Austrian Grüner Veltliner and German Riesling are two of the best-selling wine categories on SommSelect, and the reason is simple: People know they’re going to over-deliver each and every time.
Whenever I find myself in an unfamiliar wine-shopping situation (maybe it’s a grocery store while on vacation, or a last-minute pickup on the way to a dinner party), I’m most likely to look for one of those two, knowing that, especially in a place with a limited selection, they’re the safest bets. When buying for SommSelect, of course, I sift through scores of each to find the best of the best, and today’s bargain-priced Grüner Veltliner from Högl is like a lighthouse in a storm. Across the entirety of their lineup, Högl over-delivers in dramatic fashion, so much so that I marvel at how they’re not better known. This vigorous, versatile Federspiel is what I’d call a “back pocket” white wine—that is, a white wine option to always have in your back pocket. Scoop this up by the case and you’ll be well-prepared for any wine scenario life throws your way!
Growing grapes in cooler regions came with plenty of challenges in the late 20th century, but as global warming creeps into the world’s greatest terroirs, producers like Högl have found a newfound advantage. The Wachau is Austria’s premier region for Grüner Veltliner, and like many wine regions, there is a warm side and a cooler side. Strangely the only major European river to flow in an eastward direction is the Danube, and it is the lifeline of the Wachau—the ultimate regulator of temperature, frost, and humidity. Högl finds itself in the Wachau’s beginning, the westernmost section, at the end of the famous Spitzer Graben vineyard, where temperatures are slightly cooler from the east side. Josef Högl and his son Georg put the “J&G” in today’s wine, which is their ‘entry-level’ bottling: a step lower in alcohol than their other bottlings, but by no means dumbed-down or simple. By law in the Wachau, “Federspiel” wines must achieve an alcohol of at least 11.5% but stay below 12.5%. So, when you buy a wine that says “Federspiel,” you know you are getting a fresher, livelier style of Grüner Veltliner.
The fruit comes from a collection of vineyards all over the Wachau from west to east, from the less steep terraces which give the wine its “ready-to-go” flavors. The wine’s freshness, though, is an ode to Spitz, home of the Högl cellar. Josef’s philosophy is purist, standing by healthy fruit over manipulation in the cellar, making the final wine a precise snapshot of grape and place, nothing more or less.
Today’s wine has the best of both worlds—there is plenty of sweet fruit and wet earth on the nose, but the palate surges to bone-dry (only 1 gram of residual sugar per liter!). With those characteristics, it’s fun-loving and shamelessly gulp-able so make sure to have a back-up plan (as in, more bottles). The fruit ferments in the cold cellars of Spitz in stainless steel tanks with natural yeasts, followed by resting on its lees until late winter. The Federspiel styles drink better a touch cooler than their richer Smaragd counterparts, so serve this wine around 45-50 degrees. In a white wine glass, the wine’s core is pale straw with threads of green, moving into a watery rim with moderate concentration in the glass. As sommeliers we’re trained like robots to look for peppery spice notes with Grüner, but if you drink a lot of Grüner, you know that spice is not always a dominant flavor.
The Högl Federspiel style is floral over spicy; it’s not one of those white pepper spice bombs which can be off-putting. On the nose, there is lively green-yellow apple and pear fruit with an undercut of white peach and greenish white flowers. The earth plays around with wet rock, potting soil, and pretty purple chive blossoms. On the palate the wine takes stride – full of delicious Grüner pep and bounce…it’s alive! With moderate alcohol and moderate-plus acidity, today’s wine is an appetizer’s best friend, taking comfort in cold salads, vegetable terrines, lightly fried fish, and platters of charcuterie and cheese. If you really want to impress your company, then have a go at a vegetable terrine. You’ll have to spend a little more time in the kitchen with the attached recipe, but don’t worry, you’ve already got the wine part down!
Grüner Veltliner 100%
Loess & Gneiss