Posted by: tomciocco | April 17, 2013

GRUNER VELTLINER – THE MOST AUSTRIAN OF WHITES

Not too long ago at all, talking about wines made from Austria’s spunky white grape called Gruner Veltliner (GROO-ner velt-LEE-ner) elicited the looks you might expect a wine with a name like that to elicit, with blank, quizzical, and amused being the most common. But for anyone who had for whatever reason fallen out of love with their Sauvignon Blanc or Gavi, Gruner Veltliner (or just “Gruner”, which simply means “green”, as it’s often known) came as a very pleasant surprise when it popped up on the international scene about 15 years ago.

Gruner Veltliner is likely the most widely planted grape variety in Austria, red or white, so needless to say the Austrians have been enjoying this big-personality white for many centuries, but it was the best of the Gruners, often from the Kamptal or Wachau (like tonight’s wine) regions, that really opened noses and palates. Gruner Veltliner  from these and a few other small Austrian regions is a variety that can, and indeed does rival its far more celebrated north-of-the-Alps white ofttimes vineyard-mate, Riesling. In the glass, these two varieties actually bear little similarity to each other. Both boast a racy acidity and have distinctive demeanors overall, but if Riesling is bright and ethereal but still rich, Gruner Veltliner is cleanly earthy, complicated, and wiry. And from the best spots – like those found in the the steep, rocky soils, and perpetually breezy, hot-and-cold-and-hot-again climate found in the vineyards of Wachau – Gruner Veltliner can achieve a remarkably deep and powerful character, as well as the ability to age with the best Rieslings or Chardonnays or Chenin Blancs or anything else for that matter…

Wines from the Wachau are typically classified into three levels – Steinfeder, Federspiel, and Smaragd – gradations that correspond to ascending alcohol levels, and in many (but definitely not all!) cases, to ascending levels of quality as well. This wine is a Federspiel which fairly corresponds to the weight of a typical white wine from anywhere (Steinfeders are usually very fresh and light, while Samaragd wines are often similar to many late harvest wines, though not necessarily at all sweet). A further distinction of this particular cuvee` is that its fruit is sourced from a single vineyard site that bears the amusing name (at least to me) Burgberg…With wines like these, Sancerre Blanc’s got real worries…

Gruner Veltliner matches very well to veggie-heavy dishes, fried dishes, and stronger-flavored fish and  white meats, so I put this bottle together with an appetizer of roasted asparagus with a very Austrian pumpkin seed oil vinaigrette, and then herby pork schnitzel with sweet and sour braised cabbage as an accompaniment.

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Weingut Lagler Wachau Gruner Veltliner Federspiel “Burgberg” 2011

Greenish, limpid, middle-gold color. Intricate nose of stewed pear, lemon custard, dried herbs, fresh ginger, cinnamon, wet stones, and broom flower. In the mouth the wine shows a fleshy, muscular but still lean structure with a pronounced but very fine acidity, and flavors of quince, apple, candied pineapple, vanilla bean, blue curacao, and fresh green peas. Long, bittersweet honeydew melon finish.

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