Gruner Veltliner 

An economical, versatile, food-friendly wine

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Wanna impress the sommelier the next time you dine in a fancy restaurant equipped with a fancy wine list? Order a bottle of Grüner Veltliner. By doing so, you will rapidly separate yourself from the crowd of wine-aficionado wannabes; your som will be impressed.

That’s because: A. Pretty much nobody but serious wine drinkers even knows what Grüner Veltliner is, much less how to pronounce it; and B. Despite what you might think, sommeliers are impressed by customers who can spot interesting wine bargains on their lists. Well, Grüner Veltliner is almost always a good wine bargain.

It’s pronounced GREW-ner FELT-lean-er, and it’s the big daddy of Austrian wine grapes, commonly known by wine hipsters as just “Gru-V” (groovy). Grüner Veltliner 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 has said that “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. Novelist and wine maven Jay McInerney once 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 racy, crisp acidity and a unique wildflower element on the palate. These qualities combine to make it, along with Riesling, one of the most food-friendly white wines I can think of. It’s very versatile.

As Grüner Veltliners age, they begin to resemble white Burgundies, with a slight nuttiness and a rich texture, but with a much more wallet-friendly price tag. Most bottles here run in the mid-teens, and even a higher-end Grüner Veltliner like Bründlmayer Kamptaler Terrassen 2009 is only $23.49. That particular vintage is evidence of Grüner Veltliner’s ability to improve with age; it has a creaminess that is reminiscent of Semillon, with high acidity and a beautiful finish. I think it’ll get even better in the next couple of years.

Since the varieties available in Utah are so similarly priced, I recommend hosting a Grüner Veltliner tasting to discover which producers you like best. Some worthy candidates include Hugl ($12.99), Berger ($13.99), Schloss Gobelsburg ($15.99), Laurenz V ($12.99), Leth Steinagrund ($13.99), Kurt Angerer Keis ($16.99), Hiedler Löss ($14.49), Setzer ($13.49) and Hopler ($13).

I mentioned Grüner Veltliner’s versatility as a food-friendly wine. It’s frequently the go-to choice to pair with those notorious wine killers asparagus and artichokes. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, it’s hard to find foods that Grüner Veltliner doesn’t like. White meats like pork and chicken, seafood, vegetables, light pasta dishes, cheese—about the only thing I wouldn’t want Grüner Veltliner for would be hearty stews, lamb and red-meat dishes. And I’m not sure exactly why, but Grüner Veltliner is especially delicious with vegetables like the aforementioned artichokes and asparagus—something you can’t say about most wine. It’s good with everything from lightly salted edamame to seafood dishes featuring shellfish like crab and lobster. One of my very favorite pairings is potato-leek soup with Grüner Veltliner.

So, now it’s time to go impress your favorite sommelier.

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