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[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Overall, this week's Grüner tasting was fantastic. It was incredible to discover how a single little grape could take on so many different flavors—some of these wines were tart and tangy, some had hints of vegetal flavors, and others were alluringly spicy, with hints of smoke and cloves.* This made it difficult to rank the favorites and least favorites of the group—though some tasters preferred some bottles over others, there really weren't any losers in this bunch.

*We even tested its pairing capabilities by snacking on a basket of oddities with these wines—Pirate's Booty, Sun Chips and Lay's French Onion Dip. Although styrofoam-iness of the Pirate's Booty was good for soaking up wine, perhaps not the most complementary flavor profile.

A few bottles into our exploration of Grüner, we realized that actually all 7 bottles had screw caps as opposed to corks, and what ensued was a lengthy conversation about the pros and cons of each. Some people believe traditional corks are likely better for wines expected to have a long aging period because the porous cork lets in tiny amounts of oxygen into the bottle over time, which will allow the wine to slowly age and evolve. But there are now different varieties of screwcaps that allow different amounts of oxygen in, aiming for a similar effect. Screwcaps prevent the spoilage of wine from cork taint, so many winemakers are switching over (or switching to composite-cork enclosures which are less susceptible to TCA, the compound that causes cork taint.) At the end of the tasting, our usual little pile of corks was replaced with Austrian flag-topped screw caps.

So how did they taste? Here's the lineup of bottles we tried:

  1. Ecker Grüner Veltliner Schlossberg 2010 ($22.50)
  2. Domane Wachau Terrassen Federspiel Grüner Veltliner 2010 ($15)
  3. Meinhard Forstreiter Grüner Veltliner Kremser Kogl DAC 2010 ($13.50)
  4. Meinhard Forstreiter Schiefer Grüner Veltliner Reserve Kremstal DAC Reserve 2010 ($24)
  5. Rotes Haus Grüner Veltliner Nussberg 2010 ($21)
  6. Weingut Grüner Veltliner Freiberg H.u.M. Hofer 2009 (certified organic - $23)
  7. Weingut Hiedler Grüner Veltliner Thal 2010 ($29)

Our Favorites

One of the wines that hit pretty much everyone as a great example of Grüner was the Rotes Haus Grüner Veltliner Nussberg 2010 ($21). This wine had a floral aroma that one taster thought was reminiscent of hibiscus. In terms of taste, the wine was smoky—a bit like toasted marshmallows. We were also reminded of unbuttered popcorn, and all our tasters agreed that the wine was unusual and delectable. The richness of this grüner, balanced by a lively tanginess made us eager to find the perfect food match (though it's delicious on its own.)

Another crowd-pleaser was the Weingut Hiedler Grüner Veltliner Thal 2010 ($29). This wine was very well-balanced and could easily work on its own, but would be great with food too. It had a slight jasmine and green tea flavor that contributed to its complexity, bright tart acidity, and rich minerality, plus a long, lingering finish. Although this bottle was the most expensive of the lot, most felt it was worth it without totally breaking the bank.

The Weingut Grüner Veltliner Freiberg H.u.M. Hofer 2009 ($23) was also a favorite among our tasters. The nose had a yummy maple syrup smell mixed with cloves, licorice, and even hints of jasmine. Once the juice was in the mouth, most tasters noticed hints of baking spices, almost like spiced pancakes. Despite this swirl of spice and a layer of irish or orchid-like floral notes, this bottle was bright and light.

Good Values

Although none of the bottles we tasted were too extravagantly priced, a few stood out as great value wines, including the Domane Wachau Terrassen Federspiel Grüner Veltliner 2010. For 15 bucks a pop, this bottle was easy drinking, with an acidity that reminded us of lime wedges soaked in water. Though we're not certain it brought out the flavors that make Grüner different from other wines, we chugged this one down pretty quickly, and would happily drink it again for a weeknight dinner (or as a base for an excellent white sangria.)

Another great value was the Meinhard Forstreiter Grüner Veltliner Kremser Kogl DAC 2010. This $13.50 bottle was lightly fizzy with tiny little Champagne-like bubbles. This wine offered a very floral nose of cherry or peach blossoms, and a few tasters noted flavors of unripe banana or even grapefruit pith.

The Rest

The effervescent Ecker Grüner Veltliner Schlossberg 2010 ($22.50) was a tangy wine with fruit flavors of green apple and grapefruit. This wine also had a sharpness and delicately nutty flavor—like an aged cheese—and hints of vegetal flavors like green onion and endive.

Last, but not least, the Meinhard Forstreiter Schiefer Grüner Veltliner Reserve Kremstal DAC Reserve 2010 ($24) was unusual, hitting the tongue with lots of tang and delicate effervescence. This bright but earthy wine had a richness like onion broth and very pronounced acidity. Best to pop this bottle open with food that has some fat to balance out the acidity.

All in all, we really enjoyed these wines and will keep our eyes out for Grüner on restaurant wine lists and in our local shops. But what about you? Do you have any Grüner Veltliners that you love? Have you had any interesting bottles late? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

About the author: Seema Gunda is an avid wine traveler, collector, and student with a background in chemistry and a day job in consulting.

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