The Great Grüner
A “groovy” Austrian white that makes for the perfect summertime wine
On recent trip between Los Angeles and New York City, I was on a layover in Atlanta. I happened to stumble upon a little gem of a Southern-inspired restaurant and sushi bar, properly named One Flew South (the “pulled” duck confit sandwich with figs and Georgia peanut relish was killer). After the first leg of my flight, I was parched and craving something refreshing. The restaurant’s wine list had a number of eclectic white wines not typically found in an airport restaurant, from Spanish Albariño to Gewurztraminer from California. I then saw an Austrian Grüner Veltliner (a.k.a. Gru-Ve by sommeliers, hence why it is commonly referred to as “groovy”). For $8 a glass, why not? It was exactly what I was looking for. The wine was light, crisp and clean, and a great aperitif or pre-game wine before my meal was served. Mission accomplished, and at the airport no less. Groovy.
I’ve always been a huge of fan of Grüner Veltliners, but I seldom see them on restaurants’ wine lists. This Austrian grape is definitely making its mark though, and has increased in popularity around the U.S. quite a bit over the past few years. It is now becoming an occasional alternative to Sauvignon Blanc and other light-bodied white wines. It’s attractiveness comes from the fact that the wine is simple and straightforward. It is great to drink on its own, particularly on a hot summer day, but will also pair very nicely with lighter dishes such as sushi/sashimi, raw or cooked shellfish and one of the most difficult foods to pair with, vegetables (especially asparagus).
The downside with Grüner Veltliner is that there is a great deal of variance when it comes to quality. Grüner Veltliner is the most widely planted grape in Austria, and has been historically known as large-scale production grape varietal. What this translates to, is that Grüner Veltliner is not always expressed in its purest form, and when mass-produced, some of the grape’s subtle characteristics can be lost depending on the winemaker. At the other end of the spectrum, there are a number of high quality Grüner Veltliners on the market from winemakers that focus on lower yields from top-rated vineyard sites.
Whether produced on a large scale or not, Grüner Veltliner is still a fascinating varietal. Flavor profiles range from citrus and tropical fruits to vegetal notes of freshly picked green beans and asparagus. The one particular characteristic that is found in most Grüner Veltliners across the board is ground white pepper, which adds a slightly spicy element to the wines. I find most examples of Grüner Veltliner to be very pleasant, except the few instances where the wine falls short, lacking the crisp, clean acidity that makes the wine such a perfect pick for the summer, and consequently tastes a bit flabby. That said, here are some of my selections for value-driven Grüner Veltliner to check out on a hot summer day, whether you’re shucking fresh oysters and need something to wash them down, or just simply craving a cold, refreshing glass of wine:
Huber Grüner Veltliner ,Traisental, Austria 2008 - $12
Weingut Hirsch Grüner Veltliner #1, Kamptal, Austria 2005 - $16
Stadt Krems Grüner Veltliner, Kremstal, Austria 2007 - $15
Domaine Wachau Gruner Veltliner Smaragd, Wachau 2007 - $19
Loimer Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal, Austria 2007 - $18