Austrian grüner delivers fruit and minerality

By:Pamela  S. Busch, Special to The SF Examiner 07/26/12 9:51 PM

Organic: Grüner veltliner wines from Austria started  to make an impression in the mid-1990s in the United States and use high-quality  grapes, usually offering a fruity flavor. Grüner veltliner is no longer the wine of geeks; Austria’s pride and joy has  made it into the mainstream. Believed to have originated in Austria, grüner veltliner also is grown in  Hungary, Italy and, believe it or not, the West Coast of the United States,  though that is a recent development. When Austrian wines really started coming onto the scene in this country,  sometime in the mid-1990s (it was grunge wine), a lot of American wine buyers,  myself included, needed time to figure it out. It was not as inherently fruity  as riesling and had a very unique aroma that was reminiscent of arugula, white  pepper and bee pollen. We knew that grüner veltliner wines made Austria stand out and was considered  to be a very high-quality grape by our comrades on the other side of the  Atlantic Ocean. Today, many grüner veltliner seem to have more fruit than they did in the  early days. There also have been a number of downright hot vintages. But let’s not fool ourselves: A perceived demand for fruitier wines that  would appeal to a broader market has probably influenced picking and winemaking  decisions. My expectations when I taste a grüner veltliner have broadened and I  will often find white peaches and some citrus. I’m OK with this so long as the  wines still have a sense of terroir (minerality) and acidity. For $15 or less, there are a few wines on the market that have varietal  character, are well-balanced and have a sense of place.

Lustig grüner veltliner, 2011 (1 liter) (Weinland, Austria): Lustig is a  family-run operation that adheres to many of the practices of the natural-wine  movement. Lean and clean with chervil and a hint of white peach, this bottling  has extra quantity and quality for its price. Available at K&L Wine  Merchants, the Wine Club. Suggested retail: $15

Franz Etz grüner veltliner, 2010 (1 liter) (Kamptal, Austria): When it  comes to casual social gatherings, 1-liter bottles rule — at least the good  ones. Austria seems to have quite a few, with Etz being the latest to take the  San Francisco market by storm. Dry and minerally, clean and fresh with signature  white pepper-grassy-arugula-bee pollen aroma, there is a lot of tasty juice in  this big bottle. Available at Bi-Rite. Suggested retail: $15

Geyerhof grüner veltliner DAC, 2010 (Weinviertel, Austria): Ilse Maier  (née Geyer) was one of the first to take the organic plunge in Austria. Located  an hour north of Vienna in Weinviertel, Maier’s family has a long winemaking  tradition, with the building that now houses modern equipment having been built  in 1600. This is Geyerhof’s most basic wine, but it will not leave you  unsatisfied. Slightly floral with tangerine blossoms, white pepper and a long,  pure finish. Available at Biondivino, K&L Wine Merchant, Vintage Berkeley. Suggested retail: $15

Pamela S. Busch was the founding partner of Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine  Bars, and is a wine educator and writer.

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