The joy of wines from Europe’s cooler climes is their freshness balanced against body and stunning aromatics. Gewurtz, of course, means spice in German. Today we will compare Gewurztraminer, a famous wine grape originating in the German-Italian border area with Gruner Veltliner, a lesser known variety that probably originated in Austria, but may have also started in northern Italy. This is because the name derives from the village Veltlin (Valtellina) there. It’s a complicated history because the grape and the white wine probably go back to Roman Times.
Gruner Veltliner is a white wine grape that is rapidly growing in popularity ever since it beat out some white Burgundies in a famous blind tasting in 2002. Its Austrian origins but with the name Veltliner meaning "from the Valtellina" in the Italian Alps remains a mystery. "Gruner" means green. Therefore the name of the grape means "the green Valtellinesa".
Gruner Veltliner wine is a white known for its citrus aromas of lemons, limes, and grapefruit and its versatility in matching with food. Like Chardonnay and Riesling, this white wine has aging potential.
Austrian Vineyards and More
This is the most popular wine in Austria; it represents more than 30% of all wine that country produces. However, it became so sought after in the US market, including for white wine Santa Rosa that regions that mimic the Austrian climate have begun to grow Gruner. One example is the Gruner Veltliner plantations in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. You will even find it in Sonoma County, like the 2020 Carlisle Steiner Vineyard Gruner Veltliner from the Sonoma Mountain AVA, which you can get from the online wine store. However, the most representative Veltliners still come from Austria itself.
Although this wine has been drunk in European countries for centuries, it was not known internationally until 2002. In that year, Jancis Robinson, the famous English Master of Wine, traveled to Vienna, where she was delighted with the local wines. Robinson participated in an event where she conducted blind tastings of Gruner Veltliner alongside the world's best white wines, including Burgundies and California Chardonnays. The result of the tasting was a clear victory for Gruner Veltliner and the wine world quickly began to discover the wonders of this grape. After that, it began to appear on wine lists and in specialty stores around the world.
Gruner Veltliner is considered one of the friendliest white wines to pair with food. It is fresh, structured and balanced in its flavors and aromas. In his book Beyond Flavour, Nick Jackson MW describes it as having “tangy” and “buzzing” acidity but still with a savory flavor profile and rich texture. Thanks to this, its popularity in the American market has been on the rise. Jackson says, “when you know what to look for, Gruner Veltliner stops being the understated, even neutral variety that many tasters imagine, and instead it becomes one of the most characterful European white varieties.”
White wine made from this distinctive grape shares some of the savory character and body with Gruner Veltliner, but it’s truly distinct with low acidity. It’s first and foremost an aromatic variety, unlike Gruner, and its commonly used to make sweet or slightly sweet wines, though you will find dry versions as well when you order white wine online, like the 2021 Husch Anderson Valley Dry Gewurztraminer from Mendocino County.
The Gewürztraminer variety is a white grape with pink skin that produces one of the most characteristic and distinctive sweet and semi-sweet wines in the world. These Gewürztraminer wines are highly appreciated for desserts or aperitifs, and some ice wines are also made with this variety, where the frozen grapes are harvested, concentrating the sugars. As with Gruner, the Gewürztraminer is typical of cold climates. It is cultivated primarily in the Rhine Valley (Germany) and in Alsace (France), but that has not stopped it from spreading throughout the world. In central Europe, we find it in Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Moravia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In the New World countries, the United States, New Zealand, and Chile are the largest producers. In Spain it is an authorized or recommended variety in various wine regions. However, the Spanish denominations with the greatest extension of this crop are the DO Penedés and DO Somontano.
Features of the Gewurztraminer
This variety is characterized by its pinkish or reddish skin, which makes it considered a "white wine grape," as opposed to the dark blue grapes known as "red wine grapes." Gewürztraminer buds early and is very sensitive to spring frosts. It is vigorous but low yielding and late maturing.
It produces highly scented musts. Indeed, the white wines of the Gewürztraminer variety when you buy wine online are characterized by their high aromatic potential, possibly even confused with Moscatel, although this variety gives more complex aromas.
On the nose, tropical fruits, citrus, flowers, spices appear in the primary aromas. In secondary aromas you may even find "petroleum" aromas, as with another aromatic variety Riesling.
On the palate these white wines are harmonious, fresh, and light, with low acidity, featuring notes of fruit and flowers. If the winemaker chooses longer macerations, together with the skins, the wines acquire more intense golden tones, with more body and complexity on the palate. Nick Jackson says, “the phenolics [from maceration] not only offer a savory component to the wine in the place of the understated acidity, but also provide structure (like tannins in red wines) and some dry bite or attack to a wine that would otherwise be a little sweet tasting, shapeless and soft.”
I hope you enjoyed the comparison of two white wines from roughly similar cool climate regions! There’s lots to explore. Be sure to check out Bottle Barn’s other wine articles!