Grüner Pastures


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The Grüner Veltliner wine, once considered suitable only for quaffing in the Viennese Heurigen, has evolved into a wine that has earned its place in the lists of a handful of international restaurants.  Grüner Veltliner, literally meaning ‘green grape from the Veltlin village of Tirol’ is a local speciality grown on 36% of Austria’s 47,500 hectares of vineyards.

In style, the uniquely Austrian white wine Grüner Veltliner has elements in common with not only the wines of Germany, but also those of other countries. If I may venture a generalisation, the famous Grüner Veltliner is delicious, with floral-fruit typical of Rieslings wines, the snow-pea-kind of herbaceousness and fruitiness of Sauvignon Blancs from cool New World regions. Allied to it is the clean crisp yet un-aggressive dryness of the Australian Semillon wines whilst the silky richness found only in Alsace Gewurtztraminers completes the wine. With the best many varieties, no wonder Grüner Veltliner has become the most widely planted grape in Austria.

The Appetite Tasting Panel was convened and here’s what we thought of the wines.

The Panel

The Sommelier – Janice Koh
People who love bone dry Rieslings such as the zippy Aussie Clare types will love these wines. I was impressed with the freshness, even in the older wines. Some great Gruners were seen here today. I loved the big spectrum of flavour in the Loimer, the juxtaposed flavours of vanilla ice cream and minerals in the Neumayer Engelberg and the mineral crisp Neumayer Zwirch

The Wine Journalist – Jenny Tan
Most gruners are unoaked so it was refreshing to have toasty flavours in a gruner. Yet it is well handled. I am referring to the Kurt Angerer 1997. Wines like this were put up in a taste off in the UK recently and they beat some Burgundian Chardonnays!  There is potential in wood aged gruners.

The Wine Lecturer – Daniel
What an eclectic mix – so many styles in one variety. I am ecstatic. I’d drink Ott as there’s lots of stuff in the wine, and not forgetting the incredible balance. Then there is also Hirtzberger where I am seeing good development and its so different.

The Wine Journalist – Curtis
Huber was outstanding and way ahead, a classic with sea salt mineral flavours; Salomon Undhof was explosive – nutty with the salt and marmalade; and Neumayer Zwirch for its exotic botrytised style – this will will age. Ultimately my vote goes for the Non bortytised gruners – those with the inherent pomelo-grapefruit kind of searing acidity.

The Wine Consultant – John Chua
Just give me any gruners that are up to seven years old. There was a good showing here. I like them young. Huber for its overall taste, Ott for its density and refreshing taste and Salomon Undhof because it is spicy – all this is what gruner is.

Appetite Wine Editor – Ed soon
I could not imagine we tasted just one variety. And herein the secret is revealed. Savour them young but some can show those wonderful aged Riesling and mature Chardonnay characters when aged. This is a noble variety indeed. So bring on the sushi, the cheeses, the salads and even the meaty stews.

The Wines

* Good / ** Very Good / *** Outstanding

Nigl, ‘Privat’ 2006 (Kremstal) ** Peach, pear, yellow plums apricots, chick peas, intense, warm, textured, wholesome. A rich bold wine that works well with stews, meat dishes and cheeses
Markus Huber, ‘Obere Steigen’ 2006 (Traisental) *** Intense, with minerals, roses, bananas, lemons, grapefruit, sea salt. Racy and exuberant wine.
Eichinger ‘Gaisberg’ 2006 (Kamptal) *** Crystalline fresh, length with perfume of honey, peach, cream, tropical fruits and with a savoury finish and length. Truly a refreshing wine.
Loimer ‘Lois’ 2006 (Kamptal) ** Fresh minerality and squeeze of lemon, lingering although straightforward. A wine with lemon burst personality.
Ott ‘Der Ott’ 2006 (Wachau) ** Ripe banana and guava notes allied with white pepper, grapefruit, yet rich, warm and with a smoky savoury palate. A fruity wine.
Alzinger ‘Steinertal’ 2005 “smaragd” (Donauland) ** Hint of quince and peas, almonds florals and white stone fruits, fleshy yet zingy with a good balance. A poised wine.
Salomon ‘von Stein’ 2005 (Kremstal) ** Spicy, herbaceous, floral, biscuity, pickled ginger, mineral oil even; an inordinately complex wine.
Prager ‘Achleiten’ 2005 (Wachau) ** Edamame beans, green tea, off dry style with honey, botrytis but good intensity and an exotic wine.
Neumayer ‘Engelberg’ 2004 (Traisental) ** Leaner style with mint, herbal, bread, white pepper - exotic.
Neumayer ‘Zwirch’ 2004 (Traisental) ** Persimmons, pear, lemons and minerals. Pure with a toasty flavour. Angular wine.
F.X. Pichler 2003 “smaragd” (Wachau) ** Fat, fruity, toffee nose, earthy with barley mints and cammomile; textured and earthy wine.
Hirtzberger - Honivogl 2003 (Spitz/Donau-Wachau) ** Opulent, rich, honeyed with minerals and development of secondary bouquet. Layered and long and big.
Domaine Wachau (FWW) 2000 “smaragd” ** Atypical wine with whiffs of lemon curd, pineapples, flint and slightly oil but complex with soy and bacon.
Kurt Angerer ‘Donatus’ 1997 (Kamptal) ** Classic wood aged and mature wine nose - buttery, spicy, mineral oil, yet underlined by fresh citrus notes and some toast and vanilla. Smoky.

Grüner At a Glance
Growing Grüner

Previously, more the merrier – This variety adapts easily to many soil types and can produce at high crop levels. The Lenz Moser vine training system, named for the Austrian producer who developed it, was developed so that the vine could produce lots of grapes in widely spaced vineyards that accommodate machines to reduce labour costs. However, the wines farmed this way turned out to be light and simple; but lot of wine can be made this way.

Less is more, today –  In the 1990’s, Austria’s winemakers discovered that, with lower yields and higher ripeness, Grüner Veltliner can produce strikingly intense and concentrated wines. So began the shift towards high end Grüner Veltliners.

Grüner Where

The wines are terroir specific and so their styles can range from fruity with white-pepper nuances to those with secondary flavours reminiscent of lentils and bayleaf, depending on where the vine is grown.

•    Weinviertel – This district within Niederösterreich and Austria’s single largest winegrowing area and offers the medium- and light- bodied Gruner, of ordinary quality.

•    Wachau – Lying west of Vienna and facing south and on bank of the Danube is the Wachau region. Grüner here are made in the unctuous, hedonistic, ripe style. Many are identified on the label with the term Smaragd – and it is best to cellar the wines for 4-6 years prior to indulging.

•    Kremstal – Adjacent to the Wachau, is the Kremstal and its combination of loess soil and primary rock make for wines with greater body.

•    Kamtal – Here, you will find deep and powerful wines even more intensely flavored that that of the Kremstal, owing to the soil’s combination of loess, clay and primary rock.

Grüner What

•    Marvelously fresh, fruity, clean and simple to be enjoyed immediately after they are made in the Heurigen taverns around the country

•    Dry and full bodied,  with nuts, spice, nutmeg, almonds and nougat. You begin to appreciate the mouthfeel and textures due to the balance of acidity and sweetness, and the 12.5% alcohol

•    Full and complex (up to 14% alcohol) showing fruit flavours of pear, quince and apple.

•    Sweet and rich (late picked and also Trockenbeerenauslese), most wines with intense apricot and dried fruit overtones

Groovy Grüner Pairings

Despite all its various incarnations – there is a certain crystalline clarity and purity of flavour in Grüner Veltliners. Whichever style you chose, the wine has the uncanny ability to pair with all types of cuisines and especially with “difficult” foods such as artichokes and asparagus that usually overpower wines,

Spice Nice
Most of the wines are not high in alcohol, and so they can pair well with spicy dishes. White pepper  in some of the wines will echo the flavours in many Asian foods. The wine also pairs harmoniously with cumin, coriander in a Tunisian vegetarian cous cous. Try the light, brisk styles of gruner with light Thai or Malaysian dishes. The more intense Grüners will go with curries and sauces featuring peanuts or sesame oil.

Ja umami
Crispy Mushroom snacks or steamed Chinese mushroom-vegetable dish make very good liaisons with Grüner Veltliner. Try the dry style as well as the sweet style Grüners with sun dried tomatoes on toast – you will taste a marriage made in heaven.

Grüner Now

You will find the grape growin in Austria’s neighbouring countries.  In Hungary, it is known as Zoldveltelini whilst in the Czech Republic you can identify the grape as Veltlinske Zelene.

The grape has made its way from Europe, from Slovakia and Yugoslavia to the
South Island of New Zealand and to Oregon in the U.S.

Grüner Savvy

When you have become a Grüner Veltliner fan and can say the name of the wine correctly (pronounced: Groo-ner Velt-leener ), its time to show you know more. Being able to call up or order the styles, especially if you are in Austria ( Steinfeder for the lightest style; Federspiel means a richer, more fruit-intensive wine at 11.5% alcohol; and Smaragd for the complex version of 13-14% alcohol) shows you are no wine snob but a wine expert!

Want more?
Steinfeder usually refers to ‘quality wine’ of the Wachau; Federspiel is the equivalent of Kabinett (German and Austrian classification of non chaptalised wine with less than 10 grams per litre residual sugar); Smaragd means emerald, the colour of the tiny lizard inhabitants in the vineyards.
And if that is not enough, merely mention the family relations of Gruner. It is etymologically related to the lesser-known Roter (red) Veltliner and even lesser-known Brauner (brown) Veltliner, although the two darker grapes are genetically distinct from Grüner Veltliner.

This article was published in Appetite Magazine