Weingut Knoll Loibner Gruner Veltliner Federspiel 2010
Several years ago Gruner Veltliner was the darling of the trend-setting Sommeliers in New York and San Francisco. Then little known, Gruner offered a high acid, versatile white that yet bore similarities to Sauvignon Blanc that allowed the average restaurant diner to have something familiar with which to associate it.
These days Gru-V has given way to the Jura, orange wine, dry Hungarian whites, and many examples from the natural wine movement, particularly from Italy and France. As such, these wines have become buried in restaurant wine lists and retail shelves in the U.S. and are essentially non-existent in both restaurants and retail in Vancouver.
I even admit losing interest in these wines, focusing instead on Austrian Riesling. That was until I drank a 2008 Knoll Smaragd Gruner at Chicago’s Sepia – an upper echelon white wine, clearly amongst the world’s greats.
Gruner is not a historic grape in Austria. This may astonish some, but the grape has really only been important in Austria for the last 50 or so years. Now, it is Austria’s most widely planted grape. It can grow in great abundance and so is used both for cheap everyday wines as well as serious, high end examples.
The Wachau, where Knoll is located, is the heart of Gruner production in Austria. The region sits west of Vienna, along the Danube river and resembles Germany in look, though perhaps more Alsace in terms of the style of wine: dense and potent. Austrian white wines (particularly Riesling and Gruner) are often also austere, though the best transform considerably with age, taking on more honeyed, richer characteristics that counter the minerality and acid these wines tend to possess when young.
Founded in 1825, Weingut Knoll is located in Unterloiben on the eastern reaches of the Wachau. Being eastern means that the vineyards around Knoll see warmer air that enters the valley from the south (vs. the cooler northern air that dominates on the valley’s west end). Knoll is known to produce power packed, austere wines that need several years in the cellar to fully develop. In fact, many appear off putting until they’ve had at least 5 years in bottle. This has much to do with Knoll’s philosophy, which is to focus entirely on typicity. As such, most techniques are traditional: hand harvesting leads to fermentation in large oak barrels (and steel) and effectively no malo-lactic. As such, Knoll’s wines, including its Gruners, need patience and an appreciation for subtlety over obvious pleasure. The rewards, however, are world class wine at very reasonable prices.
This Federspiel (which means mid-range ripeness from 11.5-12.5% ABV) Gruner is still tightly wound. The step down in ripeness from Smaragd is quite distinct as the minerality and acid take centre stage in this wine compared to the Smaragd’s peaches and orchard fruit core.
However, the austerity is starting to break somewhat and, when paired with a lemon, baby artichoke pasta, the wine started to display more of its fruit as the various acids danced perfectly together (artichokes are also known to make wines taste somewhat sweeter).
In conclusion, while most Federspiels are meant to be consumed young this wine needs a few years more age for its components to start melding together and becoming more expressive. Accordingly it is representative of Knoll’s house style, with wines needing more age than competing wineries. The Federspiel is not the same level of wine as the ‘08 Smaragd I had in Chicago, but it’s certainly an exciting and worthy example of Gruner and firms my opinion of Knoll as amongst my top 2-3 Austrian producers.
~$30 at Esquin in Seattle