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Corkscrew - Groovy Gruner

Dig this hip Austrian grape

"I'm from the hippie era – peace, love, groovy." – '80s rock icon Rick James

I use the word "groovy" a lot. It occasionally pisses off the "older demographic" when I casually hijack their word – sprinkling it over my sentences like a watering can. But I dig groovy. My mother was an unapologetic flower child – she had a meditation room (complete with enormous bean bag chair), wore African print muumuus and sported a collection of well-worn Birkenstocks. And we had a ratty-ass VW bus. I learned groovy authentically.

So when I overheard those "in the know" praising a grape nicknamed GruVee (GROO vee), I perked up. I wondered if it merited the word that coddled groovy childhood memories. Then, after some research, I realized it needs the nickname – its tongue-twisting title is tough to pronounce, and it hails from a country few can find on a map: Grüner Veltliner (GREW ner VELT liner) from Austria. Although I imagine wine geeks would prefer to keep their long, delicious swigs of GruVee underground, I think people are thirsty for alternatives to the fast-becoming-mundane sauvignon blanc and the less-than-refreshing chardonnay. Grüner isn't like either of those, really. It's more a pinot grigio/albarino/riesling cross-dresser, but wearing fashionable Manolo Blahniks. Think sophisticated yet fun, flirty and fresh. And quite groovy.

Grüner Veltliner isn't shy; it walks right up to you, slaps you in the face and then sweetly kisses you. As unpleasant as that may sound (subjectively speaking, of course), it's tantalizing. Born and raised in Austria – that small, opera-singing, ski country next to Germany – the hills are alive with the sound of GruVee. It's the most widely planted grape in Austria, growing alongside the venerated and well-known riesling. But this spritely underdog probably pegs its prissy competitor with spitballs from across manicured vineyard rows. GruVee is the class clown with acerbic wit and style. If it were human, we'd be BFFs.

Like '70s fashions that are back in style, GruVee grows on you. The first time I massacred its unfortunate name at a wine bar in San Francisco (I'm a French speaker – German doesn't come easily), I didn't know what to expect. But GruVee didn't disappoint. With a slight edge of sweetness and a tangy finish, it can hang with all sorts of food, from lemon-drenched seafood to stalwart cheeses. It can also provide low-alcohol comfort as you drink to the last drop. Grown in a climate with hot days and cold nights, it doesn't have that in-your-face fruitiness and oakiness that many chardonnays show, so a whole bottle isn't too rich or decadent. It's well-rounded with wet slate mineralness, ripe red apple and lemon tartness, but not in that parched, saliva-sucking way. GruVee's prices fall in the $10-$15 range, but more expensive versions exist that are often worth the investment (think Rudi Pichler). So don't be scared of flirty and fresh, because this wine will give you more excuses to say "groovy" and not feel silly.

Austrian label primer:

Wachau, Kremstal, Kamptal = wine regions

Weingut = vineyard or estate

Trocken = dry wine

Qualitätswein = quality wine meeting government approval

If you want to geek out, winesfromaustria.com is an excellent resource.

Recommended Wines

Hirsch 2006 Gruner Veltliner #1 Kamptal (Austria) Tarter than other Grüners, like an albarino, this wine smacks of herbs, lemon-lime and wet rocks after a rain. Finishes clean. Sw = 1. $12. 4.5 stars.

Krems 2006 Gruner Veltliner Ried Sandgrube Kremstal (Austria) Smells like clean sheets sprinkled with lime juice. Medium-bodied and tastes of red apple, almost ripe peaches, slight diesel fuel and lime rind. Easy acids make it drinkable all day. Sw = 2. $9. 4 stars.

Sweetness (Sw) rating is out of 10, 10 being pure sugar. Star rating is out of 5, 5 being wine nirvana.



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