The Hills are Alive (with Gruner Veltliner)

/ July 7, 2015

Let me be the 758th person to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the iconic film, “The Sound of Music.” Like many who fell in love with the movie, I was eager to visit the famous gazebo where “Going from 16 to 17” was sung, and to relive some of the classic movie’s scenes. The gazebo is actually on the grounds of Hellbrunn Palace in Saltzburg, Austria. So, on our first trip abroad in 1976, Kevin and I toured Munich and Saltzburg and visited the famous gazebo. Even then, beer was not my thing (though I have stories about Kevin speaking almost fluent German after slamming down a few litres at the Hofbräuhaus). But, oh, how I had a taste for the local wine.

When you think of Austrian wine, Grüner Veltliner comes to mind. That’s because this grape grows predominantly in Austria and the country produces over 75% of the world’s Grüners. The name translates to “Green Wine of Veltlin.” Veltlin was an area in the lower Alps during the 1600s that is now part of Valtellina, Italy. Most of the vines are in the large wine region known as Niederösterreich (lower Austria), along the Danube River north of Vienna. (Don’t you just love pronouncing words with an umlaut?) Anyway, as my favorite foodie likes to say, “back to our regular programming . . . .”

The predominance of primary rock soils (granite and gneiss) gives the wines a nearly monolithic structure that is mysteriously nimble; forceful without being overbearing; big without being heavy. Kind of like Captain Von Trapp. Grüner Veltliners grown in these soils also show this massive build, becoming deeply perfumed and complex as they age. It’s almost like drinking liquid stone. Incredibly complex, full of exotic tropical fruits, green pepper, lime zest, white pepper and lentils, Grüners can also show aromas of green beans or asparagus. It’s a perfect pairing with artichoke and grilled asparagus.

Ultimately, what makes a Grüner so unique is its pale green color and signature vein of acidity that explodes in your mouth like Pop Rocks. However, those aged in oak can take on flavors of Brazil nuts, cream, or wax pepper. A versatile food wine, you would be remiss if you didn’t try it with traditional Austrian Wiener Schnitzel (thinly sliced veal cutlet that’s coated with egg, crusted and then fried in butter or oil). We enjoyed several excellent meals of this national dish, along with that melt-in-your-mouth red cabbage the Austrians excel at.

At home, I make my mom’s panko-breaded pork cutlet over Chinese egg noodles with pickled mustard greens. Or, my other childhood favorite – homemade gyoza – with a dipping sauce of soy, garlic, Chinese vinegar, sesame oil, and lots of hot Szechuan chili. The bright acidity of this wine cuts through any creamy sauced and spicy dish, yet is equally complementary to good ‘ol broiled halibut.

At Teller Wines, we carry three Grüner Veltliners – the Broadbent (comes in a 1 litre bottle), Berger (with its unique green beer shaped bottle and cap, also 1 litre), and the Kurt Angerer (regular 750 ml bottle). All are under $18 so you can afford to order an extra serving of apple strudel for dessert. They may well become one of your new “favorite things!”

Catherine Hester

About the Author

co-owner of Teller Wines in Lewes, DE with her husband Kevin, is a world traveler and shares their adventures at various wineries while offering thoughts on why she and Kevin order particular wines for their customers. Learn more about the Hesters by clicking here. View all articles written by Catherine Hester

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