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Sterling Vintner's Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
When Newton began planting his estate, Cabernet Sauvignon was the preferred variety. He planted the esteemed Cabernet, but his decision to also plant Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot was a bold move. His Merlot vines were the first significant planting of that variety in the Napa Valley. Newton saw potential in the soft, velvety Merlot fruit, and in 1969 he took a chance by releasing California's first vintage-dated Merlot. This decision flew in the face of traditional standards, which held that Merlot was merely a blending grape, and forever changed the perception of red wine. People started to enter a restaurant and ask for a glass of Merlot!
Appreciated for superior wines made from indigenous varieties, Austria should be on the radar of anyone who loves bright, elegant wines. These food-friendly, cool-climate reds and whites are quintessentially European in style with racy acidity, moderate alcohol, and tart, fresh fruit flavors. Austrian wines are prized for their near-uniform dedication to excellence, and it is now difficult to find a bad bottle.
Rather than joining in on the worldwide trend to plant international varieties, Austria has chosen to stake its reputation mainly on its native grapes. Grüner Veltliner, known for its racy acidity and vegetal and peppery aromatics, is the most important, comprising nearly a third of Austrian wines. Riesling in Austria is high in quality but not quantity, planted on less than 5% of the country’s vineyard land. Unlike their German counterparts, Austrian Rieslings are almost always dry, with higher alcohol, slightly lower acidity, and flavors that lean more toward the citrus end of the fruit spectrum. Field blends of these two grapes along with Pinot Blanc and other white varieties known as Gemischter Satz are popular for daily consumption in Vienna. Red wines include light, tart-fruited Zweigelt, juicy and spicy Blaufränkisch, and Pinot-Noir-like Saint Laurent.
Difficult to pronounce yet delightfully easy to drink, Grüner Veltliner is indigenous to Austria, where it has long maintained its status as the nation’s most important white grape. It became trendy among America’s wine elite in the mid-twenty first century, and has since proven itself to be more than just a fad, becoming a mainstay on the shelves of wine shops and the pages of restaurant wine lists for those who enjoy a crisp and refreshing yet serious white wine. Grüner Veltliner performs well in cool climates, and is gaining ground in chillier pockets of California and New York’s Finger Lakes.
In the Glass
Crisp and refreshing with plenty of lively acidity, Grüner Veltliner is marked by telltale notes of white pepper and a slight vegetal quality reminiscent of green beans, as well as a streak of minerality. When less ripe, it leans toward the lemon/lime end of the fruit spectrum, while additional hangtime at harvest can lend notes of pink grapefruit and even stone fruit. A hint of spritz on the palate is not unusual.
Grüner Veltliner is a wonderfully versatile wine—it can pair with just about any lighter fare, from seafood to poultry to complex salads. It even works with spicy foods, and can be a classic pairing with Asian dishes.
When it comes to foods that are notoriously difficult to pair, Grüner Veltliner has been known to step in and save the day. The sulfur compounds naturally present in asparagus can imbue a wine with a highly unpleasant metallic taste, while artichokes’ cynarin compound typically cause the taste of a wine to turn unpalatably sweet. Grüner Veltliner not only manages to avoid these issues, but actually serves to complement these foods with its sharp, pungent, vegetal flavors.