Why do sommeliers love Grüner Veltliner? How does this zesty white wine from Austria compare to Gewürztraminer and Riesling? Does it age well? What are the best food pairings?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with Rudi Rabl, founder and winemaker at Austria’s Rabl Winery.
You can find the wines we discussed here.
- What makes Grüner Veltliner such a flexible type of wine?
- Which characteristic flavours will you taste in Grüner Veltliner?
- Which dishes should you try pairing with Grüner Veltliner?
- Can you pick up aromatic similarities between Gewürztraminer and Grüner Veltliner?
- How is climate change affecting winemakers in Austria?
- Why is it harder for you to find Grüner Veltliner in North America?
- What should you look for when buying Grüner Veltliner?
- Which appetizers could you pair with Grüner Veltliner?
- How many different styles of Grüner Veltliner are available to you from Rabl?
- What can you expect from Rabl St. Laurent, as an Austrian red wine?
- What made the 2013 and 2015 vintages ones you’d particularly enjoy?
- Why is Grüner Veltliner a great candidate to add to your cellar?
- How did wild yeast lead to Rudi’s favourite moment in his winemaking career so far?
- What is Rudi’s most memorable wine moment?
- Austrian is a boutique wine producer, a country that makes less wine than the region of Bordeaux.
- It’s great to know that we get the best wines in North America, as these tend to be exported rather than the more ordinary vin de table, especially since the country produces less than what its citizens consume on average each year.
- Grüner Veltliner is such a versatile wine both stylistically and when it comes to food pairings. No wonder it’s a favourite of sommeliers.
- I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We shouldn’t be afraid of acidity. What salt is to food, I find acidity is to wine. It brings forward the flavour of both the wine and the food.
- One of the preservatives of wine is good acidity and Grüner Veltliner has it in spades so yes these wines can age well, though they’re also so vibrant and fresh when young.
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Grüner Veltliner is able to deliver an entry-level wine, but it can move up to a really full-bodied, really concentrated and also elegant wine. - Rudi Rabl Click to tweet
We shouldn’t be afraid of acidity. What salt is to food, I find acidity is to wine. It brings forward the flavour of both the wine and the food. - Natalie MacLean Click to tweet
One of the preservatives of wine is good acidity and Grüner Veltliner has it in spades. - Natalie MacLean Click to tweet
About Rudi Rabl
- Connect with Rudi Rabl
- My video interview with Rudi which includes bonus content and behind-the-scenes questions and answers
- My new class The 5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner And How To Fix Them Forever
- Rabl Langenlois Grüner Veltliner 2015
- Rabl Kittmansberg Grüner Veltliner 2015
- Rabl Terrassen Gruner Veltliner 2015
- Rabl St. Laurent 2012
- Rabl Spiegel Grüner Veltliner 2015
- Rabl Käferberg Grüner Veltliner
- Rabl Vinimum Optimum Trockenbeerenauslese Traminer 2007
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Natalie MacLean 1:00
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places, and amusingly awkward social situations? That’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie MacLean. And each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please and let’s get started.
Welcome to Episode 113. Why do sommeliers love Grüner Veltliner? How does this zesty white wine from Austria compare to say Gewürztraminer and Riesling? Does it age well, and what are the best food pairings for it? That’s exactly what you’ll discover in this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. I’m chatting with Rudi Rabl, who owns a family run winery in Austria that’s been making wine for 12 generations, including incredible Grüner Veltliner. This conversation took place on my Facebook Live video show several years ago, so please keep that in mind as the context for Rudi’s comments. In the show notes, you’ll find links to the wines we tasted, the video version of this chat and a full transcript, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class and where you can find me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube Live video every Wednesday at 7pm. That’s all in the show notes at nataliemaclean.com/113.
Now on a personal note, before we dive into the show, Miles will be watching football downstairs this weekend while I watch Your Honor on HBO upstairs. That is such a good show. The only thing I know about football is that Tom Brady is gorgeous. He’s a tight end, right? Okay, so I know he’s a quarterback. And I also know how to pair wine with game or movie snacks. What about you? What will you be watching this weekend? I’d love to hear from you. Tag me on social media at nataliemaclean on Facebook or Twitter or on Instagram I’m at nataliemacleanwine. Okay, on with the show.
Natalie MacLean 3:40
We are going to explore the ultimate wine for spring. It’s fresh, it’s crisp, it’s Grüner Veltliner Yes, I know that’s a mouthful, but you need to know this wine if you want to maximise your pleasure this spring. And we have one of the best people, one of the best producers, to talk about Grüner Veltliner. He’s joining us from Austria. Welcome Rudi Rabl.
Rudi Rabl 3:58
Hello; regards to Canada
Natalie MacLean 4:01
Well, thank you, Rudi, for being here with us. We really appreciate you joining us. So let’s kick it off actually with you, Rudi, before we dive into Grüner Veltliner, spring pairings and all kinds of things. Can you remember the moment when you first realised that you wanted to become a winemaker?
Rudi Rabl 4:20
Now, it was a long time ago, we’ve made wine since 1750, tremendous long time in the wine business. But I remember when I was with my grandfather and helped him to bring the grapes from the trailer to the press. That was really my first impression. And then he gave me a glass of the fresh pressed juice and that was my first memory.
Natalie MacLean 4:53
So it was the taste of that fresh pressed juice and you thought, wow, that’s something special and I want to be involved in that.
Rudi Rabl 5:00
Natalie MacLean 5:03
There is usually a moment isn’t it? And it’s often when we taste something, whether it’s wine or in your case as a child with fresh juice, that’s lovely. So what number generation did you mention of your family in terms of being a winemaker?
Rudi Rabl 5:13
Natalie MacLean 5:15
Wow. Okay, so when did the family start making wine or was within the wine industry?
Rudi Rabl 5:19
Natalie MacLean 5:23
That is amazing. Wow, that must be quite a history. And do you have siblings who are also involved in the wine industry or the winery?
Rudi Rabl 5:31
A little bit, my wife is in the winery. My son starts in autumn with winemaker school, and my father is still also working in the winery. It’s always a family business.
Natalie MacLean 5:45
Okay, so let’s get into Grüner Veltliner because it’s a wine that I think not everyone knows. I mean, if you’re really passionate about wine and you like to explore, for us in North America, I should say, I’m sure in Europe, it’s much better known and certainly in Austria. But for us in North America, it’s one thing to just even pronounce the name of this wine, but it’s another thing to be familiar with it. So Grüner Veltliner, I’m holding up one of your many vineyard editions, can you describe what this wine tastes like?
Rudi Rabl 6:17
I can describe how this bottle tastes but it’s not easy to describe the Grüner Veltliner in general, because the Grüner Veltliner is one varietal, but is able to deliver from a simple wine and basic wine and entry level wine that you drink fresh and fruity on the terrace, but it can move up to a really full bodied, really concentrated, but also elegant wine. You can also make an ice wine or Trockenbeerenauslese. So with Grüner Veltliner you have the whole range of all the possibilities, whatyou can do with the Grüner.
Natalie MacLean 7:04
Alright, so in styles and sweetness and weight, and so on. Now, one descriptor, I’ve heard, Rudi, but let me know what you think, is white pepper. Is that typical of Grüner Veltliner and why would that be if so?
Rudi Rabl 7:17
I can’t say why this but it is. The peppery taste you find very often in the Grüner , but you find also a lot of other spices in the nose. But you have also very, very fruit driven, yellow fruits, stone fruits, but that’s where it grows, in which places, which type of soil it grows. That makes a huge difference in style
Natalie MacLean 7:43
Sure, it’s such a versatile wine. What are some of your favourite food pairings with Grüner Veltliner?
Rudi Rabl 7:49
As Austrian I have to say a wienerschnitzel because that is Austrian tradition but I prefer Grüner Veltliner with a lot of Asian dishes. You can play with the herbs, with the spices, that’s always good with the Grüner Veltliner.
Natalie MacLean 8:07
So I guess because it has that natural spice character. When you say spice people try to understand what that means in a wine? Do you mean sort of the lighter spices that also come through Gewürztraminer like the light baking spices like nutmeg, white pepper? How can people understand what spice is in Grüner Veltliner?
Rudi Rabl 8:29
You said Gewürztraminer. And that’s correct, the right direction. Because Grüner Veltliner is crossing between Gewürztraminer. Traminer is the mother and they are seeking for a long time for the father and they found it in a small village in Burgenland, on the east border with Hungary, they found the father and so it’s a little bit familiar to Gewürztraminer
Natalie MacLean 8:59
I actually didn’t realise that. So it’s a cross between Gewürztraminer and another vine. So it would have some aromatic similarities with Gewürztraminer, then those spicy characters and so on. I just find it very, very food friendly. I mean, when you get crisp acidity and we shouldn’t be afraid of acidity. What salt is to food I find acidity is to wine, it brings forward the flavour of both the wine and the food. But it’s just ultimately so food friendly in terms of, from seafood and shellfish to vegetarian. I can’t think of many dishes that wouldn’t go with a Grüner Veltliner other than perhaps maybe a big juicy steak, something like that. So Rudi, what are of the challenges of making wine in Austria? It’s a cool climate, but what is particularly challenging about making wine in Austria?
Rudi Rabl 9:48
What we see in the last years is the climate change. In one way it’s good for us because we are really a cool climate country and with climate change, we have an earlier spring. So the shoots start early with growing and then we have some late frosts, like this year. And that’s always a little bit of a challenge. But the problem is in general with wine growing here, but with the climate change, it is better and better as for the ripening, for the quality
Natalie MacLean 10:23
Because you’re getting a longer ripening season. It’s getting warmer.. And what does early frost do? What happens then? What damage or what’s the downside of an early frost for you?
Rudi Rabl 10:34
Damage of some bunches. This year they had a nice spring. Last year, we had some regions they lost up to 40 to 50%
Natalie MacLean 10:45
Oh, wow, 50% that’s a lot. Why don’t you think Grüner Veltliner is better known in North America? Is it just because of the small production and it’s traditionally been mostly consumed in Austria or Europe? Or is it because of just trying to pronounce it in a store and ask for it? Why don’t more people know about Grüner Veltliner?
Rudi Rabl 11:04
It’s simple. We produce here in Austria, less than one percent of the whole world by market. So it is as if we produce nothing. We have in Austria less than 45,000 hectares, that’s less than Bordeaux. But on the other hand, Grüner Veltliner in Europe is a really well known varietal. And also in the US, the big cities, you find a lot of restaurants, a lot of wine shops, that you find the Grüner Veltliner
Natalie MacLean 11:37
Yes, it seems to be the darling of sommeliers; sommeliers love this wine, especially in fine the restaurants.
Rudi Rabl 11:42
Because it’s so food friendly. And I tried since 2004 to bring this wine to Canada to explain what Grüner Veltliner is and to show it by tastings.
Natalie MacLean 11:59
And what’s the mark of a fine Grüner Veltliner? How do we know we’ve hit on a good one? Would you say you need to look for this, this, and this as something that marks a really good Grüner Veltliner.
Rudi Rabl 12:10
I think if you go to the monopoly shops in Canada, you can pick every Grüner Veltliner, because only the good wines go to export. The basic wines are always in the country so I think there’s not really a bad wine in one of the Canadian stores.
Natalie MacLean 12:40
That’s good to know. It’s reassuring. Yeah, it is a small section; small but mighty and growing. I don’t know if you know offhand how fast Austrian wine sales are growing in North America? It’s okay if you don’t, I’m just surprising you with that question. Sorry. But it must be healthy growth that you’re experiencing, given the efforts that I’ve been seeing with Austrian wines here in the country. Do you know how quickly Austrian wines are growing as a category either in Canada or North America?
Rudi Rabl 13:07
It’s not really growing and in a really big can grow too much because the Austrian people are so traditional, they drink 80% Austrian wine. So the domestic market is really a strong market for us. And we drink in Austria around 30 litre and 30 litre with 8 million people means 2.4 million hectoliters wine, and that’s exactly the average that we produce. So all what we export, we have to import and if we can grow each year by 1 or 2% then it’s a good way.
Natalie MacLean 13:53
You’re happy. Okay,so you drink 80% of it. That’s a lot like a lot of wine regions. Even here in Canada, BC. One of the reasons we can’t get a lot of BC wines here in Ontario they’re drinking it all or a lot of it, but that’s fine. That’s good. It’s an artisanal, small boutique category that’s growing slowly but surely. So Steven is asking “It’s very easy to drink. What appetiser Rudi would you suggest to best pair with Grüner Veltliner ?” He’s looking for appetiser ideas
Rudi Rabl 14:21
For appetiser. We have special appetisers in Austria, some spread on bread and some greens. One is called Liptauer, cheese with some paprika, it’s red coloured, spread on bread; another is salad because the acidity of the Grüner Veltliner works very well with salad.
Natalie MacLean 14:50
Yeah, that would be a good pairing. Yeah, absolutely. I would think just in that family of fresh herbal, crisp, white wines like Sauvignon Blanc but Grüner Veltliner as well would certainly be up there for fresh field greens. And Steven is back. He’s really determined to figure out all kinds of pairings, Rudi, he’s wondering, “Would it go with a nice white fish simply prepared?”
Rudi Rabl 15:15 Definitely; that would be all right
Natalie MacLean 15:18
Steven is making me hungry and Rudi, you’re making me thirsty. So I should try this one. Now how many different Grüner Veltliner do you make? Because I assume that is a vineyard designation here?
Rudi Rabl 15:30
Natalie MacLean 15:31
Yes, I put it up close here.
Rudi Rabl 15:33
That’s the Grüner Veltliner Spiegel but I make in general 12 different Grüner Veltliner. That starts with a restaurant wine. But we sell to some restaurants in the one litre bottle. But very famous is in Austria is the spritzer; it’s a mix between a half wine and half sparkling water
Natalie MacLean 15:58
Okay, and you don’t mind that?
Rudi Rabl 16:00
Oh, I drink more spritzer than beer if I’m thirsty. That’s really, really traditional. And for the spritzer we take the Austrian Grüner Veltliner. Then I have different vineyards. So we want to make it in categories. I have the Kamptal DAC. So that’s the domestic wine from different vineyards, from more villages. And then the next step, I have a Grüner Veltliner Terrassen. This is a wine that grows on different terraces, terraces with different type of soil. So I have some loess terraces with sandy loess soil, but I use also some fruits from primary rock terraces.
Natalie MacLean 16:42
Okay, so rocky and sandy loam; the kind of soil that makes vine roots suffer, right? They kind of have to search deep down for that water and those nutrients.
Rudi Rabl 16:52
Correct?. Then I have the village wine Langenlois: Langenlois is the village where our winery is. It’s the centre of the Kamptal. And then it starts with some single vineyard wines, like you have in your glass, Spiegel Grüner Veltliner, made really for only for my agent in Ontario, not in the reserve category, in the classic style category. And all the other single vineyards are done in the reserve category. At the moment there are 4 different; Käferberg is the most famous, then Schenkenbichl and Loiserberg; that’s the name of the vineyards.
Natalie MacLean 17:36
Okay. Wow. That’s great. And now Austria is not really well known for red wines. So tell us about St Laurent. Is this another cross between two groups we might be more familiar with or is it a native?
Rudi Rabl 17:51
St. Laurent is a varietal. St. Laurent is one partner of the most popular Austrian red wine Zweigelt; a crossing between Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent.
Unknown Speaker 18:08
Okay. Well, thank you. Blaufränkisch. These are names that many of us are not familiar with, but we need to get to know. How would you compare St. Laurent? You’ve got one there with you I think. What kind of style? Is it medium body? How would you describe it
Rudi Rabl 18:23
It’s medium bodied
Unknown Speaker 18:25
Rudi Rabl 18:26
This wine, I have it more on the fruity side. Without oak, it is medium bodied. I think it’s low alcohol. I think it’s a wine style you also can drink in the summer. A little bit chilly, not too warm, not too cold; around 14-15 degrees. I think it’s also a nice summer wine. Because it’s fruit driven. It’s a little bit familiar with the Pinot Noir.
Natalie MacLean 18:53
It is, it is. It’s fresh and fruity and not heavy. And you know, as we go into the summer months here and in Europe, and the weather heats up, the last thing you want is high alcohol in your glass. So it’s quite nice. And you know, as you say, you can even serve it just with a slight chill on it for better refreshment too I think. We sometimes do that. So Lynn has joined us. And she’s asking you, Rudi, “What’s the best year in the last decade?”
Rudi Rabl 19:21
Which vintage? 2013 because this was structure, complexity, and really a good acidity, and also 2015. Maybe from the success, it’s more 2015, for the quality and you want to store a wine for couple of years; I think it’s 2013. If you want to keep a Grüner Veltliner for 15-25 years, I think it’s perfect, perfect.
Natalie MacLean 19:52
Well and we don’t always think about ageing white wines in general for a long time. But of course, one of the preservatives of wine is good acidity. Certainly Grüner Veltliner has it in spades. So, hearing you say 15-20 years this could last; what happens as Grüner ages? Does it become nuttier or what comes out as it matures 20 years on? What will this taste like?
Rudi Rabl 20:14
The yellow fruits goes more in the back. And the influence of this soil comes more in the front, more of the blend stone, more of the minerality, more modest characters go in the front. It’s funny always; they also produce a lot of Riesling and when I take for my vineyard a photo of all those ripe Riesling and they’re right by Grüner Veltliner from the same year, then the people are always surprised that the Grüner Veltliner is always better, always fresher. Riesling shows then if it’s 10, 15 20 years old, they put right there the petrol taste taste, and the Grüner Veltliner is really good
Natalie MacLean 20:58
That’s an interesting comparison between Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. Rudi, a few questions to sort of wrap up our segment. What is kind of your most memorable winemaking experience at the beginning of our conversation, you describe that moment when you first tasted the juice as a child, that was lovely. But in your years of winemaking, is there a particular moment that has stood out for you?
Rudi Rabl 21:21
There’s definitely been a particular moment. It was in the year 2006. I sent a Grüner Veltliner from the vineyard Käferberg to the Decanter magazine. I was up at the school, I come home and we learned to use a lot of yeast to make wine and the different type of yeast, you can make this and that that. And my father, my grandfather said “What should we do with the yeast” he told me; they always ferment it from alone and that’s wasted money. And, I tried different things and I made the Grüner Veltliner Käferberg without yeast.
Natalie MacLean 22:14
Rudi Rabl 22:15
Yes; without yeast and so a wild fermentation
Natalie MacLean 22:17
You depended on, just so for folks who are not familiar with this, a wild yeast that just sort of settled on the juice to ferment it instead of adding your own yeast.
Rudi Rabl 22:23
yes. And I send this wine to London, to the Decanter, to the Decanter World Wine Award and won in the first step the best Austrian Grüner Veltliner and the second in the second step; it was then the best white wine in the world
Natalie MacLean 22:48
that’s great. What a great experiment. And do you continue with wild yeast?
Rudi Rabl 22:52
Absolute, absolute. From this moment I made more and more. And I think that’s a good way.
Natalie MacLean 23:00
Yeah, it really shows the land the terroir, to use a buzzword, but it really shows and expresses the soil and so on. So, Rudi, thank you so much for being here with us. We really appreciate especially since it’s midnight, your time. So thank you, you’re real sport for joining us here. Thank you, Rudi, and good luck with this year’s harvest.
Rudi Rabl 23:21
Natalie, thank you for inviting me for this chat. And I’m sure this year I have no other time. But next year, I want to come back to Canada. And I hope I meet a lot of people for some tastings and I’ll let you know when I come
Natalie MacLean 23:40
Please do. That would be wonderful. And we look forward to tasting more of your wines.
Rudi Rabl 23:45
Thank you. Okay, bye, bye.
Natalie MacLean 23:53
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Rudi Rabl. Here are my takeaways. Number one, Austria is a boutique wine producer, a country that makes less wine than the region of Bordeaux.
Two, it’s great to know that we get the best wines in North America, as well as other regions that get Austrian exports, as these tend to be exported rather than the ordinary vin de Table, especially since the country produces less than what its citizens consume on average each year.
Three, Grüner Veltliner is such a versatile wine; both stylistically and when it comes to food pairings. No wonder it is a favourite of sommeliers.
Four, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. We shouldn’t be afraid of acidity. What salt is to food; acidity is to wine; it brings forward flavour in both the wine and the food.
And five, one of the preservatives of wine is good acidity and Grüner has it in spades. So yes, these wines can age well They’re also very vibrant and fresh when they’re young.
In the show notes, you’ll find links to the wines we tasted, the video version of this chat and a full transcript, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class, and where you can find me on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube Live video every Wednesday at 7pm. That’s all in the show notes at nataliemaclean.com/113. You won’t want to miss next week when I’m going solo to talk about seduction wines for Valentine’s Day. Plus the rising level of alcohol in wine overall and how it affects our palates, minds and bodies. In the meantime, if you missed Episode 81 go back and take a listen. I chat with another Austrian winemaker Heidi Marie Pfaffl about Grüner Veltliner and other wines that her family owned winery produces. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.
Heidi Marie Pfaffl 25:58
Grüner can be so versatile. You can have Grüner that’s lively and fresh. But you also can find quite rich and full body Grüners that somehow reminds you of Chardonnay. We often have tastings of old Grüner Veltliners in comparison to old burgundy wines. And it’s often hard to find the difference.
Natalie MacLean 26:19
So they age well, because they’ve got the acidity, which is one of the ageing elements.
Heidi Marie Pfaffl 26:23
Yes, but also, not all of them are the same. You have some very full bodied rich ones that age really well, the reserve styles, but you also have the easy drinking, lively, fresh Grüners. They are really made for drinking young.
Natalie MacLean 26:42
If you liked this episode, please tell a friend about it this week, especially someone you know who’d be interested in the tips that Rudi shared. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week, perhaps a zesty Grüner Veltliner paired with wienerschnitzel.
You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at Nataliemaclean.com/subscribe, maybe here next week. Cheers!