Many people are familiar with Gruner Veltliner from Austria, but did you know that we also have small amounts growing in this country? As far as I can tell there is some being made in Oregon and some in California, as well as Washington and perhaps some others. No matter how you look at it however, there is a very small amount being made here by a very few producers. I love the wines from this grape because it has a peppery note with a good backbone and nice acidity and fruit flavors that run the gamut from stone to apple and pear. The wines seem to pair well with a huge array of foods, perhaps better than almost any other. Because of this, sommeliers around the world are crazy about this wine, as am I. Stylistically, it can range from light and crisp, easy drinking, to serious full-bodied and well oak aged efforts.
I decided that it might be interesting to try a California example against a fairly serious Austrian one.
The Zocker is from the Central Coast in the Edna Valley. The Knoll is from The famed Wachau region of Austria.
So now for the head to head tasting. First the Knoll: On the nose it displays crisp apple and stone fruit with a bit of lemon curd and a bit of sweet vanilla and there is a white pepper note. When the wine enters the palate, it explodes with spicy ripe apple, guava, lemon and again pepper. The wine’s light color does not prepare you for the intense and density of the mouthfeel, and the mid-palate is especially good with this wine. The finish is very long and there is a bit of light tannin or maybe a tangerine pith quality on the tongue that mixes with the awesome mouth watering acidity. Truly a classic and elegant, well-balanced, bone-dry wine. This wine will improve for at least 4-5 years and gets 4 stars.
The Zocker I would expect to be riper being from a warmer climate, and on the nose it certainly is. I get pineapple and more tropical fruit notes, but also a balancing grapefruit aroma…nice. I also get sense of a cooler fermentation with a bit of that characteristic banana aroma that can come with it. In the mouth, right away, there is an almost candy-like golden delicious apple taste, surrounded by that Gruner pepper note, then a blast of nice acidity to round it out. The mouthfeel is rounder than the Knoll, and is more hedonistic, but still retains that true Gruner character, that I was afraid might be lost with the warmer climate. Although the wine is more full-bodied than the Knoll, it actually has a bit less concentration. I am impressed by the winemaking here as it is often tricky for Americans to master new varieties. This is pretty true to itself, whatever that means. This wine gets a 3.5 stars.
All in all, this was an interesting comparison and both wines show very well, with an added edge to the elegance of the Knoll. I, frankly, like both wines a lot, but would drink the Zocker in the next 2 years, and save the Knoll for a few more. I am impressed by the fact that the Zocker really does drink well, and believe that Gruner Veltliner has a good future being grown in this country.
Great tasting, and I see both these wines pairing very very well with many kinds of food.