What’s a Gruner anyway? Well, it’s been the darling of the Sommelier and hipster wine-drinking crowd for several years now, but don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of Gruner Veltliner.  All those hipsters had no idea about the grape for decades while it toiled away in anonymity, providing in-the-know wine drinkers--and most Austrians, for that matter--with remarkably age-worthy, complex, and food-friendly wines at affordable prices!

The prices have changed a bit over the past several years as Gruner Veltliner has become a market darling (and the fall of the dollar certainly hasn’t helped), but the wines continue to offer a unique and compelling wine drinking experience.

Gruner Veltliner a Video Tasting

Check out Snooth's inaugural tasting Video featuring Gregory Dal Piaz, Greg Tatar, and Brad Kane discussing the merits of two different styles of Gruner Veltliner.

Light and Fresh or Rich and Mineral: Choose your style of Gruner

2007 Kalmuck Gruner Veltliner
Touches of white pepper and green pea rise above soft citrus tones in a very subtle bouquet.  Nice and fresh citrus flavors in the mouth with a subtle herb edge. Fun and food friendly style that highlights the refreshing acidity and bright, fresh fruit flavors. Fun and refreshing making this perfect for a party and light snacks.

2007 Donabaum Gruner Veltliner
A nice deep vegetal note on the nose with rich, ripe fruits and an almost sweet edge, that develops a nice gravelly, lightly smoky note This combines a nice array of mineral and ripe fruit notes in a slightly rich style that feels a bit compressed today. This should benefit from some time in the cellar.

Gruner Veltliner is the most widely planted grape in Austria, where it has historically been used to produce light, fresh, simple tables wines. The ability of Gruner, as it’s commonly called, to produce particularly distinctive wines from the best vineyard sites has long been known, yet the market forces to support such wines have only arrived to Austria over the last two decades or so.

When produced in that classic, easygoing style, frequently found in liter bottles with crown caps, Gruner yields a crisp wine with light, airy citrus flavors and moderate alcohol. Perfect for washing down simple foods or sipping under a hot summer sun.

When Gruner is planted in the best vineyards, and cropped for high quality as opposed to high yields, the resultant wines are deep, rich, and minerally with telltale aromatic notes of white pepper, green peas, and other subtle vegetal notes adding depth to the rich peach, apricot and citrus fruit flavors of the grape.

The prime growing regions for Gruner Veltliner include the Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal regions of Austria. While the wines are almost always dry table wines, the occasional dessert wine is produced, and there are different styles of each found throughout the nation.

The Wachau has been at the forefront of giving the consumer the information they need to understand the differences within their wine classifications. Their three classifications include:

Steinfeder: This is the lightest style of Gruner. It has sometimes been referred to as the least, or lowest classification, but that’s the wrong way to use these distinctions. Steinfeder, which refers to the grasses that grow on the steep hillsides on which the this fruit grows, refers to a lighter style of Gruner, totally dry yet with a minimum alcoholic content of only 11.5%

Federspiel: The next level in richness (which this is really what this scale is all about) is called Federspiel. This is my favorite category of Wachau Gruner, as these dry wines have great depth but remain somewhat airy and unencumbered by alcohol.

Smaragd: Literally “emerald,” referring to the color of lizards native to the top vineyards, where presumably they bathe in the extra sunshine these vineyards receive due to their orientation. This is the top level of richness in the Wachau, and refers to grapes that have been picked later than normal. While these wines tend to be dry, the tradition, still followed by many, is to allow these late harvest wines to ferment until fermentation stops naturally.

While that may leave the producer with a wine that contains residual sugar, the wine can only be labeled Smaragd if the residual sugar is less than 9 grams per liter. Not an inconsequential amount, to my mind. The problem with Smaragd is actually two-fold for me: one tends to either encounter a wine with that bit of residual sugar, or one with elevated alcohol when opening a bottle. Neither outcome is ideal for my palate, but these are still excellent wines and you owe it to yourself to try a few to see how they match up with your taste.

One almost universal feature of Gruner is their oak treatment, or rather their lack thereof! While much of the world’s white wines have undergone a stylistic change over the past few decades that has included softening the wines and giving them the added impact of wood flavors and sweetness, Gruner is almost always free of wood. While you may or may not appreciate it, the bottom line is that Gruner is best when left alone and allowed to show the world its unique flavor profile and superb food friendliness without being masked by the near ubiquitous flavors of wood.