I’d imagine there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve never tasted Austria’s native wine, Grüner Veltliner. No worries—most people haven’t. It’s a varietal that even regular wine drinkers tend to be unfamiliar with. What a shame, though. Because Grüner Veltliner is one of the most interesting, economical, food-friendly wines I can think of, not to mention incredibly versatile. It even weathers the storm of many wintry foods like hearty soups, smoked trout and roast chicken. But perhaps we should just keep this between ourselves. I don’t want Grüner Veltliner to become trendy and expensive like some of its better-known cousins.
As mentioned, Grüner Veltliner is Austria’s signature white grape varietal, although it’s also grown in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. A few U.S. wineries have even begun to experiment with growing and bottling Grüner Veltliner in recent years. However, it is indigenous to Austria, constitutes about 36 percent of all Austrian vineyard plantings, and is grown in almost every Austrian wine region. The most notable versions of Grüner Veltliner tend to come from regions bordering the Danube, like Kremstal, Kamptal and Wachau. And although Grüner Veltliner tends to get compared with Austrian and German Riesling, wine expert Hugh Johnson suggests “to compare it with Riesling is like comparing a wildflower with a finely bred garden variety in which scent, color, size and form have been studied and improved for many years.”
Grüner Veltliner is a late-ripening grape variety that produces dry, crisp, bright-tasting wines of light to medium body. They tend to be greenish-yellow in color, with ripe flavors of apple, apricot, peach, lime and a hint of white pepper. Jay McInerney has described Grüner Veltliner as “a theoretical blend of Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc.” That’s not a bad way to think about it. There’s a mineral background in Grüner Veltliner along with crisp acidity and a unique wildflower element on the palate.
Some wine geeks call it “Grü-V” (groovy). However you pronounce it, Grüner Veltliner is an uncommonly versatile food wine. I’ve been drinking a bit of it during this frigid winter and, frankly, it’s hard to find foods that Grüner Veltliner doesn’t like. White meats like pork and chicken, seafood, vegetables, light pasta dishes, goat cheese, smoked trout—about the only thing I wouldn’t want Grüner Veltliner for would be grilled or roasted lamb, and red meat dishes. And although I don’t really understand the science involved, Grüner Veltliner is especially delicious with vegetables—something you can’t say about most wines. It seems to belly up to notoriously wine-proof foods like asparagus, fava beans, nettles and artichokes with ease. I’ve taken to drinking Grüner Veltliner with lightly salted edamame, but it also works wonders with seafood, especially shellfish like crab and lobster. It’s equally hard to beat as a partner for hearty potato-leek soup and bouillabaisse.
One of the most dependable, benchmark examples of Grüner is Hopler Grüner Veltliner ($13.07). Hopler Grüner Veltliner is a solid introduction to the varietal, with yummy ripe-peach, apricot and green-apple flavors. It’s nicely balanced with mineral notes, a hint of almonds and a long, creamy finish.
Along with Hopler, which I think is a terrific bang for the buck, I’ve also enjoyed Grüner Veltliner from producers like Schloss Gobelsburg ($15.99), Hugl ($13.49/1,000 ml), Hiedler ($14.57), Setzer ($14.99/1,000 ml), Kurt Angerer ($16.99), Laurenz V. ($15.99), Berger ($14.99/1,000 ml) and Bründlmayer ($23.57), to name a few.
But like I said, I’d hate to see Grüner Veltliner become the “it” wine of the moment. So let’s just keep this between us. Let the masses drink Chardonnay.