern in Vienna, it’s like Pinot Grigio with an imagination. At the top end, from the best sites in the Wachau region, let’s say, it can scare the bejabbers out of grand cru white Burgundy. In between there’s a seemingly inexhaustible variety of textures and nuances available, which have more or less to do with the type of dirt the grape was grown in, and the weather during the season. It doesn’t show the effects of terroir quite so avidly as does that noblest of white varieties, the Riesling, but it’s easier about it, somewhere in the running with Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. In the top sites of the Wachau, however, the combination of GV with decomposed granite can be so striking that I once had a hard time telling a Josef Hogl GV apart from a Hogl Riesling.
Did we say that GV is uniquely Austrian? At least in heritage it is, along with belonging to neighboring Moravia, Slovakia and the Czech republic. It has recently expanded to places like the USA, Germany, New Zealand and Oz near Adelaide, with results waiting to be determined.
DNA research has indicated that one parent of the GV was Traminer, and the other seems to have been an old unique and unknown vine discovered in Burgenland, in Sankt Georgen, now called St Georgener, which is being cultivated on an experimental basis.
In one of the more bizarre current events in the world of wine, vandals – for reasons best understood by themselves – attacked this 500 year old vine last winter and chopped it to pieces. I was very relieved when back in May I climbed the hill in St G with Hans Moser, and was able to verify for myself that the old fellow had survived, was still alive and sprouting new shoots.
And the taste of GV? This covers quite a wide spectrum. One of its identifying flavor-characteristics is the white-pepper snap – called Pfefferl in Austrian – which tingles throughout the finish. For starters, on the leaner end of things, the fresh and bright GVs tend to offer citrus aromas and flavors, ripening toward green apples and apricots. When GV puts on more weight, that’s when the bananas blossom and the pineapples explode into a panoply of tropical topics, like mango and kiwi–some of these flavor profiles become quite exotic. Acidity is not quite so pronounced as with Riesling or Chenin Blanc, but will vary according to the individual vintage.
Although Gruner Veltliner has been known to survive encounters with 225-litre French barriques, it shows best when elaborated in old neutral wood – 3000L – or in super-stainless steel tanks. And we are glad to report that nearly everybody has given up the oh-so-2004 practice of starting fermentation using cultured aromatic yeasts…
And to make the poster on the postoffice wall complete, Mr GV is also known by the following aliases:
Bielospicak, Dreimanner, Falkensteiner, Feherhegyu, Gruner Muskateller, Nemes Veltelini, Manhardsrebe, Manhartsrebe, Mouhardsrebe, Ryvola Bila, Tarant Bily, Valteliner, Veltlini, Veltlinske Zelene, Weissgipfler, Weissreifler, Weissmuskateller, Yesil Veltliner, Zeleny Muskatel, Zleni Veltinac, Zold Muskotaly und Zold Veltelini.