AN AUSTRIAN SOMMELIER in New York habitually asks his diners, “What would you like to drink — red, white or green?” He’s not offering them a St. Patrick’s Day special. He’s trying to introduce them to his country’s flagship grape, Grüner Veltliner. This wine is shouldering its way on to North American wine lists at a gratifyingly fast pace. And it’s not because of any environmental considerations about drinking green. The only thing that is slowing sales is the inability of Anglo-Saxons to get their tongues around the name, but the Austrians don’t mind us calling it Groovy or GV. If you want to sound like a connoisseur, rhyme it with “crooner felt leaner.”
Never tasted it? Well, you’re in for a surprise because this chameleon of a wine can be all things to all wine lovers. The Austrians claim that it’s the most versatile grape variety in the world — not styles that winemakers can produce from it but in the assortment of dishes it can accompany.
Grüner Veltliner can be produced as a sparkling wine or a light, dry, easy drinking wine or as a rich, spicy, full-bodied wine with every degree of sweetness from Kabinett and Spätlese quality up to dessert wines such as Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. Today this extraordinary grape accounts for 36 per cent of all varieties planted throughout Austria. Contemporary DNA testing suggests that it is the offspring of the mother plant, Traminer (which would account for its spiciness) and an unknown father. Twenty years ago Grüner Veltliner was a jug wine you could buy on the local market in twolitre bottles. Then some of the more prescient producers began cutting back yields for more intensity of flavour (spicy peach and apricot), giving the wine oak ageing and generally treating it like a fine wine. The ugly duckling became a swan, especially when grown in the regions of Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal where Riesling also flourishes on terraced vineyards overlooking the Danube.
GIVE THESE GRÜNERS A GO!
LAURENZ UND SOPHIE SINGING GRÜNER VELTLINER 2007 • $18.85
WEINGUT BRÜDLMAYER GRÜNER VELTLINER 2007 • $21.95
SCHLOSS GOEBLSBURG KAMMERNER GRÜNER VELTLINER 2007 • $29
RABL GRÜNER VELTLINER 2006 • $29.95
The classic style of Grüner Veltliner is produced in stainless steel, which emphasizes its peppery, stone fruit and citrus flavours with a characteristic thread of minerality. You can serve this unwooded style with a range of dishes including Wiener schnitzel, chicken and other white meats, raw and cured fish and goat cheese. The traditional style (oak fermented or oak aged in large casks) delivers a more mouthfilling, creamy wine that works well with richer, fleshier fish dishes such as lobster, crab, monkfish and scallops.
Austria’s signature grape began flexing its muscles on the international scene after it won a series of blind tastings against other established white wines from Burgundy and California. At Crush Wine Bar, recently, I had a bottle of Rabl Grüner Veltliner “Kaferberg” 2006 with grilled mackerel. It was a match made in heaven. Next time you’re dining out, and you’re tired of the same old Chardonnay, check the wine list for Grüner Veltliner.
You’ll be happy you did.
Post City Magazines’ wine columnist, Tony Aspler, has written 14 books on wine and food. Tony also created the Ontario Wine Awards. He can be heard on 680News.