Tag Archives: Gruner Veltliner

Why Grüner Veltliner?

 

Just when we’ve become comfortable with the pronunciation and flavors of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier, roussanne and others, someone suggests a grüner veltliner (grew-ner velt-LEENER). Some may ask, “What is this?,” others merely, “Why?”

Domaine Wachau along the Danube River

To the first question, it is the most indigenous and abundant grape in Austria.  Miles outside of Vienna, in regions like Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal within the broader Lower Austria, grüner veltliner vines grow, side by side, with riesling on terraced slopes above the Danube River.  To the second question, that terroir with traditional winemaking practices make concentrated and expressive wines not to be overlooked.

Grüner Veltliner is Austria’s national grape, accounting for one-third of their total production. With nearly 43,000 acres under vine, they understand the need for deep, loose soil that maintains moisture, climate that retards disease and willingly accept the required commitment of closely regulated pruning.

Austrian releases are significant white wine options that often fall under the radar. However, plantings of grüner veltliner by U.S. winemakers has increased awareness and availability. Grown in many California regions, other releases from Oregon and New York state are also on the rise.

My interest in the varietal peaked a few months ago when I tasted the 2011

2011 Carlisle Gruner Veltliner Steiner Vineyard

Carlisle Grüner Veltliner Steiner Vineyard (92-pt), sourced from the mountains in southeast Sonoma County.  It actually served as the opening to a tasting of zinfandel and syrah, but I was drawn to the complexity of the white wine.  Set between the spice and floral nose and the mineral nuanced finish were citrus, tropical and stone fruit flavors for the palate

Days later, at Sessions at the Presidio, I paired a glass of Zocker Paragon Vineyard Grüner Veltliner 2015 with grilled fish tacos and cumin slaw. Sourced from the Edna Valley southeast of San Luis Obispo, it’s subtle spice and more concentrated melon and fruit flavors with

Zocker Paragon Vineyard Gruner Veltliner 2015

patented mineral finish was the right wine for my meal.

Focusing on riesling and pinot noir from the cooler Santa Barbara climate, Graham Tatomer produces a few grüner veltliner releases. The 2015 Tatomer Grüner Veltliner Meereboden Vineyard (90-pt) offers nice stone fruit flavors with a finish described as “kelp-like.” The vineyard’s name translates to “ocean soil” that, in this case, is a combination of sand, diatomaceous earth and loam.

These three California-grown releases from

northern, central and southern terroir illustrate the diversity of the grape and our state.  Outside of California, this varietal seems to flourish on each coast.

Chehalem Winery in Oregon’s northern Willamette Valley mainly focuses on single-

Paragon Vineyard

vineyard pinot noir.  During our last visit, we enjoyed a very nice grüner veltliner from the Ribbon Ridge appellation. Their current release, the 2015 Chehalem Grüner Veltliner Wind Ridge Block uses both stainless steel and neutral oak for fermenting and has been well-reviewed.

In Austria, grüner veltliner and riesling vines are often grown together.  It was only a matter of time that Fingerlakes Lakes, New York, origin of our country’s best riesling, would begin to produce it’s collaborator.  The Herman J. Wiemer Grüner Veltliner 2014, the second

2015 Tatomer Gruner Veltliner Meeresboden Vineyard

release from the noted producer, is available at some Bay Area wine outlets.

In an article debating the merits of grüner veltliner, the author described a friend who was skeptical until he shared “an F.X.” with him.  Afterward, as its told, his friend was hooked forever on the varietal.

The name F.X. Pichler, from the Wachau region, is associated with, arguably, the world’s finest and most expensive grüner veltliner.  Having tasted an F.X. Pichler wine years ago, I recall the creamy texture that I later learned was created from the batonnage (sur lee) process.  After glowing reviews, Wine Advocate declared that the 2015 F.X. Pichler Steinertal Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Wachau (93-pt) delivered complexity and a balance of “richness with tension and invigoration.”  While not fully comprehending what that means, it does sound intriguing.

2015 F.X. Pichler Steinertal Gruner Veltliner Smaragd Wachau

Last evening, in my American mid-century home,  I enjoyed the Carlisle Sonoma County Grüner Veltliner with a slab of French Comté cheese and a great jazz recording by the Polish-based Marcin Wasilewski Trio. It was the perfect global pairing and I may do it again tomorrow.  Why not?

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The Future of Grüner Veltliner

 

Site and yield are essential to the success of grüner veltliner (grew-ner velt-LEENER) or green veltliner, the most indigenous and abundant wine grape planted in Austria.  Site, because the finicky grape needs deep, loose soils that maintain moisture and climate than protects it from numerous diseases.  Yield because the vines are extremely fertile and abundant and their growth requires closely regulated pruning.

There is constant debate regarding grüner veltliner.  Some see it as trendy, not sustainable worldwide. It emerged in US markets at the turn of the century, mostly as a food-friendly, popular alternative on restaurant wine lists.  Since that time, popularity in this country has waned.  However, still their national grape, it represents over one-third of all vineyards in Austria, nearly 43,000 acres with another 5,200 acres in the Czech Republic.

Wachau wine region along the Danube River

Miles outside of Vienna, in regions like Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal within the broader Lower Austria or Nierderosterreich region, gruner veltliner vines grow, side by side with riesling on terraced slopes above the Danube River.  This terroir and traditional winemaking practices make rich, concentrated wines with expression.  Austrians are always willing to have their wines “blind tasted” with fine chardonnay and riesling.  Their grüner veltliner has always competed very well.

Much of the skepticism with grüner veltliner is over its ability or inability to age and some actually believe that it peaks during its youth.  The whites of Burgundy France, Rioja Spain and some in California are now designed to age up to five years or more.  To prove itself worthy and enhance its competitive nature, producers are hosting tastings of aged gruner veltliner as proof of balanced maturity. For me, it’s about taste and texture, regardless of the wine’s age and the good releases I have recently tasted deliver my

Carlisle “Steiner Vineyard” Gruner Veltliner

preference for that soft, creamy minerality on the finish.  They also pair well with grilled fish or chicken.

A recent peak in my interest in grüner veltliner was sparked by the 2011 Carlisle Grüner Veltliner Steiner Vineyard ($25/92-pt), from a mountain vineyard in southeast Sonoma County.  It began a tasting of zinfandel and syrah and I found the texture and balanced acidity impressive.  It delivers an unusual combination of spice and floral aromas followed by diverse citrus, tropical and stone fruit flavors on the palate.

Fermented solely in stainless steel with no softening malolactic fermentation, winemaker Mike Officer has proven that great skill can transcend both red and white varietals.  This could be the best grüner veltliner in California.

The following wines include some I have tasted and others that have been highly reviewed and are accessible. They are all available in wine shops and on-line.

The terroir in Santa Barbara County is so diverse that I am always looking for small, unique releases, red or white.

2015 Tatomer Grüner Veltliner Meeresboden Vineyard

Graham Tatomer grew up working at wineries, developing both a passion for winemaking and an understanding of the breath of options available in cool, marine-influenced climates.  Focusing primarily on riesling and pinot noir, Tatomer produces two grüner veltliner including the 2015 Tatomer Grüner Veltliner Meeresboden Vineyard ($27/90-pt) near Lompoc.  The vineyard’s name translates to “ocean soil” and, in this case, is a combination of sand, diatomaceous earth and loam.

The wine offers nice stone fruit(peach, apricot) and citrus flavors with a unique minerality, described as “kelp-like,” throughout the finish.  On the argument of preference between young and aged gruner veltliner, both the Meeresboden and the 2015 Tatomer Grüner Veltliner John Sebastiano Vineyard ($35) were designed to age with grace developing more honeyed flavors.

 

Wine Spectator magazine described the Austrian 2015 Birgit Eichinger Hasel Grüner Veltliner Kamptal ($15/91-92-pt)as “a powerful and savory white, with concentrated green peach, apple and white cherry flavors, accented by sage and white pepper notes.”  They also predicted the wine’s drinkability will peak in two or three years. A savory wine from the Kamptal region along the banks of the Danube in northern Austria, it is a very good risk at fifteen dollars.

Chehalem Winery is located in Oregon’s northern Willamette Valley near Newberg.  Focusing mainly on single-vineyard pinot noir, I enjoyed, during my last visit, a very

2008 Chehalem Gruner Veltliner

good grüner veltliner from the Ribbon Ridge appellation.  Their current release, the 2015 Chehalem Grüner Veltliner Wind Ridge Block ($24) uses both stainless steel and neutral oak barrel for fermenting which produces a balance of herbal and stone fruit flavors and a healthy minerality through the finish.

Monterey County and the Central Coast region is home to many accessible grüner veltliner releases including the Zocker Paragon Vineyard Grüner Veltliner 2015 ($20) from the Edna Valley near San Luis Obispo.  Rich concentrated flavors ranging from white pepper to ripe melon drive more mineral notes on the finish.

The makers of Monterey County’s Vollendet Grüner Veltliner 2016 ($24) strive to replicate a true Austrian-style wine like those from the Wachau region.  The grapes are picked early and fermented in stainless steel, but stirred on lees to add richness and texture. Whole cluster pressing adds an herbal

Vollendet Gruner Veltliner 2016

flavors to match those of stone and tropical fruits.  This wine is reputed to be food friendly for fish, goat cheese, Thai food and even fried chicken.

The best American riesling does not come from California or the Pacific Northwest.  It is produced in the Finger Lakes region in New York State and Herman J. Wiemer is one of the finest.  He recently began developing a “gruner”  and the Herman J.

Herman J, Wiemer Gruner Veltliner 2014

Wiemer Grüner Veltliner 2014 ($27), his second release, is getting nice reviews.  Integrated and concentrated herbal, floral, melon and stone fruit flavors are described as “balanced and long.”

Domäne Wachau is the largest winery is the esteemed Wachau region and well known throughout Austria. They produce various styles of riesling and gruner veltliner from steeply sloped vineyards. Their current releases are available on-line and include the Domäne Wachau Federspiel Terrassen Gruner Veltliner 2015 ($16-20/91-pt) that is defined as a light, crisp wine that is best enjoyed now, while it is young.  It has been reviewed well with particular acclaim for balance.

Domane Wachau Federspiel Terrassen Gruner Veltliner 2015

The Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Terrassen 2016 ($24/92-9t) is described as one of the “complex, full-bodied wines of the Wachau with aging potential.”  It is their top release, using only the best grapes.

In an article debating the merits of grüner veltliner, the author described a friend who was skeptical until he shared “an F.X.” with him. Afterward, as its told, his friend was hooked forever on the varietal.

After some quick research, I discovered that F.X. Pichler, from Austria’s famed Wachau region, is arguably the world’s finest producer of grüner veltliner. Much of the aged F.X. Pichler wines are only available through auction. However, I found that the 2010 F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd ‘M’ Wachau ($80/91-pt) was available through a few of the major on-line outlets.

Sourced from five different terroir within Wachau, the “M” is fermented and aged in twelve hundred liter casks.  They repeated the batonnage (sur lie) process for a few months to give the wine its signature creaminess. I prefer integration of the dead yeast

F.X. Pichler Gruner Veltliner Smaragd “M”

back into the juice because I prefer rich, creamy wines.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate lauded all aspects of the wine, but their report that “ green bean, apple and white peach are dusted with brown spices and Szechuan pepper” was engaging enough to consider purchasing a bottle.

The review ended, declaring “the fascinating interplay of fruit and mineral that characterizes the very best F.X. Pichler wines is missing in their “M.”  This tells me that the best F.X. is still out there.  I then found the 2015 F.X. Pichler Steinertal Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Wachau ($80-100/93-pt).  Wine Advocate, after glowing reviews, detailed complexity and a balance of “richness with tension and invigoration.”

Beyond my reach in price and accessibility, it’s nice to dream of enjoying a glass of F.X. on a fall afternoon outside of Vienna, overlooking the Danube River.

To my mind, grüner veltliner wine is more than a passing fad. It has many fine qualities and can be a pleasant, food-friendly alternative to chardonnay and other white wines.  With heightened awareness, I will now look for the varietal and, when the opportunity presents itself, enjoy a glass to discover what a “balance of richness and tension” tastes like.


New Whites of Spring

 

In addition to longer days, spring in most places means enjoying being outside in the early evening, appreciating the sunset with a nice white wine.  Although chardonnay and sauvignon blanc are among my favorites to enjoy with or without food, today is about breaking out of the box and investing some time exploring alternative whites whose only negative feature is that very few people are aware of them.  The fact is that with little effort and some curiosity, one can find captivating white wines that may just “float your boat.”   What follows are some suggested full-flavored varietals that can change the discussion at any gathering or dinner.

Gruner Veltliner

Admittedly, most of the Gruner Veltliner that I have stumbled on appeared on some

Gruner Veltliner vine

Gruner Veltliner vine

restaurant wine list when I’m in exploration mode.  Mostly grown in Austria where it accounts for more than one-third of the country’s production, Gruner (“Green”) Veltliner, while not abundant in the States, is grown in Oregon, Washington State, the Fingerlakes region of New York and in many diverse regions of California including the Santa Ynez Valley, Monterey County and Napa Valley.

While known for citrus and stone fruit flavors, crispness and minerality is what sets it apart from other white wines. Enjoy it with seafood, shellfish, triple crème cheeses like Brillat-Savarin as well those hard aged like Mimolette.

Von Strasser Gruner Veltliner from Napa Valley

Von Strasser Gruner Veltliner from Napa Valley

From Napa Valley’s Von Strasser Winery, the first producer of Gruner Veltliner in California, the 2010 Von Strasser Gruner Veltliner Diamond Mountain District ($35), fermented in stainless steel, remains very popular with a nice, tart minerality and green apple flavors, earning a 90-point rating from Wine Spectator magazine.

While traveling through the northern Oregon’s Willamette Valley, I enjoyed a 2010 Chehalem Ridgecrest Vineyard Gruner Veltliner ($24) from one of their most respected winemakers. The efflorescent savory flavors of herbs and white pepper truly express the vibrancy of the varietal and the current 2013 vintage, available now, has received good reviews.

Noted for the production of many alternative whites like chenin blanc, viognier, verdelho, the Clarksburg AVA in the Central

2010 Dancing Coyote Gruner Veltliner Clasrksburg

2010 Dancing Coyote Gruner Veltliner Clasrksburg

Valley near the Sacramento Delta also produces gruner veltliner such as the affordable 2009 Dancing Coyote Clarksburg Gruner Veltliner ($12), reviewed as a very drinkable wine for the price.

Semillon

Most people have heard of the great Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot-based red blends from the Bordeaux region of France, but  what about the white varietals?  Bordeaux white blends consist of two grapes, sauvignon blanc and semillon, known for its exposure to botyrtis cinerea, the “noble rot,” to create the world-famous Sauternes dessert wines. Single varietal semillon is widely produced in Australia where exposure to warmer temperatures push the floral and fruit flavors forward.  While semillon production is rare in California, my favorites, once again, emanate from diverse regions.

2012 Foresight Semillon Anderson Valley

2012 Foresight Semillon Anderson Valley

Last year, I had an opportunity to taste the 2012 Foresight Charles Vineyard Semillon ($28) from the Anderson Valley region and purchased two bottles.  Very rare in the Valley, this wine expresses toasty, creamy qualities, enhancing the floral and mineral facets that please the palate.

It seems repetitive to continually applaud wines from Bonny Doon Cellars, but they keep sending me excellent releases.  Half way through the writing of this prose, I received two bottles of something winemaker Randall Grahm calls the 2014 Bonny Doon “Thanks, Semillon” ($24), a single-varietal from a Yountville vineyard in the Napa Valley.  Opening the Gary Taxali labeled wine for research, we found melon, fig and lime on the nose with nice floral,

2014 Bonny Doon "Thanks Semillon"

2014 Bonny Doon “Thanks Semillon”

citrus flavors and lingering minerality throughout the finish.  Another gem that renews my passion to remain a D.E.W.N. member forever.

California’s best example of a white Bordeaux blend, half semillon and sauvignon blanc, is the 2012 St. Supery “Virtu” from their Dollarhide Estate Vineyard in the Napa Valley. Sur lie maturation leads to a toasted creaminess and vibrant flavors of lime, fig and pear. St. Supery Winery offers fine wines on a beautiful property outside of St. Helena and should be included in your next visit to the area.

Semillon pairs well with gruyere or camembert cheeses.  Of course, if you

St. Supery "Virtu" Napa Valley

St. Supery “Virtu” Napa Valley

want to go “heavenly,” treat yourself to a French Sauternes paired with a southern Oregon Rogue River Blue with honey.

Riesling

The simplest description of riesling is a combination of fruit and mineral and, maybe, some petrol added in.  My exposure to the elements of a fine German riesling came several years ago when I tasted a 1996 Bollig Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese ($17) and experienced the successful marriage of full fruit flavors with a soft minerality, often described as “petrol.”

The riesling grape is “terroir expressive,” adapting and

Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese

Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese

demonstrating different personalities in Germany, Alsace, South Australia, California, New York and Washington State.  In its origin Germany, styles generally differ from the Kabinett lighter style to the fully ripened Spatlese. 

High quality riesling from Germany and South Australia can be easily found at outlets or online.  Very nice riesling from the Fingerlakes region of New York are also recommended, taking a bit more research. However, there is readily available riesling from California and Washington State that can meet the standards of those most serious about wine.

Named for Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the “Eroica”

Chateau St. Michelle Ethos Late Harvest Riesling from Washington State

Chateau St. Michelle Ethos Late Harvest Riesling from Washington State

series of riesling wines from Chateau St. Michelle in Washington offers the best value to price ratio of any releases in the US. Many outlets stock various vintages of the Chateau St. Michelle “Eroica” Riesling ($22) that expresses many characteristics previously described.  Although this wine can satisfy most palates, those seeking something special can explore the Chateau St. Michelle “Eroica” Gold Riesling ($30) or, for those above my pay grade, the Chateau St. Michelle “Eroica” Single Berry Select Riesling ($200), boasting a 97-point rating from Wine Advocate magazine.  If your curiosity is still not quenched, full self-indulgence can be found in the 2013 Chateau St. Michelle Ethos Reserve Late Harvest Riesling ($40), dessert in a bottle.

Defined as the “absolute embodiment of springtime,” the 2013 Bonny Doon “The Heart Has No Riesling” ($16) is always a personal favorite as well

Bonny Doon "The Heart Has No Riesling"

Bonny Doon “The Heart Has No Riesling”

as the 2011 Thomas Fogarty Riesling “Skyline,” ($15.5) both from Central Coast vineyards. For a luscious cheese pairing, California “Humboldt Fog” or French “Morbier” are both available at fine grocery outlets.

Rhone Wines

Red and white blends from the southern Rhone Valley are renown throughout the world.  Chateaunef-du-Pape, Gigondas and other

Thomas Fogarty Winery above the Silicon Valley

Thomas Fogarty Winery above the Silicon Valley

appellations in the region produce arguably some of the world’s finest wines. Their reputation allows first-rate restaurants, such as The Girl and the Fig in Sonoma to offer an extensive wine list of exclusively Rhone varietals. Southern Rhone Valley winegrowers prohibit any single-varietal wines and regulate which grapes can be grown including marsanne, roussanne, grenache blanc and viognier,  known as part of a blend, not their individuality.

Avoiding costs and limited availability of those from the Rhone Valley, we Californians are blessed that the greatest blends and wines outside of the Rhone Valley are never more than a day’s drive.  The Paso Robles region, centrally located, with their New Rhone Rangers, can produced more exceptional Rhone-style wines than most of us can experience in a lifetime.  Here are a few recommended wines that are easily available in the region.

Many agree that the Barrel 27 “High On The Hog” White Wine ($16), an equal

2010 Barrel 27 "High On The Hog" Rhone blend

2010 Barrel 27 “High On The Hog” Rhone blend

blend of roussanne, viognier and grenache blanc, is one of the best values among Paso Rhone blends.  Nice expressions of stone fruits, spice and floral notes are encased in a rich texture.

Tablas Creek Winery, a patriarch of Rhone wines in the region, offers a diversity of single varietal Rhones, including grenache blanc, viognier and roussanne.  Nevertheless, the Tablas Creek Cotes du Tablas Blanc ($27) and Espirit de Tablas Blanc

Tablas Creek Winery Espirit de Tablas Blanc

Tablas Creek Winery Espirit de Tablas Blanc

($45) are always, according to the experts, among the best blends in the region.

From yet another westside vineyard, the Adelaida “Version” White Anna’s Vineyard ($35), vintage to vintage, is a noteworthy Rhone blend with aromas and full flavors of honeydew melon and pear.

After finding your favorite chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, you will feel

Adelaida "Version" White Rhone Blend

Adelaida “Version” White Rhone Blend

that’s your the wine forever.  Unless you have explored others varietals, you will never really know. Just think, you may discover that you are a gruner veltliner person.