Grüner Veltliner, the most famous of all Austrian indigenous grape varieties, became the go-to white wine among American sommeliers during the mid-1990's. They called it 'Groovy Grüner'. While the grape is still popular in the on-trade due to its versatility across a range of styles, its halcyon days-when hipness was defined by the ability to pronounce the name-have waned. Nevertheless, certain Australian producers in cooler regions, including Lark Hill in the Canberra District, are having success with new plantings.
Grüner Veltliner is the most widely planted variety throughout Austria. Most of the hectarage is constituted by productive vineyards in lower Austria's flatlands, where yields can exceed 100hl/ha. These serve to fuel the demand for light spritzy styles of wine in the the city's heurigen, or taverns; largely pleasant but mostly undistinguished. Grüner Veltliner's acidity is brisk, but not as high as that of Riesling, the other white grape to challenge Grüner's local hegemony.
The variety reaches its apogee on the hillsides of the Kremstal, Kamptal and Wachau regions, where a geological dynamic akin to many of the best sites in Germany, allows for the retention, absorption and refraction of heat from the slate and other rock formations, as well as across running water in the river below many of the vineyards.
Here, Grüner can exhibit broad, mouth-filling textures, in addition to aromas of quince and stone fruit. Alcohols can rise in excess of 14.5% in the hands of top producers, such as F.X. Pichler. These ambitious expressions of Grüner Veltliner are light years away from the fresh and peppery everyday drinking styles perhaps, yet not necessarily in the best sense. Frequently, many wines from the Wachau in particular, are too corpulent for their own good and lack the necessary bite of the more drinkable styles.