Great Grüner! 2011 Hofer Grüner Veltliner

Austria’s top drop continues to be Grüner Veltliner. And although there may be a lot of groovy Grüners grabbing up shelf space in the old Austrian section, few have had as a successful run as Hofer has over the past five years.

The mineral-strewn and white pepper aromas of the 2011 Hofer Grüner meld into an agreeable flavor of crisp green apples. This beautiful blonde wine comes decked out in a big green over-sized bottle that may affectionately become your liter of love.

Keep in mind that it’s 33% more in volume than a standard-size 750ml bottle and will run you about $13.

Cool white wines to quench that Spring fever

* The hot weather has arrived early again this year and after spending the last forty days without a cold beer, I was motivated to explore some white wines.  After trying lots of uninspired whites, I settled on a couple of Sauvignon Blancs and two whites from Austria known as Gruner Veltliner.  As we inch closer to the Lake and find ourselves more and more in the great outdoors, these wines make for great thirst quenchers.

Hofer 2005 Gruner Veltliner ($9.99)

The king of Austrian grapes, Gruner Veltliner (GROO-ner VELT-lee-ner), is slowly growing in popularity around the world.  If you’re curious to try something new this spring, then the 2005 Hofer is an affordable way to scratch that itch.  Fresh and aromatic with citrus highlights, Hofer has balanced acidity and soft apple notes that offer a simple crispness.

Adding to the value of this $10 wine is the fact that it comes in a full liter size bottle. So, although it may look like a forty-ounce malt liquor, that extra glass of wine will come in handy when that pesky neighbor floats on down for a visit. Complete with a pop-top, Hofer would even have Jimmy Buffet singing about an Austrian beauty, hopefully without the lederhosen.

2004 Oriel Ortolan Gruner Veltliner ($16.99)

Once you’ve gotten a taste for Gruner Veltliner, you’ll be anxious to explore this Austrian treat at greater depth.  The 2004 Oriel Ortolan is the next step up from the Hofer and worth the extra cash. Complex and floral, the Oriel Ortolan offers up a successful juggling act of lemon, lime, and mineral notes with a nice lingering spice to the finish that even some ragin’ Cajuns would love.

Great as an aperitif, this Gruner Veltliner demonstrates a promising future for the Oriel label.  Representing dozens of regions in nine different countries, Oriel is receiving kudos as world famous winemakers producing niche wines.  Be on the lookout as more and more of these wines enter the market. You won’t be disappointed.

2006 Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc ($13.99)

Early spring is the time of year when all the new releases of wines start to arrive in the market.  One of the first 2006 vintages I’ve noticed is the Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc.  One of my all-favorite Sauvignon Blancs, Ferrari-Carano is a reliable white wine year in and year out.  So after trying the last of my 2005 vintages, I was glad to see the fresh juice arrive.

If you’re looking for a dry white wine with no acidic “bite”, then I highly recommend you go for a bottle of the Ferrari-Carano.  It’s softened by minimal aging in oak barrels and has a roundness to it that many of those bone-dry California Sauvignon Blancs lack.  Over time, the 2006 vintage should develop to reveal some fantastic apple characters.  If you ever get a chance to go to Sonoma, be sure to check out this winery’s stately gardens and facilities. It’s no wonder the wine is so good.

2006 Fumaio Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay ($7.77)

Fumaio is a new wine from Banfi Vintners of Italy.  Although it’s a blend of two different grapes, it’s the Sauvignon Blanc that shines through.  Much drier than the others in the tasting, Fumaio has grassy aromas that are complimented by flavors of grapefruit, lemon and kiwi.  Clean and balanced, Fumaio is moderately herbal and as clear as H2O.  So head to the water and cast that anchor in your favorite secret slew. With a screw top in hand all you need now are a few glasses and some good friends.

* A version of this column was publishes in 2007 in the Knoxville News Sentinel

There is life after Chardonnay

Walking past the aisles and aisles of wine at the store can be very informative. Over the years, you notice that many consumers are not only brand-loyal but are often loyal to a single varietal of wine. Knowing what you are getting can be very comforting and safe. Likewise, knowing what you’ve taken home means no big surprises when it comes to bottle-opening time at that next dinner party.

That being said, wine is like most things in life. By venturing out and trying new things, you can grow to have a greater understanding of things that are very different from what you’re used to, as well as growing to have a greater appreciation of what you’ve always known and enjoyed. So, even if you’re comfortable where you are, it’s still good to reach out and try something new, something off the beaten path. You may not fall in love with all the new wines you taste, but you won’t be disappointed in experimenting with something new or unique.

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