What makes a good summertime white wine? Well, something light, maybe tart or citrusy with good fruit flavors and a bracing acidity.
Lots of wines meet these criteria, but anyone looking for something off the beaten path (vineyard?) should look to Austria to quench their thirst.
Two grapes stand out here, both noted for their crisp acidity and food-friendliness.
The first enjoyed a flurry of popularity a few years back when it was dubbed “GruVe,” short for Gruner Veltliner.
Depending on where it’s grown, the grape can be very pure and minerally or infused with citrus and peach flavors, or even some spicy notes. In Austria, it is planted primarily in the northeast regions of Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal.
These areas have steep slopes that can barely hold onto soil – stony conditions that give the wine its minerally qualities.
The grape may date to Roman times, but it became widely known as Gruner Veltliner only in the 1930s, with occasional uses of that name dating only to the 1850s. Before then, it was known as Weißgipfler or Gruner Muskateller.
It is descended from Traminer and St. Georgener-Rebe, an originally unnamed varietal, a single, old and weak vine of which was discovered in 2000 in an overrun pasture that had not been a vineyard since the 19th century. (DNA samples were finally taken in 2005, when there was a threat to pull the vine.)
The other summertime Austrian grape is the aromatic and versatile Riesling. Most people associate the grape with sweet wines, though it is often crafted in a dry style that can smack you in the face with its taut minerality.
Riesling is particularlyterroir-expressive, meaning its character and flavors are strongly influenced by the soil and climate where it grows. That said, this wine can be distinguished by notes of petrol or kerosene in the aromas (it tends to be stronger the better quality the wine), and spicy notes in the aromas and flavors.
Young dry Riesling shows a range of flavors from green apples and grapefruit to honey, fresh-cut grass or rose petals. Typically, the wine is handled very carefully to insure the purity of flavors; it is often chilled at several points during the winemaking process and rarely sees any oak.
The first written mention of Riesling comes from a German storage inventory in 1435. The grape is believed to have originated in Germany’s Rhine region, and DNA fingerprinting identifies its parents as Gouais Blanc, which is rare today but was widely planted in the Middle Ages, and another grape that is a cross between a wild vine and Traminer.
Germany and France’s Alsace region are the most popular areas in the world for growing this grape. Though Austria’s Riesling acreage is small, the wines themselves pack quite the punch.