Grüner veltliner is Austria’s most significant grape, much revered in the country and responsible for some of their longest-lived wines. And while it has found few other places around the world to assert that pedigree, Australia – and primarily the Adelaide Hills – is mounting a case for it as a grape of substantial potential.
Also known as
While there are many synonyms for grüner veltliner, there are few that appear on wine labels, aside from the abbreviation veltliner, which is sometimes employed in Italy. And while the Austrian marketing board has toyed with using the term “grü-vee”, thankfully it hasn’t replaced the use of the varietal name.
What grüner veltliner tastes like
The classic descriptors for grüner are white pepper and yellow grapefruit, though apple, radish and even lentil are also commonly used. These characters are gently aromatic, rather than forceful, and the wines picked on the leaner side can be quite racy, expressing minerality well, much like riesling, while they become more exotic as they get riper, with some stone fruit and even tropical notes emerging, and the palate becoming soft and rounded.
Vineyard & winemaking
In Austria, grüner veltliner is often thought to grow best on sandy, alluvial soils, with the vines neither liking too little or too much water, while riesling is generally grown on the rockier and more rugged sites. However, there are also many fine examples of grüner from more mineral sites that show how well the grape can express terroir. Quite a versatile grape, grüner’s ripeness can change it from being racy, lean, delicate and gently aromatic to one that can be decidedly rich, full-bodied and powerfully fruited, with the best aged Austrian examples often compared to white Burgundy. This similarity to the weight and texture of chardonnay sees some makers using oak, but it is rarely a harmonious pairing. Additionally, though it draws many parallels with riesling, wines with noticeable residual sugar are rare.
Where is grüner veltliner grown?
Grüner Veltliner is Austria’s most important variety, red or white, occupying over 30 per cent of the vineyard land, which eclipses – in percentage at least – the Australian obsession with shiraz for plantings. Grüner makes wine from simple workhorse jug wine to some of the country’s pinnacle bottlings. It is grown in all regions, to greater and lesser degrees, but is best known to international audiences from the often-vertiginous terraced vineyards of the Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal.
Grüner veltliner around the world
Over time, the grape has travelled across the Austrian border, taking up residence in Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Italy, or more specifically the region of Alto Adige, where it is often just called veltliner and can be lumped together with other varieties bearing a similar name and parentage. There are modest but not insignificant plantings in Canada and the USA, on both the East and West Coast. In the southern hemisphere, Australia accounts for more of the grüner vineyards than the other countries combined.
Grüner veltliner in Australia
The Canberra District’s Lark Hill produced Australia’s first grüner from the 2009 vintage, with the Adelaide Hills’ Hahndorf Hill following a year later. Tasmania’s Stoney Rise had vines in the ground at the same time as Lark Hill (in fact they supplied cuttings to Lark Hill), but they didn’t release a wine commercially until the 2012 vintage. Today, the Adelaide Hills is the main growing region, with dozens of exponents, though cooler areas like Victoria’s Alpine Valleys, the Eden Valley, Tumbarumba, Tasmania and Henty are all proving promising.
Photo of grüner veltliner grapes seen here, courtesy of Lark Hill vineyard.
Some of the best Australian grüner veltliner
K1 by Geoff Hardy