Austria: Austrian Gruner Veltliner
What About Austrian Whites?
Although Austria is currently producing some of the worlds best dessert wines, they tend to be released in tiny quantities, and are fairly expensive. Of greater interest for every day drinking would be the new generation of dry whites, many of which are both world class and widely distributed. While Riesling and Grüner Veltliner are undoubtedly the classics, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are showing promise.
Most dry whites come from Lower Austria, the region that has become closely associated with these styles. Confusingly, Lower Austria is actually the region in the northeast corner of the country around Vienna. The Lower Austrian sub-regions of Wachau, Kremstal, and Kamptal are on or near the Danube River to the west of Vienna, and figure most prominently in white wine production. Dry wines are emphasized in the Wachau in particular, and they are classified in three different quality grades in ascending order of ripeness: Steinfeder, Federspiel, and Smaragd. The finest Rieslings tend to show weight, concentration, and sophistication with an austere character that would make an excellent foil for seafood and shellfish in particular. They have very little in common with German renditions of the grape.
As for Grüner Veltliner, it may not be unique to Austria, but it belongs to Austria the way Zinfandel belongs to California. It accounts for 36-percent of Austrian vine plantings, and hence produces the bulk of Austria's table wines. Its character can be crisp and refreshing though it tends to be richer and spicier than Riesling when it is at its finest. It is quite possibly the most versatile and distinctive of Austrian wines. In noting the differences between Grüner Veltliner and Riesling Hugh Johnson said that to "compare it with Riesling is like comparing a wild flower with a finely bred garden variety in which scent, color, size, and form have been studied and improved for many years." Often with an exotic herbal note, Grüner Veltliner would make an ideal companion to herb-accented pork or poultry dishes.
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