Greener Days for Grüner Veltliner

May 13, 2011

Here in Niagara, we are finally beginning to experience the greener, warmer weather. The evenings are longer, the dusky shadows lengthen in front of us on the sidewalks and the verdant trees scent the sky.

Soon we'll be opening wine magazines telling us of the latest trends, what wine to drink during the warmer weather. Soon, more and more wine lovers will be heading to the LCBO coolers to seek out refreshing whites instead of brooding reds (wines that made the harsh winter tolerable, reminding us of the hotter days to come). 

I figure this is the time to offer my recommendation. 

In our Anglo-American culture, certain wines can be difficult to pronounce, especially those from Eastern Europe. The grape varieties of Greece raise eye-brows while German crossings, Scheurebe and Huxelrebe leave wine lovers bewildered as to where to put the accent. 

Grüner Veltliner, like Gewürztraminer, is fortunate enough to garner enough attention that wine buyers can put up with mispronunciation for the sake of a dry, refreshing white of white pepper and stone fruit character. (GROON-er FELT-leaner for those that want to make the attempt. I should emphasize, the 'r' in German has a slight guttural sound so instead of grrrewner, say GRWHOOnair...)

Of all of Austria's varieties, it is the most popular worldwide, planted on more than a third of the country's 48, 500 ha/119, 800 acres. In Lower Austria, it represent more than half of total white grape production and in Vienna, a third of all plantings. It can be used to make sparkling Austrian sekt, simple whites served at wine inns (Heurigen) as well as medium-bodied and opulent, concentrated wines.

Historically, its origins remain obscured, first documented in 1766 as Grüner Muskateller in the then Hapsburg Empire. We find 'Grüner Veltliner' first mentioned in 1855; by the 1930's it became more common. Near the end of the twentieth century, the grape emerged as the premier variety of Austria.

Unlike Germany's flagship variety, Grüner Veltliner is typically dry and made in a range of styles depending on where it is grown. 

In Lower Austria, the best of Austria's four regions (Weinbauregionen) for Grüner, one can find a wide range of offerings in the many subregions (Weinbaugebeite).

Wachau Grüner can age better than Riesling while retaining a complexity similar to white Burgundy. In the loam and loess soils of Kamptal and Kremstal, the wines offer notes reminiscent of Riesling. Here, the vineyards are steep and terraced for maximum exposure to the sun. The autumns are long and the grapes ripen allowing for the highest concentration of flavour compounds in the skin. 

In Weinviertel, the wines are cheaper but with often light, fresh, fruity and spicy notes. 

This is a rather lush wine for a mild, spring evening. In the bouquet, the wine exudes peaches and apricot with a whiff of vanilla-mineral floating over the stone fruits. On the palate, you will find a comparable character as the wine follows through from the aromas to the flavours.

This is a versatile wine but I wouldn't recommend heavy meat dishes. Cod, sole, and salmon would work with a light cream sauce or a lemon pepper chicken. Either way, it's a nice way to ease into the greener season. 


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My focus is mainly on wine culture, history and education. I love the stories behind wine - the people, places and the regional personalities of the wine-countries around the world.

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