A version of this article first appeared in Hampshire View magazine, August 2009.
Grüner veltliner is Austria’s flagship white grape variety, and to give some idea of its quality and ageing potential, the very best have beaten Burgundian chardonnays in blind tasting assessments of quality.
Grüner veltliner covers about a third of Austria’s entire vineyard area. But because Austria is a niche producer – the whole country produces only three-quarters what Champagne produces – it can be a challenge finding the wines in the UK. And because they’re such great food wines, it may even be easier to find them in restaurants, mid-market and posher.
What to expect? Firstly, a bit like chardonnay, it comes in many different guises, from a light bodied aperitif style, to a full-blown, full-bodied, give-me-some-serious-food style, which can age for decades. It’s this latter style that competes so effectively against white Burgundy.
The classic lighter-bodied interpretation of the aperitif style is of white pepper, with a peppery-spice note. The acidity is fresh, but not as zesty as sauvignon blanc or as racy as riesling and there can be a bit more weight than aperitif sauvignon blancs and rieslings. The styles go all the way up to full bodied, which take on a honeysuckle, even baked honey note, with a fatter, creamy texture of body, rich aromatic spices and concentrated peach or apricot fruit. There’s not usually any overt oaky influence in any style.
Most grüner veltliner is grown in Lower Austria – Niederösterreich. Get used to this name because it will appear on more Austrian wine bottles in line with some new wine laws they’ve brought in. Niederösterreich has about 27,000 hectares of vineyards: still pretty niche by winemaking standards – it’s less than one quarter the size of the Bordeaux vineyards. Within Niederösterreich, the best grüner veltliners come from regions along the Danube, about an hour west of Vienna, so in easy striking distance from the rigours of the urban cultural environment. The Kamptal, Kremstal and Wachau all produce really good examples. As with Burgundy, single vineyard wines, not just grüner veltliner but riesling too, are the norm. Which makes the niche production even more micro-scale.
For as good an introduction as any to this grape variety, try the readily available Felsner from Waitrose. The other examples are a few pegs more serious: extra weight, complexity, spice, concentration of fruit, a more seamless texture, longer lasting flavour. They’re all cracking wines.
Both Noel Young and Nick Dobson have large ranges of Austrian wines, not just grüner veltliner. So often it is a case of once tried, forever smitten.
www.nickdobsonwines.co.uk: Weingut Hirsch, Grüner Veltliner Lamm 2006, Kamptal, £17.80
Noel Young Wines: Kurt Angerer Gruner Veltliner ‘Loam’ 2006, Kamptal £15.65
Waitrose: Domäne Wachau, Grüner Veltliner Achleiten Smaragd 2007, Wachau £15.99
Waitrose: Felsner Grüner Veltliner Moosburgerin 2008 Kremstal £8.99