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The hot white wine of the moment

Austria’s grüner veltliner is a lovely alternative to the familiar standbys — the 2004 "Gobelsburger" shows why.

Perhaps grüner veltliner is topped only by gewürztraminer among grape varieties that are considerably easier to drink than they are to pronounce. While the spicy and herbal gewürztraminer is well known and widely grown — from France’s Alsace region to California — the more esoteric grüner veltliner is grown mainly in Austria and was below the radar in this country until the last few years.

Now, with imports of Austrian wine increasing, the secret is out and grüner veltliner (pronounced GRU-ner VELT-lin-er) is taking its rightful place in more wine stores and restaurant wine lists.

It was only a matter of time. That’s because well-made grüner, in my view, has the "stuff" to compete for our attention (and dollars) with chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, to name just two ubiquitous whites to which it should be considered an interesting and worthy alternative.

The least expensive versions may be little more than easy drinking whites with not much dimension. But a good starting point for those with more complexity is the excellent 2004 "Gobelsburger" Grüner Veltliner from the Schloss Gobelsburg winery, a small producer in the Kamptal area northwest of Vienna also known for its rieslings.

This elegant wine — the suggested price is $15 but I paid a few dollars less for it — won me over with the first sip, which revealed just the slightest effervescence that calmed as the wine was exposed to air. Its lovely fruit was dominated by melon, with secondary notes of apple and green pepper. There was some smoke and minerals, giving way to a characteristic spiciness on the long finish. This is my kind of wine, I thought. The flavors became more vivid the longer the wine remained out of the refrigerator, illustrating the fact that whites shouldn’t be over-chilled.

Compared with more familiar wines, this one will be a showstopper if you make it the white at a cocktail party or serve it as an aperitif. (Of course you would have to explain to the uninitiated that it is a grüner veltiliner from Austria and might find yourself repeating this any number of times.)

Beyond the pre-dinner possibilities, grüner veltliner is a versatile food wine and will match well with any number of fish and vegetable dishes and Asian foods. I decided to try the Gobelsburger with a wonderful seafood pasta sauce I like to make at this time of year with tomatoes, freshly caught bay scallops, onions and chopped fresh tarragon.

The wine was a superb companion, at once substantial enough for the richness of the dish and a refreshing counterpoint with enough acidity so that the tomatoes didn’t overpower it.

Will grüner veltliner become the new chardonnay? It’s not likely given the dominance of chardonnay in our wine culture and the relatively limited production of grüner veltliner. But the ’04 Gobelsburger makes a strong case for why I think grüner is one of the hottest white wines of the moment.

Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at EdwardDeitch