Grüner Veltliner: Difficult To Say But Easy To Drink

Orange region winery Stockman's Ridge produces two different styles of Grüner Veltliner.
Orange region winery Stockman’s Ridge produces two different styles of Grüner Veltliner.

Grüner Veltliner is one of the rarest grape varieties produced in Australia – only about 60 winemakers are producing it here. Yet in its native Austria it accounts for more than 30% of the country’s plantings.

Why haven’t more Australian vineyards planted it? Well, the name, for one thing. While Aussies are keen to sample alternative varieties, names that are difficult for them to pronounce don’t readily reach a mass market. Yet it’s a very food-friendly wine – young and fresh but with great texture and body. And although it thrives in a cool climate, it handles hot, dry conditions well.

Lark Hill Wines, which produced Australia’s first Grüner Veltliner in 2009, has some of Canberra’s highest altitude vineyards; they even occasionally get snow. They were inspired to plant the variety after wine writer Jancis Robinson MW visited their vineyard in 2002. Winemaker Chris Carpenter says they’ve never looked back.

“It’s a great variety in the vineyard with big, open bunches and tough skins – which means its naturally more disease-resistant than Riesling or Chardonnay – and it seems to handle hot, dry conditions quite well without losing natural acidity.”

It was at about the same time that Lark Hill began embracing biodynamic principles. Years of hard work since have paid off, with the Grüner Veltliner evolving into a very smart wine that people seem to love. So enthusiastic has the response been that the Carpenters have now also planted it at their Murrumbateman vineyard: “This gives us more volume for the demand, as well as a second and very different climate to see how the variety performs.”

Lark Hill's biodynamic Grüner Veltliner.
Lark Hill’s biodynamic Grüner Veltliner.

On a recent visit to the Hunter Valley, I was intrigued to see that First Creek Wines is producing a Grüner Veltliner. It’s believed to be the only Hunter winery that is doing so. Austrian and German visitors apparently get very excited when they see it being offered for tasting at the cellar door. Winemaker Liz Jackson is a great fan of the variety and was inspired by the wines she had tasted on visits to Austria and Germany during her previous role at Tempus Two.

The Hunter Valley is clearly a very different climate but this highly regarded winemaker believes that as long as it has the right amount of acid, it works. With an interest in making medium-bodied, food-friendly wines, Grüner Veltliner fits the bill nicely. So pleased is she with the results that it has been included in First Creek’s limited release Silken range, along with premium Semillon, Chardonnay, and Shiraz.

With its cool climate and high altitude, the Orange region is a natural bedfellow for Grüner Veltliner. Stockman’s Ridge is championing that fact with the release of not just one but two different styles of the variety. The vines were planted on the north-western slopes of Mount Canobolas at 800 metres elevation in 2012. Vigneron and owner Jonathan Hambrook says Orange’s long cool ripening time and high sunshine hours are perfect for the variety.

“After we planted the vines, we had years of drought. As a result, the vines sent their roots deep in search of moisture,” he said. “Over the past few vintages, we have experienced good vintages and the deep-rooted vines are now producing excellent quality and yields. This has allowed us to experiment with different styles.”

The ‘Rider’ was picked earlier and made to show its pristine varietal character — fermented in stainless steel to capture the crisp natural acidity and flavour. The ‘Signature’ was harvested slightly riper and matured in French oak to make a fuller style. “We are gaining valuable experience with this variety and foresee a great future for it,” said Hambrook. “Time will be the judge, but all the indicators so far are positive.”

Lark Hill 2022 Grüner Veltliner, $45: Lark Hill manages its vineyard biodynamically, not just for sustainability but also to best express its terroir. This one speaks of ripe figs and a hint of white pepper with a gentle mineral acidity and lovely depth of flavour. My advice would be to take it out of the fridge for a bit and bring the temperature up so you can appreciate all the beautiful flavours. We enjoyed it with salmon roasted with a miso, honey and black garlic topping; it was a seamless match.

First Creek 2022 Grüner Veltliner, $40: The Silken label is very befitting for this soft, elegant wine, the first Grüner Veltliner that this Hunter Valley winery has produced. Aromatic and citrus-driven, it has distinctive grapefruit flavours – perfect for those who love grapefruit, and with enough added interest for those who don’t.

2022 Stockman’s Ridge ‘Rider’ Grüner Veltliner, $35: Incredibly aromatic with notes of stonefruit, melon and grapefruit, this crisp, refreshing wine pairs very nicely with Asian dishes. Very easy drinking and great for alfresco dining.

2022 Stockman’s Ridge ‘Signature’ Grüner Veltliner, $40: Loads of texture and complexity thanks to riper picking, maturation in French oak and some malolactic fermentation. The result is a full-bodied, beautifully harmonious wine with notes of cinnamon and pear. Pairs beautifully with seafood, pork, veal and almost anything, really.

These reviews originally appeared in PS News.

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