Wine Guy Explains Wine Things: Grüner Veltliner, the White Wine that Acts Like a Martini, Plus Party Reds and When Gnarly Is Good

Anne Fishbein
Lou Amdur of Lou: A Wine Bar checks in with Squid Ink once a week.

SQUID INK: Today, we'd like to discuss wines that you can bring to a party -- we're thinking about wines that are inexpensive but won't make your friends look at you funny.

LOU: There are a few different growers who make bone-dry, green Grüner Veltliner. It is the white grape of Austria.

What's the difference between Austrian whites and German whites?

Austrian white wine is typically quite dry. There's a couple different Grüners. Again, they're bone-dry. If somebody wants a martini and you're not serving hard alcohol, serve them an ice-cold glass of one of Grüner Veltliner and say, "Here's your martini." It functions just like a martini and has that refreshing bite, a little bit of bitterness and it may be a little herbaceous, too.

Brand names please.

One is made by Berger and it's like $10 or $12 for a LITER.

A litre for ten bucks? Woo hoo!

Yeah, and there's one that I love even more: by Pollerhof. Either one of those rock for the price. They're great. Again, these are not wines that are profound wines but they're meant to be consumed young and they're great.

Moving on to reds. We're supposed to think "Spain," right?

There's a lot of really inexpensive wine from Spain, wine you can buy retail for, like, $8 or $7, even with the dollar being in the toilet. You get a lot of wine for your money. But there sure are a lot of boring Spanish wines.

What Spanish wine isn't snoozeworthy?

There's a tempranillo from Eguren. They make them for $10 or $12 a liter. It's fun trying wine in a liter. Sometimes you find not a wine that you need to put in your cellar for twenty years, but it's a really good deal. The Erugen surprisingly has a lot of character, but is fairly earthy but also has a really good fruit, too. A little bit of cherry.

So Spain can be dull. What about the south of France?

Vin de pays is really inexpensive. Vin de pays means "country wine." You know what has a beautiful label and I really recommend strongly? There's a table wine called Les Hérétiques. Note: the wine is named in honor of the Cathar heretics who were all murdered during the Albigensian crusades. I'm a Jew and this happened in the 11th century, but when I traveled I could still feel the fierce independence of the Cathars in their monolithic fortresses.

Still...who names their wine "The Heretics"?

It's from a beloved producer from Languedoc named Andre Iché who died a couple of years ago. He's a wine maker who was famous for his Minervois. He already made enough money to have a very comfortable life but rather than continuing the model of making prestige wines, he decided to make accessible bistro wines that had wide appeal. He made a really delicious table wine that has a good percentage of old-vine carignan.

Old vine...? Spell check please.

C-a-r-i-g-n-a-n. Carignan is one of the most planted grapes in the world. But there are patches of it in Spain and also in the south of France that are old, sometimes REALLY old. Carignan is one of these grapes that when it gets old, like, ninety or a hundred years old, a switch is flipped and the flavor completely changes. It goes from a very robust grape that is very prolific for a simple country wine it is given this goose of dark currant-y black peppery. The wine is unfiltered and a bit gnarly.

Is gnarly good?

I'm crazy about it.

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