Austria's pride and joy, grüner veltliner, has made it to the big time, now occupying prime real estate not only in boutique wine shops but also in discounters and supermarkets.
When it first arrived on the West Coast, grüner veltliner was welcomed by wine enthusiasts and professionals. This was during a time when the only visible alternative to oaky chardonnay was oaky sauvignon blanc. There were a few exceptions, but wines by the glass were dominated by wood.
Obviously times have changed. Now grüner veltliner is old hat compared to roter veltliner and rotgipfler, two other white Austrian grapes that make occasional cameos on wine lists and shelves. Grüner veltliner has so impressed the international community that it is now grown outside Austria in places as far away as Oregon.
The salient quality of this grape holds true even when it is grown in terroirs that are different from the loess of the Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal — the best areas in the Niederösterreich (the northeastern part of lower Austria's wine appellations, including Wachau, Kremstal, Kamptal, Traisental, Wagram, Weinviertel, Carnuntum and Thermenregion). It still has a racy mineral character that creates pristine, expressive wines.
White pepper, arugula, herbs, and faint stone and citrus fruits are often used to describe grüner veltliner's aromatic and flavor profile. Later-picked wines have more noticeable fruit, but it would be a far stretch to say that grüner veltliner is a fruity grape in the way of Austria's other favored son, riesling.
Now that it has made its way up the rungs to the noble grape club, grüner veltliner has received the recognition it deserves, as it can make age-worthy and complex wines. This, along with its increased popularity, has led to rising prices. But in all categories there are many fairly priced wines to be found. Here are three under $20:
Walter Glatzer Grüner Veltliner, 2012 (Carnuntum, Austria): The Carnuntum is south of Vienna and the Danube. It is known for its red wines made from blaufrankisch, zweigelt and St. Laurent, in part because its climate is warmer than other areas in Niederösterreich. As such, the white wines do not always have the zesty quality you may find elsewhere, yet this is a lively wine with a little roundness that actually makes it easy to drink without food. Peppery with a hint of bananas, it is a pleasant summer wine. Suggested retail: $14
Biohof Pratsch Grüner Veltliner, 2011 (Niederösterreich, Austria): Pratsch is an old winery that is now run by the youthful Stefan Pratsch. The family began converting the vineyards to organic viticulture 20 years ago, and today Stefan is one of the leading proponents in the country for natural winemaking. This 1 liter bottle is worth chasing down. With Golden Delicious apple skin, white pepper and a faint suggestion of mixed herbs, the extra 250 milliliters is a much-welcomed bonus. Suggested retail: $14
Laurenz V Singing Grüner Veltliner, 2011 (Niederösterreich, Austria): The Laurenz Moser family has been making wine for five generations. Among their brood they can count Dr. Lenz Moser, who created a trellising system that has become widespread. The famous Moser also can be credited with preaching the gospel on grüner veltliner, and it is the only grape that Laurenz V makes into wine today. Most of the fruit comes from the Kremstal even though it is labeled as Niederösterreich. Spicy with hints of citrus and a juicy finish, it is pleasant enough to make you want to churn out a note or two — in the privacy of your own home. Suggested retail: $17
Some of these wines can be found through K&L Wine Merchants (San Francisco and Redwood City), Sunshine Market (St. Helena), Vino (Oakland and Berkeley) and Falletti Foods (San Francisco).
Pamela S. Busch is a wine writer and educator who has owned several wine bars in San Francisco, including Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.