Grüner Veltliner: The Next Big Thing in White Wine?
by Brian Mallie, Kowalski's Wine Expert
Sunshine. Lighter clothes. Lighter meals. It's the white wine drinker's season to shine. As consumers, we've come a long way since the days of all buttery Chardonnay, all the time. Options are at the heart of being a wine lover, allowing us to choose wines that suit a mood, a meal or even the weather. In that spirit, there is a wine with a freshness tailor-made for the season. One as quaffable as Pinot Grigio, as versatile a food-pairing wine as Riesling and with an ageability that rivals the finest French Chardonnays, our choice-of-the-moment is a wine that still flies somewhat beneath the radar of even seasoned wine drinkers.
Thus far, Grüner Veltliner (pronounced GROON-er VELT-lean-er) has remained mostly a restaurant wine, where creative chefs have eagerly embraced Grüner's versatility. Going with everything from green salads to shellfish to chicken, it even stands up to notorious wine-killers such as asparagus and artichokes, which should make it a staple of the home cook as well. Grüners tend to be crisp, bright-tasting wines with ripe but not sappy stone fruit flavors such as peach and apricot, keenly highlighted with lime and white pepper. A grape not in need of oak influence, most are fermented in stainless steel tanks, giving them a texture somewhere between a sophisticated Pinot Grigio and an un-oaked Chardonnay.
Though not a wine with a glorious past, innovations in winemaking and the adoption of organic and biodynamic farming practices have remade the quality and image of Grüner. The finest examples, wines of astonishing complexity and mouth-filling power, are produced in lower Austria in poor rocky soils and steep Rhine-like conditions along the banks of the Danube. The best have the potential to age for decades, developing a creamy texture and nutty aromas with the passage of time.
There is no knowing if Grüner Veltliner will become the next big thing, but it doesn't matter. Making the most of the season's joyful, life-affirming sunshine by adding one more delicious option to the white wine drinker's repertoire does.