Grüner Veltliner: Austria’s Most Popular White Wine

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I have been writing for The Kitchn for almost three years and cannot believe that I have never dedicated a full post to one of our favorite go-to wines – Austrian Grüner Veltliner. It has become a staple in our house for its deliciousness and versatility. How many of our Kitchn readers are also ‘Grüner’ fans?

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Grüner Veltliner is Austria’s most important white grape variety, accounting for around one third of all white grapes planted. It is a wonderful versatile variety and makes for many wine style expressions. You can find everything from light-bodied, fruity, easy drinking wines, to full-bodied, complex, and age-worthy wines. In short something for every occasion and for every budget. As well as still dry wines there is an increasing amount of Grüner Veltliner used to make sparkling Austrian Sekt.

Grüner Veltliner is a moderately aromatic variety. Classic aromas include stone fruit, citrus, salad greens, lentils, fresh green beans, spice and white pepper. With age notes of honey become more prevalent. While there are some examples of oak-aged Grüner Veltliner, it is not a variety that needs any new oak influence. Most wines are fermented in stainless steel tanks, or other neutral vessels such as large old oak casks, which do not impart any oak flavor to the wine.

While Grüner Veltliner is cultivated all over Austria its heart is in Lower Austria (Niederosterreich), and especially in the sub-regions of the Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal, where vineyards planted in top vineyards on poor rocky soils along the banks of the Danube enable Grüner Veltliner to reach its apogée creating some of the finest Grüner Veltliner wines that Austria can produce.

Outside of these three jewels, there is an increasing amount of excellent Grüner Veltliner arriving in the US from up and coming less well-known regions such as Weinvertal, Wagram, and Carnuntum. Coming from more fertile soils, these wines tend to be broader and less tightly knit, but are nevertheless deliciously crisp, flavorful and interesting.

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If choosing a Grüner Veltliner from the Wachau you may notice one of the following terms noted on the bottle – Steinfeder, Federspiel or Smaragd. These terms are not vineyard names but rather special Wachau classifications to indicate the wine’s style.

Steinfeder indicates a wine that is light-bodied and fruity with alcohol levels of 11% or under.
Federspiel indicates a wine that is considered ‘classic’ and is typically medium bodied, somewhat fruity, but more structured and minerally with alcohol levels from 11% to 12.5%
Smaragd indicates a wine with alcohol levels above 12.5% – in my experience they are usually usually 13% to 13.5%. These wines are complex, well-structured, concentrated, and more full-bodied.

While this is a specific Wachau classification system I tend to keep it in my head as a guide to choosing Gruner Veltliner wines from other Austrian regions.

At the table Grüner Veltliner is extremely versatile. It does not have powerful aromas or flavors that need to be taken into consideration. In my opinion, the key aspects to think about are the bright acidity and slightly spicy kick of Grüner, which works with so many different foods.

The lighter fruity styles make for perfect sipping with nibbles or with various Asian dishes. The more classic and fuller-bodied, mineral driven styles hold their own at the table with various fish, pork and poultry dishes. The signature bright acidity helps cut through any fat and the spiciness provides both a delightful contrast and or compliment to a wide range of dishes.

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Notes on Recently Tasted Grüner Veltliner

2009 Sepp Grüner Veltliner, Niederösterreich, $12 – Fruity, light-bodied and easy-drinking. Crisp and juicy with lovely ripe stone fruit flavors. Fairly broad on the palate, and slightly loosely structured. Perfect wine for a party, picnic or a casual gathering with friends.

2009 Thiery Weber ‘Animo’ Grüner Veltliner, Kremstal, $12 – Light-bodied, crisp and juicy with lots of stone fruit flavor, hints of salad and a nice spice kick on the finish.

2009 Soellner ‘Wogenrain’ Grüner Veltliner, Wagram, $14 – Broad nose with an attractive medley of aromas showing lots of citrus, lentil, apricot and an earthy minerality. Light-to-medium bodied and fairly broad on the palate, crisp with flavors similar to the nose with notes of spice.

2009 Nigl ‘Freiheit’ Grüner Veltliner. Kremstal, $16 – a long-time favorite of mine, inviting taut minerally nose showin classic Grüner aromad and flavors of citrus, stone fruit, white pepper, fresh lima and wax beans. Tightly knit amnd racy on the palate showing lots of minerality and a lovely lingering finish. Light-to-medium bodied.

2009 Schloss Gobelsburg ‘Gobelsburger’ Grüner Veltliner Kamptal, $16 – Widely available, this wine sings classic Grüner to me. Mineral driven nose with peppery notes. Deliciously crisp and juicy with lots of stone fruit and citrus flavor. Peppery spice delightful on the minerally finish.

2007 Prager ‘Hinter der Burg’ Grüner Veltliner, Federspiel, Wachau, $25 – Refined, taut, racy and juicy are just some of the words that I noted for this wine. Shows lots of classic Grüner stone fruit, savory salad and pepper notes with a touch of honey coming through.

2008 Nikolaihof, Hefeabzug, Grüner Veltliner, Federspiel Wachau, $30 – Very tightly knit, dense with layers of flavor that evolve slowly on the glass. Produced biodynamically from one of Austria’s oldest producers. Excellent structure with a very long finish.

Apart from these wines, other producers worth checking out include Domiane Wachau, Bründlmayer, Loimer, F X Pichler, Rudi Pichler and Stift Göttweig.

I would love to hear from readers on their favorite Grüner Veltliner wines.

Until next week enjoy!

Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She holds the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.

(Images: Mary Gorman)