Austria, Grüner Veltliner and beyond…
© Robert Herbst / Point of View www.pov.at
The quality of Austrian wines is well known throughout the world, yet is often overlooked in the UK. It is reassuring to know that both growers and winemakers have shaken off past stigmas and rebuilt the wine industry following the many troubles that Austria has faced in the 20th Century. There was much physical devastation caused to vineyards during the Second World War. In its aftermath, more attention was paid to efficiency: mechanisation was introduced on a large scale. It took four decades for the vineyards to be revived and it was during this time that Grüner Veltliner came to the fore as Austria’s national grape variety. Following this, the next crisis that the country’s wine industry faced was entirely and famously self-inflicted. Diethylene glycol (one of the ingredients in antifreeze) was added in small quantities to some dessert wines in an attempt to give them a richer, sweeter character (ironically, the fraud was only discovered when someone tried to claim for the chemical on his tax refund!) Although this almost destroyed the Austrian wine sector, it also saved the industry by forcing winemakers to focus on producing the high-quality wines that we now associate with Austria. The Austrian Wine Marketing Board was set up in 1986 in response to the scandal as a way to promote the image and sales of Austrian wine. New laws were also introduced to tighten up the country’s legislation. Since then, there has been a focus on the production of top quality fine wines with Grüner Veltliner proudly representing the style of wine for which Austria is now famous.
Grüner Veltliner accounts for approximately 30% of grapes grown in Austria and is the most widely planted grape variety in Austria. It grows well in several areas, the best known of which include Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal, alongside the Danube to the west of Vienna. The wine that is made using Grüner Veltliner is normally dry and (perhaps surprisingly) full bodied with citrus, vegetal, peppery and spicy characteristics.
There are 3 specifications in Wachau for dry white wine: Steinfeder, Federspiel and Smaragd. Steinfeder is the lightest of these styles and must fall below 11% abv by law. These wines are light and refreshing, but are only produced in very small quantities and are used almost exclusively for local consumption. Federspiel is fuller-bodied and lies between 11 and 12.5% abv. Smaragd is the fullest-bodied of the three and is made using the ripest grapes. By law, Smaragd wine must fall between 12.5%abv and 14.5% abv.This wine will have a more unctuous and slightly sweeter character than Federspiel wine. As a result of the 1985 “antifreeze” scandal, none of these styles from the Wachau are permitted to have undergone a process known as chaptalization. This is the artificial sweetening of the wine (to help raise alcoholic strength) - before or during fermentation - with sugar which is commonplace in Northern Europe.
Grüner Veltliner is undoubtedly the rising star of the wine world and it is now being grown as far afield as New Zealand, Australia and the USA. It can also be found in Italy and Germany. Due to sunny warm days and cool nights in the South Island, the winemakers in New Zealand are able to create a style of Grüner Veltliner which has a riper, more fruit-driven flavour and has nuances of tropical fruits such as mango. This will have the effect of making Grüner Veltliner more approachable to consumers who prefer a New World style of wine. Because Grüner Veltliner vines are hardy and naturally productive, it is possible that more vines will be planted, but as it prefers (also surprisingly) a warm climate and can produce bland wine when it overcrops, the vines need monitoring on a regular basis. Grüner Veltliner is being talked of by some as “the next Sauvignon Blanc” in terms of its style, quality and increase in popularity.
Grüner Veltliner has risen to grace the wine lists of several top end restaurants as its full-bodied yet elegant structure makes it perfect to match with complex dishes. It goes particularly well with asparagus and artichokes and works well with most vegetarian dishes. It also compliments pork, veal and a myriad of seafood including lobster, scallops and shrimps. Grüner Veltliner also has the capacity to age gracefully and will do so over many years. Versatility is perhaps Grüner Veltliner’s biggest asset - this should mean its future in vineyards around the world is secure and its popularity will continue to grow as people become more aware of its beguiling style.
In response to a large number of recent enquiries, and conscious of pricing – a great deal of Austrian Grüner Veltliner is surprisingly expensive! - we have brought three new ‘GV’s into stock that we expect you will enjoy: two from Wachau and one from Marlborough in New Zealand.
Machherndl Winery, Wachau, Austria
The Machherndl family have been making wine since 1786 from their eight-hectare estate in the heart of the Wachau region at Woesendorf, south-west of the town of Krems. Erich Jr took over in 1998 and has become a dynamic representative of the younger Wachauer generation who successfully mix modern techniques with traditional values. Their experience shines through in the quality of their wines.
This wine only reveals its true colours once you have swirled it around in the glass allowing the wine’s character to open up. The core flavours of apples, pears and spice are then enhanced (by those of pineapple and tarragon) when you take a second sip, followed by a hint of mint on the finish.
‘Bigger’ than the Federspiel, here camomile and straw aromas mingle with rich flavours of toasted bread, lemon peel and ripe melon. This wine should be savoured, never rushed, as it needs to be appreciated and enjoyed. It is described by Machherndl as being an interpretation of a passionate charm offensive! Genuinely intriguing and very tempting!
Tinpot Hut McKee Vineyard, Marlborough, New Zealand
Winemakers Matt Thomson and Fiona Turner were looking for a cool climate variety with striking aromatic qualities, supported by firm acid structure, to add to the Tinpot Hut range. They soon became convinced of the potential for Grüner Veltliner in Marlborough and convinced two local growers to plant a few rows. The grapes for this single vineyard wine were grown by the McKee family in the Blind River sub-region of the cool Awatere Valley.
Delicate aromas of orange blossom, citrus and stone fruit (peaches / apricot) blend with hints of sweet floral honeysuckle. Flavours of white peach mingle well with the subtle peppery spice notes. Mineral complexity, which is so reflective of the Blind River sub region, gives this wine a clean and crisp appeal. The balance of the fruit and acidity work very well together and lead to a wonderful, dry finish.
Please have a look at our website and browse through our Gruner Veltliner selection as we have a comprehensive range from both Austria and New Zealand. We think it’s a section that will grow in the near future so keep checking back for new additions!