Winzerkeller Andau – The world of wine would be a far poorer place indeed, without the activities of cooperatives such as the Produtorri di Barbaresco, one of the world’s finest cooperatives in Barbaresco producing some of Piemonte’s finest red wines. And in Austria we can find a similar counterpart, the Winzkeller Andau. Winzkeller Andau was formed fifty years ago to produce a range of wines from grapes grown by approximately 300 members. The members vineyards could be just a few rows “behind the barn” and up to many hectars/acres of production. Since Austria’s entry to the EU in 1995, this coöp has spared no expense—to the tune of some 10 Million Euros—in modernizing its grape-collection technique and winemaking procedures, to the point of reaching a very high standard of quality. Andau is a little community of some 2400, situated less than a mile from Austria’s border with Hungary. Grapes have been gown in this region for millennia.
Gruner Veltliner is a variety of grape grown primarily in Austria, Slovakia and the Czeck Republic. It has a reputation of being a particularly food friendly wine, making it a favorite of sommeliers “where it is available”. It is made into wines of many different styles, much is intended for drinking young in the Heuriger (bars serving new wine) of Vienna, a little is made into sparkling wine, but some is capable of long aging. The steep, Rhine-like vineyards of the Danube west of Vienna produce very pure, minerally driven Grüner Veltliners intended for laying down. Down in the plains, citrus and peach flavors are more apparent, with spicy notes of pepper and sometimes tobacco and melon (as in this bottling).
Some believe the history of the grapes ancestry dates back to Roman times and the Northern Italian white grape Valtellina. Its pedigree in Austria has been traced back to at least 1855 and recent DNA testing has linked at least part of its heritage to the German Traminer. It is Austria’s most widely planted grape, representing in excess of 30% of Austria’s total production, and consisting of more than 40,000 acres of plantings. Due to its versatility and ability to be fermented into wines of very differing styles and reflective of terroir, it is often mentioned as being “similar to Zinfandel” (not meaning “red wine”, which it is not, but meaning “readily adaptable to many regions and styles”). Along the Danube to the west of Vienna, in Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal, it grows with Riesling in terraces reminiscent of the Rhine, on slopes so steep they can barely retain any soil. The result is a very pure, minerally wine capable of long ageing, that stands comparison with some of the great wines of the world. In recent blind tastings organised by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, Grüner Veltliners have beaten world-class Chardonnays from some of Napa’s and Burgundy’s most famous producers.
Price/Availability Gruner, as it is sometimes affectionately called, is almost unknown in the United States. To the writer’s knowledge there are only two vineyards and two producers in California, one of whom is Von Strosser in Napa, who produces an outstanding Gruner. Due to lack of public knowledge about this variety many restaurants and retail stores are reluctant to carry it, public acceptance being one of the most important factors of presence on purveyors’ shelves or wine lists.
K&L Wine Merchants San Francisco – $6.99 per bottle (stock up now, usually $15 per bottle and often $15 per bottle elsewhere).