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The wonderful world of Grüner Veltliner

Grüner Veltliner, or Gru-Vee, as it has been dubbed, is the latest craze. It’s Austria’s own white variety: although lots of attention has focused on Austrian Riesling, there’s actually an awful lot more Gru-Vee planted (by a factor of 10). Now it’s rightfully regarded as the centrepiece of Austria’s wine industry. If you want to look cool this summer, then you should really be sipping Gru-Vee.

So if Austrian whites, and Grüner Veltliners in particular, are so good, how come we haven’t seen many of them here in the UK? The main reason they’ve not been better known abroad is because the domestic market greedily snaps up most of the good stuff, and keeps the prices high across the board. Indeed, Austria doesn’t actually make that much wine. But the word is out, and Grüner Veltliner is gaining more of the attention that it deserves. With its food friendliness, versatility and in many cases a capacity to gain complexity with age, Grüner looks set to gain more friends. 

Much of the hype surrounding Grüner Veltliner comes from a series of blind tastings (there have been three so far) put on by a Swiss aficionado of Austrian wines, of which the best publicized was held in the UK at the invitation of MWs Jancis Robinson and Tim Atkin. In this shoot-out, Austria’s leading Grüner Veltliners and Chardonnays were pitched against top Chardonnays from around the world, including some very, very stylish white Burgundies. Remarkably, the panel of illustrious judges voted the Austrian wines into seven of the top 10 places. Grüner Veltliner was the clear winner.

Grüner has a variety of expressions. Cropped at high yields it can make a pleasant but light quaffing white, but if growers take a little more care it is capable of making complex, full flavoured, spicy whites often with a distinctive white flower and cracked pepper edge to them. The examples that I tried below (at a tasting put on by the Austrian wine marketing board) aren’t necessarily the best; they represent a spectrum of styles, and many of the most famous names are missing. However, the quality was consistently good across the board. Only a couple of these wines have seen new oak: generally, Gru-Vee doesn’t need new oak to enhance its character, and if barriques are used they have to be used with care.

93 Jurtschitsch-Sonnhof Grüner Veltliner Spiegel Reserve 2002
Lovely vivid green herb and pepper nose with lots of intensity. The palate is concentrated ripe and full, with lovely intensity and a herby, peppery finish. A bold
example with lots of character. Very good/excellent 93/100
92 Bründlmayer Grüner Veltliner Alte Reben 2003 Kamptal
Rich peppery nose with a subtle herby lift. Quite an aromatic palate which is intense, rich and spicy with some herby complexity. A full flavoured style. Very good/excellent 92/100
91 Stadt Krems Grüner Veltliner Wachtberg 2003 Kremstal
From 45 year old vines, this has a spicy, minerally, peppery nose. The palate is concentrated and rounded with lovely rich fruit. Nicely textured with good length. Very good/excellent 91/100

Dinstlgut Loiben Grüner Veltliner Loibenberg 2003 Wachau
Very forward peppery nose with a nicely green edge to it. The palate is crisp but full flavoured with nice crispiness and a spicy finish. Very interesting. Very good/excellent 90/100


Tegernseerhof Grüner Veltliner Bergdistel 2003 Wachau
Pure, fine minerally nose with a subtle herbiness in the background. Good concentration on the palate with lovely fruit and a layered texture. Very good/excellent 90/100

89 Domaine Wachau Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Kellenberg 2003 Wachau
[This is the winery that used to be known as the Freie Weingärtner Wachau.] Fresh, bright minerally nose with some liminess. Some richness on the palate texture, with a subtle peppery character. Youthful and appealing. Very good+ 89/100
  Kurt Angerer Grüner Veltliner Eichenstaude 2003 Kamptal
Quite a rich nose with some oak evident behind the herby, peppery fruit. Rich, full palate with lots of flavour. Quite a rich style. Very good+ 89/100
88 Schwarz Grüner Veltliner Reserve 2003 Weinviertel
Quite rich, almost smoky nose is fresh and peppery. The palate is rich and full flavoured with delicate but pronounced fruity flavours (sounds confusing – what I mean is that there is quite a bit of flavour, but the actual flavours are subtle ones). A good food match. Very good+ 88/100
87 Schlosskellerei Halbturn Schloss Halbturn Grüner Veltliner 2002
Rich, toasty bready nose reeks of new oak. The palate is bold and oaky, although the oaking is quite classy. It’s a bit overdone IMO. Very good+ 87/100
  Höpler Grüner Veltliner 2003 Neusiedlersee, Burgenland
Lovely spicy palate with good density. Fresh with nice acidity. Very good+ 87/100
86 Fuchs-Wein Grüner Veltliner 2003 Südsteiermark
Fresh, fruity, peppery nose. The palate is nice and fruity. Tasty and simple. Very good+ 86/100
85 Lenz Moser Prestige Grüner Veltliner 2003 Austria
Bright, fresh clean style with some herbiness and a bit of spice. Very good+ 85/100
  Hafner Grüner Veltliner 2003 Neusiedlersee, Burgenland
Fresh fruity and with good acidity. Balanced and appealing. Very good+ 85/100

Buying Grüner Veltliner
It's hard to find in the UK, but the situation is getting better. Newcomer Nick Dobson wines has a fine selection and is aiming to become the leading stockist in the UK. He's almost there. Noel Young has championed the wines of Austria and has a very good selection. Raeburn also stock some interesting Austrian stuff, as do Seckfords (although last time I looked their list seemed to be a little depleted of Austrian wines). M&S have recently listed five Austrian wines. Otherwise it's a question of hunting around for the odd bottle here and there at your local independent. (See my directory of UK wine merchants.)

See also: section on Austrian wines  

wines tasted May 2004

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