I believe that Grüner Veltliner may be the best white summer wine of all. Certainly it is one of most adaptable food wines, great with most salads, fish and white meats and well able to cope with herbs and Asian spicing. Almost all Grüners are light enough to drink solo and are therefore a great choice for summer sipping wine or as an aperitif.
It is that combination of refreshing acidity and plump fruit that makes them so flexible. They are very rarely aged in new oak barrels, so you get a mouthful of wonderful pristine fruit-filled wine.
Whereas Austrian wines were once something of a joke here, it is now unthinkable that a decent restaurant would not have at least one Grüner Veltliner on its wine list. This is partly proof of their food-friendly nature, but also an indication of how perceptions have changed. It helps of course, that the standard of winemaking in Austria is so high; on a recent visit there, over five days, I don’t think I tasted a bad white. I tasted Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling and, while all were very good, only the Riesling managed to match the sheer diversity of style, including sparkling wine, of Grüner Veltliner. The sparkling wines are improving rapidly and only our penal excise duty will prevent them becoming more popular here. The 2014 vintage was very difficult in Austria – cold and very wet. At times, the producers I met were falling over themselves to apologise for their wines. Despite this, I found plenty of excellent crisp, dry whites and some lovely refreshing red Blaufränkisch too. As noted here before, the red wines of Austria have been improving greatly over the last five years.
But Grüner is Austria’s signature grape, covering almost 30 per cent of all vineyards, and Austria is almost the only country where you will find it. On the final day of my visit, I attended a tasting of 100 Grüner Veltliners in Vienna along with a hundred or more wine writers. Not only was it a lesson in how to organise a tasting, but it provided a great opportunity to reacquaint myself with these lovely wines.Wisely, the Austrian Wine Board divided ta sting into four categories; young and elegant, powerful reserve wines, mature Grüner and innovative and wild. It was proof that Grüner can cover all bases; I was very taken with some of the natural wines, not a category that I always enjoy, and each of the remaining sections had some truly glorious wines.
In certain conditions, young Grüner Veltliner can be light, refreshing and supremely elegant. That does not imply an inferiority to the powerful reserve wines; some of my favourite wines come from Kamptal and Kremstal, where the best wines compare very favourably, although in a more refined style, to the richer more alcoholic wines of the Wachau. One look at the alcohol content on the label will usually tell you the style.
Steininger is perhaps better known in Austria as a sparkling wine producer, but I have always found the still wines to be very good and very fairly priced, too. Birgit Eichinger is one of the great producers of both Grüner Veltliner and Riesling (she also offers a very tasty Grüner Veltliner chocolate). I have tasted the wines of Malat a number of times and often wondered why no Irish importer took them up; now one has. These are excellent wines, light and elegant but full of flavour. Those seeking the richer style should take a look at the wines of Domaine Ott, available in 64wine in Glasthule and elsewhere. There you will also find a wonderful natural Grüner Veltliner made by Claus Preisinger.
On August 7th, Thomas Klinger of Weingut Brundlmeyer, one of the finest producers of Grüner Veltliner will host a dinner in Greenacres, Wexford. He will be joined by Dorli Muhr, responsible for some of the very best red wine in Austria. It looks like an unmissable event. Tickets are €49. Greenacres.ie for details.
Steininger Grüner Veltliner 2014, Kamptal
A perfect example of the lighter refreshing style of Grüner, with green apple fruits and a crisp dry finish.
Stockists: Wines Direct, Mullingar.
Birgit Eichinger Grüner Veltliner Hasel 2014, Kamptal
From one of my favourite producers, a delectable flowing wine with subtle spicy peach fruits, finishing dry.
Stockists: Redmonds, Ranelagh; Mitchell & Son, IFSC, Glasthule and Avoca, Kilmacanogue.
Malat Grüner Veltliner 2014, Kremstal
Fine crisp slightly spicy melon fruits and clean as a whistle. Perfect sipping wine on a summer’s evening
Stockists: Searsons Wine Merchants, Monkstown.