Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dinner with Austrian wine - Gruner starting to seriously grow on me!

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.


Samantha Dugan said...

The white wine bug bit ya!! Welcome to the club. I liked that you tried the white with the braised meat....a thought that might send "traditionalist" into a tail spin but something I find myself doin often! Sometimes richer reds with richly braised meat is just well, too rich. I like freshness on my palate so white wine, (from the Loire as you mentioned) are often my wine of choice with whatever I am eating.
I had fun yesterday afternoon at work teaching a woman, (looking for Chardonnay) about acidity. I opened a little Macon we had in the fridge and poured her a glass, she took a sip and let out a little, "Ooh" to which I responded, "Little jolting?". She agreed but was already on her way to sip number two....I just watched as she kept sipping, getting used to it and then I asked, "Do you feel the way your tongue is watering?" her eyes got big and she nodded..."That is acidity" I told her. She got it! She liked it and bought a bottle.
I did explain that while she may still love the primary fruit in California Chardonnay, and that is great that this wine would go better with clicked for her...was awesome!

Nancy Deprez said...

Thanks for the story, Samantha! I love how acidity works - it is really refreshing and appetizing!

Nancy Deprez said...

I did enjoy the refreshing aspect of white wine with beef. Very eye and palate opening!

mjhughes76 said...

Nancy- I think gruners can be just as serious (if..dare I say more serious) as rieslings. If you can get your hands on some older gruners (riper ones from the Wachau like a Smaragd designation) pop it open. Some of the older gruners are so uniquely expressive & seriously delicious! I'm glad you're starting to explore them.

Nancy Deprez said...

Hi mjhughues - thanks for the comment!

Glad you are also a Gruner Veltliner fan - sounds like for a lot longer than I have been (a month) - hmmm not sure I will love them more than Riesling, but I will enjoy finding out!

Thanks for the tips and encouragement!