If you only know Austria for the likes of Mozart, the govinator and the origination of the theory of the Oedipus complex, you are missing out.  Allow me to introduce you to Grüner Veltliner.  Yes, that is the name of a grape varietal.  I will simply deem it “Grüner” for this little spiel.  Forgive me if I forget an umlaut or two.

This white grape is grown in a few places around the world at this point, but its home is Austria where it is grown in nearly 1/3 of the country’s vineyard land. White varietals in general are dominant in the country, notably Riesling, Welschriesling and Weissburgunder followed by some reds such as Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch. The climate in Austria is aggressively continental which serves the creation of intensely aromatic wines.  The most quality regions for Grüner are in the northeast, not far from Vienna where the Alps have given way to the Pannonian Plain comprised of a great variety of soil types and varying conditions.

Grüner is a crisp and dry white wine prized for its freshness and fruitiness.  It is full-bodied and amongst its fruit aromas and flavors you can often find a spicy or peppery note.  Grüner also has something altogether unique about its likeness… Hugh Johnson puts it best when he describes is at something between grapefruit and dill.  That’s perfect.  It really does have some herbaceousness about it but bright and lively fruitiness, the powerful forwardness of perfume and a full, bold body of substance.  The nose is… striking.  It’s salty, briny.  Also, chalk-like.  It feels like I’m smelling chalk when I smell Grüner.  Its aromas are invasive, penetrating.

Now a little about the regions.

The Wachau is the westernmost wine district, most inland and one of the smallest of Lower Austria, yet the most famous.  The wines from here are elegant and refined.  The vineyards are along the steep banks of the Danube River, facing south where the sunlight boldly reflects off of the broad river. Grüner does well in the lower banks in the loess and sand, so the topmost vineyards are reserved for the most nervy of Rieslings.  The mesoclimate here offers regulating influence of the water, supreme air circulation and a significant diurnal shift, resulting in wines with great acidity and preserved aroma.  Some wines from here have the capability of ageing spectacularly.  The oldest Grüner I’ve had from here is a 2000 Weingut Lagler “Elisabeth Selection” and it was gorgeous.  It was deep golden in color, remarkably fresh and fruit driven with subtle yet persistent acidity and miles of evolving flavor, pleasing in every way.  I fell a little bit harder for Grüner that night.

The Kremstal region is just east of Krems, adjoined to Wachau and the southern sister to Kamptal.  It has a very long wine history dating back to the middle ages.  The clay and limestone soils around Krems lead to Grüner with great density.  The Kamptal region is named after the river Kamp.  It is centered around the wine town of Langenlois and produces greatly concentrated Grüner and fine Rieslings.  It too is known for its loess soil type which is a clay and silt combination that is fine-grained, the result of wine deposits. It’s quite calcareous and contains many fossils and Grüner has an affinity for it.  Not far from the wine center of Langenlois is the exceptional producer, Schloss Gobelsburg.  I tasted the 2009 Kamptal Reserve and found it the perfect marriage of rich and luscious fruit with the striking and loud herbaceousness.  It was perfectly bright but full-bodied too.  The 2010 Stadt Krems from Kremstal was more fruit forward… I’m not sure if that is because it’s Kremstal or because of the vintage.  Thiese tells us that 2010 was a bit chilly in Austria but it seems to have resulted in just slightly higher acid than normal.  That said, the Stadt Krems is not more fruity just because of the year.  Kamptal is north and slightly east of Kremstal but because of the mountain protection to the north, it is almost two degrees warmer than Kremstal.  It is said to produce similarly dense Grüner but the south-flowing tributary of the Danube (the Kamp) that grants cooler temperatures at night and therefore more acidity and liveliness.  So, I’m not sure if Kremstal Grüners in general have more fruit than Kamptals but it is the case here and may be because of the effects of the Kamp.

The theme of our tasting group was Austrian Grüner but I threw in a twist; I wanted to see how a certain Washington Grüner stood up to all the Austrians. Here are my tasting notes:

– Bright, little greenness. nose: intense. brie. peaches, ripe. thyme. warm lemon. palate: big & full, great balance, ends zippy and tart. not much herbaceousness on the palate, luscious fruit, good, great all-over acidity.

Annnnd what was it? 2010 Syncline Grüner Veltliner from Underwood Mountain Vineyard, Columbia Gorge, WA.  I thought it stood up quite well to some of the Austrian gems we tried.