Grüner Veltliner with steamed shrimp.
Grüner Veltliner with steamed shrimp.

I found this 10-year-old bottle of white wine in my cellar, having long since forgotten it was there. I groaned inwardly, but chilled it anyway. When I popped the beer-bottle style cap, I was amazed at how fresh it was.

There was no mustiness, no sense of a dead wine that should have been opened years ago. It was as fresh as the day it was bottled, full of elegance and grace. It was fruity, with some pineapple and exotic fruit flavors. There was some citrus, especially lime, on the nose.

The wine finished with tastes of apricot, minerals and a blast of white pepper. It was a huge treat.

There are a couple of noteworthy things about the bottle. It is a full liter instead of the usual 750 ml bottle found with most wine. And there was no cork, just the beer bottle cap. The cap had the usual white stripe through the middle of a red circle, which is typical of Austrian wines. There are easy to find in the wine rack.

Note the bottle cap in front of the bottle.
Note the bottle cap in front of the bottle.

I probably paid about $10 for the wine, because the current vintage sells for $12-13. At this price, I was certain a white wine wouldn’t last 10 years. There are some more expensive wines, often aged in oak, that can get better over a number of years. But I don’t think I’ve ever had one this old that was fermented in stainless steel like this wine is.

Grüner Veltliner may not be well-known in the United States, but it is the signature grape of Austria. It is the nation’s most widely planted wine grape by a wide margin. Crisp, subtly spicy Grüner Veltliner has been the wine Austria is using to make its mark on the world wine market.

Grüner means green and Veltliner is a word shared by many European grape varieties. Some think it might refer to the possible origin of the grapes in Valtellina, or Veltlin in German.

Sharp marketers have started calling the wine Gru-Ve or Groovy to make it easier for American wine consumers to remember. You won’t find many Grüner Veltliners in our wine shops, but most of them will carry at least one. This is a wine worth tracking down.

If nothing else, think how much fun you can have with your friends when you pop the cap on your big bottle of wine.

There are two principal styles of Grüner Veltliner wines: the first lighter, fresher and citrus-focused, the second spicier, weightier and more complex. The first category capitalizes on Grüner’s strong citrus characteristics: lemon peel and grapefruit, usually complemented by some vegetal notes and the variety’s trademark hint of peppery spice. These lighter wines are sometimes bottled with a gentle spritz to emphasize their light, fresh style.

The second style produces weightier wines which showcase the variety’s distinctive white-pepper character. The wines are dry but richly textured, complex and spicy, so much so in fact that many are unapproachable until several years after vintage.

With time they soften and display more honeyed, almost marmalade-like characteristics which match their attractive, deep golden hue. These wines are typically made from older, lower-yielding vines, and are correspondingly higher-priced.

Grüner Veltliner is grown extensively around Vienna and and lower Austria, as it ripens too late for most of northern Europe. It is also widely cultivated (although scarcely exported) in Slovenia and the Czech Republic. In fact, I had a beautiful Grüner in Prague a few years ago, but it was much more expensive than this Hofer. Northern Italy, New Zealand, Australia and the United States are also developing Grüner Veltliner plantings, so we might see more on the market in the future.

From: Austria
Winery: The Hofer family farms vineyards in Auersthal, a quiet little wine village in the Weinviertel, just barely beyond Vienna’s northern suburbs.  The gently rolling hills in this village are made up of deep loess soils and are planted predominantly to Grüner Veltliner, in addition to some Zweigelt and Riesling.  

Additionally, the Hofers grow organic grains: rye, barley, and alfalfa. These grains are raised for consumption, and are used as cover-crops in their vineyards.

There was a time when only a small amount of wine was produced at the farm of Hermann Hofer’s parents, but the quality was worthy enough to motivate Hermann to increase production and begin making top-quality wine.  

Hofer has been making wine since the early 1980s and has been certified organic since 2001 by the group Bio-Ernte, whose standards exceed EU guidelines for organic grape growing.

It is rare to find such high quality wines farmed with such attention and responsibility, especially in the Weinvertel, Austria’s largest growing region and home to many commodity-wine producers.  In the cellars at Hofer grapes are de-stemmed, macerated for only a short time, and then fermented in stainless steel.

Cost: $12-13
Size: 1 L
Year: 2004

Grüner Veltliner with steamed shrimp and salads.
Grüner Veltliner with steamed shrimp and salads.
Goes with: My wife Teri and I had this wine with a simple meal of steamed shrimp and salads. We had been up late the night before with our friends Richard and Sharon from Lexington, S.C., who came to town to see jazz superstar Diane Schuur, who performed at the Hardin Performing Arts Center in Evans.

It was an incredible show and afterwards we kept the night going with some nibbling and wine drinking. (We also had a little wine with dinner before the show.) So the next day we weren’t ready for big, heavy wines.

The Hofer Grüner Veltliner fit the bill perfectly. Its light, fruity, citrusy tastes balanced nicely with the shrimp and cocktail sauce. And with the big bottle there was enough for sipping after dinner while watching the NCAA semi final games.

Grüner Veltliner pairs well with a number of foods. Its naturally high acid and full-bodied texture make it a versatile and exotic alternative to Chardonnay. In fact, the best Grüner Veltliner wines are often compared to the great white wines of Burgundy for their intensity, weight and ability to age.

Food matches include wiener schnitzel, fried chicken, chicken skewers, wasabi tuna salad, Waldorf salad, quiche and pan-fried snapper.

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