Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Other White Wine

It’s called “RBF” or “Riesling Bottle Fear”. It’s a condition in wine drinkers that triggers an immediate “God No! I don’t drink sweet wines” when presented a bottle that is tall and skinny with funny names like Steinsetz and Weixelbaum. Misguided as that may be, Austrian (and some German) producers have developed a cure to this immediate perverse reaction. They are now sneaking their wines into the hands of consumers using  Bordeaux bottles. Some are packaging their wines in Burgundy bottles and for the more basic wines, the trend has moved to liter bottles with a pop cap. These changes have broken down a tremendous barrier that had once stifled the Gruner Veltliner category in the United States and kept Pinot Grigio on top. For the retailer, it is now much easier to suggest a Gruner Veltliner to a Santa Margherita drinker. Thank God!

The movement in Connecticut should really be credited to Eric Litchfield. Eric is the foremost expert on German and Austrian wines in CT. You can find a wealth of information on German and Austrian wines on his website, Eric has been blazing a German and Austrian wine trail in CT for more than 20 years as a representative for Slocum & Sons. He is now the director of their German and Austrian wine portfolio. Recent entries into the CT market including Michael Skurnik Wines have helped develop the diversity of Gruner Veltliners offered in the market place from the simple HM Berger in the liter bottle to the simply stunning Felsner Gruner Veltliner Alte Reben. Gruner Veltliners can be light and airy with slight notes of pepper and spice or they can be downright Burgundian with apple and pear notes and rife with texture. The best can spend some time in the bottle and be just as complex as Grand Cru Puligny (my mind secretly typed Corton but let’s not get carried away). It’s this diversity that will eventually be the proverbial nail in the coffin for Pinot Grigio.

My reaction to a supplier pulling a Pinot Grigio out of their bag is about the same as a vodka coming out of the bag. New brands are being contrived (words chosen carefully) every week, each promising huge profits and elated customers, each falling on their face with little to offer but flashy packaging and price point. There are exceptions to the rule. Elena Walch and Alois Lageder continue to produce Pinot Grigios that are stylistic and offer more than just water and lemon. But, pull a new Gruner out of the bag and you’re likely to get a meeting in the office with two glasses and a long conversation about where the wine is from, who’s the winemaker and what’s the story. I might even buy some.

Last year’s favorite came from Oregon (of all places) and was produced by Pam Walden of Daedalus Cellars. In fact, rumors of CA winemaker/innovators planting Gruner Veltliner are swelling. It looks as though the west coast cats want to break into the category. Only time will tell if it can be done. It’s pretty tough to copy generations of know how. In the meantime, Gruner Veltliner from Austria continues to flow. Wine stores staffed with wine geeks are reducing their facings of Pinot Grigio and increasing their Gruner Veltliner selection. Why?
  • Because Gruner Veltliner is "The Other White Wine"
  • Because it's so darn versatile
  • Because of the many different styles
  • Because of the price/quality ratio
  • Because all the cool kids are doing it

I've never been one to lump myself in with the cool kids, but I've got a lot of Gruner on my palate these days and loving it. We're turning the corner to spring and I can turn the corner to lighter styles of Gruner Veltliner (and Rosey of course) refreshing my palate. I'll still savor the fatter styles with meals like fresh caught sea bass on the grill, but a nice zippy Gruner Veltliner with fresh sugar snap pea and cucumber salad sounds like a slice of heaven right about now. Here are some of my favorite Gruner Veltliners of all styles:
  •  Schloss Gobelsburg Steinsetz  Kamptal Reserve
  • Gustav Wachau
  • Nigl Alte Reben
  • Felsner
  • Felsner Alte Reben
  • Weixelbaum Staphanus

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