Although Austria produces fine red wine from grapes such as Blaufrankisch, its international reputation has been raised by its white wine, in particular from the Grüner Veltliner grape. It's become quite fashionable, seen often on good wine lists and in good wine shops, though plantings outside Austria are still very small. New Zealand has perhaps experimented most successfully with the grape, but there are still only small plantings in Gisbourne on the North Island and Central Otago on the South. In Austria itself, it accounts for around a third of all plantings, at its best in the Wachau, Kamptal, and Kremstal regions just north of Vienna.
the grapeThe consistency of quality of wines made from Grüner Veltliner is remarkably high, but as the tasting below demonstrated there is quite a variety of styles. The grape is late ripening, so needs a relatively warm climate - which is why the grape is grown in Austria, but not cooler Germany. It is marked by a peppery character and can be quite full-bodied with some ageing potential, although it is very rarely aged in oak.
tastingBack Room Wines in Napa holds a weekly evening sampling wines from a single grape variety. This week was Grüner Veltliner; here are the wines which were on offer, all of them available at the shop.
Tatomer Meeresboden 2013, Santa Barbara, California ($25)A young winery from a Californian winemaker who has spent time learning his trade with the awesome Weingut Knoll in Wachau. Production at the small winery (1,100 cases a year) focuses on Riesling, but there are also two Grüner Veltliner vineyards. The Meeresboden, meaning "ocean soil," vineyard is sandy and there is a saline quality to the wine which marks it from its Austrian counterparts. The aromas are citrus, with some mineral spice on the finish: a good, though not overly complex, wine.
Tegernseerhof Frauenweingarten Federspiel 2013, Wachau ($25)One of those confusingly Germanic wine labels: Tegernseerhof is the winery, Frauenweingarten is the vineyard made up of sand and gravel soils, while Federspiel is a term for white wines from Wachau that have an alcohol content of between 11 and 12.5%. On flatter land than many vineyards in Wachau, leading to a warmer microclimate, this is a fuller-bodied wine than the last one despite the lower alcohol. Stone fruits, almonds, with an oily, resinous finish: balanced and complex.
Glatzer Dornenvogel 2011, Carnuntum ($20)A very interesting nose that feels immediately like a Sauvignon Blanc with green, capsicum flavours but develops into more like a Sémillon with a waxy, nutty, rich creaminess. The palate lets the nose down somewhat, its acidity not quite high enough leaving the wine a bit flabby. Now three years old, I would have liked to have tried this wine a year ago.
Schloss Gobelsburg Steinsetz 2012, Kamptal ($34)The pick of the bunch, this is a light, subtle, yet surprisingly intense wine, especially on the palate. Its nose has a delicate lime zest, biscuity profile, but it's on the palate that the wine comes alive with spicy biscuit flavours, and apples and cinnamon. It's a zippy, balanced, deep and complex wine that may benefit from some further ageing but drinks wonderfully now.
F.X. Pichler Urgestein Terrassen Smaragd 2012, Wachau ($49)Smaragd is a term which refers to the finest white wines of Wachau, made from the ripest grapes from the best vineyards, and with great ageing potential. This wine, from steep terraced vineyards, was disappointing, however, with a resinous, citrus nose and an odd, sticky palate with lingering sour flavours almost like fermenting grapefruit juice. These odd flavours may work well with an oily fish dish, but on its own the wine just tasted plain weird.
This was my first intensive tasting of Grüner Veltliner, demonstrating a grape capable of producing quite different wines but of a consistently high quality: fine, balanced, textured, with long finishes.