In early spring, the buds on the trees are a delicate palette of pale yellow, chartreuse and green—a subtle hint that it’s time for light white wines to return to our tables. This season reminds me of the first time I drank grüner veltliner, in the heurigen wine taverns of Vienna. It’s still a fairly obscure wine in the U.S., but it’s gaining ground with some New York producers, including one very close to home.
The word heurige literally means “this year’s wine,” and as grüner is Austria’s predominant grape, it’s served in abundance at these taverns. The heurige style is refreshing, sometimes downright sharp, and it’s a companionable quaff. Austrian grape-growers pick at medium ripeness and these grüners typically show citrus, flowers, green herbs and a hint of peppery spiciness. Some high-end growers aim for distinctive, age-worthy wines that are full-bodied and redolent of stone fruit, and can be as critically acclaimed as the best whites in the world, like the Weingut Emmerich Knoll Loibner Schutt Grüner Veltliner Smaragd, which have a characteristic zing of acidity and ripe flavors developed during a longer hang-time.
Outside of Austria, grüner veltliner are overshadowed by the heavy hitters from the rest of Europe and the New World. Wine drinkers might also be put off by the name (“grooner FELT-leener” is close enough). But domestic examples are now showing up, mainly from the Finger Lakes region upstate, which specializes in cold-tolerant white grape varieties. Also, grüners are perfect for this time of year because they’re not as heavy as chardonnay, nor as “summery” as pinot grigio.
The Dr. Konstantin Frank winery currently offers its 2014 Grüner Veltliner ($14.99). Cold-fermented in stainless steel, it’s crisp and dry, yet fruit-driven, with a hint of tropical kiwi. Lamoreaux Landing has a 2013 Grüner Veltliner ($19.99); it’s more complex and less acidic, with herbs, peaches and a dash of white pepper.
The 2014 One Woman Grüner Veltliner ($27.99) is the only Long Island example. Given our climate, owner/winemaker Claudia Purita is a brave woman. But her well-ripened fruit translates into a wine with a lot of character. At 13% alcohol, it’s on the warm side, like top Austrian examples, and the robust flavors of honey and mandarin oranges bring to mind sauvignon blanc. A nice hit of acidity and grapefruit keep it in classic grüner territory, though. It’s a serious effort, and an interesting interpretation of this little-known grape.