Now Is the Time to Commit to Grüner Veltliner

Welcome to "Crib Sheet," your monthly shortcut to what's hot in wine right now, in four bottles, courtesy of Jon Bonné. This month: the stellar 2015 vintage of Austria's great-white grüner veltliner.

Americans are in a fraught place where grüner veltliner is concerned. We’ve been taught in recent years that Austria’s other great white wine is really a swipe-right kind of thing: inexpensive, fresh and proper, enough to occupy you without much attention or commitment. Riesling, we’re told, is where you swoon.

That narrative explains the modicum of popularity for one-liter bottles of grüner veltliner, which are often delicious and great values, but have done the grape’s reputation no favors. It also overlooks one big fact: While riesling may be a true wine-lovers’ wine, many years of bang-against-the-wall evangelism haven’t won it a broader audience.

What’s often overlooked is how grüner can be user-friendly while also being serious. The wines are often intense without being too acidic or too sharp, ripe and fruity and yet sensitive to their origins. In other words, it does what chardonnay does, but without chardonnay’s problematic reputation. Well-made examples reflect an array of herbal and savory flavors that complement a a diverse dinner table: the broad range of fresh herbs, lentils, ripe fruit and aromatic oils that define how good grüner veltliner smells and tastes are the key to its versatility. At its best, it can go toe-to-toe with any of the world’s great whites.

That has become doubly true in recent years, as an era of ripe, alcoholic and flashy Austrian white wines—many picked very late, often showing the effects of the noble rot called botrytis—has subsided. This has given way to fresher and more precise examples that are better at displaying their origins amid the compelling mix of old primary and metamorphic rock, loess and limestone that compose the country’s various wine regions. The Wachau, with its old gneiss-rich hills along the Danube River, offers the most powerful and stoic wines, often the ripest and showing an almost Californian level of sunny fruit. While the Kamptal, to the east, adds sandstone and loess to the mix, and its distance from the Danube can push the wines toward finesse and spice and mineral intensity (even more so in the Wagram, farther east). The valley of the Kremstal, tucked between the Wachau and the Kamptal, yields, by contrast, quieter, subtle, citrusy wines.

As it happened, Austria’s 2015 vintage provided a good opportunity to circle back to grüner, since it was one of those just-right years, warm during the summer but not too hot. The resulting wines are astonishingly delicious—ripe and fully formed, but not fat or unfocused in the way that, say, white Burgundy can be in a warm year like 2009. At their best, they are wines that deliver a remarkable amount of pleasure, without being particularly expensive or in unusually short supply.

Frankly, this was flat-out our best tasting since last year’s panel on Teutonic rosé, which reinforces a long-held belief at PUNCH: that this part of the world is a source, more than ever, for tremendous value—not just for those cheap, satyric bottles, but for serious wines that everyone should be drinking.

This isn’t to say grüner doesn’t have some challenges ahead (its name aside). For one, that baroque, botrytis-y era isn’t entirely gone; there are still a handful of wines that were a touch big. (A bottle from Rudi Pichler, for instance, tasted more focused than it has in recent years—and it was a smaragd, or later-harvested, wine—but still seemed a bit outsized.) And, while Austria has become home to a handful of young naturalist producers, I’m not sure they’re making the strongest case for the country’s wines, especially when there’s a deep tradition of impeccable farming and lo-fi cellar work among producers like Bernhard Ott and Nikolaihof.

But the 2015 vintage provides, undeniably, a moment to reconsider grüner veltliner. It is, perhaps, the most important white wine that people don’t know they want to drink. Now is the time to make it more than a fling.


Schloss Gobelsburg Langenlois Kamptal Grüner Veltliner

Michael (“Michi”) Moosbrugger has for several years been demonstrating that he’s one of the great white wine talents, not just in Austria but in the world. This vintage was the perfect extra bit of evidence. The Langenlois is a new entry for this historic property, which dates to the 12th century: the equivalent of a Burgundy “village” wine—i.e. one step below the single-vineyard bottles. And it is a stone-cold stunner, perhaps not as dramatic in its spice notes, but full of quintessential celery salt savoriness and a crazy but perfect alternation of razor’s edge acidity and ripe fruit: fresh pear, green lentils, tangerines. If you want one bottle to show you how good this grape and vintage are, this is it.

  • Price: $30
  • Vintage: 2015
  • From: Terry Theise / Skurnik Wines

Emmerich Knoll Loibner Federspiel Wachau Grüner Veltliner

Like Gobelsburg in the Kamptal, Knoll similarly represents the pinnacle of a traditional, pure-flavored style in the Wachau, perhaps the best known of Austria’s regions. And, after a period of making more flashy wines, Emmerich Knoll’s style has grown more focused and fresh than the one his father (also Emmerich) pioneered: aged in big oak casks, these wines are shy at first but durable for 10 years or more. This is his more modest, lighter wine—”federspiel” indicates a style picked at lower ripeness—from several parcels around the town of Unterloiben, making it, like the Langenlois, a “village” wine. But it, too, drinks like far more: richly textured and savory, accented by wheatgrass, dried lime and poppy seed with a distinct, bright mineral intensity. If it’s a bit shy right now, that’s because it will be even more delicious in a year.

See also: Pichler-Krutzler, Brundlmayer Terrassen, Jäger, Loimer, Geyerhof, Birgit Eichinger

  • Price: $28
  • Vintage: 2015
  • From: Circo Vino


Veyder-Malberg Liebedich Wachau Grüner Veltliner

Peter Veyder-Malberg would have developed a loyal fan following simply for the astonishing quality—and scarcity—of his wines, but his eco-sensibilities, including a determination to revive and biodynamically farm old terraced parcels in lesser known Wachau towns, have given his work an aura of sorts. (He’s so committed to light-touch farming that when he cultivates with a tractor, he refuses to mark “hand-worked” on the bottle.) The Liebedich is Veyder-Malberg’s basic wine, a mix of small terraced parcels and the flatter Kreutles vineyard. It’s precise and concentrated in its flavors, with a spiritual kinship in, say, the Chablis of Vincent Dauvissat. And there’s the intense greenness—flavors of green papaya, celery, fava beans and ripe apple—that grüner veltliner can display in full effect here.

  • Price: $44
  • Vintage: 2015
  • From: Circo Vino

Hirsch Renner Kamptal Grüner Veltliner

Johannes Hirsch is not only one of the Kamptal’s best-known talents, he’s also one of the region’s deepest thinkers—pursuing a very specific form of biodynamics and making wines with a richer texture than most, thanks in part to his preference for large casks and longer aging. So the Renner, from a silty limestone-inflected mix of soils, can be odd to taste this young. It’s rich, with evidence of that lees-y side and big, seemingly sweet peach flavors (the wine is fully dry). As it opens, a savory side—orange blossoms, dark stones—comes into focus. It tightens, which is what Hirsch’s wines do. But if you’re not up for waiting, his juicy Kammern bottling (his version of a village wine) is ready to roll.

See also: Jutta Ambrositsch, Rudi Pichler Terrassen Smaragd, Alzinger, F.X. Pichler

  • Price: $39
  • Vintage: 2015
  • From: Terry Theise / Skurnik Wines


Glatzer Carnuntum Grüner Veltliner

Walter Glatzer is one of the most respected producers in Carnuntum, a region on the country’s eastern edge—at the point where the last of the Alps fades into central Europe—that’s better known for its reds. It’s not often we encounter this much wine, from sandy loam parcels, at a price like this. There’s the sense of warmth alongside clover, hay, lemons and, crucially, a mineral quality that recalls sun-baked rocks. It’s concentrated, but fresh—a wine from an unexpected place captured at perfect ripeness.

See also: Ebner-Ebenauer, Moric, Claus Preisinger, Schwarzböck, Markowitsch

  • Price: $14
  • Vintage: 2015
  • From: Terry Theise / Skurnik Wines


Nikolaihof Zwickl Wachau Grüner Veltliner

They may not fit into today’s natural-wine mold, but the Saahs family started in biodynamics at this ancient estate in 1971, and still makes the wine in unstintingly traditional ways that nod to centuries past. I’ve sometimes been skeptical of the results in the past few vintages, but the Zwickl is a great experiment in a great vintage. This is the completely unfiltered version of their basic Hefeabzug wine, which explains the slight cloudiness from some lees retained in the bottle, and the slightly closed, fat aspect to the smell. The flavors are all there, though: green lentils and a precise, marine saltiness. And then we followed instructions to shake the bottle and suspend the lees, and boom: suddenly it became expressive and precise to the smell, full of pennyroyal and citrus. It’s not the usual grüner, but then, it doesn’t need to be.

See also: Arndorfer, Stagård Handwerk, Bernhard Ott, Meinklang

  • Price: $30
  • Vintage: 2015
  • From: Terry Theise / Skurnik Wines

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Jon Bonné is senior contributing editor for PUNCH, the former wine editor of The San Francisco Chronicle and author of The New California Wine and The New Wine Rules. He is currently working on his next book, The New French Wine. He lives in New York City.