Food & DrinkJK Wine

JK Wine: Confessions of a Grüner 

A bottle of Grüner wine and a dish from Calle Sol
A Grüner wine and a dish from Calle Sol. (Photo by Kara and Jerry)

Don’t be afraid to enunciate, especially when you have Austrian wine in front of you. Sound it out, let your freak flag fly, and be willing to sound like a fool in the name of tasting great wine. Pair it with Austrian punk rock to get you in the mood, bang your head a few times for good measure, and whatever you do, get some Calle Sol to carry you through. 

That was our opening ritual to trying two single vineyard wines made with a grape that is starting to create quite the buzz: Grüner Veltliner. The grape is becoming a signature move of Austria, and if you love a bright, citrus wine with an herbaceous bite, you’ll want to give this one a whirl.

It’s the perfect inland wine to pair with something fresh from the harbor. Have it with tuna, scallops, fish tacos, or a lobster roll. And vegetarians, listen up: Grüner will beg you to pass the brussel sprouts; it will have you building an arugula salad. Not many wines do that. 

We were sent these wines and invited to explore a new vocabulary word, found front and center on the label: reid, which apparently means “single vineyard” in Austria. Translation: All of the grapes were grown on the same plot of land as opposed to several different vineyards. This leaves the winemaker basically at the mercy of the climate, aspect, soil, and overall conditions of one tiny plot of earth. You can understand these wines in a similar way you might the crus of France.

Normally, you don’t do much to the wine in the cellar because a single vineyard wine is a unique opportunity to let what happens in the vineyard do all the talking. Interestingly enough, we think that the winemaking choices spoke louder in both of these wines.

We opened Grüner number one and were taken aback by the dried mango and butter … no summer squash sautéed in butter. Number two was carried by ripe fruit and … wait for it … butter — reminding us of those chardonnays some of us love and others are passionately opposed to.

Is butter in wine a bad thing? Not necessarily; it’s a matter of taste. Kara likes a touch of butter in her wines from time to time, as long as it’s balanced. Jerry just says no.

The aroma is a result of a process called malolactic fermentation, where the tart acids are softened and turned into creamy, butter notes and while these Grüners reminded us of buttery chardonnay, they had a superpower that many chards don’t — a zippy, almost spritz-like acidity. These wines are still looking promising as good food wines, but we might have made the wrong choices. When white wine is softer and heavier, we want richer, creamier foods. Replace the tuna ceviche with scallops or risotto, and please, someone get us some schnitzel.

Now for our last question on the docket: Is the same thing happening to Grüner that happened to chardonnay? Is Grüner the new butter bomb? Which is better: clean, green, Grüner machine or a golden buttery ocean in which to lull yourself to sleep?

A bottle of Grüner wine surrounded by food from Calle Sol
Grüner wines pair well with seafood and vegetables. (Photo by Kara and Jerry)

That’s up to you, the townspeople. You can love a buttery wine, or you can hate it. Or you can be really controversial and have it on a Monday, then spring for a steelier style on Saturday. Whatever you do, drink what you like, and be bold about it. The world is your Grüner. 

While you can’t find these specific wines locally, your local wine shops will often have a small Austrian selection with some really delicious Grüner options. If they don’t have it, why not ask?

Kara Daly is a wine writer and educator who hosts private wine tastings for Charlotte residents. Jerry Chandler is a beverage program consultant for local restaurants by day and a wine bartender by night. JK Wine is the duo’s new Queen City Nerve column, in which they’ll seek out hidden gems in Charlotte’s wine scene and the food that pairs well with each bottle. Follow Kara on IG @wineisconfusing and Jerry @runswithbottles.

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