Friday, October 28, 2011

Grüner Veltliner Finds a Papa

While visiting Budapest & Vienna, we happened to stumble upon several wine bars in each country where they served young, ready to drink white wines. We made it a ritual to start our day at these wine bars having a glass of dry Furmint in Hungary and some type of white grape in Austria. These wines had low alcohol levels, so we indulged a few times during the day and were refreshingly acidic in the summer heat. It wasn't until years later, when my wine knowledge expanded, that I realized that the unknown Austrian grape was most likely Grüner Veltliner - the most popular white wine variety in that country. The grape has an interesting heritage, deriving from a natural cross between the mother Traminer and an unknown father. Unknown, at least, until a few years ago. Apparently in a small hillside in St Georgen (Burgenland) there was a vine known to the village elders that bore no fruit. Local historian, Michael Leberl, was able to locate the vine and have it genetically tested. The surprise result was that it was the predominate parent of Grüner Veltliner and subsequently named St. Georgen-Rebe. Despite surviving phylloxera, war, and cattle; this vine has a precarious future - so please read the story here.

The Weinviertel region, just northeast of Vienna is the oldest agricultural region in central Europe as archaeologists have unearthed artifacts nearly 7,000 years old. Today, vineyards stretch from the Danube and Vienna to the Czech republic to the north and Slovakia to the east. And each sub-region provides distinct wine styles. The northeastern section produces sparkling wine from Grüner Veltliner and Welschriesling; the western, dry reds along side Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. Closer to the Danube and Vienna, Grüner Veltliner dominates. Many of these vines supply the Heurige Inns that we frequented, but lately are being used to make age worthy wines. In early 2003, Austria implemented a DAC standard - which translates to "controlled designation of Austrian origin". The Weinviertel DAC was introduced as Austria´s first DAC Wine, with the quality regulated by “Qualitätswein” (quality wine) definitions; blind tasting; at least 12% alcohol; lean, crisp, peppery-spice character; and no discernible oak characters. And in 2009, Austria introduced the Weinviertel dac Reserve in order to promote fuller wines. These wines share the same characteristics as the dac but can contain subtle traces of Botrytis or oak. Furthermore the minimum alcohol content was increased to 13% and the blind tasters expect a denser structure with a longer finish.

The dac system has proven quite beneficial for both producers and consumers. In the past, small family wineries had trouble marketing their wines to wholesalers or exporters. But with a dac label, these wholesalers and exporters assume less risk in marketing the wines. The same holds for consumers. When searching for a Grüner Veltliner, look for the dac label. You should be assured of a certain level of quality.

Now, here in the United States, the acreage planted for Grüner Veltliner is climbing. In Maryland, Black Ankle Vineyards produces an excellent wine and the grape is becoming more popular in the Finger Lakes where Riesling is normally supreme. (See Dr. Konstantin Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars and Zugibe Vineyards.). And on the left coast, the grape is finding a home in many wine regions - Chien Wines, Darcie Kent Vineyards, Von Strasser Winery, & Niven Family Wines.

We still have plenty to learn about this grape. So join us as our education continues this Wednesday during #winechat where Austria Wine will be discussing Grüner Veltliner from Lower Austria during the Twitter tasting.
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