The Cheap, Gluggable Lite of Gruner Got Weird

The avant-grunters are a new generation in the classic Austrian Party Wine.

The 1-liter bottle of Gruner Veltliner says it all: “I want to be drunk as soon as possible and ideally with others.”

The crown-capped packaging of the Gruner-liter, unlike other large formats, is what makes it so appealing. The first wave of Austrian wines arrived in the United States during the 1990s and 2000s. Importer Terry Theise brought a range of low-cost, high-quality bottles from his stable of Austrian producers. Early touchstones were the organically grown wines of H&M Hofer & Weingut Berger. These are now widely considered benchmarks in the genre.

Erich Berger of Weingut Berger says that Austrians are familiar with offering inexpensive, simple table wines to the local population. Berger says that they have been bottling their gruner-veltliner this way for years, as it is a simple and easy-to-drink wine. For a new generation of American wine drinkers who were learning how to enjoy wine on a daily basis, this category became surprisingly liberating. It was the original party wine.

The classic 1-liter bottle remains a staple of today’s retail landscape. The wider wine world has changed. The rapid mainstreaming and popularity of natural wines prompted the wine scene to inject its own “lo fi” aesthetic into the concept. The liter is now synonymous with an affordable, easy-drinking natural wine (such as Selection Massale’s La Boutanche or Ampeleia’s Un Litro) that are refreshing without the need for sustained meditation.

The irony is a common theme: the Gruner-liter, which inspired a whole subgenre of wines, no longer appeals to younger consumers who are used to edgier and more esoteric food. Austria, a hotbed of winemaking innovation in Europe, has begun to write a new chapter. Both established, and upstart winemakers are rethinking the format that they have relied upon for decades. The cheap, easily gulpable liters of Gruner became weird.

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Recent releases have radically reinterpreted the genre and recast the reliable staple into the image of Austrian avant-garde. Take, for instance, the work done by Gerald Diem, a fifth-generation winemaker. He’s based in the Weinviertel, which is a historical source for 1-liter bottles. He’s also one of only a few producers, many of whom work in a natural style, who have begun experimenting with macerated grape expressions.

The orange wine treatment brings out the savory and herbal qualities of the grape. Diem’s D’Ora Orange Liter, a blend of 90 percent single-vineyard Gruner with a touch of roter-trainer after three weeks of skin contact, is unfiltered and unfined. It occupies that unexpected corner of the Venn Diagram where “orange,” “chuggable,” and “chuggable harmony” intersect.

Jutta Ambrositsch is a rising star in Vienna. Burgenland-born, she’s earned her reputation by channeling the unique personalities of historic hillside vines that have fuelled the city’s vibrant and thriving wine culture for centuries. She is known for producing site-specific cuvees, which are highly sought-after rarities. It’s probably her Gruner dominant Ein Liter Wien (a play-on word that roughly translates to “a liter” of Vienna) that best embodies her mission of translating the native terroir of Vienna for a newer generation of wine enthusiasts.

Marco Kalchbrenner is Ambrositsch’s husband and partner in business. He oversees the daily operations of the project. Ein Liter Wien, Ambrositsch’s modern interpretation of the hyperlocal harvest mixes of the Viennese wine taverns or heifers, is an unusually complex blend made from second-press juices from all of her single-vineyard holdings, including an old-vine plot of Gruner that was planted in the 1960s. It is a blend of fruity, floral, and juicy wines that strikes the perfect balance in terms of drinkability and thought.

Ambrositsch’s and her fellow compatriot’s success shows that being serious about your intentions doesn’t have to mean giving up all the reasons the liter Gruner became so popular. The bottles may have different aesthetics, but they all adhere to the original concept of the liter of Gruner: providing a large amount of tasty, drink-me-now wine at a low price.

Four AVANT-GRUNERS to Try

Jutta Ambrositsch Ein Liter Wien 2021

This blend from Jutta ambrositsch is surprisingly textured and full-bodied, thanks to its high percentage of old vine fruit. It contains more than 50% gruner-veltliner. You can also enjoy this wine in its natural habitat if you are lucky enough to be visiting Vienna during the summer.

 

Familie Bauer Gruner Veltliner Hollotrio 2022

Josef and Eva Maria Bauer, who live in Grossriedenthal, Wagram, Austria, just a short drive down the Danube River from Vienna, produce a range of lively, fresh wines, all of which are user-friendly. They’re also converting their 42 acres to biodynamic practices. Hollotrio, a hazy golden white, is one of three whites macerated in the Bauers’ lineup. It has a punchy flavor of citrus, herbs, and pineapple. Consider it the wine equivalent of the IPA.

 

Weingut Diem D’Ora Orange Niederosterreich 2022

What to bring to the late summer cookout now that you’re over roses? It may not be obvious, but a high-acid, slightly tannic, spritz orange wine, like this one from Gerald Diem of the Weinviertel, is a great way to wash down your potato salad and hot dog.

 

Frug Gruner Veltliner 2022

Jenny & Francois Selections – the pioneering natural importer – recently partnered with Josef & Pia Wurzinger from Burgenland Wurzinger Winery to create a fun, low-intervention liters lineup under the Frug brand. The result? This liter of organically grown Gruner is savory and plush (thanks in part to the malolactic ferment and 10 weeks on lees). The disco-era label is a good indication of what you can expect.

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