Move Over, Grüner

Meet the next stylish Austrian white.


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Aldo Sohm, director of Le Bernardin's wine program and winner of the 2008 Best Sommelier in the World title, has sipped the most highly rated and costly wines on earth. But what does the star sommelier quaff off the clock?

Here's a hint: it's not always a bottle of 1982 Bordeaux. At home, Sohm reaches for Zierfandler, a bold white from the Thermenregion of his native Austria. When he was sommelier at Wallse restaurant in Manhattan, Sohm introduced hundreds of wine fans to the grape. "I'd always ask people if they were adventurous or not, and 95 percent of the time they'd say 'adventurous.' What could be more adventurous than Zierfandler?"

It's true that Zierfandler's big personality is not for those with timid tastes. The wine's floral aroma, rich nuttiness and peppery characteristics are balanced by a super-clean acidity that makes Zierfandler just as food friendly as Grüner Veltliner. But just because the grape's flavor profile tends to be intense doesn't mean it's unapproachable. Sohm says that, in his experience, Zierfandler appeals to most oenophiles. "People love it."

In recent years, buzz around Austrian wines has steadily grown. It wasn't so long ago that Grüner Veltliner was an obscure variety known to wine industry insiders only; now it's de rigueur among restaurants with decent wine programs. With passionate advocates like Sohm, Zierfandler is due for its own star turn on menus in America. He hopes to add it to Le Bernardin's mostly French wine list soon, and it remains a popular option on Wallse's wine list.

Adventurous wine lovers outside of New York City should check online wine retailers like www.67wine.com and www.crushwineco.com, which have recently offered this hard-to-find, easy-to-love white. Bottles of Zierfandler are typical value-priced in the $20 range and, according to Sohm, pair exceptionally well with fish dishes and Asian-inspired fare.

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