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Austrian Universalists

Will Motley

Grüner Veltliner has long been the most widely planted grape variety in Austria. But even in its home country, poor little Grüner got no love for years, even decades, before a recent surge in critical respect and subsequent popularity brought the grape into the spotlight of the international wine scene. Today, Grüner Veltliner is considered among those white wines with the highest potential. And while it often gets lumped in with Riesling, the differences between these two varieties are as palpable as those of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Quick Facts

  • Almost all Grüner Veltliner is dry, not sweet.
  • GV typically likes finer, less rocky soils (loess, as opposed to schist).
  • GV has a pervasive peppery quality, especially in young or under-ripe wines.
  • GV makes up 35% of all Austrian vineyards.

Great Grüner Veltliner also happens to be one of the most food-versatile wines on the planet. With its tendency toward high acidity, often balanced by a creaminess and a touch of spice, it's one of the types of wines that feels at home anywhere it goes. A born traveler. The kind of wine that exudes passion over a candlelit dinner, but who jokes around easily with your parents.

This adaptable attitude makes Grüner that perfect wine to bring around during the holidays. It's approachable for the novice, nuanced for the geek. And this small set of newly arrived offerings are particularly special, as well as really hard to come by in these parts. So you may want to grab a couple bottles, one to share, one to horde. 

 
 

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Weingut Hiedler Löss ($24)
Kamptal, Austria

Hiedler sits on the best vineyard sites in all of the Kamptal region of Austria, just 50 miles from the capital city of Vienna. They do things slowly here, without bending the grapes or wines to an imposed style. Their methods promote distinctiveness over "conventional prettiness." The textures of Hiedler wines give them a signature feel. Lots of concentration, bright juicy citrus notes, a little creamy with some weight, and oh so mouthwatering.

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Weingut Martin Nigl Freiheit ($24)
Kremstal, Austria

Nigl is unusually positioned, in that it lies within the Kremstal but has more in common, geographically, with the Wachau region to the east. Rockier soils and huge diurnal shifts (cool nights, warm days) mean a longer ripening season and spicier, leaner wines. The Nigl family has farmed grapes hear for 200 years, and a 12th C. castle overlooks the terraced vineyards. Um, quaint? To say the least. Their winemaking methods mirror this deeply old world feel. They favor cover crops over chemicals, gravity to presses, and ambient flora to commercial yeast. The dedication to sense of makes leaves Nigl transcendent, mining the universal from the particular. Freiheit ("freedom") is raised & made for freshness, with floral aromatics, lime and pear notes and a crackling-clean finish.

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Weingut Bründlmayer Kamptaler Terrassen ($32) 
Kamptal, Austria

In 2009 Wines & Spirits named Willi Bründlmayer the best Austrian winemaker of the past 25 years. Kudos, Herr Willi! Weingut Bründlmayer encompasses a vast array of microclimates and soil compositions, each with its own set of special characteristics. Minimal handling of the grapes allows those characteristics to shine through in the wine. And to capture the full potential of the region, Willi helped develop a vine training system called Lyre, which economizes sunlight and maximizes the contributions of the soil. In this sense, Bründlmayer makes archetypal GV: bright and fresh garden vegetables on the nose, ultra-clean palate, with a soft entry and a crunchy, lingering finish.