Finding Gruner Veltliner, a wine known for its spicy minerality and firm acidity, used to be a real challenge in the United States. But even though Austrians still keep the bulk of the wine that they produce for themselves, Gruner Veltliner, the most distinctive and widely grown grape in Austria, is rapidly gaining popularity elsewhere thanks to its food-friendliness and engaging complexity.
In Austria's Niederösterreich region, along the Danube River north of Vienna, Gruner Veltliner grows at its finest in terraced vineyards, on slopes so steep that they can barely retain any soil. Some Riesling is planted in these prized locations, but not nearly as much as Gruner Veltliner: on the whole, its plantings make up 36% of all Austrian vineyards.
Within Niederösterreich, plenty of Gruner Veltliner grows in the Weinviertel, just to the northeast of Vienna. Here, the vines grow in deep clay soils, and fruit is made into simple wines, consumed young in the many wine pubs of Vienna.
The terraced vineyards are found farther west, in the regions of Kremstal, Kamptau, and Wachau. Here, what soil does remain is heavily granite in composition, imbuing the wines with hefty stony character. Wines from Wachau are especially prized for their depth and power. In the Kremstal and Kamptau, soils retain their minerality but are still lighter than those in Wachau. Consequently, wines are somewhat more elegant: still steely but not as intense. Thanks to their acidity, wines from all three regions will age well, shedding some of their initial vegetal characteristics while gaining increased spiciness and complexity. Look for bottlings from Huber, Schloss Gobelsburg, and Prager.
Gruner Veltliner is an especially food-friendly wine: it works well with the traditional partners for mineral-rich, high-acid white wines-- chicken and fish, but it also can handle more challenging matches, like asparagus and artichokes.