Wine Pairing Weekend is back! September’s assignment delves into the mysteries of Grüner-Veltliner, a white grape primarily associated with Austria. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone, and if you’ve heard of it but never tried it, you’ve got lots of company. Why isn’t this crisp, mineral-laden wine better appreciated in the USA?
Well, at first glance it seems like it would be hard to say. But it isn’t! GROO-ner Felt-LEE-ner. Not so difficult, right? So maybe it’s the German language printed on the label; it reminds you of the incomprehensible text emblazoned on Riesling bottles of the past. We can get past that, too! I’ll decode the terms you need to know when you’re shopping for Austrian GV, and I’ll let you in on a little secret: GV is grown in other places, including the United States. One of the earliest plantings of the grape in California was at Von Strasser Winery in the Diamond Mountain District of Napa Valley. Today, plantings can be found in other parts of California, as well as Oregon, Idaho and Washington, reaching up into the Okanagan Peninsula of British Columbia. There is some GV scattered along the east coast of the US as well, particularly New York, Maryland, and Virginia. Other new world GV plots exist in Adelaide Hills, Australia, and in Gisborne and Central Otago, New Zealand. That said, 75% of all plantings of the grape are in Austria, its homeland.
How to Shop for Austrian GV
As with most wine-producing countries, certain regions specialize in growing particular grapes. In Austria, the best examples of GV come from four areas: Wachau; Traisental; Kremstal; and Kamtal, so be on the lookout for those names on the label. Most GV from Austria is dry, so don’t worry about getting a bottle of sweet wine if that’s not what you’re after. But if you want to make sure you’re grabbing a dry wine, check the alcohol level, which must be printed on the label. (Keep in mind that it is often in tiny print, at the edges of the label, or even on the back.) While this is a bit of a generalization, I find it usually holds true: wines of 12% or higher ABV will almost always be dry; those of 11% or lower will often have a hint of sweetness. Bear in mind that these wines have more than enough acidity to balance any residual sugar, and even the sweeter ones are delicious and very food-friendly.
For an easy-to-follow description of the various styles of Austrian GV, check out the overview by Wine Folly here.
Menu Pairing with GV
In deciding on a pairing for GV, take into account the grape’s usual flavor profile, which has notes of lemon and lime and a solid backbone of acidity that structures the wine. It also presents earthier notes of white pepper and legumes such as peas or lentils. And there is quite a mineral character that ties all the flavors together. As you might have guessed, GV is reliably amiable with a wide range of dishes, from simply prepared salads or fish to highly seasoned Asian cuisine.
In its homeland, GV is typically matched with heavier dishes like wiener schnitzel or spätzle, and its crisp acidity balances out the creamy, fatty components of the food. It also works wonders on vegetable dishes or salads dressed with another Austrian specialty – pumpkin seed oil. If you’ve never tried it, it’s a little strange at first. The oil is a dark golden orange color and has a deep earthy flavor similar to – you guessed it – roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds.) A little drizzle over a plate of butter lettuce and sliced radishes makes all the difference! As you can see, there’s not much that wouldn’t work with a glass of GV. So get yourself a bottle and experiment with a new recipe. You never know what you might come up with!
If you’re drooling over the photos above, they come from Wallse Restaurant in New York City. The focus is Austrian cuisine and it has a wine list to match. Every time I have dinner there I feel like I’m on a wine excursion. The sommelier will gladly create a wine pairing menu for your table and, trust me, it’s a trip worth taking. Unlike a lot of great restaurants in the city, this one is quiet; it’s more of a neighborhood place with a charming terrace. I can’t say enough good things about it! If you find yourself in the Big Apple, please do make time for a dinner at Wallse. (Note: Kurt Gutenbrunner, the chef, also has the Café Sabarsky in the Neue Galerie, the Austrian museum which sits on East 86th Street at Fifth Avenue. It’s an old-fashioned Viennese coffeehouse just across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and makes a perfect stop for refueling after a day of sight-seeing. With large windows looking out toward Central Park, it’s also perfect for a romantic date for coffee and dessert.)
For me, the highlight of each month’s Wine Pairing Weekend is always the excellent suggestions brought forth by my fellow food and wine writers. Below are links to their articles and recipes, along with beautiful photos that will inspire you to get into the kitchen! (My own experiment, including recipes and the wine I chose, are detailed further down in this post.)
- Michelle of Rockin Red Blog tell us Why You Should be Drinking Grüner Veltliner.
- Jill of L’Occassion recommends we Go Ahead and Say It: Grüner Veltliner
- Camilla, Culinary Adventures with Camilla is dishing- Herbs, Bitter Greens, and Halibut Cheeks with Grüner Veltliner
- Sarah of Curious Cuisinere tempts us with Backhendl (Austrian Fried Chicken) and Grüner Veltliner
- Nancy of Pull that Cork will be offering Grüner Veltliner: A Pair of Pear(ings) for #winePW
- Lori of Dracaena Wines will be sending A Message in a Bottle From Austria
- David of Cooking Chat presents a healthy Kale and Tempeh Curry with Grüner
- Jeff of FoodWineClick asks the question Is Grüner Veltliner Your Next Pizza Wine?
- Lauren of the The Swirling Dervish proclaims Gruner Veltliner: A Lot Easier to Drink than It is to Say
- Cindy of Grape Experiences recommends we Wine and Dine: Gruner Veltliner and Salmon Teriyaki with Garlic Baby Potatoes.
- Jade of Tasting Pour serves up Shrimp and Corn Soup with Gruner Veltlner #winepw
- Wendy of A Day In The Life On The Farm presents Germany collides with Asia for #WinePW
- Julie of Wine N Friends proffers an Emotional Connection with Grüner Veltliner #winePW
- Martin of ENOFYLZ Wine Blog will be offering A Taste of Grüner Veltliner; Old World and New World #winePW
My Wine Pairing Weekend Experiment
So what did I pull out of my hat for this month’s wine pairing challenge? I decided to make a lentil salad topped with goat cheese and pancetta, served alongside grilled chicken breasts with fresh oregano pesto. First things first: the chicken turned out beautifully and my husband and I both loved the pesto, which was lighter and tangier than traditional basil pesto. High marks all around! Now, as for my lentil salad, well, it turned out “interesting.” Here’s what happened . . . .
I pulled out a bag of green lentils from the cabinet. It was one of those generic brown bags that you get in Whole Foods when you buy grains or nuts by weight. There was no label, obviously, just a SKU number that I had hastily written down when I filled the bag. Off I went, rinsing the lentils, setting them to simmer with bay leaves and thyme, feeling excited about how it would come together as a salad, with the wine. My first clue that I’d made a mistake came as I took the lentils off the heat and drained them. They still looked really bright green! And they didn’t smell much like lentils. And then it dawned on me – these were no lentils, they were green split peas!
Ugh. I was sure the salad was doomed. After all, who’s ever heard of split-pea salad? But, much to my husband’s amusement, I soldiered on, committed to see this experiment through. I proceeded to mix the Dijon mustard vinaigrette, chop the onion and cherry tomatoes, and fry up the pancetta. When I finally put the dish together on a platter, topped it with the crumbled goat cheese and pancetta, and brought it to the table, it actually looked pretty good. Not at all what I was expecting, but okay. It would work.
I sat down and took a tentative first bite. Hmmm, not bad. While the texture certainly could be improved (I overcooked the peas, assuming they were lentils) the flavors were delicious. And the split peas brought a smoky earthiness to the dish that I hadn’t expected; it was a great counterpoint to the wine. If I decided to make this again, I would tighten up the cooking time to ensure the peas remained fully intact. And I might consider making it as a warm dish, akin to risotto. It was not one of my kitchen home-runs, to be sure, but this experiment reminded me that part of the fun of cooking is messing up, doing it wrong; sometimes failing miserably. As I pondered what to write for this WinePW, I came across a blog post by Cooking Without Limits which was about this exact phenomenon. Sometimes we just don’t get it right, but that’s not what matters. What’s important is that we enjoy our journey in the kitchen, and keep trying something new. So don’t be afraid to fail! Wing it! Be inspired by an exotic ingredient. It might not be a triumph of culinary daring, but it sure will be fun. Isn’t that why we do this in the first place?
Wine: 2015 Biokult Osterreich Grüner-Veltliner, Biodynamic/Organic (Demeter-certified)
Biokult brings together a small group of farmers who work according to the biodynamic principles established by Rudolph Steiner. Essentially that involves taking a non-interventionist approach to the vineyards, eliminating pesticides, and fostering a healthy ecosystem including other crops and helpful insects. It also means planning viticultural tasks around lunar cycles, and performing other ministrations (e.g., burying a cow’s horn filled with dung in the vineyard during the cooler months to ease the soil’s transition to a biodynamic environment.) Who knows if it works, but I bet most of us are glad to see farmers devoting so much effort to keep their vineyards clean and healthy.
Husband and wife winemaking team, Angela and Werner Michlits have been at this a while and are the energy behind all of biokult’s wines. The one I tasted was 100% Grüner-Veltliner and was lemony crisp and refreshing. There was a nice mineral component to it and, on the finish some green notes of celery and dill. A nice, simple wine at first, it opened up after warming in the glass to reveal a green pea earthiness. It went nicely with both the chicken in oregano pesto and the split-pea salad, but for different reasons. With the chicken, the citrusy character of the wine was on full display while, tasted with the salad, I definitely noticed more of the herbal and green-pea elements. I suppose this is an example of GV’s range in menu pairing. It’s hard to think of anything that wouldn’t go with it.
Chicken Breasts with Fresh Oregano Pesto
1 bunch/pkg fresh oregano, leaves stripped from stems
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Cumin, salt/pepper to taste
Pulse all ingredients in food processor until just blended. Add olive oil and blend, adding more oil until you have the consistency of pesto you like (about ½ cup). Sprinkle a little grated parmigiana and pulse until mixed in. Taste and adjust seasonings. Brush over chicken breasts and grill or bake until done. (I baked mine at 375 for about 23 minutes.) You will have enough pesto for four large chicken breasts. (It’s also great on pork chops!)
Split-Pea Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette
About 2 cups split peas, cooked according to instructions
¼ cup onion, cut in small dice
Half pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered; seeds removed if you want
1/4 cup shredded carrots
3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Pancetta, sliced thin and crisped up (use as much as you like)
For the vinaigrette, whisk together 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar, salt/pepper, and olive oil (as much as you need.) Take these amounts as suggestions: depending on the mustard and vinegar you have (and your preferences) adjust them accordingly. Fold the onion, tomatoes, carrots, and vinaigrette into the peas, working the dressing throughout the mixture. Crumble the pancetta and goat cheese and sprinkle on top.