Grüner veltliner is as Austrian as schnitzel or Strauss: the grape’s genetic heritage is understood to be traced to a small town south of Vienna, where a local ancient variety was discovered at the turn of the century and found to be the missing parent variety of grüner, the other already known to be traminer. It is unknown where the crossbreeding of the two varieties took place.
Grüner is the most widely-planted grape in Austria today, and makes everything from light, crisp dry whites drunk by the litre in traditional wine taverns called heurigen on the outskirts of Vienna, to intensely-flavoured, long-lived and extremely high-quality wines made from grapes grown on the steep riverbanks of the Danube west of the city.
In its lightest, most basic form, grüner has much in common with dry riesling: very pale colour, tart green-apple acidity, albeit with more muted aromatics. But from better vineyards, when the yields are kept low and the grapes picked fully ripe, the variety produces wines with much more intense and unique flavours.
In the Wachau region, this sliding scale of ripeness is classified into three levels: Steinfeder, or 'stone feather' wines are the lightest and leanest; Federspiel wines have a little more fruit weight and alcohol; and Smaragd wines, named unforgettably after a local emerald lizard, are the ripest and have the most depth of flavour.
Fully ripe grüner can have a distinctive spicy, peppery taste on the tongue, and a rich, almost candied green-citron-like flavour that deepens with age, developing a savoury edge and creamy texture that many wine lovers find similar to old white Burgundy.
This complexity of flavour and style – running the whole spectrum from light and crisp to rich and full – makes grüner a particularly food-friendly grape. As a result, the variety is a favourite among sommeliers, because it can be a great match for such a wide variety of foods – everything from traditional Austrian cooking (lots of pork, dumplings, cabbage) to the sweet/sour/salty/hot combinations of south-east Asia.
Thanks in part to local sommeliers’ support for grüner, many good examples are now imported to Australia from leading Austrian producers, including Nikolaihof, F.X. Pichler, Prager and Emmerich Knoll in the Wachau; Loimer and Schloss Gobelsburg in Kamptal; and Salomon Undhof and Nigl in Kremstal.
Although grüner veltliner cuttings were brought to Australia in the 1960s, it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that the variety was planted by commercial growers.
Lark Hill Winery at Bungendore, just outside Canberra, harvested their first grüner crop in 2009, with Hahndorf Hill in the Adelaide Hills producing their first vintage the following year. These two pioneers established themselves at the forefront of the grüner brigade, and encouraged a number of others to join them.
Today there are around three-dozen producers of grüner veltliner across Australia, nearly all in cooler and/or more elevated locations well-suited to the variety. Standout producers include Billy Button in the Alpine Valleys, Stoney Rise and Stefano Lubiana in Tasmania, and Longview and Henschke in the Adelaide Hills. Even industry giant Jacob's Creek makes a limited production grüner.
And the grape is also proving itself to be well-suited to cooler parts of New
Zealand, with good examples produced across the South Island, from Central Otago to Marlborough, where top makers include Forrest and Hans Herzog.
2018 Longview Kühl Grüner Veltliner, Adelaide Hills, A$26
At this young stage of its life this is bursting out of the glass with fresh citrus aromatics and a hint of juniper. On the tongue it’s all crunchy green pear and a lick of grippy dryness that makes you suddenly crave a plate of rice paper rolls.
2017 Lark Hill Vineyard Grüner Veltliner, Canberra District, A$45
The first Australian grüner and still arguably the best. Ripe pear and candied citron aromas, amazing concentration in the mouth, with that distinctive varietal powdery, peppery quality. Amazing finish that goes on and on. Great stuff.
2016 Nikolaihof Hefeabzug Grüner Veltliner, Wachau, A$56
Nikolaihof wines are famously slow-ageing; thirty-year-old bottles can taste like sprightly five-year-olds. So, while this is gorgeous now – a pure line of fresh lime pulp hung about with peppery spice – it’s also worth sticking away in the cellar.
Imported by vinous.com.au
2015 Schloss Gobelsburg Tradition Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal, A$66
Inspired by early 19th-century techniques, this is aged in big barrels and racked multiple times over two years before bottling. The resulting wine beautifully expresses grüner’s textural qualities: it’s rich, layered and creamy.
Imported by enotecasydney.com.au