G
rüner Veltliner is THE Austrian
grape—it accounts for one-third
of all white grape vines planted
in Austria, and there is almost as much
Grüner as all red varieties combined.
Over the last decade, Austrian Grüner
Veltliner transitioned from “Huh?” to
“Yeah!”—at least in major dining cities.
In less wine-savvy cities, however,
it’s a different story. Evan Spingarn, a
senior member of NYC-based David
Bowler Wine, says, “Almost no one
shopping for wine outside the top mar-
kets knows what the heck the wine is.”
Toni Silver, co-creator of the GROON-
ER brand agrees, “Outside urban areas,
there is resistance to the unknown.”
Still, Grüner’s ascent in major
markets should be viewed as a pos-
itive harbinger of things to come,
as the U.S. is a prime export tar-
get; with multiple importers
stocking it, the wine is bound
to spread. In 2010, the U.S.
was Austria’s third largest
export market by value
and fourth largest by volume. That’s an
impressive feat for a small, alpine coun-
try that ranked 18
th
in global wine pro-
duction in 2010. It’s doubly impressive
for a country with no major “industrial”
production. Farming is primarily family-
owned in Austria, which means there’s
little margin built in for marketing.
Joe Quinn, wine director at Proof
in Washington, DC, explains why he
and sommelier Jennifer Foucher carry
eight Grüners on their list: “Grüner
Veltliner is particularly useful in a few
ways. It’s amazingly versatile with food,
which helps with the quite varied fla-
vors on our menu. It seems, like Ries-
ling, especially transparent, expressive
of vineyard and vintage; we want to
showcase wines that wear their ter-
roirs on their sleeves. And, it rep-
resents tremendous value. With
Grüner, you can find exceptional,
complex, thrilling wines of place
without breaking the bank.”
Styles & Quality Levels
Grüner Veltliner is malleable and can
be coaxed into a wide expression of
styles. As Quinn notes, “I think we’re
not alone in continuing to be amazed
by the variety’s many talents.”
The still wines range from un-
der-$15 crown-capped 1L bottlings to
three-digit 750mls. The high-end wines
sell best in restaurants and specialty re-
tailers. The heart of the retail action
is $20 and under. Toni Silver says this
space has been gaining steam over the
last five years, particularly among con-
sumers aged 21-40 and especially with
women. Silver and her partner Monika
Caha were early pioneers in the cat-
egory, having created the GROONER
brand in 2006 to target price-conscious
retail consumers looking for a fun “new”
drinking experience. This lighter style
of Grüner Veltliner can easily sub in for
Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Pi-
not Blanc at the same price point.
Knowing Austria’s official qual-
ity designations helps decode its wine
styles. Two markers identify Austrian
The Blossoming of Grüner Veltliner
What You Need to Know About Austria’s Signature White Wine
BY CHRISTY CANTERBURY MW
TASTING
CORNER
All Austrian wine bottles feature the
nation’s flag stripes on their capsules.
The Wachau region, northwest of Vienna, is arguably the source of Austria’s
most sought-after Grüners. Wachau created its own classifi cation system
in the 1980s, based on the wines’ natural alcohol levels.
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