Our ‘Wandering Palate’, Curtis Marsh, declares Austria’s indigenous white grape variety, Grüner Veltliner, the most well-suited, versatile wine style for Asian cuisine.
If one had to name the single most suitable white grape variety in terms of pairing to a broad spectrum of Asian cuisines, including compatibility with spicy heat moreover, congruous with the tropical climate and appealing to the Asian palate, it would unquestionably be grüner veltliner.
Yes, I know it looks terribly difficult to pronounce and easily misinterpreted as a tropical disease, or robust German sausage and sauerkraut dish. Actually, it’s not that difficult to pronounce, try (groon-er vealt-lean-er).
The collective Austrian wine industry marketing genius, recognizing this possible tongue twister, came up with the abbreviation, GrueVe, i.e. groovy, largely targeted at the broader American market I’m told. We industry types just call it grüner.
The versatility of grüner veltliner is largely attributed to its vibrant varietal characteristics; similar to riesling, it does not like small oak (French) and has inherently high natural acidity. However, it’s intrinsic glycerol-texture and minerality is enhanced by the different regions and soils it is grown, from the loess, loam and clay of Wagram, Weinviertel and Thermenregion, generally lighter wines, to the primary rock found in the Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal with powerful, full-bodied wines.
Grüner veltliner is naturally late-ripening thus the ability to have a long ‘hang-time’ or late harvesting, facilitated by Austria’s long, dry summers, markedly increases the viscosity and intensity of flavor in the wines with a significant degree of richness and fullness. However, one should not confuse this late harvest style with sweeter wines as in general, and unlike neighboring Germany; Austrian table wines are fermented to relative dryness.
The Wachau region has its own classification for the level of richness and pedigree, adjudged at the time of harvesting the grapes if they have sufficient ‘must’ (juice) weight to be Federspiel or Smaragd, withFederspiel the equivalent of a dry Kabinett and Smaragd a drySpätlese or Auslese.
In general, grüner veltliner is expressive in stone fruits and citrus with lemongrass, tarragon herbal nuances, also Indian spices – turmeric, fennel, cardamom, coriander seed – and an intriguing signature whiff of fresh grinds from the peppermill, often leaning towards white pepper, amongst pronounced minerality.
The flavor spectrum ranges from citrus, grapefruit and pomelo through to ripe melons, nectarines, white peaches and pears; always juicy and fruity with a backbone of lemon acidity and spicy lift with tantalizing savory finish of peppery spiciness and sometimes an almost salty seasoning, enticing your palate for the next sip.
One of America’s most prominent Austrian wine importers coined an amusing if not apt description of grüner, “If sauvignon blanc and viognier could have a child, it would be grüner veltliner”. In his roundabout way, he was describing its unique characters that fall somewhere between the crisp and tangy elements and structure of sauvignon blanc with the exotic aromas, flavors and texture of viognier.
For me, it is the more powerful examples grüner that are attractive and compatible with spicy Asian dishes with the texture and richness of good virgin olive oil yet with an intriguing interplay of sweet citrus and herbal, peppery spiciness. I can also see these richer wines appealing to the chardonnay drinker, as they are often mistaken in blind tasting as such, particularly if they have bottle age as they start to look very white burgundy-like.
Grüner seems almost tailor made for Thai cuisine and the perfect match for salads that have green mango, papaya, pomelo, the fresh mints and lots of lime and palm sugar sweet-n-sour flavors. It also has the power to keep up with yellow and green curries, obviously harmonious with fish and seafood and equally so with poultry and meats.
I also find grüner excellent with many Indian dishes, particularly the multitude of deep-fried appetizers and dips, even more so the richer examples of grüner can be an excellent foil for the capsaicin heat of chili and heady spice infused curries with the richness/sweetness ameliorating the burning sensation in much the same manner asraita, the Indian condiment based on yogurt.
The more restrained yet still racy style grüner’s and I am thinking of two of my favorite producers, Salomon-Undhof from Krems www.salomonwines.com (available here at through Oaks Cellars) and Nigl in the Wachau http://weingutnigl.at are brilliant with sashimi, the minerally, sea salty, peppery, savory twist of these wines mellifluous with piping fresh raw white fish.
Grüner is equally at home with Cantonese cuisine pairing with the multitude of seafood, chicken and pork dishes and is heavenly with Chef Yong at the Majestic, pig organs and white pepper soup. It is also the consummate dim sum wine.
A stand out amongst numerous excellent grüner’s I have experienced is a producer called Jurtschitsch www.jurtschitsch.com ticks all the right boxes in my criteria.
A small, family-run Weingut with 700 years of history owned and run by the three successive generations of Jurtschitsch family. They have been composting for fertilizing since the 1970s and more recently have converted fully to organic viticulture.
The vineyards are located in the Kamptal region, near the town Langenlois in a South-facing shell-shaped bend of the Kamp River Valley with prime terraced South-facing slopes bathed in sunlight. They specialize in grüner veltliner from renowned single vineyard sites making highly individual, age-worthy wines.
Interestingly, the grüner grapes are macerated for two days to extract the aromas and extract of flesh, pips and the yellow peel, a somewhat oxidative handling that imparts a certain phenolic and structure. Then wild yeast fermented in large wooden barrels from the local Manhartsberg oak with a long maturation on its own yeast cells (sur lie).
My tasting note for Jurtschitsch Grüner veltliner Kaferberg 2007
A powerful sherbet- meringue like perfume of grapefruit and pomelo builds in sweetness with ripe pears and mango turning more savory with a smoky roasted pork belly fat aroma amongst pungent bitter almond and ginseng or don quay; the distinctive spicy peppermill characters are there against a background of lime and lemongrass with hints of palm sugar sweetness. A spicy palate entry with a surge of ripe pear and tangy grapefruit engulfs the senses, ones mouth infused with grapefruit, pink Thai pomelo and lemongrass flavors.
It builds quickly in viscosity, definitely a heavyweight on the grüner scale with creamy, buttery texture and a certain richness yet balanced by bitter nut and fresh ginger and pepper spiciness with a subtle phenolic grip on the farewell. Absolutely delicious and invigorating drinking now but will age well for sure. For a wine of such individuality and unquestionable quality, there is an excellent price/quality rapport at S$67 per bottle.
For those of you thinking Austrian wines are somewhat obscure in the Asian market, you’re right, although this is about to change, primarily because the rest of world, well practically every mature wine market from Australia to America, are lapping up Austrian wines and its only a matter of time before it filters through here.
Furthermore, we now have living in Asia, one of the wine world’s most dynamic marketers armed with a wine MBA and previously the head of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board. Michael Thurner is the proprietor of Austrian Fine Brands www.austriasfinebrands.com and on a mission to promote and establish agents throughout Asia for some of Austria’s finest producers. If you’re thinking one man’s efforts are hardly going to change the drinking patterns in the Asia region, you obviously haven’t met Thurner!
If you would like to learn more about Austrian wines, the Austrian Wine Marketing Board have an excellent website www.winesfromaustria.com Also “The Wines of Austria” by Philip Blom published by Faber and Faber is very good reading.
Singapore: Alfa International
Rest of Asia: contact Michael Thurner, trade and consumer enquiries welcome.