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Say What? 

Don’t be afraid to say it: Gruner Veltliner

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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. Though, understandably, 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, under-appreciated and 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 pleasure.

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 Burgundian cousins.

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 of vegetable.

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.

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