Many thousands of years ago, in a barely remembered world before McDonalds and Tescos, man was classified as hunter/gatherer. In this phase of his multi-tasking, the world was a challenging environment and survival was the order of the day, with little time for contemplative activity. Yet someone, on the way to the weekly mammoth hunt perhaps, inadvertently stepped on a fallen bunch of wild grapes and thought little of it. With the exception of a sticky foot, our hunter continued, unaware of the social whirlwind he had unleashed. We assume he had a successful outing and it was the mammoth, not he, that met its violent end. On his return, he stopped to lick the small, glistening puddle of juice that had created such a tacky footstep only days before. The juice was sweet, indeed the juice was alcoholic. In one small footstep, man had unwittingly invented ‘down time’ and although I have no evidence whatsoever, I like to think of the event as entirely plausible. So without delving into the lengthy chemical process that is modern oenology, our gallant hero had introduced natural sugar starches within the flesh of the grape to the air-borne yeasts (the bloom) that cover its skin, all at the very moment he brought his size tens down upon that fallen bunch.  A few hunting days later, and natural fermentation had turned that puddle into an elixir. By the time he had tasted a few precious drops and realised the effects, his world and ours had changed forever. Not only did he have the wherewithal to partner mammoth fillet with a cheeky yet unpretentious red, evenings of unbridled philosophical debate and social intercourse lay ahead. This in every aspirational cave in the region

Fast forward a few thousand years via the wine makers of the Persian empire and the Georgian vineyards on the edge of  Russia, and we find a lineage of vine cultivation stretching back to that early, wondrous day. The vine in question that has sustained man’s desire to pop a cork and chill out is Vitis Vinefera , a close relative of that rapid sprinter the Virginia creeper. Now simply known as Vinefera  (grape bearing) our carefully cultivated friend has provided generations of party animals with thousands of single grape varieties – all capable of wine production. Many of them are still grown in rural pockets across Europe – as well as the Americas, the Commonwealth and parts of Africa – as our recent forbears have transported the vine to whichever outposts needed the ‘benevolent’ hand of colonisation. Apart from the Equator and the ice caps, we have tried to plant vines on almost every hectare on earth – with differing degrees of success.

Given this heritage, why have we limited our modern day adventures to so few grape varietals? Great Britain has been swamped with the fruit of the vine over the last four decades and our wine drinking habits seem set to continue unabashed. We have become one of the most eclectic countries in the world when it comes to wine selection and we clearly lead the field in terms of imported styles. Yet how many grape varieties do we taste on a monthly basis? Surprisingly few it appears, many of us can boast no more than a dozen, indeed a few colleagues I pressed on the subject mentioned a mere six. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc form the bulk of the white selection, alongside that fashionable wild card: Pinot Grigio, and the reds tended to be Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah (or Shiraz)

These thoughts occupied my return journey from London last week where  the Austrian embassy had booked the upper floor of the Director’s Club in Pall Mall to host the annual trade tasting of Wines of Austria.

I often feel so at home here and relish the day as it approaches, the reason; one supreme grape variety, Grüner Veltliner, which accounts for more than 40% of Austria’s white wine production and has led the field in their bid for fine wine supremacy. Many times has it has been pitted against the mighty Chablis from France (our friend the Chardonnay grape again) and many times it has outrun and outclassed it. Equally at home with smoked meat and fish as it is with Chinese, Thai or even Indian cuisines, Grüner Veltliner, or GruVe  as the wine drinkers of New York have taken to calling it, is increasingly viewed as one of the most responsive and pliant food partners around.  Displaying a flavour spectrum from wild honey to lime leaves and grapefruit, Grüner Veltliners have a distinctive white pepper ‘hit’; which helps it partner so many savoury dishes. Its capacity to age means its’ early crackling, dry style can give way to warm, unctuous tones as the years pass. So why give it such little shelf space here, especially when it often covers more bases than its European neighbours, yet comes in at a similar price to both Chablis and Sancerre?

My tip to all you hunter/gatherers is to locate a bottle next time you try a dish of local Morston mussels. And trust me, it won’t be the ice age chilling you out.