Posted by: tomciocco | August 19, 2014

IN AUSTRIA, GRUNER VELTLINER IS “NUMMER EINS”

So many casual wine drinkers are entirely uninitiated into the fantastic world of Austrian wine, and indeed for some, the very mention of “Austrian wine” produces blank and/or quizzical looks. In short, Austrian wine rocks, and if you aren’t drinking Austrian, you should be.

One thing that makes Austria such a great wine-making nation is its wealth of native grapes, both red and white, but even with such an abundant collection of home-grown vines, no grape variety is more emblematic and representative of Austrian wine than Gruner Veltliner (GROO-ner velt-LEE-ner). And though Austria does raise this bevy of native grapes, Gruner Veltliner occupies nearly one third of the total land under vine which speaks loudly about how really fine Gruner Veltliner can be, and how much the Austrians truly love it.

 And with all of this acreage of Gruner vines being tended, it might lead one to think that Gruner grows like a weed, but to a large degree the opposite is true. Gruner Veltliner is quite prone to diseases associated with a surplus of water in the soil as well as in the air, and it matures late enough in the season that not all of Austria’s vine-growing regions can reliable ripen it and maintain vine health simultaneously. Because of this, most of the country’s Gruner is planted on the hills leading down to the Danube in eastern Austria, particularly in the regions of Wachau, Kremstal (the source of this evening’s wine) and Kamptal. Because of their geographical positioning in the Danube basin, these areas receive continual warm winds from the hot Hungarian plains to the east, a factor that diminishes the chances for moisture-reliant diseases that simultaneously promotes full fruit ripening.

 Interestingly, despite the “Veltliner” part of its name, recent DNA analysis has established that it has no relation to any other grape in the “Veltliner” family like Fruhroter Veltliner, Roter Veltliner, Rotgipfler et al. In truth, Gruner Veltliner’s lineage has one foot in the Traminer branch of vines, with the other planted in a line of a very obscure vine from the area around St. Georgen.

 Along with two other great Northern European varieties – Riesling and Chenin Blanc – there is nothing that well-bred Gruner Veltliner cannot do stylistically. It is as comfortable as a bone dry wine as it is as a thick, sticky dessert wine and every gradation sweetness there between, and because of its popping acidity and bold flavors, it makes great sparkling wines to boot. And though for me all wines are (or should be) “food wines”, Gruner Veltliner’s solid structure, crispness and gregarious flavor profile makes it a perfect and perennial companion at the table all over Austria. Would that this were the case all over the world…

And speaking of food, the grub I matched with this vivacious example of Gruner consisted of a traditional Viennese appetizer of battered and fried celery stalks followed by a main course of stuffed cabbage rolls (pork, rice, onion, garlic, paprika, dill) baked in a simple tomato sauce with a nice dollop of sour cream and slices of good rye bread to keep them company.

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Forstreiter Gruner Veltliner Kremser Kogl 2013

Bright, light gold/green color. Piercing nose of gooseberry, pear, white currant, and minerally aromas of yellow pollen flower and nutmeg. The palate is medium weight, with a sharp and etched acidity that frames flavors of grapefruit, yellow cherry, green apple, peas, white pepper, and fresh herbs. Finishes with a dynamic fresh bitter/tart character.

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