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Monday, June 22, 2009

Möre fün wïth ümlaüts - Grüner Veltliner

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No…no more talk of mullets and the like, but I was inspired by the Gewurztraminer after I heard of a grape I hadn't experienced: Grüner Veltliner. While this sounds like a German plane, it's a white grape widely grown in Austria. Pronounce it GREW-ner felt-LEE-ner, or just call it, as one wine writer did, "GruVey."

Robin Webb of the "30 Second Wine Advisor" says that there's a saying among Austrian wine drinkers, translated roughly as "Why should we drink fruit when we can drink rocks?"

Grüner Veltliner is a unique-tasting wine. It's generally a very crisp, medium bodied wine with a distinctly pleasant aroma - but the taste is quite mineral and very dry. The granite filled soil in the Wachau region imparts a distinct character to the wine. If you've ever been outside on a hot day, been really thirsty, and put a pebble in your mouth to help for a bit - that's a pretty close estimation to that piece of the flavor profile.

Why drink rocks? This wine gives you the best of all possible worlds if you're looking for a food-paired wine. The flavor is in the sauvignon blanc/dry Riesling category. Those are two of your most food friendly varietal. Adding the mineral character then allows it the wine to slice through just about anything -- be it seafood, chicken, spicy foods, pork - basically anything except the richest sauces and cuts of beef.

Grüner Veltliner isn't widely distributed in the U.S. - yet. You can sometimes find a few bottles mixed in amongst the German Rieslings if you want to take a look. Austrians tend to drink this wine very young, but the best ones apparently will age up to 15 years or so - much like a Riesling. I've not tried many of the older Grüner Veltliners - but that's definitely on the list. One other nice aspect -Austrians tend to package wine in 1 liter bottles. Since they're already fairly inexpensive wines, you get a lot more bang for your buck.

Here are a few that I was able to track down locally. Please feel free to add more to the comments:

Nigl 2007 Grüner Veltliner -- This is a pale straw-colored wine. I was actually surprised at the color. The nose is of peaches and that mineral scent I mentioned. This wine is absolutely bone dry with a very light body. It tastes almost peppery on the tongue and is a bit tart. In fact, the sensation was close to drinking a carbonated beverage, although there are no bubbles in the wine. The finish slides into that uniquely dry, mineral taste. You could certainly pair this with anything I mentioned above. It would also work wonderfully as an aperitif as it's such a good palate cleanser. It would also be a very crisp "just worked in the yard" summer wine. Who needs the pebble? $14-15

Loimer 2007 Grüner Veltliner -- This is another dry GV, although it has a little more fruit than the Nigl. The taste isn't quite as dry as its cousin, although the mineral undertones still are certainly quite present and pleasant. The flavor is a little grapefruity. The finish is somewhat tart, and doesn't have quite the same "carbonated" taste on the finish. It reminds me a great deal of a French Loire Valley sauvignon blanc with two major differences. First, obviously, the mineral character is more pronounced. Second, you're not going to find "vins de Sauvignon" in one-liter bottles for $15. If you have friends who are fans of Loire whites, spring this on them.

Berger 2007 Grüner Veltliner -- Berger is one of the more unique wines I've tried - I don't know whether that's good thing or bad thing. The nose is hard to define. I guess I would say that it's close to pears with a shot of minerals. The taste is mildly acidic and doesn't have that "carbonated" taste - but it does have an interesting fruit character. Maybe someone with a better palate than mine could pull it apart. The closest I think I can come (and I'm really not trying to be a wine snob here) is starfruit. The finish is quick and acidic, then mellows into a creamier finish -- almost chardonnayish, if chardonnay were citrusy. If you like pinot grigio, this is a wine that you can wrap your tastebuds around for about $13 for a full liter. Berger also produces one of the few indigenous Austrian reds, called Zweigelt. Aside from being last alphabetically, it's just a straight drinking red. It does have some of the same mineral character (and a similar price point), but I didn't try it with food. It's a curiosity - but it is in a liter bottle, which is a plus for a cold night.

Until next time…watch your old copy of "Sound of Music" and enjoy some Austrian white. So long, fair well, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye…

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