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Ep 372: The Grape Miniseries -- Gruner Veltliner

Wine for Normal People

Release Date: 04/26/2021

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Grüner Veltliner (GROOH-ner felt-LEEN-ah) is the main white grape of Austria. In this show we discuss its surprisingly recent rise to fame, its unusual origin, and its important place in wine.

 

Here are the show notes:

History and Parents of Grüner

  • We discuss this beautiful white grape whose name means  'green grape from the village of Veltlin in the Tyrol (Italy)," despite that fact that the grape likely comes from Niederösterreich, Austria
  • M.C. Ice becomes baffled by Savagnin v Sauvignon. We settle on calling Savagnin it's other name, Traminer.
  • The story of Grüner's other parent, St. Georgener is a marvel.In short, it was discovered as a 100+ year old lone vine growing on a cattle farm in 2000 after a local vintner followed a hunch that it was there. After six years of study, it became clear it was the parent of Grüner. In 2011, vandals chopped this old, lone vine into smithereens -- the ancient trunk and all shoots were hacked to pieces, devastating the Austrian wine industry. The thieves were never caught (although M.C. Ice swears he's on the job) but grapes are hard to keep down -- new shoots from this old vine grew from the ground and now the new growth is a national monument.

 

  • We discuss how Grüner Veltliner was not much of a revered grape in Austria until the proper trellising system came along and changed the game. In the 1950s, producer Lenz Moser created a new vine training system that changed the way the grape is grown."High culture" or Hochkultur calls for growing the vine trunk to (1.3 m/ 4.3 ft) and reducing vine density by wide row spacing.  These changes revolutionized Grüner. By 2002 it gained great critical acclaim and it grew in popularity from there.

Here is a link to the Wall Street Journal article written by Leattie Teague, who I referred to as the  "bizarro" me (as Seinfeld reference -- it means it is you, only the exact opposite!). In this case, I don't think Grüner has ever been "out of fashion" but I also don't believe in wines being fashionable, so there's that. 

 

Grüner in the Vineyard

  • To get the best wines from this grape, restricting yields is essential
  • This mid-ripening grape has very green, yellow toned berries and does well on Loess soils, does not like dry soils

 

The rest of the show is a quick tour of the regions... 

Austria 

  • Weinviertel DAC : Austria’s largest wine-growing region, this northeast area is home to more than half of all Austrian Grüner Veltliner. The wines from the west are lighter and more minerally. Those in the northeast are spicy. In the southeast the wines are soft, round, and can be at higher levels of ripeness (on the Prädikat scale  -- Auslese, Beerenauslause -- fully ripe to botrytized unctuous wines).  Weinviertel Grüner is known for  “Pfefferl” - white, black, and green pepper notes with fruit and acidity.

 

  • Traisental DAC: Along the Traisen -- a tributary of the Danube -- this is a small area with very long lived Reserve wines and fruity, spicy, acidic, minerally Grüner Veltliner. The single vineyard wines are prized, albeit hard to find outside of Austria.

 

  • Leithaberg DAC : Creates varietally labeled or blended Grüner  (often with Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Neuberger)

 

  • Wagram DAC: Known for easy drinking spicy wines but the region does make rich reserve wines as well.

 

Austrian Grüner's "Big Three" along the Danube: Kamptal, Kremstal, Wachau

  • Kamptal DAC: Named for the river Kamp that runs through it, Kamptal is known for mid-weight to very robust, dry wines with tropical, mineral, and peppery notes. In cooler years the wines are lighter and refreshing, in warmer ones it is full bodied and silky with fruit and pepper flavors and aromas.

 

  • Kremstal DAC: Named for the Krems river, Kremstal has three zones that produce different styles. The best generally come from the loess (wind-blown silt soils) terraces along the Danube, which create round, full-bodied, fruity wines with ample acidity for balance. Kremstal is slightly warmer than Kamptal, so especially in cooler vintages, Kremstal will show noticeably silkier textures, more body, and more fruit than the wines of Kamptal

 

  • Wachau DAC (as of spring 2020): The most famed area for Grüner Velliner in the world, this narrow valley runs from the city of Melk to Krems. Vineyards are on steep, terraced hills, which face south and must be harvested by hand. The climate here represents the meeting of the cooler Atlantic air from the west and the warmer Pannonian air from the east -- the blend is ideal for growing Grüner. Wachau makes some of the best Grüner in the world. When it is made from ideal sites and aged, many compare it to the finest Burgundies, for a fraction of the price. Wachau has its own ripeness classification:
    • Steinfeder is for lighter wines with up to 11.5% alcohol
    • Federspiel is the classic Wachau wines with good ripeness and flavor, and alcohols ranging from 11.5%-12.5% ABV
    • Smargd is for full ripe grapes with ABV of more than 12.5% (smargd is a green lizard that runs around the vineyards of Wachau)
(more information on all these spots at the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, from which much of the above info is sourced)

 

Other spots in Europe that grow Grüner:  Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Trentino Alto-Adige (Italy),  Wurttemberg (Germany), France

 

Grüner in the New World

In the US:

  • The Finger Lakes and Long Island in New York
  • Various other east coast states including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Virginia
  • California – various places, including ACORN Winery in Sonoma, which will soon have a white field blend featuring Grüner
  • Oregon: Both in  Willamette Valley and Umpqua Valley
  • Washington State

Other spots around the New world...

  • Canada:  British Columbia is experimenting with Grüner
  • Australia: South Australia, specifically Adelaide Hills as well as Canberra
  • New Zealand: Gisbourne on the North Island, Marlborough and Central Otago on the South Island (I didn't mention this in the podcast but there is a good amount of loess soil in New Zealand, which is ideal for Grüner. This is especially true in Central Otago, where the climate is similar to that of Wachau).

 

A final note on Grüner Veltliner styles...

There is a tremendous amount of variety -- some wines are fresh and young wine, some are sparkling, some are very age worthy. Boiling it down to basics, we could put flavors into two buckets:

  • Light, fresh, minerally with arugula, pepper, lemon, grapefruit and other citrus character. Some have spritz (small bubbles) to show off the minerality and fruit. The acidity may seem more pronounced in these styles because the fruit is not as ripe and lush
  • Heavy, complex, with white pepper spice, tropical fruit or ripe apple notes, can be silky but with balancing acidity. These are the versions you find from warmer sites like Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal regions. Look for "Reserve" on the bottle if you plan to age these wines. And wait a few years before you have them -- many aren't ready for five or more years.

Other style notes:

  • Grüner is generally made without oak aging in small or new barriques, as it hides the beautiful natural flavors of the grape.
  • The sweet wines of Grüner are full and ripe -- like peaches, pineapple, and nutmeg but their richness is balanced by strong acidic.

 

Grüner Veltliner Food Pairing Ideas

  • Charcuterie, schnitzel, smoked fish
  • Salads, asparagus, other green veggies
  • Vietnamese or Thai food. Lemongrass or spicy curries, and spring rolls are great pairings

 

If you haven't had Grüner get some today (I promise it's not a has-been. And if it is, let's snatch up what all the trendy people don't want -- their loss!).

 

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