Just because you can’t pronounce
it doesn’t mean you
shouldn’t drink it. I am, of
course, speaking only about
your wine-store sojourns and
not any inventory of under-the-sink
abrasives and chemicals.
there may be some danger of
overlap knowing the quality
of some wine as I do, but
chances are this rule will not
harm you at the wine store.
Now, repeat after me: groo–
ner, felt-lean-er. Say it again:
Gruner Veltliner, the most
renowned of all Austrian
grapes, is feared (people fear
the unfamiliar), misunderstood,
ignored. Some have even given
it the less-than-thoughtful
shorthand of “Gru-Vee”–get it? Groovy?
But don’t let the diminished intellect of
a copywriter or allegedly clever marketing
guru interfere with your drinking
So, where did it come from? It’s
been grown in Austria for millennia
and was the source of most of the
thin insipid white wine that flowed
from that mountainous country
for years on end. From the end of
World War I, much of what was
produced in Austria was shuttled
off to Germany, and it didn’t
even have a distinct name until
after World War II.
A major scandal rocked
the Austrian wine industry
in 1985, when it was discovered
that certain producers
had been sweetening the
wines with diethylene glycol,
an ingredient found in antifreeze.
It was after that scandal
that Austrian winemakers
took Austrian viticulture
to an entirely new level.
These enterprising winemakers
started striving for
higher-quality wines in an
effort to resuscitate the reputation
of Austrian wine, and
Gruner Veltliner was the grape
they turned to. They began reducing yields,
isolating fascinating vineyard sites and
using stainless steel to ferment. And the
result has been a startlingly fresh, bright,
crisp wine, one with intensity and ageability.
When a vine is treated thusly, it results
in a more expressive character in its wines.
When Gruner Veltliner is young, it
shows a bright, fresh, almost pale-green
hue, indicating a wine that hasn’t had
much contact with grape skins or lees (the
leftover yeast cells in the fermentation)
and is racy, mineral and bright—a tart,
refreshing summer sipper. The aromas can
be amazing, ranging from lime blossom to
quinine to fennel to white pepper.
If the wine shows a more straw-colored
hue, it indicates that the wine was made
with more skin and lees contact and will
thus have a more intense texture and finish.
It may also point to some bottle age.
As these wines age, they take on a startling
similarity to good White Burgundy
since they pick up the same rich nuttiness
that one finds in their generally sultrier
As a food wine, Gruner is without
comparison. It is also the long soughtfor
answer to such noted wine-killers as
asparagus and artichokes. It handles their
green salinity with terrific ease and it has
a briny minerality that makes it a natural
for shellfish, as well. It is a chameleon,
adapting to a variety of cuisines from salads
to poultry to shellfish to all manners
I am determined that the world know
and love this brilliantly racy white wine as
I do. And, as summer heat comes on, you
will thank me for the refreshment and the
savings. Most of the best Gruner are wonderfully
cheap and available in larger bottles
(1,000 ml), some of which are topped
with crown caps, yes, soda bottle tops! It
lends a charming accessibility to a wine
that deserves your attention. However,
should you feel the need to overspend and
overthink, there are pricier versions of it
that age magnificently well.