Grüner Veltliner study, and a remarkable story about the discovery of its parentage

Grüner Veltliner is Austria’s most important grape variety, and it’s one that is growing in popularity elsewhere. With almost 14 500 hectares, it represents 31% of Austria’s vineyard area, and there are also significant plantings in Hungary, Czech Rebublic, Slovakia and now New Zealand.

It was defined as Grüner Veltliner in 1881 by Babo and Mach. At the time it was also known as Weissgipfler or Grünmuskateller. Grüner Veltliner became its standard name in the 1930s.

For a long time, its parentage remained obscure. The first parent discovered was Traminer (aka Savagnin), which isn’t surprising because Traminer is a founder variety that has given rise to a lot of important grape cultivars in central Europe.

The second parent remained mysterious. Trawls through all the vine collections didn’t come up with anything. But this is where the story gets really interesting.

Here we head to a small village in Burgenland, called St Georgen.

Winegrower Michael Leberl had heard from his mother about a very old vine in this village, which is near Eisenstatd. Many years later, he met Georg Billes: the two were part of a local organization called Dorfblick. Billes recalled that his father had taken him to see the vine, and so together they decided to track it down. They found it in 2000 in a site called Viehtrift, which had been used as grazing land by local farmers. This vine was clearly very old, and had survived from a long abandoned vineyard. It was thought to be around 500 years old.

This was a source of great local excitement, and cuttings were taken in a quest to find out what variety it was, but initial attempts were unsuccessful. Then in 2006 a local vigneron, Hans Moser, together with Sissi Leeb, a councillor, showed the vine to Dr Ferdinand Regner, who was head of the grapevine breeding department in Klosterneuberg.

Regner had access to the sort of sequencing technologies that could identify the variety. What he found was a great surprise. This was the missing parent of Grüner Veltliner. Regner and a colleague, Hack, published their results in 2009. This appeared to be the very last vine of this particular variety, which was named St Georgener Rebe.

There’s a twist in the tale. This newly famous ancient vine was vandalized in 2011, and chopped into pieces. Fortunately, it survived. The variety has since been propagated and planted out in a vineyard, and a wine has been made.

I tried these examples, which are mostly at the affordable end of the price scale.

Birgit Eichinger Grüner Veltliner Strass 2018 Kamptal, Austria
12% alcohol
£11.68 Justerini & Brooks
This is a village-level wine from a sites planted on loess, gneiss, sandstone and granite. This has lovely aromas and flavours of pear, white peach, yellow plum and minerals. It’s rounded and textured, and grounded with a stony, slightly peppery framing. There’s a lovely presence here: such an expressive example of this grape variety with real drinkability. 91/100

Familie Mantler Grüner Veltliner Lössterrassen 2019 Austria
12% alcohol
£8.25 The Wine Society
This is really good: it has rounded pear and apple fruit with a touch of grapey richness, and lovely vivid peppery fruit. Fresh but also generous, and so typical of this variety. Lovely wine. 90/100

Weixelbaum Grüner Veltliner Ried Rosengarten 2019 Kamptal, Austria
13.5% alcohol
£24.50 Kipferl
This is a beautiful expression of Grüner Veltliner, offering generous but balanced pear and peach fruit, with some grapey richness, and a tapering peppery finish with some salty, mineral hints and crystalline citrus fruits. It’s also so aromatic and beguiling: a wine that repays attention. Expressive stuff. Delicate but full flavoured. 93/100

Morrisons The Best Grüner Veltliner 2019 Austria
12.5% alcohol
£8.25 Morrisons
Made by Markus Huber. This is fruity and rounded with appealing clean, crisp citrus fruit, some green apple, and just a hint of white pepper, as well as some table grape richness and a slight chalkiness on the finish. Nice fruity style. 87/100

Domäne Wachau Stein Feder ‘Gneis + Löss’ Grüner Veltliner 2020 Wachau, Austria
11.5% alcohol
£8.95 The Wine Society
This is bright, fresh and linear with a lovely lemony core, as well as some ripe yellow plum and peach notes, and a fresh peppery finish. Very stylish with a mineral core to the fruit. Has a slight salinity, too. 89/100

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