There is something of a natural progression of understanding wine for someone in the wine trade as they mature through many roles, and for those who harbor some humility, they start with the great regions of the wine world and work outward. Those of us who wanted to be the young lions of the wine trade managed to avoid the chestnuts and sought out the obscure wines that no one else knew, and because of this, many people believed that we were more knowledgeable about wine than we actually were, because we must already know the great wines. This group of insufferables, of which I was surely a part, has a tendency to champion obscure grape varieties, and occasionally some of them became rather trendy. One of the most successful of these trends that started eight or nine years ago was around Grüner Veltliner, a wine that should never have been simply trendy—it is one of the great white wines of the world.
This is on my mind because I’ve been hearing that Grüner Veltliner is apparently out of favor. This notion is kind of ridiculous because, beyond the groundswell of retailers, sommeliers, and some adventurous wine lovers, it never really took off they way I had hoped. It has gotten harder to sell it at retail lately, but this is true for most white wines. Smart retailers will continue to stock and sell GrüVe (and yes, it is groovy...) anyway because it offers some of the world’s greatest values, especially the more expensive they get. Any expensive Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay at $80 to $300 seems like highway robbery compared to the outrageous complexities of a $40 GrüVe.
Why GrüVe is Great
Grüner Veltliner is Austria’s most noble contribution to the wine glass outside of crystal companies, and it is a wonderfully flexible wine with food. Any food that you think goes well with Chardonnay usually goes better with an archetypal GrüVe. I have read such assertions before, with some doubt, only to find with experimentation that they are true. It is so versatile at the table that clever (and generally older, I suppose) sommeliers discovered that GrüVe actually goes well with such wine enemies as artichokes, brussel sprouts, and arugula. Chefs love to use these things, and sometimes it seems they’re throwing down the gauntlet to the sommelier: “show me what you’ve got—match something with my spontaneous concoction of shrimp, white truffle, paddlefish caviar, and lentils, served in a leek hollow with a sweet pea, saké, and free range rabbit stock reduction.” Now I love this kind of challenge, and when I’ve been painted into a corner, I can usually use Grüner Veltliner as my trump card.
GrüVe in the Glass
So what is it like? It has fruit characteristics that remind me of rhubarb and kiwi fruit, but these don’t dominate entirely. You may also find a lentil or split pea notion, and a floating, ethereal essence that reminds me of the mimosa that grew behind my childhood home. This wine description sounds unlike most others, and the wine itself is different from most others, but it doesn’t possess anything particularly foreign in flavor that might inhibit accessibility. And GrüVe can be sleek and radiant with rays of sun streaming through your mouth, or it can be vast and burly in the way that I find great Chardonnay to be. Ask your local retailer about what they have and give one a try. I hope it will be groovy for you too.
Food and Wine Harmony
Grüner Veltliner is insanely versatile for food--so much so that I keep on hand and use it often. It works with a wide variety of foods that are excellent with other wines, and it is the one wine that goes with those foods that are notorious antagonists of wine.
Vegetables: Almost every vegetable tastes good with Grüner Veltliner, and the ones that don't generally work with wine at all tend to be delicious with Grüner Veltliner, and can often be revelatory: artichokes, arugula, asparagus, avocado, broccoli, brussels sprouts, collard greens, green beans, kale, radish, sorrel, spinach, swiss chard, et al.
Land: pork (esp. roast loin), sweetbreads, veal (esp. roasted), Wiener Schnitzel
Sea: lobster (without butter is best, but it doesn't really matter), scallops, shrimp, sushi
Popularity: 14% [?]