Years ago as a wine sales rep I was told that my company was picking up a new portfolio of German and Austrian wines from importer Terry Theise. This news got the immediate attention of the then-sommelier at the Ritz Carlton beach resort in Naples who was notoriously difficult to impress. I had a meeting with him the next week (I had been trying to get in to see him for months) and was expected to have inventory projections and at least a slight grasp of the coveted wines coming into my company’s possession.
Of course, I had no clue what treasure had dropped in my lap. I knew Italian wine, French wine, and was getting better and the who’s who of California wine celebrity, but Austria? I’d tried and liked the rising star varietal called gruner veltliner, but was otherwise benighted. Lucky for me, Terry Theise is an incredible writer who puts more heart into his annual catalog than most people put into a master’s thesis. This wine importing pioneer’s catalog reads more like a hilarious memoir and I stayed up reading until the wee hours that whole week.
Thus was born my lasting love of Austria’s grape. Pronounced GROON-er velt-LEEN-er, this flinty white grape’s name was shortened by hip sommeliers to gru-ve which is much more fun to pronounce. “Groovy” was the cool new alternative white wine for a while but given the short attention span of wine consumers, it inexplicably faded from the limelight and I can’t figure out why. Even when it’s cheap it’s dependably delicious, and when you get into single vineyard bottlings it’s spectacular and still not too expensive. It’s light and refreshing with citrus and mineral flavors that sometimes lean towards herbs and anise. It’s green-beany aromas make it a good wine with tough-to-pair veggies like asparagus and artichokes. Terry Theise describes one gruner’s nose as “the exhalings of happy plants.” See why I love his writing?
Berger gruner veltliner is my favorite of the inexpensive tier which comes in a full liter-sized bottle with a crown cap instead of a cork for about $12-15 (depending on the retailer). 25% more wine than a regular bottle and no need for a corkscrew? Yes, please.
Pfaffl Zeiseneck’s gruner veltliner is hand picked but still costs less than $20 and is always better than better-known grapes in the same price neighborhood. I found this one at the Wine Merchant in north Naples.
Single vineyard and higher-end gruner veltliners are a bit harder to find because of limited production, and that which is imported is quickly snapped up by die-hard GruVe fans. The producer Hisrch makes a stand-out single vineyard gruner called “Lamm.” If you can find it plan on paying around $40.
For the extreme wine nerds among us, and those who just like fun writing; you can access Terry Theise’s catalogs here: http://www.skurnikwines.com/msw/theise_catalogs.html.