We sommeliers have a tendency to spend an inordinate amount of time sussing out all kinds of weird and interesting wines (partly because it's our job, partly because we're total wine geeks). And most of the time, those slightly off-kilter bottles are best appreciated by, well, let's face it -- other wine geeks.) In other words, we probably wouldn't bother trying to convince the everyday wine drinker to fall in love with lesser-known grapes like tannat or colombard because they can be both difficult to find and not necessarily suited to everyone's palate.
There is, however, one varietal in particular that routinely shows up on many a sommelier's list of go-to wines that far too many people just aren't hip to: grüner veltliner. Yeah, it's an old world wine to be sure (commonly hailing from Austria), which means lovers of in-your-face fruit bombs or chardonnays that could pass for a bowl of buttered popcorn probably won't dig this classy, intriguing white. But if you're looking for a refreshing, drink-all-year-round alternative to rosé, sauvignon blanc or riesling, you may soon find yourself ordering cases of these wines to sip while reclining on your porch, possibly wearing lederhosen. Read up -- and then drink up -- to learn why grüner is primed to become your latest wine obsession.
Porch-Pounding Drinkability: Given the scorching hot temps we've been treated to this summer, it's hard to imagine a more utterly gulp-able and refreshing white wine than grüner. If you've never sampled one, the flavor profile of a typical grüner is a little like your first bite into a crisp green apple (okay, one that's taken a dip in a glass of white wine, but you get the gist). Or, if you've ever enjoyed a white Burgundy (aka French chardonnay), you might discover that grüner offers similarly brazen acidity and sunny citrus qualities. A porch-poundable grüner to try: the Berger Grüner Veltliner 2009 ($14, 1L at Argonaut Wine & Liquors), a perfectly delectable and unbelievably cheap way to familiarize yourself with this varietal.
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Style(ish) Versatility: Grüner veltliner may be the second-most shape shifting grape out there (chenin blanc probably wins top prize), as you'll find it comes in styles ranging from bone dry to rich and silkily smooth. In fact, we recently had the pleasure of sampling a fully sparkling, Methode Traditionelle grüner that easily satisfied our near-constant craving for bubbly. The drier styles tend to focus on the lemon, lime and mineral-y side of things; the rounder bottlings sometimes venture into viognier or pinot gris-like territory with their weightier mouthfeel, hints of honey flavors and subtly spicy floral characteristics. Given all of these options, the bottom line is that there's a lovable grüner out there for just about everyone. Our top pick for all-around versatility? The Szigeti Grüner Veltliner Brut NV ($20, available online). One sip of this elegant, reserved, Champagne doppelgänger made us hanker for oysters (or better yet, an oyster po' boy), the likes of which we'd never before experienced.
Food Friendly Flexibility: Easily the number one reason grüner veltliners stay near and dear to oenophiles is their famous rep as the wine to pair with infamously unpairable foods. Fear not: grüner is your ever-ready companion. Its neutral palate serves as the ultimate plays-well-with-others foil to foods full of vegetal, grassy flavors. Don't quite believe us? Next time you're planning to serve grilled asparagus (which is probably tonight), set up a little wine face-off between grüner veltliner and, for the sake of argument, a sauvignon blanc. Soon enough you'll realize that the grüner far outmatches its stubbornly grassy, gooseberry-ish cousin. Our favorite of the bunch is the effortlessly quaffable Weingut Glatzer Grüner Veltliner 2010. We fell hard for the lush, peaches and cream-filled aromas and finish that went toe to toe with a meal of grilled salmon with arugula, haricots verts, and you guessed it - asparagus.