Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Gruner Veltliner Blind Tasting

Gruner Veltliner – the hip wine? Pinot Noir is hip, that’s for sure, every since the Miles character in the film Sideways showered it with his quirky and neurotic love. But Gruner Veltliner, hip? An Austrian grape producing mineral, stony, white peppery wine…hip? Amy Louise Pommier, manager of the wonderful Prospect Wine Shop in Brooklyn, says emphatically “yes!”

Actually, she says that Gruner Veltliner was THE hip white wine a year ago, and that every with-it New York sommelier listed a few bottles and wines by the glass. Now, Txakoli, the summery, briny Basque juice is the new hip white wine, Amy says. Who knew that wines, sommeliers, and wine drinkers, are so fickle? Why should they be any different from anyone else, I guess.

Maybe it means that although we so much crave to be cutting edge, we are behind the times and decidedly un-hip, but we chose Gruner Veltliner as the theme for our recent tasting crew evening. Our regular crew, minus a flu-bitten Deetrane, was joined by a new and hopefully regular tasting pal, Tyrie, of Florida fame. We also enjoyed the company of two special guests, Amy Louise Pommier, and her friend, wine educator Mimi Thompson. Amy and Mimi have VAST wine experience and knowledge, and they both have special interest in Gruner Veltliner. Amy visited and tasted at many of the wineries last year, and Mimi has an Austrian parent, and has spent time there as well. They chose and brought many of the wines, and they prepped our Gruner-ignorant crew about the general characteristics of the grape before we got started.

More than a third of Austria’s grapevines are Gruner Veltliner. Much of Austria’s prime wine real estate is steep rocky-granite soil. Gruner Veltliner and Riesling, Austria’s other white grape, do very well in Austria’s mineral rich soils, producing powerful and rich wines that are not heavy, and often of great purity. Typical flavors include citrus and white stone fruits, and ground white pepper. The wines are almost always intensely mineral. They can age for decades, and supposedly (I have never tasted an aged GV) develop complex floral and fruit flavors to go along with the mineral notes. An interesting side note here - many Gruners are screw cap sealed.

Gruner is not “trophy” wine – this is wine for drinking and enjoying. Generally low in alcohol with zippy acidity, Gruner Veltliner makes great food wine. Pair with seafood of course, but also with chicken, with all sorts of vegetable dishes, and with speck or other cured meats. I think that Gruner’s crystalline incisiveness make it a good match for heavy Austrian style foods such as sausages and sauerkraut, or mushroom dumplings. But I like piercing white wines with heavy food…maybe it’s just me.

And maybe best of all, you can spend $15 and enjoy a great (or really good, at least) bottle of Gruner. If you spend $35 it means A) you frequent one heck of a wine shop that carries top of the line GV, or; B) you have already tasted through the $15 bottles, you like ‘em, and now it’s time for the big stuff, or; C) how do I know why you do the things you do? I don’t understand myself, why would I have you figured out?

If you’re curious to try but don’t know where to start (like me), and if the notes below somehow are not enough for you (whatever pal – we’re trying our best over here) you can look for Terry Theise’s name on the back of the bottle. As with small grower Champagne, Theise has selected a great portfolio of Gruner Veltliners to import to the US.

To remind you of our little blind tasting system, first place votes are worth 5 points, second place votes are worth 3 points, and third place votes are worth 1 point. So, what happens when you put seven people in a Brooklyn apartment full of 2005 Gruner Veltliner? To me it’s telling that every wine received at least 2 votes – the overall quality was quite good. That said, only Amy and Mimi really understood these wines before tasting, and the rest of us (or me, at least) had a tough time “loving” them. They are not obvious wines, full of fruit. I would put it this way: I recognize the quality of the wines, and there were two that I really liked, but I am not yet haunted by the glory of Gruner Veltliner, I don’t yet crave the wine. Give me time though…

2005 Hiedler Gruner Veltliner Maximum, $40 (prices at Prospect Wine Shop. You might find them a little lower elsewhere, but these are fair prices). 19 points (3 first place votes, 1 second place, 1 third place). This wine sort of ran away with the tasting. I had it in first place, so did Amy, and so did Pristine. Kind of a shame though, because it is not typical of Gruner Veltliner – it is "Maximum" reality TV style Gruner. My notes: Oak? Honey? White pepper and minerals, effervescent, some citrus and honey on the palate. Nice acidity. I think I liked it so much because it reminded me of other wines that I love from the Loire Valley. Amy also said that she “felt like a slut” for picking this first. She would have preferred to pick a more typical wine, and she would not pick this wine to cellar, just to drink now. Hard to argue though, it’s tasty wine. Tanzer gave this wine a 90, for whatever that’s worth.

2005 Hirsch Gruner Veltliner Lamm, $33. 10 Points (3 second place votes (including mine), 1 third place). Tasting it later in the evening with some brown bread and speck, I would have voted for this as my favorite wine if I could do it over. And I might grab a few of these for the old cellar. My notes: Complex, slightly honeyed nose of spicy white grapes and rocks. Green apple, citrus, mineral palate, great acidity, lingering finish. Tanzer gave this wine a 93, if that sort of thing excites you.

2005 Nigl Gruner Veltliner Kremser Freiheit, $17. 10 points (2 first place votes – Mimi and Tyrie really fell for this wine). This is Nigl’s entry level Gruner. It’s a great wine and a tremendous value, definitely a $15 beauty (note: I have seen this wine selling for $15). I have tasted this wine in each of the last three vintages, and it’s always good. My notes: Smells of wet stones and empty fish tank. Palate of citrus, sweet white stone fruit, and loads of minerals. Very tasty.

2005 Schloss Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner Renner, $28. 8 points (1 first place vote, 1 second). Amy would have put this first if she could do it all over, she said. My notes: Mineral nose, some herbal notes, a touch of honey. White fruit, citrus and rocks on the palate, some pepper.

2005 Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner Ried Loiser Berg, $22. 6 points (1 second place vote, 3 third places, including mine). My notes: Grassy nose, cat pee. Some citrus and minerals too. Dominant minerals on the palate, with green apple and some pepper on the finish. Good acidity, complex.

2005 Nigl Gruner Veltliner Alte Reben, $30. 6 points (1 first place vote, 1 third place). Alte reben means old vines, and this wine was, to me, not as approachable now as the other Nigl wine. And by the way, the top Nigl GV is called Privat, and it’s beautiful stuff, although it costs about $38 a bottle. Adam really liked this wine, noting that it was completely different from the other wines in the tasting. He always seems to like interesting wines, so maybe I have to give this one another shot tonight. Mimi also voted for it, saying that it was not her favorite for current drinking, but that she recognized it as excellent wine. I didn’t like it. My notes: unusual nose of tropical fruit – banana? Nuts? Wood? Fat on the palate, unfocused, some white fruit. Not enough acidity to direct this wine. Amy said that it probably needs time to settle down, that it will show much better with some more time.

2005 Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner Kamptaller Terrasen, $19. 4 points (1 second place vote, 1 third). My notes: Nose of white grapes, honey, cat pee, tarragon? Rocks, melon, and pepper on the palate. Some effervescence to this wine. Very tasty, not as complex as some of the others.


Anonymous said...

Great post. Austrian whites are some of the most intriguing, value-ridden wines out there. We did an Austrian tasting at the store last week and blew people away with bizarre varietals like Rotgipfler and Zierfandler! Goodtimes.

We have another tasting tomorrow (Thursday), featuring a boatload of natural winemakers, very relevant I think if you've been reading the heated debates on Asimov's blog. They also just happen to make outstanding wines. We also have a private tasting starting a bit early so if you have the time Brooklyn Wine Guy, you're heartily invited. Just ring me at the store to RSVP. Sorry to communicate this message in such a bizarre fashion, but couldn't find an email for you.
Best, Stephen Bitterolf, Crush Wine Co.

Brooklynguy said...

Hi Stephen,
Thanks for your comments, and thank you so much for the invite. I will call you today to talk about it. I actually read on the Dressner site about the tasting and I can't come in the evening because i have to be home to relieve my wife of baby duty. But if I were to come earlier...and you bring up a good point. I probably should include an email address some where on this blog. And lastly, what the heck is Rotgipfler?!?

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Dr. Debs said...

Thanks for this rundown, Neil. Especially since I seldom trip across the more expensive gruners, and it is nice to have a few names when ordering from big importers online. Sounds like a great time, and hope you got to the other tasting!

Brooklynguy said...

Hey Debs,
I cannot go to the other tasting, so sad to say. I will go on Saturday instead. Glad you like the Gruner rundown. I learned a lot. Nigl, I tell you, Nigl for about $15 is a steal.

Victoria said...

Great post! I am just starting to discover GV but it's not easy in my area... BevMo carries a couple of lower end bottles and then... nobody else... So it was great to read you review so I can feel OK with ordering online and kind of know what I am getting from raeding your comments. Thanks and cheers!

Brooklynguy said...

Hi Victoria,
Glad you liked it, and I'm glad you will personally increase demand for GV in California. And an update for anyone who is interested: both Nigl wines improved significantly the next night. And now, 72 hours after the tasting, the entry level Nigl Kremser Freiheit is even better yet!

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Anonymous said...

I wanted to write sooner to elaborate, but it's been a busy tasting week....over 300 wines yesterday! Anyway, here goes...My comment about Grüner Veltliner being the sommeliers' favorite of a year ago and the geeky sommeliers moving on to something even more obscure like Txakoli (or Rotgipfler, for that matter!) -- I'd like to expand a bit on that. Wine geeks can be insatiably curious -- at least my favorite ones are. So we're often wanting to extend our horizons and increase our choices and our knowledge. It's trendiness for trendiness's sake that I don't empathize with and sometimes find amusing -- or annoying. But, actually, Grüner Veltliner has been the serious sommeliers' darling for quite a few years. And what I meant to humorously comment on was that GV has become so ESTABLISHED among geeky sommeliers that they have to go farther afield to be TRENDY.
Anyway, I can attest to the Schloss Gobelsburg GV Renner 2005 and the Brundlmayer GV Ried Loiser Berg 2005 being quite rich and complex on the second evening (Neil generously gave me what was left in those bottles to take home). For me, the Gobelsburg had much of the intensity and spice and fullness of the Hiedler Maximum without the residual sweetness and with more tautness and focus. It was one of my wines tied for #3 in the voting, but if I were voting again, I'd have put the Maximum in 3rd place and the Gobelsburg in 2nd place. The Brundlmayers are "sneaky" -- they don't jump out at you in a blind tasting...they're just so elegant and beautifully proportioned and really blend in well with food. They have discreet beauty, for me. The Hiedler was just so LUSH and seductive I was taken in at first sip (as were others at the tasting).

Lenn Thompson | LENNDEVOURS.com said...

Nice post, Neil.

I've actually been trying to find out why no one here on Long Island is growing Groovy (that's what the cool kids call it I hear!).

For those that can't find them in their local shops (like me) I can't recommend winemonger.com enough. They focus on Austria seriously!

Anonymous said...

Hey Lenn,
Thanks for the feedback. You don't do much Riesling or Pinot on LI either, right? Similar climate requirements, I would guess. I would be so honored to pick up a couple of bottles of Nigl for you. Take it easy.

Joe said...

I hope the deleted comment wasn't one of my "posting while drunk" problems...I find it hard to believe "Txakoli" will be the next big thing - too hard to pronounce for us non-Basque types. Anyway, I find good Gruner hard to find, but when I do it is almost always great price:quality. Thanks for doing a Gruner tasting - I will look out for the Nigl Kremser.

Lenn Thompson | LENNDEVOURS.com said...

There's not a ton of pinot, but there is a fair amount of riesling out here...

And Nigl is actually one of the few that I CAN get...even if it takes me an hour to get to that wine shop!

Brooklynguy said...

No Joe, I deleted some one's comment so they could write it again and sign their name, that's all. You can keep posting drunk - I like it.

Lenn - if you can get Nigl, what's wrong? You want some more variety? At Bkln Uncorked I can bring you something if you want.