August 7th, 2023/ BY Christopher Sealy

Grape Profile: The Dynamics of Grüner Veltliner

Grüner Vetliner is Austria’s most planted grape. The wine estates that grow it are relatively small in size which allows for a focus on flavour and quality. This approach, in my opinion, produces some of the most charming white wines in the world. As the reputation of these wines grow, Grüner is popping up on wine lists and in wine shops all around the world, becoming a bright verdant light on the horizon of the ever expanding world of wine.

I asked Niki Moser, winemaker at the family run estate of Weingut Sepp Moser in the Kremstal DAC (DAC = appellation), about his views on the potential of Grüner Veltliner to increase its share in the global wine market. He emphasises that “after decades in which the wine industry has marched towards uniformity, the wine world is thirsty for small but fine regional specialties such as the Grüner Veltliner.”

Tasted with the eyes closed, the wine suggests parallels with the elderflower and acacia floral aromatics of Sauvignon Blanc, conjuring saline and zesty profiles of Muscadet or Chablis, and then dazzles with the fullness, body and breadth of Riesling. Grüner is singular in that any given wine can capture and present a complex level of aromaticity and flavour in one glass.

Grüner’s characteristic ‘pfefferl’ – white peppery note – is intertwined with a white floral aroma of varying intensity over orchard and stone fruit flavours. The wines can be as delightful and refreshing as a mountain stream in early spring, or as soft and round as sun-kissed fruit enjoyed on a late-summer morning.

For the most part, Grüner Veltliner is raised from vine to wine in the greater area of the Niederosterreich DAC a.k.a Lower Austria. This area extends north and westward of Vienna and is home to a smaller DAC within its boundaries. It is here that one can find multiple vinous articulations of the grape. Generous wines can be had from the terraced vineyards that line the rivers of the Traisen, Krems and Kamp valleys as they flow into the Danube River, which is the thread that binds the region. Seek out the steep and more elevated slopes of the ‘Bergs’ that form foothills and mountains throughout the landscape and you will find many complex and elegant illustrations of single vineyard wines. Niki Moser reports that “The oldest mentions of vineyard site names in our village (e.g. Gebling and Breiter Rain) [Kremstal] date back to the year 1284.” This long history of focus on the grape and vineyard site has developed across all appellations.

Grüner Veltliner is also a grape that is closely connected with place. It often presents a distinct mineral-like intensity that is, in part, due to soil, rock and location.

Terraced Vineyards in the Wachau, Niederosterreich | photo credit: Austrian Wine/Fotostudio Semrad

Nuances derived from vineyard location and viticulture come mainly from the soil. Loess soil is dominant in the region and is the medium through which Grüner performs at its best. Loess is windswept dust of crushed and pulverised rock from the last glacial age that has been deposited over the hills and valleys of Lower Austria. Loess settles at various depths on top of what is called primary mother rock, a crystalline mass of sedimentary rock formed through the ages.

A wide range of crystalline rock formations sit under the vineyards of the key Grüner Veltliner focused DAC (appellations). Rivers, side valleys and mountain ranges carve the landscape, and though each DAC side-by-side seem similar, below the loess they can differ dramatically. Grüner translates this ancient soil and crystalline energy into a vinous language that we can taste today.

DAC that are either divided by the Danube River or are entirely south of the river sit on more alluvial and gravel stone. The most westerly regions of the Wachau DAC and Kremstal DAC, with terraced mountain vineyards on the north banks of the Danube, on top of gneiss and amphibolite mother rock, produces crisp, lean and refined Grüner Veltliner.

Fuller bodied Grüner is found on heavier soils such as clay, gravel silt and loam on the south banks of the Danube vineyards. Meanwhile, the south sitting DAC of the Traisental, composed of loess over clay rising further southward to sandstone and calcareous limestone into the higher foothills of the Austrian Alps west of Vienna, produce more focused and generous flavoured Grüner Veltliner.

The Wagram DAC is divided by the Danube as we circle north to the vast Weinvertel DAC. In the subsoil transition from a mixture of clay and silt to sandy gravel the Grüner here contains joyful primary fruit flavours. The Weinvertal DAC fans out to cover the largest areas under vine. In some places there may be granite, sandstone, and limestone, and it is these variations that make the Wienvertal DAC a source for dynamic wine.

Lastly there is the Kamptal DAC, which is nestled between the Kremstal to the west and the Weinvertal to the east. Here, key vineyard sites of feldspar-sandstone provide many of the benchmark expressions that combine structure and flavour for crowd-pleasing Grüner.

While rock, soil and vine are the blueprint, it is climate that draws fruit from these raw elements. The vineyards of Grüner Veltliner benefit from two major climatic influences. The cool Atlantic winds that descend over the Wachau DAC from the northerly plateau of the Waldvertel, the Forest District which lies in the northwest, and a warm air stream rising from Pannonian Basin in the east. Mediterranean in origin, this warmth creates tension in an embrace with the Waldvertel winds. The warm air travelling along the Danube corridor, snaking past the capital of Vienna, brings warm days and cool nights: the perfect environment for Grüner Veltliner to develop its characteristic spiced and mineral backbone fleshed out by delicate fruit flavour.

When it comes to style, it is the winemaker who matters. Running a small-to-medium sized estate allows for a focus on quality. At the most recent VieVinum Austrian Wine Conference, there were several masterclasses that highlighted a vast array of wine styles and textures from Grüner. Indeed, there are so many that only a few are currently represented in any given market. Though there are many wines striving to break the ‘mold,’ regional typicity is clearly defined.

Many winegrowers are using natural farming techniques, and you can taste the difference. Wines are alive and energetic like farm-to-table vegetables. A nation that has converted close to 20% of its vineyards to organics/biodynamic is producing compelling wines. Martin and Anna Arndorfer are wine growers in the Kamptal who make only biodynamic natural wines. For them, Grüner Veltliner fits beautifully with their farming practices since, according to Martin, “wine made this way shows ‘the original taste of the fresh grapes.’” It is understood that the spice, aroma and flavour of a grape is developed in the skin, not just the flesh. Martin explains that biodynamic/no chemical farming provides a path towards “spicy, vibrant and elegant wines with drinkability and joy.” Whether conventional or biodynamic, the diversity of choice in wine style has never been better.

With so much diversity in regions, and variations in microclimate and winemaking styles, Grüner Veltliner is an impressive experience for the palate. If character and personality are what counts, Grüner has loads of it!

Feature photo credit: Austrian Wine/Robert Herbst

This article originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2022-2023 print issue of Quench Magazine.

Huber ‘Terrassen’ Grüner Veltliner 2015, Traisental DAC

The way Gruner develops is fascinating. This one has a mellow golden and yellow apple aroma, with a roasted medallion of lemon to add a tingling of the nose akin to gentle incense smoke. The palate is soft and relaxed with a gentle hint of savoury and fading acid structure: think juicy peach, apricot and an apple medley. It is a good example of an aged Terrace wine, just past its prime.

Weingut Huber ‘ried Berg Getzersdorfer 1otw Grüner Veltliner 2014, Traisental DAC Reserve

A wine that is traditionally fermented and aged in acacia wood casks, with 8 months on the lees, this wine presents rich yellow green hues with distinct warm, ripe golden pear, pear skin and honey. Gentle notes of green peppercorn, spice and mature aromas rise from the glass. The palate delivers more pear, pear nectar, with citrus, apple. Exotic spices arise almost as a light blend of cumin, bay leaf and sage.

Weingut Martin and Anna Arndorfer ‘Handcrafted’ Grüner Veltliner 2021, Kamptal

The Gruner grapes for this wine are sourced from vineyards with different soils throughout the Kamptal region. Unfined and unfiltered giving neon lemon-green with aromas of fresh flesh of crushed green apple and pear, with ripe tropical white fruit. Raw and distinct white floral aromas rise from the glass. The palate is dry, textured with an engaging mouthfeel around apple, apple skin with medley of chamomile, lemon-pepper. The finish is tart and energetic. A most lively expression of the raw-energy of Gruner Veltliner.

Weingut Schloss Gobelsburg ried Lamm 1otw Grüner Veltliner 2017, Kamptal DAC

A single vineyard cru on the Heiligenstein berg composed of loam (laam) and loess over red sandstone and clay rock. This wine is day-bright and luminous with a yellow tinge in colour. The perfume is immediate and exotic with precise florals, pear to candy lemon, with peach. There is a tone of creamy pear scented lees that carries to the palate with medium body weight. Juicy and tart orchard fruit flavour, with a light almond viscosity. A mellow mood of wine, yet fresh, generous and elegant.

Weingut Veyder-Malberg ‘Leibedich’ Grüner Veltliner 2021, Wachau DAC

A wine sourced from 3 terraced vineyards on primary rock soil, blended to create regional DAC wine. Luminous, day-bright with an emerald green hue. Light touches of white-flowers-in-spring and white pepper. Mineral tones of wet stone frame white peach and nectarine fruit. The palate of this wine is lean and cool in the mouth with orchard and stone fruit leading to a gentle finish.

Weingut Veyder-Malberg ried Hochrain Grüner Veltliner 2019, Wachau DAC

This is a unique single vineyard on deep loess soil. Day-bright with a green-yellow hue in colour, the aroma is intense with apple, red apple, the nectar of pear and nectarine providing riper aroma. The palate is ripe with juicy orchard and stone fruit flavour. The is a wine of greater amplitude expressing typical Gruner flavours of intensity and spice, gently restrained by the cooler location of the vineyards.

Weingut Bernhard Ott ried Spiegel 1otw Grüner Veltliner 2018, Wagram DAC

In the Wagram on the north side of the Danube. The wine exhibits pear, green apple, with creamy lemon aroma. Inviting with white floral aroma, elements of almond and some spice. A youthful aroma yet poised and complex. The palate is direct with juicy peach, nectarine with a salty viscous mid palate weight. The wine offers clarity and freshness in flavours, like a cool morning wind in summer.

Weingut Gschweicher ried Galgenberg Grüner Vetliner 2018, Roschitz – Niederosterreich DAC

Showing a deep yellow-green gold hue, the aromatic intensity is broad, deep and showing evolution with dried petals of sweet acacia flowers, roasted honey, and citrus. The palate is warmed lemon, citrus, with chamomile tea, underscored by a gentle sweet green apple note on the finish. This wine deserves time to open up and reveal itself.

Weingut Schwarzböck ried Aichleiten Grüner Veltliner 2020, Weineviertel DAC Reserve

This wine exhibits the famous ‘pferrl’– peppery note typical of the Weinviertel. From stone soils of ‘flysch,’ the wine aromas of orchard and stone fruit are amplified by a floral, pepper and spiced nose that translates directly to the palate. The wine is dry, savoury with ripe fruit of apricot, almond, and acacia honey. Loads of flavour and expression on the plate. This wine is amped up like listening to music on proper Hi-Fi Stereo headphones.

Weingut Gruber Roschitz ried Mühlberg 2018, Weinviertel DAC Reserve

A wine from a south-facing vineyards on granite rock. The wine is elegant and poised with high toned honeyed pear, with lemon-citrus. Spice in aroma gives way to a salty stone and nuttiness on the palate that mirrors fruit from the aroma, yet tart, creamy-rich, bright and complex. A wine that does all the things well.

Weingut Prager ried Achleiten Smaragd Grüner Veltliner 2019, Wachau DAC

This wine from what is considered a warmer vintage producing fuller wines is an example of restraint and playfulness. The wine is ripe with pear and apple fruit aroma, balanced by a powerful and persistent tone of salt and pepper that keeps your attention. The palate is direct, clean with orchard fruit and extract to give a certain sensation of texture. Remarkably complex with clarity in expression.

Weingut Sepp Moser reid Schnabel Grüner Veltliner 2020, Kremstal DAC Reserve

A single vineyard over loess soils opens up with a sweet floral expression that invites you to take in more of its Gruner pear, apple and peach fruit aroma with a seductive intensity of creamy lees and spice. Unfiltered and fermented in large old casks the wine is open, fresh and light on the palate without loads of intensity. It presents a unique concentration of flavour on the palate that reveals itself with time in a decanter.

Christopher Sealy is the wine director for the alo food group. Christopher has been with the group since late 2015 when alo, the flagship restaurant, began to garner national and international attention as Canada’s premier fine dining tasting-menu only and wine pairing restaurant. Alo currently sits at #90 on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants. In 2019, Christopher was voted #1 Sommelier by Canada’s 100 Best. He is a mentor for Vinequity, an organization which aims to amplify the voices of Black, Indigenous, People of Colour and LGBTQ+, in the Canadian wine community.

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