As I type in Gruner Veltliner I understand why this wine has been flying under the radar for about twenty years in America. It is the same reason Gewurztraminer will never find a decent audience. It's the name. Gruner was marketed twenty years ago very unfortunately as "Groovy" and that didn't work either (duh!), so it appears to be destined to a lesser status than it perhaps deserves.
Gruner Veltliner is a white wine grape indigenous to Austria as far as the ampelographers can discern. DNA testing has shown Traminer to be one of its parent grapes while the other is an obscure 19th century variety called St. Georgian-vine, which is now being rescued from near extinction by progagators interested in its potential as a wine producer.
The flavor profile for Gruner is typically citrus with peach fruit particularly, along with white pepper and tobacco for the more earthy component. The wine is typically light and intended as much as any wine for early consumption and that is what most of us in this country understand about the subject.
Gruner vines occupy about 50,000 acres in Austria or 37% of vineyard land in a country the size of Maine. It is the most widely planted variety there and that always means it is the type that is the most marketable. Gruner is a staple of wine bars and restaurants in Austria and neighboring countries and for most of the past one hundred fifty years or so, Austria's focus has been on mass marketing their wines. Only in the past twenty years or so has the emphasis shifted to quality.
The other great white variety of Austria is Riesling and there is an ongoing debate as to which type produces the better wine. Most Austrian oenophiles would go with Riesling but the gap has closed with the quality emphasis dictating vineyard selection for optimal terroir. Mastery in Gruner winemaking technique has also evolved in recent decades. Gruner does best in the lower part of the country on hillsides with just the right slope to retain water with the soil composition consisting primarily of clay with minerality. Cropping for lower yields and ripeness then provide the winemaker with the raw materials to make an intensely concentrated and rich white wine.
So how good are these Gruners? They actually counterbalance the easy-growing commercial wine style. They compare to great white Burgundies and age similarly, perhaps up to twenty years! Because the variety has not caught on in America, it is doubtful we will ever see them here though and since only about twenty producers make these "Super Gruners" anyway, they get consumed entirely in Austria.
One last point about Gruner Veltliner is its food-friendliness. This is a wine suitable for all vegetables. Along with the fruit flavors mentioned above, vegetable aromas are there without the vegetal grassy herbaciousness. Some sommeliers think there is no better match for artichokes or asparagus. Could this be the ideal wine for cabbage?
Taste Gruner Veltliner with us here at the store (5-7pm) on Friday and judge for yourself. Say you read this article and get a free Dancake!