Gruner Veltliner – the signature grape of Austria – is by far the nation's most widely planted wine grape. As Austria battles its way back onto the international wine market as a key wine-producing nation, crisp, subtly spicy Gruner Veltliner has been its flagship wine.
The variety's name might be hard to pronounce for the uninitiated, but Austria's incisive marketeers have turned this to their advantage, dubbing the variety "Gru-Ve", or even "Groovy". Gruner means "green" and neatly reflects not only the variety's yellowish-green berries, but also the freshness and green-pepper character which typifies Gruner Veltliner wines. Veltliner – a suffix shared by several European grape varieties (notably pink-skinned Roter Veltliner) – is a reference to the varieties' possible origins in Valtellina (Veltlin in German).
© Daniel Weber
Gruner Veltliner pairs well with a number of foods. Its naturally high acid and full-bodied texture make it a versatile and exotic alternative to Chardonnay. In fact, the best Gruner Veltliner wines are often compared to the great white wines of Burgundy for their intensity, weight and ability to age. However Gruner’s actual lineage comes from Traminer and an obscure Austrian grape variety called St. Georgener-Rebe.
There are two key styles of Gruner Veltliner wines: the first lighter, fresher and citrus-focused, the second spicier, weightier and more complex. The first category capitalizes on Gruner's strong citrus characteristics: lemon peel and grapefruit, usually complemented by some vegetal notes and the variety's trademark hint of peppery spice. These lighter wines are sometimes bottled with a gentle spritz to emphasize their light, fresh style.
The second style produces weightier wines which showcase the variety's distinctive white-pepper character. The wines are dry but richly textured, complex and spicy, so much so in fact that many are unapproachable until several years after vintage. With time they soften and display more honeyed, almost marmalade-like characteristics which match their attractive, deep golden hue. These wines are typically made from older, lower-yielding vines, and are correspondingly higher-priced.
Gruner Veltliner is grown extensively around Vienna and Lower Austria, as it ripens too late for most of northern Europe. It is also widely cultivated (although scarcely exported) in Slovenia and the Czech Republic. Northern Italy, New Zealand, Australia and the USA are also developing Gruner Veltliner plantings.
Synonyms include: Weissgipfler, Grunmuskateller, Veltlin, Veltlin Zelene, Veltlinske Zelene, Zeleni Veltlinec, Zoldveltelini, Zold Veltlini.
Food matches include:
Europe: Wiener schnitzel with a cucumber and white pepper salad; stuffed tomatoes (yemistes)
Asia: Kaffir lime-wrapped chicken skewers; wasabi tuna salad
Americas: Waldorf salad; zucchini tarta (quiche)
Australasia/Oceania: Tuna tartare and wasabi and peppercorn mayo; pan-fried snapper with asparagus spears