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What Is Grüner Veltliner?
Grüner veltliner is Austria’s most widely planted white wine grape variety. Its name is often abbreviated to grüner, GV, or grü-ve. The grape is somewhat similar to chardonnay in that it can be made in a fresh and easy-drinking style, but the best examples are complex, powerful, and ageworthy. Wines made from grüner are especially food-friendly and are often good values on restaurant wine lists.
What Is the History of Grüner Veltliner?
Grüner, along with roter veltliner and frühroter veltliner, is one of a few Austrian grapes with the name “veltliner,” which refers to the town of Valtellina in northern Italy. The grapes may have originated there, but grüner, the green Valtellina grape, is not genetically related to any of the other veltliner grapes.
One of grüner’s parent grapes is savagnin, the ancient French variety that is also related to sauvignon blanc, gewürztraminer, and the pinot family of grapes. The other parent is St. Georgener-rebe, a virtually extinct Austrian variety.
Grüner veltliner ripens late and the vine is susceptible to many vineyard diseases. It was not widely grown until Lenz Moser, a winemaker in Rohrendorf, invented a new high trellising system that addressed these viticulture issues, making grüner easier to grow. The Lenz Moser system became very popular after World War II, and now 90% of Austria’s vines are trained this way.
The Lenz Moser system increased production of grüner, but recognition from the wider world of wine has been slow to come. This may be changing as drinkers become more adventurous in search of deals from undervalued wine regions.
Where Does Grüner Veltliner Grow?
Most of the world’s grüner veltliner comes from Austria. In addition to Wagram and Vienna, these are the main Districtus Austriae Controllatus (DAC) growing regions, similar to DOC regions in Italy or AOC in France:
- The Weinviertel, or “wine quarter,” is the heart of Lower Austria’s growing region, located in the far northeast of the country. More than half of Austria’s grüner is grown in Lower Austria, along the Enns River, a tributary of the Danube. Weinviertel grüner is of the crisp, light style with aromas of grapefruit and pepper, meant to be drunk young.
- Kamptal and Kremstal are small neighboring DACs in the center north of Austria that are also planted with riesling. Kamptal and Kremstal are known for their loess soils, which produce classic medium-bodied grüners with stone fruit and herbal notes.
- Wachau, west of Vienna, grows only 3% of Austria’s grapes, but the wines from this region are the most highly sought. Wines from Wachau are labeled according to the grapes’ ripeness at harvest: wines labeled steinfeder and federspiel are lighter and lower in alcohol, while those labeled smaragd are richer, full-bodied wines. Smaragd wines may have some botrytis (noble rot) character, with flavors of saffron and ginger. Achleiten is the region’s most famous vineyard.
Austrian grüner is the benchmark, but the grape also grows well in Eastern Europe, especially in the Czech Republic, where it is called veltlinske zelené, and in Hungary.
Because it ripens late while maintaining its acidity, grüner is a good candidate for experimental planting in New World wine regions such as New Zealand and Australia. The United States grows grüner in Washington, Oregon, California, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, all planted within the last 20 years. Because the grape is so new in these areas, no New World-specific style has yet emerged.
What Are the Characteristics of Grüner Veltliner?
- Stylistically versatile: Most grüner is quaffable, light-bodied, and refreshing, as well as easy on the wallet. But the grape also has a serious side. Venerable producers like Schloss Gobelsburg in Kamptal and Weingut Knoll in Wachau make grüner veltliner wines that are rich and nutty, developing white Burgundy-like aromas as they age.
- Food friendly: Grüner has a spicy, white pepper note and subtle vegetal aroma that reminds some people of lentils or pea shoots. This allows grüner to work well with difficult-to-pair vegetables like artichokes.
- Mineral with high acidity: The best grüners are grown on loess soils that give the wine an element of stoney minerality. When combined with grüner’s naturally high acidity, this means that even full-bodied, ripe wines taste zippy.
What Type of Wine Is Made With the Grüner Veltliner Grape?
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Grüner veltliner is nearly always made as a single varietal wine. In Austria, sekt or sparkling versions are made, but these are not often exported.
Light, crisp, dry styles of grüner are often bottled under screw cap with a touch of carbon dioxide, giving them a slight spritz. Winemakers ferment and age these wines in stainless steel tanks to retain their freshness.
Full-bodied, dry grüner is made from riper grapes and made in large, neutral oak casks or, rarely, new oak barrels.
Dessert wines made from botrytis-affected late-harvest grapes are a specialty of the Neuseidlersee region in Burgenland.
What Foods Do Grüner Veltliner Wines Pair Well With?
Grüner veltliner’s palate-cleansing acidity and herbal and vegetal notes make it a great partner for all kinds of difficult-to-pair dishes. Grüner is especially good with pungent or bitter vegetables like artichoke, asparagus, and leeks.
Crisp styles match the freshness of salads, tangy cheese like chèvre, along with oysters and fried seafood. Think of grüner’s peppery quality and citrusy zest as a seasoning accent for your food.
Richer styles can pair with anything you’d drink chardonnay with, like roast chicken and root vegetables, trout almondine, or Austrian specialties like Wiener schnitzel. Any spicy Asian cuisine is worth trying with a full-bodied grüner.
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