Spotlight on Grüner Veltliner & Terroir
Austria is known throughout the world as a relatively small, albeit high quality wine producing country, focusing on varieties that are both appropriate for their particular growing conditions and integral to their viticultural traditions.
The next series of blog posts will focus on the reasons behind why certain grape varieties taste different when grown in varying Austrian regions. Essentially, we’ll be examining how this perplexing combination of history, geology, geography, and vineyard management can effectively change the flavor/aroma profiles and structures of the same grape variety.
Austria and Terroir
I’ve been lucky enough to have picked Grüner Veltliner grapes off the vine, sipped on tank samples that had yet to begin their fermentation process, and had the immense honor of trying decades old archived bottles direct from the winery’s cellars, both in the Czech Republic and Austria. The variety is one of my favorites, and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to shine a spotlight on it here. Sounds pretty Gru-Vee, right? Let’s get started.
Grüner Veltliner comprises the majority of Austrian vineyard plantings, as it is the country's most dominant grape variety planted under vine. This post will highlight how the location and vineyard management can impact the wine's end result.
Certainly, the list of regions producing excellent Grüner Veltliner is exhaustive, so I'm going to instead hit the specific talking points. For more detailed statistics and information, I highly recommend reading more on Austrian Wine, a valuable resource for all wine lovers and professionals.
In this post, I will be using the term DAC, or Districtus Austriae Controllatus, the classifications for all Austrian Qualitätswein. This abbreviation confirms that any wine bearing the wine's origin + DAC (ex. Weinviertel DAC) will exhibit typical qualities and characteristics of that particular DAC.
Topographical map of Weinvertel DAC - Courtesy of Austrian Wine
The Weinviertel is the most north-easterly wine producing region in Austria, where Grüner Veltliner spans over 6,700 hectares out of the total 13,800+ hectares planted to vine. The region was the first to obtain formal DAC status in 2003 (with the 2002 being their inaugural vintage). The only permitted variety in the DAC is Grüner Veltliner, so they are true specialists of the variety.
According to Austrian Wine, the Weinviertel is better understood when split into three unofficial subregions, the western most half, home to Retz and Röschitz, the northeast, home to Staaz, Falkenstein, and Poysdorf, and the southeast, home to Mannersdorf and Auersthal.
In this region, Grüner Veltliner is indisputably the king of grapes, and often carries a signature peppery tone, layered on top of fresh orchard fruits and hints of vegetal undertones. Weinviertel DAC wines must have a minimum of 12% alcohol, while the Weinviertel DAC Reserve wines have a minimum of 13% alcohol.
Interestingly, both DAC and Reserve level wines must contain less than 6 g/L of residual sugar. Essentially, this means that every Grüner Veltliner bearing the DAC status will be dry and fairly fruit-forward, with apparent mineral tones and hints of cracked white pepper.
From my personal experience, the Weinviertel DAC Grüner Veltliner tends to be leaner, both in body and alcohol, with an angular acidity and intense mineral tones. The wines tend to show off more orchard and stone fruits, like pears and apricots, but are rarely overtly fruity.
Whereas the Weinviertel DAC wines are typically unoaked, and are instead matured in steel and cannot contain any grapes affected by botrytis, the Weinviertel DAC Reserve wines may be matured in oak, and can contain subtle notes of botrytis.
As a Czech expat living in South Moravia, Czech Republic, from 2018-2021, I lived just a stone’s throw from the Weinviertel, and was lucky enough to have guided tours of multiple villages in the region, including Poysdorf, Falkenstein, and Stetten, amongst others. If you ever are planning a trip, I recommend heading to the Weinviertel DAC website to their 'Visiting Weinviertel' page, which suggests accommodations, tours, and other activities that can be of interest.
The above photo, Ried Heiligenstein, is in fact a single vineyard parcel that sits atop a 270 million year-old Permian desert sandstone, with volcanic elements atop the hill. According to Austrian Wine, the climate here is hot and dry, leading to a very unique macroclimate, ultimately boasting wines with finesse and structure.
One of the defining characteristics of the Kamptal is its subsoil, remnants of the ancient Paratethys sea that helped form the landscape millions of years ago, leaving behind a mix of acidic crystalline rock, conglomerates, sandstone, shale clay, and others.
In addition, the warming Pannonian winds from the east meet the cooler winds coming in from the north, leading to a vast diurnal variation, unique to Kamptal. Similar to the extreme diurnal variations here in Tucson, how we see temperatures soar during the day and dip down in the evenings, Austria also is subject to these temperature variances.
And while Austria will never get nearly as hot as Arizona, the temperature shifts allow the grapes to hang on the vine a bit longer, leading to a remarkable freshness and vibrancy in the wines.
Receiving DAC status in 2009, both Grüner Veltliner and Riesling are permitted grape varieties in the Kamptal DAC. The wines can range in alcohol from 11.5% for the village level wines, to 13% for the Kamptal DAC Reserve. In the same way the Weinviertel separates botrytis/oak between their DAC and Reserve bottlings, the Kamptal works the same, with Reserve bottlings permitted to have subtle hints of botrytis and oak.
We are fortunate to carry wines from Schlosskellerei Gobelsburg, a Cistercien monastery nestled in the village of Gobelsburg within the Kamptal region, that has been in operation for over 850 years. Here we see how Austrian wines are both affordable and offer exemplary quality.
From my experience, Grüner Veltliner from the Kamptal tends to boast mouth watering acidity, with less angularity than that of the Weinviertel. The wines appear more broad and textured on the palate, almost oily, with viscosity and density.
Mineral tones tend to be more dominant, and the fruit may be the secondary player, making the wines extremely food friendly, particularly for hard-to-pair dishes like asparagus and artichokes.
For more information on the Kamptal DAC, winery members, accommodation suggestions, heuriger information, and other relevant details, I recommend heading to the Kamptal DAC website, a valuable resource if you're headed to tour the region.
The Wachau may be one of the most sought after regions in Austria for wine, for a number of reasons. Spanning nearly 1,400 hectares under vine, the area is a World Cultural Heritage site, one that has been shaped over millions of years by the river Danube, which snakes its way through the rugged terroir. This area is home to powerful, compelling Grüner Veltliner, amongst other varieties, like Pinot Blanc, Riesling, and Chardonnay.
While this iconic Austrian wine region is now home to some of the most elegant, premier styles of white wines throughout all of Austria, it wasn't always the case. In 1983, after struggling to prove their credibility and consistency on the world stage, the Wachau gathered its top producers, and introduced the Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus, a strict member based organization whose mission became protecting the integrity and production quality of Wachau wines.
Today, the association is comprised of over 200 members that are committed to producing low intervention, terroir-driven wines that reflect the prowess of the Wachau. Membership is voluntary, but rigid, with a strict, meticulous rule book.
Wachau : photo credit : Austrian Wine / Herbert Lehmann
In the words of famed producer Emmerich Knoll, 'All Vinea wine growers are obliged to hand harvest, regardless of the vineyard origin.' This vital factor ensures the quality of each vintage, protecting the integrity of the grapes and the origin of the wines.
Most recently, in 2020, the Wachau region achieved DAC status, solidifying their production's protected designation of origin. Wachau DAC is comprised of three tiers set as a hierarchy, beginning with Regional wine (Gebietswein), going to Local wine (Ortswein) and ending with the highest quality tier, Vineyard-designated wines (Riedenwein).
In terms of vineyard management, the Wachau can appear perilous, with imposing stone wall terraces that were carved into the bedrock by Bavarian monasteries in the Middle Ages. Today, the terraces are surrounded by three million square meters of stone, none of which are forged together by mortar or cement, but simply stacked one on top of another, protecting the vineyards from the gusty winds of the Danube.
The subsoils take their origin from the ancient sea, mentioned earlier, and are a mix of solid gneiss, amphibolite, and loess, the latter being the most important soil type for high quality Grüner Veltliner production.
Overall, the Grüner Veltliner from the Wachau will present itself as a contrast to those from the Weinviertel or the Kamptal, exhibiting racy acidity, robust textures, intense mineral and vegetal tones, and a waxy, weighty mouthfeel. These are the powerhouses of Austria, boasting concentration and phenolics while maintaining a vigor and freshness that only the Wachau can claim as their own.
Grüner Veltliner from the Wachau is categorized in three tiers, mainly dependent on the ripeness of the grapes at harvest and their resulting must weight.
Below, I'll briefly explain the three major Vinea Wachau classifications.
Steinfeder (translates to Stone Feather) is the lightest and brightest of the Wachau classification, and will typically have alcohol levels hovering around 11%. These will be the most approachable in their youth, offering crisp, high toned, fruity whites with bright acidity and no apparent oak.
Federspiel (translates to Feather Play) bears its ancient name due to the region's history of falconry, a popular sport in the Wachau. These wines will have alcohol levels between 11.5% - 12.5%, should exhibit no apparent new oak, and offer a bit more weight and texture than the Steinfeder wines.
Smaragd (translates to emerald) bears its name from the green lizards that are native to the Wachau vineyards. Smaragd wines are produced from the later harvested grapes, thus resulting in wines with superb dimension, rounded textures, and slightly elevated alcohol levels, with a minimum ABV of 12.5%. These are wines that are destined for the cellar, and should be enjoyed 10-15 years after release (or longer, depending on your level of patience!)
If you are looking for a wine to pair with that hearty fish dish, fried pork tenderloins, or creamy pasta dishes, look no further than a Wachau Grüner Veltliner Smaragd. They are truly something remarkable.
We hope that this post clarified some of the key talking points surrounding Grüner Veltliner, and perhaps inspired you to seek out a bottle from our collection! There is truly a Grüner Veltliner for every palate, so now it's up to you to find the one best for you, here at Time Market!