June 20, 2013
Years ago, before running a wine store, I had the privilege of snagging a job assignment in the Czech Republic that lasted nearly five years. The job itself was a challenge as was living in a very small town in the middle of a formerly Communist country. One of the real privileges, though, was jumping in the car on the weekend, driving a couple of hours, and finding myself in the middle of Austrian wine country. Note: Austria, not the other place with kangaroos.
The Wachau Valley is about 50 miles west of Vienna and stretches between the villages of Melk and Krems. Here, there is no shortage of beautiful scenery, good food and gruner veltliner wine, made from the most important wine grape in Austria. If you sit down at a café anywhere along the Danube and order a glass of white wine, gruner veltliner is most likely what you’re going to get. And it is perfect for warm, sunny days (or hot in our case).
On my initial trips to the area, I didn’t really know what gruner veltliner was, but it soon became my routine to return from an Austrian weekend trip with a backseat full of gruner (the shortened name is now the cool way to refer to a wine made from this grape.) Like with any grape, the style of wines produced from gruner can cover a broad range, but typically it is light and crisp with a sense of white flowers and a little pepper.
It matches most light-style summertime food, and the Austrians serve it with everything, including their prized white spargel (asparagus) that starts showing up on restaurant specials and at roadside stands in May and June. Wir haben Spargel! (We have asparagus!) I never knew people could get so excited about white asparagus until I witnessed it myself. But I’m a believer. As prepared by the Austrians, it was delicious, especially when sitting outdoors at a café overlooking the Danube with a nice cool glass or two of gruner.
If you’re planning a trip to Vienna or Prague, I would highly recommend a side trip to the Wachau Valley. Rent a bike and ride on paths between the towns of Melk and Krems, winding your way through gruner veltliner vineyards, small villages and along the Danube.
Check out these gruner wines that are available in the Columbia market. Gruner bottlings are mostly inexpensive and often come in 1 liter bottles, making for a great bottle to bring out when a crowd gathers on your patio.
- Lenz Moser: Peppery, spicy with nice fruit. Light, fine spicy notes with fruity hints. Lively, pleasant finish. Fresh, spicy style with delicate peppery notes. Lovely body with a dry finish. A perfect partner for rustic cuisine. Very suitable for Viennese Schnitzel but also for beef, seafood and vegetable dishes.
- Hoepler: The color is light yellow-green with a nose of spicy hay, peach roses, apricot and lime. A multi-layered, slight white pepper finish. Pair with cold starters, sushi, pastas, delicate salads or as an aperitif. Hoepler wines come from Burgenland, an Austrian province east of Vienna on the banks of Lake Neusiedl – another interesting stop on any Austrian tour.
- Berger: Fresh and expressive, with citrus, floral and mineral flavors that linger in the mouth. It practically invites you to have a second glass.
Native of Columbia, SC. Returned to Columbia area in 2004 after being away for school and work for 25 years. Undergraduate degree from Clemson and MBA from University of NC at Chapel Hill. Owner of the independently owned Best Bottle Wine and Gifts in Shoppes at Woodhill since 1985.
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