GRUNER veltliner sounds like a competitor for the German airline Lufthansa. But let me tell you, it is a grape variety. It produces a fresh, acidic white wine that is grown in the cold climate areas of Austria and Slovakia. And in Australia. But the variety and its history exemplify the European.
It was not a varietal high on my list of priority drinks. However, the Wine Gallery recently sent me an Austrian Domane Wachau Terrassen 2015 as part of a monthly mystery three wines (at $23 each) that are linked to a taste profile I filled out when subscribing. This time they got it right. I really enjoyed this wine.
The only other occasion when I had tasted this varietal was when I attended a Canberra District Wine Industry Association dinner in 2017 and sampled the award-winning Lark Hill, which was memorable and a perfect food wine. The Carpenters, who founded Lark Hill, are reputedly the first to have planted gruner veltliner in Australia. It does well at the altitude of the Lark Hill winery 860 metres, level with the observation deck on Black Mountain Tower.
A friend in NZ, who I visited in late 2017, has a Slovakian background. Austria is close enough right? So I took the Domane Wachau as a present and so we could compare it with a Margrain Vineyard gruner veltliner when we visited Martinborough, a mere 82 kilometres from Wellington where she and her husband live. I should have taken a Lark Hill as well to make it a tri-nation competition but it is close to $50 a bottle and I already spend too much money on wine.
The third day of my visit, we drove from Wellington over the steep Rimutaka ranges and down into the Wairarapa. It took about an hour and twenty minutes to reach charming Martinborough where the town is now geared to wine tourists. I told my friends a few of my jokes on the way. They liked the one where the past, the present and the future walked into a bar: it was tense.
Anyway, we got to the Margrain Vineyard tasting room and I ran through my approach to tasting, starting with holding the wine to the light. I held the glass aloft and up to the light.
“Oh,” I said, “you can see the finger marks on the tasting glass.”
This honest outburst was a mistake. The service then became quite cold, unlike the wine on taste, which had started to heat up with the day. The Kiwi gruner veltliner was an acid bomb. It was very sharp at the back of the mouth. My friends agreed. It was more expensive than the Austrian wine at $NZ30. We moved on to other Martinborough wineries. It was a splendid day.
That night when we returned to Wellington, we tasted the Domane Wachau. It was a world away from our earlier tasting. Fresh, the acid a zing not a punch, the crisp finish complementing the garden salad with leaves straight from, well, the garden. Speaking of which, the interesting conversation piece is that the Terrassen in the name is derived from the fact that the Austrian vines are grown on sloped terraces.
Apparently, this provides greater exposure to sunlight during the growing season. This method of planting is a means to get more even ripening and is the signature of the UNESCO-designated Wachau Valley, an area of European beauty.
My friends also liked my European bar joke.
A Greek, an Irishman and a Spaniard walked into a bar. The German paid.