A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Roter Veltliner - Niederösterreich, Austria

I suppose when you decide to write about a grape called Roter Veltliner, it's probably best to go ahead and address the elephant in the room before going any further: no, Roter Veltliner is not related to Grüner Veltliner (or at least not very closely).  This seems difficult to believe given the similarities of their names, but in 1998, an Austrian research team was able to show that not only were Grüner Veltliner and Roter Veltliner not related to one another, but further that Roter Veltliner actually seems to be the more important of the two cultivars in terms of genetic history and parentage (citation 1 below).  Today I'd like to take a closer look at the Roter Veltliner grape and its little family circle.

Grüner Veltliner is certainly more widely available, widely grown and widely hailed than Roter Veltliner, but it has very limited family connections with other Austrian grape varieties.  Grüner is the offspring of Savagnin/Traminer and an obscure grape called St. Georgen-Rebe, which was discovered in an overgrown patch in an abandoned lot in Austria (source).  If there are any other grapes that Grüner has a first-degree relationship with, I have not come across them in any of the literature.  Roter Veltliner, on the other hand, is a key part of what is commonly known as the "Veltliner family," which Grüner is actually not a member of.  The family relationships break down like this:

- Roter Veltliner crossed with Savagnin to create Rotgipfler (which makes Rotgipfler and Grüner Veltliner half-siblings since they share Savagnin as a parent)
- Roter Veltliner also crossed with Silvaner (which is itself an offspring of Savagnin and Österreichisch weiß) to create Neuburger and Frühroter Veltliner
- Frühroter Veltliner was crossed with Grauer Portugieser (which is the pink-berried form of Blauer Portugieser) to create Jubiläumsrebe

Wine Grapes reports that Roter Veltliner likely crossed with a close relative of Traminer/Savagnin to create Zierfandler, but the paper that they cite for support for this doesn't seem to mention Zierfandler at all (though it is in German, and I could be missing it [link immediately begins to download PDF]).  Furthermore, in the 1998 paper referenced above, the authors specifically say "in contrast to previous assumptions...no close genetic relationship between Rotgipfler and Zierfandler could be detected."  If the two grapes shared a common parent, you would expect them to have between 50 and 100% similar DNA, but this study indicates that they could find no such similarity between the two.  The lead author on the Wine Grapes referenced paper is actually also an author on the 1998 paper mentioned above (as well as the lead author on a follow-up paper in 2000, citation 2 below, which also doesn't mention Zierfandler but which traces the Veltliner family tree pretty thoroughly), so it seems odd that he'd not include those findings in either of the papers I've cited but would in the German paper cited by WG.  Since I can't find any published results which show a first degree relationship between Zierfandler and Roter Veltliner or Rotgipfler, and since the papers I've read certainly would have performed the analysis to check for a relationship, I feel OK in saying that there probably isn't one.

Some of you may still be puzzling over the fact that there is no relationship between Roter Veltliner and Grüner Veltliner despite their similar sounding names.  Since Grüner means "green"(and Grüner's berries are green)  and Roter means "red" (and Roter's berries are red) we should be able to find some link between the two grapes through the word "Veltliner," right?  Unfortunately, it isn't totally clear just where the "Veltliner" part of the name comes from.  Many believe that it comes from the word "Veltlin," which is the German word for "Valtellina," which is a valley in northern Lombardia in Italy that borders Switzerland.  The story goes that Grüner Veltliner was named for this valley because it was introduced from there by the Romans.  The problem with this is that the name only seems to  appear in print after 1855 and prior to that, the grape was called Weißgipfler or Grüner Muskateller (despite the fact that it is not related to the Muscat family either).  If the Veltliner were a reference to a Roman origin, it should be traceable further back than that through the historical record, but it doesn't seem to be.  This piece gives some interesting history, but it seems that the answer to the origin of the Veltliner name is still a mystery (though it is worth nothing that all of this research was done for Grüner and not Roter Veltliner, which is apparently not popular enough to warrant this kind of scholarship on its own).

Grüner Veltliner is easily the most widely planted grape in Austria, covering just over 42,000 acres of land in Austria.  Roter Veltliner, by contrast, is only planted on about 640 acres in Austria and is in fact more widely planted in Slovakia, where it covers nearly 900 acres of land.  As you might expect, wines made from it are considerably harder to find than wines made from Grüner, but I was able to find a bottle of the 2009 Ecker Eckhof Roter Veltliner from my friends at the Spirited Gourmet for around $20.  In the glass the wine was a medium silvery lemon color.  The nose was fairly intense with lemon and lime citrus aromas along with some green apple and a touch of apricot.  On the palate the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acidity.  There were flavors of lemon, green apple, lime peel, and lees with a mouthwatering, stony mineral finish.  It was bright, zippy and tart but with nice body and complexity as well.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and found myself disappointed that there weren't more examples around that I could try.  It's definitely something I'll be keeping an eye out for in the future.

1) Sefc, KM, Steinkellner, H, Glossl, J, Kampfer, S, & Regner, F.  1998.  Reconstruction of a grapevine pedigree by microsatellite analysis.  Theoretical and Applied Genetics.  97, pp 227-231

2) Regner, F, Sefc, K, Glossl, J & Steinkellner, H.  2000.  Parentage analysis and pedigree reconstruction of vine cultivars using microsatellite markers.  Acta Horticulturae.  528, pp 133-138,

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