Spring has finally arrived, and over the next few weeks, the markets will start to show the colors of life with delicate early greens, spring onions (maybe even ramps!), sorrel, radishes and sweet English peas, not to mention my absolute favorite spring vegetable, asparagus.
Of course, these are available year-round, shipped from Mexico, the southern hemisphere and other far-off places. But soon we’ll have greens from nearby farms, and chefs will begin foraging the woods for wild ramps and morels.
It’s usually about this time of year that my refrigerator begins to fill up with light and refreshing wines like rosé from Provence, zesty Sauvignon blancs from New Zealand and salty Albarińos from Spain. There’s one wine in the springtime, however, that gets more fridge space than the others: Grüner Veltliner.
That’s not to say Grüner isn’t enjoyable year-round. In fact, one of the remarkable things about Austria’s signature grape varietal is the broad range of styles that it’s capable of producing. But Grüner Veltliner’s affinity for the fresh and earthy flavors of spring are unmatched in the world of wine. One could even argue that the flavor of Grüner Veltliner tastes much like spring itself.
Grüner Veltliner, the most widely grown grape in Austria, was once viewed as the everyday wine of Vienna’s heurigen, or taverns, and 30 years ago was mainly used for inexpensive bulk production. Grüner Veltliner today, however, is held in high regard by sommeliers and the wine-drinking public for its versatility at the table, and many Austrian producers give Grüner as much attention as they do their highly prized Rieslings.
Like other dry white wines, Grüner has a bit of apple and citrus and a pleasant floral aroma, but from there, Grüner is entirely unique. Grüner Veltliner is savory, salty and loaded with umami, the Japanese concept of deliciousness. Sometimes this savoriness is described as green beans or sweet peas and at other times lentils or radishes.
One taste that almost everyone agrees on that Grüner often shows is a certain spiciness, usually described as white pepper. Austrians call this “Veltliner-Pfefferl,” and it’s something you’ll find to a degree in almost any Grüner Veltliner you try. This pepperiness, along with Grüner’s bright and refreshing acidity, make it very food-friendly and the ideal partner to the bounty of spring.
Grüner Veltliners will work with a garden salad of delicate spring greens and sliced radishes, and its acidity can even handle a vinaigrette. Grüner’s citrusy flavor can accompany the lemony flavor of a tangy sorrel soup or halibut dressed with lemon served with a purée of English peas. It also works with artichokes, a famously difficult food to pair with wine, because its acidity washes away the artichoke’s sweet/bitter taste. But my favorite springtime pairing with Grüner is asparagus. Asparagus has a delicious but very strong green flavor that Grüner’s savory quality seems to match perfectly.
A few Grüner Veltliner’s to look for at The Winery in Omaha:
• 2011 Weingut Erich & Maria Berger Grüner Veltliner, Kremstal, Austria, 1L., $15.99
• 2010 Weingut Salomon-Undhof Hochterrassen Grüner Veltliner, Kremstal, Austria, 750ml., $19.99
• 2007 Weingut Stadt Krems Grüner Veltliner, Kremstal, Austria, 750ml., $19.99