Thursday, June 29, 2023

Gruner Veltliner & The Anniversary

Austria's capital city of Vienna has many attractions to satisfy even the most jaded world traveler. Few are more satisfying for the wine lover than Gemischter satz. And all of the grapes for Gemischter are from suburban vineyards, making Vienna one of few major world cities with thriving vineyards and its own style of wine.

Flowing freely from the unique collection of wine taverns, around Vienna, Gemischter satz, loosely translated as "mixed set," is a blend of up to 20 varieties. The majority grape, Gruner Veltliner, is Austria's most important grape.  Riesling, which happens to be the second most important grape, is part of the "set" as is Weissburgunder and Traminer.  

An aside.  On a balmy summer evening, a number of years ago, I headed to Grinzing, one of the many small Vienna suburbs with popular Heuriger (wine taverns), to wet my palate with some Gemischter satz.  I knew nothing about the wine, except for the tongue-twisting name.  But I was willing and ready to learn.  

Sipping Gruner at an outdoor Heurige

Tables were set outside and an aproned waiter motioned me to an empty one near the sidewalk.  Like magic, a glass of chilled white wine was set in front of me, along with a menu.  "Is this Gemischter satz?" I asked mangling the wine name. "Yes," came the patient reply.  

"Would you like to order food?" the waiter asked with a smile. I looked at the menu and decided on weisswurst, sauteed red cabbage and a hard roll, a combination that I hoped was a good choice with the wine. 

How could I miss, a casual meal in such pleasant surroundings on a lovely evening. As for the wine, it was what I expected: light and fruity with a touch of spice and a hint of bitterness, balanced with crisp acidity.

Austria's Green Wine

Gruner Veltliner, the national grape of Austria, is named for the town of Valtelina in northern Italy.  Gruner traces its ancestry to Savagnin, an ancient French variety, which also happens to be related to Sauvignon Blanc.


There is also a roter (red) veltliner and a fruhroted (early-ripening red-skinned) veltliner, but they are not genetically related to Gruner Veltliner.

Although Gruner is widely planted in Austria, it is prone to disease, so the vines must be trained high to allow for maximum air circulation, on a Lenz Moser trellis system, named for the famed Austrian viticulturist. 

More than half of the country's Gruner is grown in Lower Austria, but also in Kamptal in the north and the Wachau district west of Vienna. 

Popular styles of Gruner include single varietal, Austrian sekt (sparkling) and a sweet version from Austria's famed Burgenland.

Viewed through the lens of modern wine, it may seem that Gruner Veltliner has only recently made the scene. But there is evidence that Gruner was around in Roman times, when it was known as Gruner Muskateller.  Gruner became more commonly grown in the 19th century.

In the last 20 years, interest in Gruner Veltliner has taken off and today it is a popular alternative white variety in New Zealand, Australia, Washington state, California, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Gruner's attraction is a combo flavor of citrus peel and white pepper, with a mineral back note and all balanced nicely with mouth-watering acidity, a combination that reminds some of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. 

And like Riesling, Gruner hits all the right notes when paired with Chinese and Thai dishes. fried foods, lightly prepared fish and Gruner is a favorite with vegetarians for its flavor affinity with vegetables. 

Versatility is a hallmark of Gruner Veltliner, especially when grown in Austria. The flavors of Gruner have encouraged tasters to use descriptors as wide-ranging as green beans and black pepper.  Austrians describe this peppery taste as pfefferl.

The majority of Gruner Veltliner consumed today, especially in the United States, is intended for early drinking.  Add a couple years of bottle aging and Gruner transforms into a complex wine with tropical fruit and nutty flavors, again more like an aged Riesling.  

There are a lot of Gruners on the market, but here are six to get you started.   Pichler-Krautzler and Prager, from Wachau; Alram, Etz and Schloss Gobelsburg, all from Kamptal; And Nigl from Kremstal.  Most Gruners are priced from $14 to $40. One domestic Gruner that sells well is Joel Gott, Columbia Valley, Washington, $17. Lastly, Canadian wine writer Tony Gismondi says that British Columbia Gruner Veltliner is a "qualified classic."

Wine trends come and go.  Pinot Grigio and Albarino had their days and still have strong appeal to a lot of white wine drinkers. It's time now for Gruner Veltliner.


The Anniversary.  This month marks four years of "Gerald D Boyd On Wine" wine blogs.  In more than 180 postings, I've stayed with the statement made in that first blog:

"... I am introducing Gerald D Boyd On Wine, a  wine primer for newcomers to wine and those fans of wine wanting more background information.  No wine politics, wine gossip, wine technology and other assorted topics that are covered by other wine bloggers and wine publications."

In the future, there will be a few changes in the format but not the focus of the blog or the content.  I plan on keeping "Gerald D Boyd On Wine" as interesting and informative as I can...and I hope you will stay with me.

Next blog: Barolo: Italian Red Wine at its Finest

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Thursday, June 22, 2023

California Wine Adventures

When I was a young boy in Pennsylvania, pestering my mother for a taste of her New York Port, it never occurred to me that one day I would be tasting wine in California.

How could you foresee that such a momentous change would someday alter the direction of your life? Growing up with milk and soda (I hadn't heard of "pop" and "soft drink" until I left home), wine was not a part of my life.  

In the early 1950s, I did what a lot of young men did in those days, join the military of choice.  For me, it was the U. S. Air Force, probably because my brother was on active duty then in the Air Force.  In quick succession, I was assigned to New York state, Illinois and then Germany.  

Prosit with Hofbrauhaus

My friends and I drank a lot of beer during the three years I was stationed in Bavaria. By chance, I went to a wine festival and discovered white wine, probably  Riesling or Sylvaner, that was unlike any beverage I had had before.  

That discovery was a real eye-opener for me.  But the "real" wine epihany was to happen later in France. 

There comes a time in every wine drinkers life when that first taste of a certain wine sets the stage for a lifetime of wine appreciation.  For me, it was in a French train station restaurant, drinking what I remember was a Beaujolais.  Now, more than 60 years later, I don't recall the winery name or what I had for dinner that evening, but the deep ruby color and rich fruity flavor of the wine is forever etched in my wine memory.

Fast forward to 1962 in San Jose, California. My neighbor asked if I would like to spend a Saturday afternoon visiting a winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  David Bruce was not a familiar name to me then, but my neighbor assured me that Bruce was some kind of wine guru, "so you have to go to his winery and listen to what he has to say about wine."

Well, okay, I thought.  Any information about wine from this supposed oracle, would be news to me since I didn't know the first thing about wine. So, on the appointed Saturday, I jumped into my neighbor's car and we headed southwest from San Jose to the Santa Cruz Mountains, home to, as I would later learn, more wineries than just David Bruce.

We arrived at the winery in time to join a tour with a few others. As the small group moved through the cellar, we passed fermentation tanks, hoses, pumps and oak barrels, while the guide explained the function of each and the part each  played in the wine making process. It all went by in a blur.  

Then, I saw the bottling line, gleaming in the bright light, with stations for filling, corking and labeling. It was a fascinating sight, in all its shining mechanical magnificence! 


Later, as a wine writer, I shuttered at hearing, "...and this is our bottling line,"  when it became boringly apparent that at every winery I visited, there would be, without fail, a bottling line to see and admire.

The early tasting of David Bruce wines left me with an awareness that there was a lot to learn and many wines yet to taste and that I would spend as much time and effort as I could cultivating a taste for Pinot Noir.  

Not long after the visit to David Bruce, my family and I moved across town to East San Jose, where I discovered that Mirassou Vineyards was only a few miles from my house. Unfortunately, it took me years before my first visit to Mirassou. 

For the next three years, my attention turned to other interests.  I didn't lose my interest in wine, but shifted to spending more time with family and furthering my education that I had woefully ignored in high school. 

Being on a career path in the Air Force does not make it easy to collect wines.   And it got even more difficult when I was transferred to a remote station in northern Labrador.          


My one wine adventure at Saglek Air Force station was at the end of 1965. The station commander, a man we all thought hadn't smiled in a decade, brought in a couple cases of Mateus Portuguese Rose for the unit Thanksgiving dinner. To this day, I still remember the colonel toasting the troops with a thin smile and how that simple off-dry pink wine tasted with roast turkey and all the trimmings. 

Back in the states, I spent four years honing my writing skills as an Air Force  training film script writer in Colorado. Then, I was off again, this time to Taiwan, where I had the personal once-in-a-lifetime experience of tasting Chinese "wine,"  a high alcohol liquid that I questioned had ever seen a grape. 

Next stop: South Carolina and another first for me. After ten years in the U.S. Air Force, I was finally assigned to a base that had planes.  In fact, Charleston AFB was the first base to welcome the C-5 Galaxy to active duty.  

And, I soon discovered that the city of Charleston had a Piggly Wiggly supermarket, with a wine section stocked with a respectable selection of European wines.  There I was, in South Carolina, drinking wine in a place more accustomed to sipping Bourbon and beer. 

In the July 14 installment of "California Wine Adventures" my family and I return to Colorado and my on-again-off-again career as a wine writer is on again. 

Next blog: Gruner Veltliner

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Thursday, June 15, 2023


The following posting is an impression of my visit to Sicily a few years ago and those of my son, Sean, co-owner/winemaker of Sightglass Cellars in Washington, who spent two weeks there with his wife, Kristin, in May.

Sicily is an island of many contrasting natural features, from the snow-capped Mt. Etna volcano, to the tempering presence of the Mediterranean.  

Resting between the toe of Italy and North Africa, Sicily is about the size of Massachusetts and is unique among the 20 regions of Italy for its diversity of vineyard sites and grape varieties, making it second only to Veneto in production.

Many Americans think of Sicily as a hot dry land where life is controlled by the Mafia.  Crime is a problem in Sicily, as it is everywhere else, but the presence of a criminal element is mostly behind the scenes and doesn't intrude in the daily activities of the wine tourist.                                  


For years, Sicily was known for making oceans of bulk wine and, with the exception of Marsala, little bottled wine. All of this production led to expansion of fine wine in numerous sub-regions throughout the island.  Today, there are 23 DOC sub-regions, with Cerasuolo di Vittoria, in the southeast, the only DOCG wine. 

White and Black Grapes

Sicily is a dynamic wine region that holds on to the sweet fortified Marsala and a wide variety of indigenous grapes like Nerello Mascalese, while promoting the increasingly popular red Nero d'Avola and widely planted Catarratto and Grillo white grapes. 

Far and away, Nero d'Avola is Sicily's best known red wine, made by 84 wineries at last count. A lot of Nero goes into blends, especially with Frappato, a more delicate wine but one that works well in blends.  Although Sicily grows more white wine grapes than red, American wine drinkers are most familiar with Nero d'Avola.

Grillo, a popular Sicilian cross of Catarratto and Muscat Alexandria, is a dry wine with the orange zest and floral flavors of Muscat wine, but is more muted than a full Muscat, a wine that is too much for some tastes. Grillo is building interest in Sicily and may soon challenge Cataratto for white wine dominance.

Sicilian winemakers recognize that, to compete in an international market, a winery needs to have a more diverse portfolio than just Nero d'Avola and Catarratto.  Thus, international varieties, like Syrah and Chardonnay are gaining interest, as are indigenous grapes like the dark black Nocera and the red twins Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, in vineyards across the island, but notably on the slopes of Etna and in the Faro DOC. 

Sicily Region by Region

The regional focus that follows is on Vittoria DOCG and Etna DOC, two of Sicily's most important sub-regions.  Other noted sub-regions include Marsala DOC, Faro DOC and Sicilia DOC, but they are for another time.
Reflecting on his time in Sicily, Sean said, "We had wines in restaurants, at wineries and we took wine back to our room to sample and enjoy. I was impressed by the history and the decades of planting and knowing what grapes worked best."   
Vittoria was officially recognized as a DOC in 1973 and upgraded to DOCG in 2005. Today, Vittoria is Sicily's only DOCG, mainly on the strength of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a red blend of Nero d'Avolo and Frappato. "Cerasuolo" is Italian for "cherry-red," the color of the blended wine. 

Some wineries in Vittoria mature their wine in terracotta amphorae, a unique technique that eliminates oak influence.  "Before I went to Sicily," Sean recalls, "my impression of Nero d'Avola was that it was bigger and fuller, but the ones we tasted during our visit were lighter, nicely balanced, with a less broad palate."  He says that the Nero d'Avolos he tasted, specifically from Vittoria, were most like a Washington Cabernet Franc or Syrah.
Amphorae similar to those at Cos
Cos and Occhipinti, were two must-see Vittoria wineries Sean and Kristin, for different reasons. "Cos was using amphora to age their red wine, a technique I had read about but hadn't seen before. And there was this incredibe view of Mt. Etna from the winery.  Occhipinti had a range of red wines at different prices, based mainly on Nero d'Avolo and it was the place that Stanley Tucci visited in his television show about wineing and eating in Italy. "
Etna DOC stands in the shadow of 11,00 foot Mt. Etna, an active volcano that is both a contributor and a threat to the sub-region's grape growing and wine making. Etna's volcanic soil provides grapes with special nutrients and a characteristic minerality.  But Etna could blow at any time.
The quality of Sicilian white wines were unexpected discovery for Sean.  "It was surpizing that the white wines were so crisp and clean, coming from such a warm area. I enjoyed the Catarattos, especially from the Etna sub-region. But I didn't find Grillo as complex as Cataratto, more like Pinot Grigio."
Terra Costantino, in the Etna DOC, is Sicily's first organic winery. The philosophy of the winery is steeped in Greek mythology and head-trained vines rooted in volcanic soil.  As an owner of a small winery in Washington, Sean felt a kinship with Terra Costantino.  "I liked the hand-on attitude at Costantino and thought the Contrada Blandano, a blend of Cataratto and Carricante, was the best Costantino wine I tasted. It was so clean and crisp."  Costantino also makes Grillo. 
Another Etna favorite was Biondi, a small winery on Etna's slopes, with vineyards rich in minerals from the volcanic soil. Biondi grows Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Catarattor and Carricante. "The Biondi San Nicolo, made from Nerello Mascalese, was an excellent wine that was new to me," Sean says.
"On reflection, I felt the quality of Sicilian wines and the dedication of the winemakers was very high," says Sean. "One thing that puzzled me, though, is that every winemaker I spoke to claimed they only picked their grapes on flavor (phenolic) ripeness. And yet, all of the wines we tasted had listed alcohols around 12% to 13%.  I asked how that could be, with the high summer heat, temperatures and humidity, but I never got a good answer."  

Still, white wines were a pleasant part of Sean's Sicilian wine experience. While touring around the island, Sean and Kristin had many opportunities to taste Sicilian foods with the local wines. "The crisp acidity and clean fruit flavors of the  whites were really good with the local cuisines, like fresh fish." 
Sean can now check Sicily off his bucket list.  "People I talked to before our trip said Sicily is a must-see for the history, food and wine...and they are right. And Sicily is less touristy than other parts of Italy and less expensive." 

Look for Sicilian wines in your local wine shop. Better yet, go to Sicily this summer and taste the sun-washed flavors of Sicilian wine and food. 

Next blog: The first in a series of personal experiences titled "California Wine Adventures."

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Also, one of my favorite people to books and wine education has a website and here page on Sicily is worth reading.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Anderson Valley

In the early part of the 1970s, while Napa and Sonoma were setting the wine world on its ear, little attention was paid to the wines of Mendocino County.  And there was even less said about Anderson Valley. 

Anderson Valley flowers and vines

Ukiah, where Barney Fetzer and John Parducci made their wines, is a convenient off-ramp from the main north-south US-101 through Mendocino. But to reach the secluded Anderson Valley, a thirsty wine fan had to exit 101 outside Cloverdale, onto a winding two-lane state Route 128 or approach the valley over the narrow Route-253 mountain road south of Ukiah. 

The scenic drive along R-128 takes you past Navarro, Greenwood Ridge, Husch, Handley and Roederer Estate, among other wineries.  West through Philo the road eventually ends at the Pacific Ocean.                          

An aside.  The cluster of a group of small businesses and a hotel, that is  Boonville, is known for two things, although both are probably slipping out of the public memory.  Boontling, an American jargon, developed in the late 19th century, is spoken today only by a few old timers in western Mendocino County.  Hang around Boonville long enough, though, and you might hear someone talking about a "sharkin match" (fight), or telling a story out of church about the local "skype" or pastor. 

Old time residents of Boonville may also tell you about the time a mysterious young couple breathed life back into a run down Boonville Hotel and Restaurant and then slipped out of town one night owing a lot of money.  The hotel is thriving again and so too is Boonville.

Anderson Valley White Wines

Cool climate growing conditions, especially for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and aromatic whites like Riesling and especially, Gewurztraminer, attracted winemakers in the 1970s to Anderson Valley, along with, of course, some reasonable prices for arable land. 

Parducci Wine Cellars in Ukiah is the oldest winery in Mendocino, opening its doors in 1932.  In Anderson Valley, Lazy Creek Vineyards, 1973, makers of excellent Gewurztraminer, holds the longevity honors, followed by Handley Cellars, 1981, also known for Gewurtz and Chardonnay. 

Since 1974, Navarro Vineyards has been committed to making outstanding Gewurztraminer and building a reputation for excellent Riesling, as well. And Navarro makes some of the best late harvest styles from those two varieties.  

A short distance past Navarro is Lazy Creek Vineyards started by a Swiss couple that planted a vineyard in 1973 and one of the valley's first wineries.  Lazy Creek has long been recognized for the best Alsace dry-style Gewurtz in California. 

Across the highway is Husch Vineyard, one of the oldest wineries in Anderson Valley. Husch has a solid following for Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay, plus old vine Zinfandel and Pinot Noir.  In 1979, the Oswald family bought Husch and expanded the line. 

Further along R-128 is Roederer Estate, the California outpost for the noted Champagne firm of Louis Roederer.  Vineyards were first planted at Roederer Estate in 1982, with the construction of a winery to follow.  Roederer Estate bubbly is among California's finest, especially the prestige bottling, L'Ermitage. 

Beyond Roederer and just before getting to Navarro, is Handley Cellars, founded in 1981, with winemaker Mila Handley turning out excellent Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.   

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

California wine lore is partly about the search for the Holy Grail of red wine: Pinot Noir.  The faithful looked throughout the state and found ideal conditions for Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara, Russian River, Los Carneros and more recently in the Anderson Valley.

In the early 1980s, the owners of Champagne Roederer settled on Anderson Valley as a good place to grow Pinot Noir for their California sparkling wine. While Moet & Chandon and G. H. Mumm opted for the trendier Napa Valley, Roederer decided the place to be making sparkling wine in California was the off-the-tourist track of Anderson Valley.  

At one time, the advice coming out of the University of California Davis was to pass on Pinot Noir since there is no place in the state for a grape that loves a cool climate. Fortunately, there were those who believed Pinot Noir had a future in Anderson Valley, with its ocean influence and good soils.  

Breeding adult male.
Common Goldeneye                             Audubon

In 1996, the Duckhorns of Napa Valley founded the Goldeneye Winery in the cool climate of Anderson Valley, to make a Pinot Noir the equal of the noted Duckhorn Merlot. It was a decision that paid off with the success of Goldeneye, named for the Common Goldeneye migratory diving duck. Goldeneye also makes a dry Alsace-style Gewurztraminer.

Anderson Valley may be off the tourist trail, but the diversion is worth the time and effort, to enjoy a cool glass of Gewurztraminer or a satisfying Pinot Noir, before continuing along the trail to the scenic Pacific Ocean. 

Next blog: Sicily

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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Kiwi Reds

New Zealand, the other Down Under country, is known for its juicy Sauvignon Blanc with a tropical personality.  Not as well known are the tasty Kiwi reds. 

The list of New Zealand red wines is fairly limited with the usual Bordeaux varieties, the odd Syrah, and best of all, distinctive Pinot Noir that can take its place with the best Pinots in the world.  

Pinot Noir

New Zealand's top Pinot Noirs come from Marlborough, Martinborough and Central Otago. Marlborough and Central, are on the South Island. Martinborough is at the southern end of the North Island, across the Cook Strait from the South Island.

Marlborough Pinot Noir

Red wine fans can be divided into two general groups: the Cabernet Sauvignon crowd and lovers of Pinot Noir.  Before everything went PC, Pinot Noir was thought of as a feminine wine for its soft tannins and round voluptuous fruit; the yin of red wine. Cabernet was described as a masculine wine, probably because of its tight personality and rough edges; the yang to Pinot Noir's yin.

Exercising your wine memory is crucial for the serious wine lover. After tasting a wine that made you sit up and pay attention, your next move is to open a memory index card system, starting a new card for each time you taste a new vintage of a memorable wine. 

During a visit to New Zealand, I had an unexpected surprise when I tasted a superb pinot from Central, as the southern region is often called.  Like most anxious wine tasters, I fell for the hype about Marlborough Pinot Noirs and knew little about the pinots from Central Otago.  To be clear, both places make great Pinot Noir, but I was conditioned to favor Marlborough over Central. 

Then I visited Felton Road and tasted the Block 5 Pinot Noir, one in a small lineup of pinots from Felton Road. Block 5 was (and is) a standout, for its fragrant rose petal nose and leathery back notes.  Deep and layered, Block 5 showed concentrated cherry/berry fruit and excellent subtle tannins.  

To me, Pinot Noir has always been a wine that invites you back for a second sip.  Felton Road filled that invitation and then some.  

If are looking for pinots to try from New Zealand, here are a few more choices:  Burnt Cottage, Peregrine, Pyramid Valley, Akawa.  And from Marlborough: Cloudy Bay, Greywacke, Villa Maria, Ten Sisters.  Martinborough Pinot Noirs: Martinborough Vineyard, Ata Rangi, Dry River, Palliser.

The Other Reds

Kiwi wineries are happy that we like their Pinot Noir, but they also want wine consumers to know that New Zealand red wine is more than just Pinot Noir.  If you went to Hawke's Bay on the North Island, you'd find Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah to sample and savor. 

Gimblett Gravels

The district with the wonderfully-named Gimblett Gravels is where you'll find an assortment of red grapes, led by Merlot and Syrah.  At the end of the 1980s, a group of growers and winemakers, identified the deep gravelly soils as ideal for big reds.  

I was in New Zealand after Gimblett Gravels was established and visited Craggy Range in Hawke's Bay.  My contacts back in California told me to look up Steve Smith MW, co-founder of Craggy Range and the first viticulturist in the world to become a Master of Wine. In characteristic Kiwi hospitality, Smith showed me the winery and then we sat down to taste Craggy Range wines in the winery's excellent restaurant. 

Craggy Range reds from Gimblett Gravels, mainly the Cabernet/Merlot blend and the Syrah, were big, rich and bold with pure fruit flavors.  Before my visit at  Craggy Range, I had sampled the red wines of Te Mata and found the wines to have the same Hawke's Bay richness and structure.

An aside. During my first year with the Wine Spectator, in 1979, I worked with founder Bob Morrisey.  Bob and I were retired military journalists, he the Marines, me the Air Force, who during our travels in the military had developed a taste for fine wine.  

The Spectator started in La Jolla, then moved to San Diego and it was there where I first tasted New Zealand wines, in an unusual setting. Every year, a small ship of the New Zealand Navy made port in San Diego, inviting local food and wine people aboard for a sumptuous meal of Kiwi delicacies and select wines.

That afternoon, Bob and I sat on the fantail of the ship, hosted by the ship's captain and chaplain, who referred to himself as "padre," (an odd coincidence Bob and I laughed about later, because of the San Diego Padres baseball team), noshing on Sauvignon Blanc and New Zealand shellfish, and grilled lamb and Pinot Noir.

It was, without question, the most unusual place I've ever tasted wine and I wonder if the U.S. Navy has ever sponsored an American wine and food tasting while visiting a foreign port.  Nah!


Next blog: Anderson Valley

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