Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Got Grüner?

One of my favorite things about living a stone’s throw from San Francisco - the epicurean playground of the west coast - is that on any given day, there is some incredible event exalting wine or food. I made my way to one just last Monday, an extensive tasting of Austrian wines hosted by the Institute of Masters of Wine. I was in full wine geek mode, as this particular tasting was aimed at formal students of wine and those in ‘the trade’ (read: people who swirl and spit while musing on about racy profiles and essence of lentils, and are talking of neither social networking nor Indian restaurants).

I am happy to report that I am coming across more savvy (pun intended) wine drinkers outside of such events who are familiar with Grüner Veltliner, the native grape that occupies one third of Austria’s vineyards. For those not in the know, this grape can make white wines of delicacy and finesse, or rich, earthy intensity. Schmelz Grüner Veltliner 2006 is a fine example of what the best are like. The Schmelz is a beautifully balanced dry wine, with all these classic markers, as well as a soft perfume of lily and a tinge of almond cream on the finish.

Of the at least 65 wines at the tasting, over half were white, and many made from Grüner and Riesling, the celebrity grape of Austria, Germany and Alsace. However, the stars of the tasting were the exotic red wines that took up two tiny tables - not merely for the quirk factor, but the fact that they were downright amazing!

The Burgenland region of Austria specializes in intriguing red wines, using grapes the likes of which most people have never heard: St. Laurent, Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt, Blauburgunder (this one is actually our old friend, Pinot Noir). All made smoky, cherry and currant-laced impressions on my palate, the best tempting with a musky perfume and satisfying with a spicy finish, apparently the signature of Austrian ‘terroir’. If you want to taste for yourself, swing by Savvy for a bottle from one of my favorite producers, the Juris Reserve Blaufränkisch 2002.

One of the best things about Austrian wines of any color is their incredible food versatility. Delight in classic pairings like Grüner and pork sausages, or go fusion by sipping it with sushi. Think Pinot Noir is the only red wine with fish? Pour a Zweigelt with your salmon, and see for yourself how rules were made to be broken!

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