Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Möre fün wïth ümlaüts -- Grüner Veltliner

I promise…no more talk of mullets.

However, Gewürztraminer inspired me to explore a grape from that region I hadn't experienced: Grüner Veltliner. While this may sound like a German airplane, 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 there's a saying among Austrian wine drinkers, translated roughly as "Why should we drink fruit when we can drink rocks?"

Grüner Veltliner is unique-tasting. It's a crisp, medium bodied wine with a distinctly pleasant aroma -- but the taste is quite "minerally" and very dry. The granite-filled soil in the Wachau region imparts a distinct character. 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 close estimation to that flavor.

Why drink rocks? This wine gives you the best of all worlds if you're looking for a food-friendly wine. The flavor is in the sauvignon blanc/dry Riesling range -- two of your most food friendly varietals. The mineral character allows the wine's flavor to slice through just about anything -- 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 German Rieslings. Austrians tend to drink this wine very young, but the best ones will apparently age up to 15 years or so -- very much like a Riesling. I've not tried many 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 I was able to track down locally. Please feel free to add more:

Nigl 2004 Grüner Veltliner Trocken -- I was actually surprised at the color of this wine. It's remarkably pale. 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. The sensation was close to drinking a carbonated beverage, although there are no bubbles. The finish slides into more of that uniquely dry, mineral taste. You could certainly pair this with anything I mentioned above. It would also work wonderfully as a palate-cleansing aperitif. It would also be a very crisp "just worked in the yard" summer wine. Who needs the pebble? $14-15

Loimer 2004 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, though the mineral undertones are certainly quite present and pleasant. The flavor is a little grapefruity. The finish is somewhat tart, and doesn't have the same "carbonated" taste. 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 $10-12. If you have friends who are French sauvignon fans, spring this on them.

Berger 2004 Grüner Veltliner -- Berger is one of the more unique wines I've tried -- I don't know whether that's good or bad. The nose is hard to define. I would say it's close to mineral-laden pears. 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, and mellows into a creamier taste -- almost chardonnayish, if chardonnay were citrusy. If you like pinot grigio, this is a wine you can wrap your tastebuds around for about $10 for a full liter.

Berger also produces one of the few indigenous Austrian reds, called Zweigelt. Aside from being last alphabetically on any wine rack, 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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