Grüner Veltliner isn’t a variety I’ve had a lot to do with but a couple of recent tastings of Australian Grüners inspired me to dig a bit deeper. I reckon it is a very exciting prospect with the potential to become an Aussie mainstay.
Grüner Veltliner is an ancient white grape grown mostly in Austria with significant plantings in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Its genetic parents are Traminer and the obscure St. Georgener-Rebe. It’s only recently been celebrated widely as a truly premium variety. Here are a few key elements in its rise: naming, training and tasting.
While the variety may date back to Roman times it was only given its current name in the 1850s. It was not until the 1950s, with use of Lenz Moser’s less labour intensive system of vine management, that it began to flourish. Planting less densely allowed for better sunlight penetration of canopy and better ventilation. Quality of fruit improved and plantings expanded significantly from this point.
Finally in 2002 Jancis Robinson was invited to a blind tasting, featuring a selection of Grüners plus top end Chardonnays from Gaja, Eileen Hardy, Penfolds’ Yattarna, Louis Jadot, Domaine LeFlaive, Ramonet, Etienne Sauzet and more. The top two wines and five of the top seven were Austrian Grüner Veltliners.
Grüner in Australia
Recently some Aussies have begun experimenting with the variety, notably Hahndorf Hill, Lark Hill, Geoff Hardy and Stoney Rise with some pretty flash results. Some scribes believe it will succeed in the same climates that allow for top end Riesling production. Others, like Larry Jacobs from Hahndorf Hill, believe it is particularly suited to the Adelaide Hills. He says, “Grüner grows best in the lower Austrian regions of Kremstal, Kamptal and Wachau … good ripening days and cold nights allow an extended growing season. The vignerons from these regions say that this significant diurnal variation is one of the key quality defining factors. Of Australia’s premium regions the Adelaide Hills has one of the highest diurnal variations in temperature.”
Larry is bullish about the future of Grüner in Australia and has made cuttings from Hahndorf Hill’s vineyard available to the Adelaide Hills Vine Improvement Society. This has enabled other growers in the region access to the variety. To date 12 other Adelaide Hills growers, including Henschke, Deviation Road and Longview, have planted.
So, what’s it taste like?
Its climatic suitability and the ‘non-fruit sexiness’ of Grüner lead Larry to plant Grüner as a suitable alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. “There are no berries; it’s all textural with white pepper, apple and pear, minerality, tobacco with celery, even parsnip.” For Larry this makes it a perfect point of difference to Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a cracker, true to the leaner Austrian styles with fantastic texture and complexity. It should cellar very well. It is also unlike any other Australian white I have had. The cellar door at Hahndorf Hill is well worth a visit and offers plenty of elegant wines.
Geoff Hardy’s Grüner shows less pepper and plenty of greenery on opening. As it opens, citrus pith and minerality emerge. It is a very different wine to the Hahndorf Hill. Geoff Hardy also offers plenty of other alternative varieties. His Teroldego and Tannat are particularly stunning.
Jonathon Hesketh is an Australian winemaker who also produces an Austrian Grüner from Krems. He produces the wine with assistance from Bert Salomon. Bert part owns Grüner producing Salomon Undhof winery in Austria, as well as owing Salomon Estate on the Fleurieu Peninsula. I first tasted Hesketh’s Grüner a couple of years ago and thought it pretty tight and unyielding. Now it is superb, beginning with an upfront burst of acidity, rolling into white pepper, spice and celery, green apple crunch, complexity and length. Jonathon loves the complexity of Grüner, more complex than Sauv Blanc, a little softer than Riesling and with clearer varietal definition than Pinot Gris.
Grüner Veltliner is definitely a thing of beauty and the Aussie examples I have tasted point to a bright future for the variety. I reckon consumers will eventually get on board too but it remains to be seen if there are enough suitable sites for significant plantings. In the meantime it’s worth checking out what is already on the market.
Matt Wallace is Wine Direct’s Buyer and Sales Manager