So last evening, Saturday, Johan and I joined friends Natasha and Peter at Wilshire, a restaurant on Wilshire Blvd in Santa Monica, to which both Natasha & Peter have been to, but we have not. They also said they enjoyed this great white Austrian wine from the wine list, which I guessed to be Gruner Veltliner, so of course I was looking forward to tasting this and seeing how it was.
We arrived to the restaurant before sundown, and entered a very dark, well-appointed room with a well-stocked bar and a dining area with cozy booths and tables. We got a corner booth, squeezed in, and Peter took out the bottle of red he had brought: 2003 Sattler Zweigelt.
We ordered the only Gruner Veltliner that was on the wine list - 2006 Salomon Hochterrassen Gruner Veltliner - they first brought vintage 2004 but I rejected it (hee hee) and they did produce a bottle of unchilled 2006. After a quick pop off with the screw cap and a satisfactory taste, it went in the ice bucket.
So we had red and white wine almost simultaneously, for sipping between courses and with our appetizers and mains. I had mussels in a curry broth for my appetizer while Johan had the steak tartare; for our mains, I had the braised short ribs served on mashed Yukon gold potatoes, while Johan had a seared duck breast. Natasha had the miso marinated black cod while Peter had hamachi (yellow tail) and a very fresh-looking salad. I enjoyed the Gruner Veltliner a lot. This is the second Gruner Veltliner I have had with dinner since I returned from Austria and I think I'm getting hooked! Who would have thunk it? It truly went with all my foods and was a great sipper in between. Sure, I switched over to some red while having the short ribs, but only briefly. I thought the acidity and fruit in the Gruner Veltliner was fantastic.
So I have to repeat, who would have thunk it? I didn't even really fall for Gruner when I was in Austria. I thought even on the last evening - ho hum, Austrian wine, yawn, give me some German Riesling please. But after returning home, something clicked. I missed my Gruner and started drinking it with meals.
Now I am starting to see why some people on the trip told me that they go through more Austrian wine than German.
This is how I see it: German Riesling - there is nothing nobler. Riesling is a noble grape variety, and there's no question about this, even from the Austrians - it's a grape that grows on vines that cling to the rocky hillsides like nothing else, and it can be cropped to low yields that provides some serious, serious stuff. Gruner, on the other hand, cannot be cropped to super low yields - it has to grow on some looser soil (in Austria, it is mostly found on this fine stuff called loess) while holds water and allows the Gruner to not get too water-stressed. (When it gets cropped to too low yields, the wine gets too concentrated, too high in alcohol and develops too many weird flavors, I have been told).
So Gruner is something simpler, you might say, than Riesling. It is something simple but damn good. Maybe it is like Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc - while not the mighty Chardonnay (which does damn great things in places like Champagne and Burgundy, and some might argue, other places), Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc can make for some pretty terrific, pretty tasty wines.
I think that's where Gruner Veltliner belongs. Up there with tasty terroir-driven, hand-crafted Loire-style Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. Gruner from its native Austria. Try some today.