Grüner Veltliner (hereinafter referred to as GV) is the signature white wine grape of Austria. For a brief period of time not long ago, it enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame — to the point that some sommeliers (probably the less Teutonic among them) baptized it GruVee. You will not hear that term from us.
And then it slipped off the radar again. This is a shame for, especially when temperatures are hovering around the three-digit mark, it is a perfect South Texas wine — crisp, approachable, and endowed with just enough complexity to be more than pool juice.
The Wachau District vineyards producing GV cling to steeply terraced slopes along the Danube west of Vienna. The soils are notoriously bad, a condition that often produces the best grapes and leads to the wines’ pronounced minerality, a sensation not unlike licking wet rocks. Clean wet rocks. That quality was present in spades in one of our favorites, the 2009 Machherndl Federspiel Kollmütz Grüner Veltliner ($15). At up to 12.5 percent alcohol, Federspiel is a Wachau designation, the middle one of three, quantifying ripeness level — and thus alcohol level — as well. Machherndl buoys its minerality on the nose with a little smoke, then entices with some white flowers. On the palate, it’s got a range of flavors from more mineral and citrus to honey, light apricot, and even, with time, golden delicious.
Sadly, but not unexpectedly, other Austrian wine-producing districts can develop their own quality designations (and they have), so here we officially throw in the towel. The 2009 Nigl Grüner Veltliner Freiheit ($18.50-$23) is produced in Wachau’s neighboring district, Kremstal, and is called simply a Qualitätswein. Just forget we said that and go for this: The nose is closed to start but opens into a detergent-like minerality with added salinity — “like a German sparkling water” said one taster. There’s also lime peel and a sensation of stainless steel on the palate. We liked it.
We also liked the 2008 Weingut Schwarzböck Weinviertel DAC ($17-$21). If all of that looks too complicated (including yet another designation, the DAC), just remember the very classy label featuring a silvery gazelle. The nose on this one gets very mineral-like, along with light citrus and some dry floral aspects; on the palate there’s again some salinity with sour apple. In short, this is almost like a good, crisp Sauvignon Blanc — without the grapefruit, but with a pleasant prickly quality. Even more like a good SB is the 2009 Höpler Grüner Veltliner Burgenland Qualitätswein ($15). It’s mostly citrus on the nose, a characteristic that carries on into the palate where it’s augmented by, wait for it, apricot pit. While GVs in general are unusually good with salads and even the notoriously difficult artichokes and asparagus, this wine was also good with a spicy quinoa salad.
Not to confuse things further, GV is also produced outside of Austria. From California’s Edna Valley, comes the 2009 Zocker Paragon Vineyard Grüner Veltliner ($17.5-$22) At 13.3 percent alcohol, it’s the highest percentage of all tasted. The apricot changes here from pit to flesh; there’s some passion fruit present. Along with lemon zest. This wine goes a little flat with time, however. Maybe it’s missing those steep slopes.—