Drop by your average summer BYOB wine party. People are showing up with the same four grapes: Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. Maybe someone will think they're slick when they pull a Gewürztraminer or Semillon out of the bag.
Yawn. Drop a Grüner Veltliner on that suburban snoozefest and show everyone what's really up.
You're unfamiliar with Grüner Veltliner? Ok. Sit down for a minute, read up and you'll at least be able to fake it.
Where's It From?
You haven't heard of this grape because it's grown mostly in Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The name means "Green Wine of Veltlin," referring to part of the lower Alps now known as Valtellina, Italy.
Some wineries in the U.S. have started playing with the grape, which is deep green with five-lobed leaves and — wait a minute. Are you shopping for fruit or wine? No need to talk about what the unpressed berries look like.
What's It Like?
If you've had a California Chardonnay and a French one back-to-back, you know how much soil can affect flavor. Stuff from overseas tastes, well, foreign to American palates. The flavor range is different. And that's a good — no, great — thing. Let's break out.
If you must compare it to familiar grapes, think Sauvignon Blanc but greener. You have lime, lemon and grapefruit notes. You have bright acidity that wants rich food. You have white pepper and that hard-to-describe minerality that tells you you're drinking from unfamiliar land.
Yes, many styles. Grüner Veltliner is often consumed young as a bright, crisp quaffer. It's great cold on a hot day. The citric flavors jump forward with floral and stone fruit voices singing backup. It sparkles a bit on the tongue with effervescence in the glass.
Sometimes a Grüner is aged in oak like a Chardonnay, where it picks up cinnamon and other dry spices. Perfume develops. White pepper and other spices step up, and the wine gets bone dry.
The finest Smaragd Grüners develop almond, apple and baked pear.
This is a hungry wine that wants food. The acidity craves creamy cheeses, veal, clams and halibut. The hip fusion is a Grüner with Sichuan. Wolfgang Puck says his "perfect meal" is Wiener Schnitzel with a Grüner.
If you've been drinking the same grapes from the same places, slap yourself in the tongue with a drop of classic Austria.