This article encourages a glass of Grüner Veltliner, a food-friendly Austrian varietal, explored for Wine Paring Weekend #WinePW.
I have a theory. People drink easy-to-say wines first. If they have to point to the wine list to order, they feel sheepish. No one wants to feel sheepish, so they order something they can pronounce.
As an English speaker who speaks French, I see this tactic applied to French wines which are not labeled with the familiar-to-the-tongue grape names, but rather the names of the vineyards and estates from which they came. Easier, for many, to order an Oregon wine called Chardonnay (itself a French name, but most Americans have come to understand the cadence of that word) than Chassagne-Montrachet Premiere Cru Clos de la Boudriotte. The latter may read authoritative, but it might not pass the pronunciation test for some people.
Um, waiter? I’ll have the Dundee Hills Chardonnay. Done.
In that instance, either way the drinker ends up with a wine made from Chardonnay, a well, well-known varietal whose name is passed around in every wine circle ever. But what about the varietals that are difficult to pronounce, ugly on the page, totally foreign? Are people willing to croak out an attempt to say their names in order to at least give them a try? Sure, in their homelands they probably go like hotcakes, but we are in a global marketplace and most winemakers are looking to sell wine. Romance and national pride aside, they want people to drink up!
Grüner Veltliner and Why She Deserves a Date to the Ball
The Austrian Wine Board calls Grüner Veltliner Austria´s Secret Weapon. Seasoned wine lovers will argue that she’s no secret, but I’m willing to bet that her name is only lightly mentioned on wine lists, if at all (there’s been a rise and fall in it’s trendiness factor, another topic for another post). This is surprising given the status, even if secret, that it holds in Austria:
Grüner Veltliner is the most important autochthonous grape variety in Austria. It was most widespread in the 1950s because of the introduction then of Lenz Moser´s Hochkultur (High Culture) training system. Today, the variety is widely planted especially in Niederösterreich and northern Burgenland. As an origin-typical DAC wine, this variety holds special rank in several wine-growing regions. While its cultivation decreased by 22% between 1999 and 2009, it still maintains the dominant position in Austria’s total vineyard surface area. ~ Austrian Wine Board
Martin Redmond, founder and author of Enofylz, says, “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” and even “Groovy”.”
I find it incredibly interesting that this particular grape is almost only cultivated in Austria. Each and every bottle of this wine will convey a sense of space and everyday life over many generations. It wasn’t until recent years that American wine journalists “discovered” the grape and rained compliments on the profile, food-friendly and fresh, the sort of wine that everyone loves to show off. If we can say the name and our neighbor can’t, maybe that makes it even better?
Contrast and Balance
Grüner Veltliner is praised for food friendliness. I’ve even heard it said that it will go with anything. It’s got a pleasant spice and clear acidity. Seafood, greens, lean proteins and even rich meats have all been put on the table with Grüner Veltliner; plates and glasses came back empty and everyone was happy. It is a dry wine that bears immediate citrus profiles, dressed up with green, herb-y qualities. I picture a lemon tree, low hanging freshness with the shade of dappled leaves.
A sense of modern fusion rests in the near-constant suggestion to pair Grüner Veltliner with Asian foods. Besides the sensual balance the flavors offer I think there is something else in this combination, something we crave… the cultural contrast is quite fun. Austria and Asia make an imbalanced pair in nearly all ways. Our imaginations fire just outside of the comfort zone when we put these elements together. Our sixth sense, the one that often overrides our reliable five, signals that this is an exotic interlude. This is where wine gets fun, where reliable rules get nudged around and we all sit next to someone we’ve never met.
Since this is my blog, and I can say what I want, I’m going to digress here. I dedicate much time to writing about wine and the message that I’m always working to convey is that wine matters. It matters for reasons of comfort and exploration, of curiosity and connection. It matters because it is an ancient livelihood reliant upon upstanding stewardship and untainted natural function. It matters because we serve it to our loved ones and save it for special occasions. It matters because we stretch the globe to taste it, dig through time to understand it. It matters because someone’s father did it that way and because someone just left their 30-year career to grow it. It matters…all the way, for all the reasons. But… it doesn’t matter much if there aren’t people there to make it and drink it.
In order to have this level of diversity, we need to be open to the unexpected. As wine lovers we need to be willing to try new things and to be the lighthouse telling others that it’s safe, the water is fine. We need to spread the word that price and score aren’t always stalwart. And we need to understand that everyone starts somewhere, yes even with pronouncing Chardonnay correctly. Tomorrow that person will learn that the T in Pinot is silent and before long, they’ll be drinking Gru-Vee too.
Sujinder Juneja of Town Hall Brands asked the question recently: Who Are We Writing For? Had I thought of Grüner Veltliner, waiting for the prince to invite her the ball I would have mentioned her, but I didn’t. Now is my chance. I’m saying it now…I write for all the things we haven’t experienced, because they are out there.
The Meal Pairing: A Mystery Soup and Hirsh #1
My husband recently made this lovely Asian-inspired soup. It contained rice noodles, colorful carrots, sautèed shrimp, mushrooms, cilantro, lots of spices and a bath of chicken broth. He served it with naan. Safe to say, this dish didn’t have a name or an ethnicity to speak of, nothing to call it. While he worked it up told him I needed to run out. I needed some Gru-Vee. I came back with this lovely bottle from Hirsch, with the craziest label ever. Lori of Dracaena Wines asked, “What exactly is that deer doing on the label.” Do we know? I’m not sure…we don’t know what the meal is called, we don’t know what the wine is all about, we don’t know what tomorrow brings… but we know we need Grüner Veltliner!
The bottle we bought comes from Weingut Hirsch. Johannes Hirsch told Lettie Teague in Food & Wine about the deer,
“The #1 has sold very well here in the States, Hirsch confided, especially after they put a cartoon of a stag on the label. (Hirsch is the German word for deer.) “When we changed the label, we sold five times as much wine.”
If I’m holding a nail, this quote hits it on the head. There are times when esoteric wine philosophy is trumped by the simplicity of saying, “I want the one with the deer on the label.” The arrangement that typically follows that sort of decision-making would indicate that most wine drinkers ordering by simplicity or label are drinking plonk; not so if one has ordered a Grüner Veltliner…they are rarely produced low quality. Later in the Food & Wine article, Hirsch tells Teague that it wouldn’t really matter if Americans didn’t favor his wine, they are small enough they can sell of their bottles domestically. I suppose that sort of confidence only adds to the intrigue for me, the idea that someone out there will enjoy this wine, regardless of nutty-deer and Goovy names. That’s what I find fun about wine, the unexpected treasure of finding something of value and good taste, of discovery.
The Hirsch Estate embodies the sort of discovery I love to make. The homestead dates back to the 16th century and boasts a tasting room that embellishes old with new. They make eight wines, all Grüner Veltliner or Riesling, from five vineyard sites. They work biodynamically (a favorite topic here on L’occasion) and they abide by a heart-bound theory:
“we place great value on travelling an independent path. Because we are convinced of the positive energy and vitality our region possesses.”
To visit and taste:
Weingut Hirsch GmbH
Phone.: +43 2735 2460
Fax: +43 2735 2460 60
Tastings and Winery Tours gladly by appointment.
Older vintages on request.
David B. Crowley of Cooking Chat kicked-off Wine Pairing Weekend in June 2014. On the second Saturday of each month, a group of bloggers who are passionate about the way good wine enhances a meal come together to blog about a wine pairing they have done. Each month has a different Wine Pairing Weekend theme to focus the pairings. For September, the theme is Grüner Veltliner; In The Glass And At The Table.
There’s going to be a meeting and if you want to be part of the Gru-Vee group, join us on twitter this Saturday at 10am central. We’ll discuss this Grüner Veltliner, food, travel, Austria and our experiences pairing and drinking this varietal. Find us on twitter as #WinePW. Here’s what we have in store:
- Michelle of Rockin Red Blog tell us Why You Should be Drinking Grüner Veltliner.
- Thanks for joining L’Occassion recommendation to Go Ahead and Say It: Grüner Veltliner
- Camilla, Culinary Adventures with Camilla is dishing-Herbs, Bitter Greens, and Halibut Cheeks with Grüner Veltliner
- Sarah of Curious Cuisinere tempts us with Backhendl (Austrian Fried Chicken) and Grüner Veltliner
- Nancy of Pull that Cork will be offering Grüner Veltliner: A Pair of Pear(ings) for #winePW
- Lori of Dracaena Wines will be sending A Message in a Bottle From Austria
- David of Cooking Chat presents a healthy Kale and Tempeh Curry with Grüner
- Jeff of FoodWineClick asks the question Is Grüner Veltliner Your Next Pizza Wine?
- Lauren of the The Swirling Dervish proclaims Gruner Veltliner: A Lot Easier to Drink than It is to Say
- Cindy of Grape Experiences recommends we Wine and Dine: Gruner Veltliner and Salmon Teriyaki with Garlic Baby Potatoes.
- Jade of Tasting Pour serves up Shrimp and Corn Soup with Gruner Veltlner #winepw
- Wendy of A Day In The Life On The Farmpresents Germany collides with Asia for #WinePW
- Julie of Wine N Friends proffers an Emotional Connection with Grüner Veltliner #winePW
- Martin of ENOFYLZ Wine Blog will be offering A Taste of Grüner Veltliner; Old World and New World #winePW
Click here for a list of past and future Wine Pairing Weekend events!
Thanks to the Austrian Wine Board for support on this piece, including photographs were indicated. Look for the red & white cap on your wine to find Austrian bottles of quality:
Austrian Qalitätswein, regionally typical wines (DAC) and Austrian Prädikatswein have undergone two rigourous inspections, firstly through a chemical analysis and additionally through a tasting commission by qualified and state authorised wine tasters.