June 20, 2024

Great night, Vienna: Four refreshing spring wines from Austria


The grape Grüner Veltliner is a chameleon, producing varied but high-quality wines

There is something inherently spring-like about Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s native white grape. By the time this column appears, I hope the weather will have taken a turn for the better, and we can start looking forward to lighter, fresher white wines.

Grüner Veltliner is something of a chameleon of a grape, changing style depending on the climate and soils it is grown in. High-quality Grüner grown in warmer sites can be rich and textured with succulent stone fruits. It can also have fairly high levels of alcohol.

The most famous and sought-after wines come from the Wachau, a picturesque and historic region a short car or boat ride away from Vienna. Here, the wines, all dry, are classified according to their alcohol levels. Steinfeder will be 11.5% or less, Federspiel 12.5% or less (as with the Knoll wine here) or Smaragd, which will be at least 12.5% but usually more. Smaragd wines, which tend to be the most expensive and critically acclaimed, are full-bodied and ripe. I love them, especially with more substantial foods, but lighter Grüner Veltliner can be very seductive, so this week, four aromatic, refreshing spring wines.

In addition to Wachau, the neighbouring Kamptal (and a third neighbouring region Kremstal), boasts some of the finest producers and more delicate, sometimes subtle but equally good wines. All three regions benefit from warm days and cold nights, giving ideal growing conditions for wines with a seductive balance of ripe fruit and fresh acidity. In each, Grüner Veltliner vies with Riesling for vineyard space and the highest plaudits. Both varieties can be spectacularly good.

Happily, Grüner Veltliner is one of the most versatile food-friendly wines of all

Austria is a small producer and there is huge demand locally and in neighbouring Germany, so the wines are rarely cheap. However, overall quality is very high, so you are unlikely to find a dud wine, red or white, and the best can match those produced elsewhere.

Those on a budget will look to the Weinviertel, in the northeast corner of Austria. This is one of the country’s biggest wine regions and produces large quantities of Grüner Veltliner. These wines are bright and fresh with crisp green apple fruits, sometimes with a hint of ginger spice. Some of the production goes into Sekt, Austrian sparkling wine, a rapidly improving category.

Happily, Grüner Veltliner is one of the most versatile food-friendly wines of all. It goes well with many Asian dishes, including Thai and Vietnamese food, sushi, sashimi, as well as smoked fish and pork. The richer styles are best with chicken, pork and one of the local specialities, schnitzel. In a few weeks’ time Austrians will tuck into large quantities of white asparagus served with a Hollandaise sauce and a glass or two of Grüner Veltliner.

Zull Lust & Laune Grüner Veltliner 2020, Niederösterreich
11.5%, €13.95 (reduced from €15.95)
Light, crisp, refreshing granny smiths and racy, zesty lemon. By itself or with oysters.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie.

Grüner Veltliner Weinland, Arndorfer
11.5%, €19 for a litre bottle
Elderflowers, soft pears and citrus peel. Light and refreshing. Essence of spring. Enjoy solo or with creamy goat’s cheese salad.
From Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, D2, Kells, Co Meath, sheridanscheesemongers.com; Margadh, Howth, margadhfoodandwine.ie; Lennox Street Grocer, D8, lennoxstreet.ie; The Fumbally, D8; the fumbally.ie; Elm Epicurean, D4, elmepicurean.ie; Savoir Faire, Westport.

Loibner Grüner Veltliner Federspiel 2020, Weingut Knoll, Wachau
12%, €29
Light with a nice intensity of rich nectarine fruit mid-palate, and plenty of refreshing lemon zest. A wine that grows on you with every sip. A salad of prawns with dill.
From 64wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; siyps.com; Greenacres, Wexford, greenacres.ie; Worldwide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie.

Loimer Ried Loiserberg Erste Lage Kamptal Grüner Veltliner 2020 Biodynamic
€35.99, 12.5%
From one of the best single vineyard sites in the Kamptal, this is an elegant, restrained Grüner Veltliner, with orchard fruits and subtle notes of honey and ginger. The finish is long and dry. Try it with sashimi, sushi, or new season asparagus.
From Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; elywinebar.ie; The Vintry, D6, vintry.ie; wineonline.ie.

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