Interview with an Importer: Niche Imports

Austrian wines have exploded on to the wine scene in the past few years which can often leave unfamiliar consumers confused and overwhelmed by the plethora of Grüner Veltiner and Blaufränkisch wines – many organic, most from small, single vineyard plantings. One of the best resources Austrian wine consumers can turn to are those that import the wines – the ones that really know them inside and out, know the market and know the potential each has to become your new favorite wine.

This month we sat down with Terri Nelson, President of Niche Import Co. Here’s what she had to say:

1. What makes Austrian wine so unique? 

The most unique trait of Austrian wines are the grapes themselves that are indigenous to the area. Grüner Veltliner is the iconic white and Zweigelt is the flagship red. Nowhere else are they grown and praised as highly. These typical Austrian grape varietals have been carefully matched to their specific regional wine-growing areas over centuries and in the hands of experienced winemakers display a breadth of terroir with just as much diversity as Bordeaux or Burgundy.

2. What makes it stand out from other regions? 

Austria’s ideal geological and climatic elements are, essentially, what produce their exceptional wines.  The temperature variation between warm days and cool nights is important for maintaining the ideal soil for the grapevines to grow.

3. What influenced your decision to work with Austrian wines? 

The foundation of Niche Import Co. is based heavily on German products.  The relative proximity to Germany and yet the differentiation of the grapes gave two great reasons to first look here to expand.

4. Which producers do you import? Niche Import Co. imports from Lenz Moser, Muenzenrieder, and Weingut Türk

Highlights?

Highlights include brand extensions for all of our Austrian Wine brands.  In the past six months, Niche has added Fête Rosé to the Lenz Moser line;  two additional higher-end Grüner Veltliners to the Türk line—Kremser Sandgrube and Frechau along with an Ice Wine and Blauer Zweigelt Im grossen Berg.  In addition, the Muenzenrieder line have expanded from three wines to seven.  New additions are Mavie, Pinot Noir, Traminer Classic, and Rosecco.

5. Which states are you distributed in?

With liquor licenses in all states, Niche Import Co. distributes all over the country.  Our largest markets [for Austrian wines] are New York, New Jersey, California, Washington, and Illinois.

6. What’s your favorite Austrian varietal?   Region? Why? 

Austria’s most widespread varietal, Grüner Veltliner, also happens to by my favorite. in particular Grüner Veltliners from the Kremstal region.  Grüner Veltliners from this region are exceptionally fresh, fruity, and crisp.

7.  What’s your favorite food & wine pairing for the season? 

Grüner Veltliner is the perfect match to poultry or fish marinated or seasoned with citrus.  It also works well with dishes featuring herbal seasonings like basil or tarragon.  This makes it a natural pairing with pesto in addition to vegetable dishes such as asparagus.

8. Where do you see the future of Austrian wine heading? 

Given the rapid growth of Austrian wines in the consumer market in the past few years along with the increasing number of restaurants adding Austrian wines to their wine list, the future of Austrian wine looks as though it will only continue to grow.  Both Austrian red and white wines have been demonstrating their enhancement to various dishes which will lead more restaurants to choose to list Austrians wines and more consumers to enjoy at home with their meal(s) or simply enjoyed as an aperitif.

9. Anything else you’d like to add? 

I think it’s important to note that in spite of the dominance of Grüner Veltliner, Austrian wines are not homogenous.  There is a great diversity of varietals and styles to enjoy.  Within our own portfolio we have 10 different varietals and 17 different wines.  Even within our Grüner Veltliners each one is completely unique.  You would not say White Burgundy is all the same just because it’s all Chardonnay.  Austrian Wine has that same level of tradition and diversity.

The Beverage Journal’s article “Austria on the Cusp” notes the growing popularity of Grüner Veltliner as the rock star leading the charge for Austrian wine.  They’re not just for sommeliers anymore. Jancis Robinson has praised the quality of Austrian Red Wines over the more mainstream varietals and appellations. So, the world is catching on to the jewels that are Austrian wines!

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