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Helen Savage wine column: On the Bottle in Austria

Our wine columnist Helen Savage offers a guide to Austrian grape Grüner Veltliner

Schloss Gobelsberg
Schloss Gobelsberg

It took me a while to come round to the idea that the Austrian grape Grüner Veltliner is capable of great things. It’s probably because I’m just old enough to remember the cheap and cheerful kind of Grüner that used to be sold under such sexy-sounding brand names at ‘Schluck’, which came complete with a lascivious-looking satyr on the label.

Very dodgy. My treasured copy of the 1978 Good Wine Guide says that it cost £1.40 in Sainsbury’s. Those were the days.

That’s not to say that today’s Sainsbury’s, ‘Taste the Difference’ Grüner Veltliner 2013 is at all overpriced at £7.50.

It’s made by Markus Huber, one of the brightest and best of Austria’s younger growers at his estate not far from the Danube, to the west of Vienna. Crisper, than many, his Grüner, is also fruitier and quite perfumed. Grüner can be distinctly savoury. It has a peppery aroma along a with a hint of celery and lentils. This wine has the spice, but less of the vegetables.

Markus Huber has learnt a lot from Willi Bründlmayer, who more than anyone else has helped to establish Grüner’s reputation as a variety capable of making really fine wine. His estates are just across the Danube in the Kamptal region.

Willi Brundlmayer, Marcus Huber and Michi Moosbrugger
Willi Brundlmayer, Marcus Huber and Michi Moosbrugger

The Wine Society ‘Exhibition’ Grüner Veltliner 2013 is made by him and is a snip at £12.95. Intense and complex, it has much more weight in the mouth than the Sainsbury wine. Few people will have the patience to try it, but left alone in the bottle for a decade or more it will become even richer and finer as I discovered when I was lucky enough to taste some of his older wines with him.

Bründlmayer argues there are two main reasons why Grüner has only begun to establish a reputation for truly high quality relatively recently: it was habitually over-cropped and was rarely planted on the best sites in the past.

But Türk’s ‘Sandgrube’ at nearby Krems is just such a fine site. The vines were planted in 1965 and now produce wonderfully concentrated Grüner, with a peppery intensity that no other grape can hope to match, yet it remains fine, focused and refreshing.

This gem, the 2011 vintage, can be found at Carruthers & Kent. £21.99 for Grüner may sound a lot, but it’s a lot cheaper than white Burgundy of similar quality. Try it with Wiener Schnitzel.

But if your purse isn’t deep enough, Türk also make a simpler wine from younger vines at £11.99 and it’s still very good indeed.

The grape that has kept Grüner out of the most of the finest sites in the Danube Valley is Riesling. Austrian Riesling is like no other and can be utterly wonderful.

Don’t be duped into thinking that just because they speak the same language it’s like German Riesling. In eastern Austria’s far, warmer, more continental climate, Riesling gains a remarkable power. Most of the wines available here are also bone dry, almost to the point of austerity, balanced by intense citrus fruit that rarely takes on the kerosine character of Riesling grown on other warm sites.

The Wine Society have a superb example, Gobelsberger Urgestein, Riesling 2013 (£11.95) made by Willi Bründlmayer’s neighbour and friend Michael ‘Michi’ Moosbrugger. It comes from grapes grown on young vines on some of the very finest sites. While Michi himself thinks that only as the vines age will they produce wine that reflects the true glory of each site, this deliciously crisp, elegant wine is testament to a very special wine-making skill. It would be heavenly with simply cooked, oily fish.

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