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DRINKS


Psst … Grüner Veltliner is about to hit the big time. Just don’t tell anyone.


Talk about Chardonnays or Merlots and even the most casual wine drinker knows exactly what you’re talking about. Mention Grüner Veltliner, though, and you might get nothing more than a blank stare.

To wine experts like Tyler Colman, it’s a travesty that the dry, peppery white doesn’t get its due. “Grüner is fun, it’s fresh, and it’s food-friendly,” says Colman, author of A Year of Wine (Simon & Schuster, $24) and founder of the site DrVino.com. “In blind tastings, it’s beaten Chardonnays.”

So why the low profile? The grape for the effervescent white is grown in Austria, along the banks of the Danube River, and almost nowhere else on the planet. Pitted against the wines from old-school giants like France or Italy or against the new-world marketing muscle of California or Australia, little Grüner doesn’t stand a chance.

That could be about to change, though. In a recent survey of wine professionals about their favorite whites, Grüner crushed better-known varietals like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. And among the sommeliers of Europe especially, it’s seen as a rising star.

“Austria only produces 1 percent of the world’s wine and then exports only 15 percent of that because Austrians love their wine,” says Aldo Sohm, who is the wine director of New York City’s Le Bernardin restaurant and was crowned best sommelier in the world for 2008. “So Grüner can be hard to find, but it’s perfect refreshment.”


GOING TO THE SOURCE


The vineyards of Austria aren’t as commercial as the Napa Valley circuit, and for many wine lovers, that’s a big plus. Here are two tour operators who can arrange visits to the artisanal wine estates that line the Danube.

MOSAIC GROUP TRAVEL A New York City–based outfit that offers customized, private wine and art tours to the region. (212) 409-9562, info@mosaicgrouptravel.com

VINTRA The preeminent tour operator for Austrian wines; its Wachau package takes you to the heartland of Grüner. 011-43-664-434-7362, info@vintra.at


BEST OF THE BOTTLES

 

Bad news first: The price of Grüner Veltliners is going up, as more wine lovers discover the lively Austrian grape. The good news: Some fabulous vintages are still relative steals. From the top experts, here are a few suggestions about where to spend your Grüner dollars.

1 SCHLOSS GOBELSBURG STEINSETZ 2008, $22
A classic, spicy, and affordable Grüner recommended by Le Bernardin’s Aldo Sohm.

2 NIKOLAIHOF HEFEABZUG 2008, $25
A Grüner from the oldest wine estate in Austria; it’s “really vital and terrific,” Tyler Colman says.

3 WEINGUT BRÜNDLMAYER ALTE REBEN 2002, $45
Another Sohm pick. Features potent citrus flavor from vines that average 50 years old.

4 EMMERICH KNOLL SMARAGD LOIBENBERG 2007, $55
A mineral-rich, earthy Grüner from a winemaker known as a “true traditionalist,” notes Patrick Cappiello, sommelier at Manhattan’s Gilt restaurant.

5 FRANZ HIRTZBERGER SMARAGD HONIVOGL 2007, $75
A powerful Grüner from a longtime family-run vineyard. Cappiello says: “I’ve been a lover of these wines for 10 years -- and have been collecting them the entire time.”