May 10, 2007
Gruner Veltliner: Spring Has Arrived

Come September, three years will have elapsed since I attended a San Francisco wine tasting where European wine importer Terry Theise said, "Three years from now we'll be asking ourselves, 'What did we used to drink before we discovered grüner veltliner?'"

It was more proclamation than prediction, Theise was so confident in the varietal's prospects. Things haven't quite worked out that way, however. Gruner veltliner, which sounds more like the name of a car that Mercedes-Benz and Chevrolet jointly designed in the 1960s than the name of a green grape, still is a largely undiscovered wine.

I was reminded of how unfortunate this is last night while tasting two new gruner veltliners from Austria, where the variety is the most extensively cultivated wine grape. Austrian gruner veltliner, while rare hereabouts, is a dry white wine worth seeking, especially in the spring, when its straight-forward fruit, lean structure and crisp acidity make it one of the more refreshing and agile whites to put on the table. In weight and intensity, it isn't far removed from pinot grigio, though it does tend to have a bit more build, spice and length.

Both wines were made by Lenz Moser, representing the fifth generation of an Austrian winemaking family. The hints of peach, apple and honeysuckle in the smell of his Laurenz und Sophie 2005 Kremstal "Singing" Gruner Veltliner ($13) suggest a delicate riesling, while the ripeness of the fruit and the sharpness of the finish tilt toward sauvignon blanc. This is an attractive starter gruner veltliner, offering a sleek introduction to the varietal at a modest price.

Moser's Laurenz V. 2005 Kamptal "Charming" Gruner Veltliner ($25) is a riper, spicier and more aromatic and citric take on the varietal. It is the fresh smell and flavor of spring, all promise and bloom.

For a new treat, look around for these wines. The Wine Consultant in Citrus Heights and Enotria Restaurant & Wine Bar in Sacramento have gruner veltliners worth exploring, though they haven't acquired these new releases.

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