Viennese wine’s local specialty enters, stage left
In wine, as in any consumer industry, producing a brand that transcends the sum of its parts has always been The Holy Grail.
This enviable position has traditionally been the cornerstone of success for a select few countries: think Champagne or Chianti in Europe, or Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc as a new world example of dominating the global market in a singular wine category.
But what does Austria have to offer? Much hope has been placed on the not-so-broad shoulders of the Grüner Veltliner grape. Accounting for almost 30% of vineyard areas nationally, it is doing a good job of presenting local wines to the world, but the tale is not overtly gripping, and the fact that many other countries are starting to plant it makes for growing competition.
Vienna’s Gemischter Satz (field blend) could very well morph from its cameo status into a more prominent role. The sudden meteoric rise in its popularity on the world stage coupled with its protected designation of origin (PDO) as of 2013 appears to be paving the way for this local favorite to become the pied-piper of Austrian wine.
It’s all in the mix
Restricted to vineyards that are solely within Vienna’s limits, Gemischter Satz was historically a response to the vagaries of climate, with single vineyards planting several, white grape varieties. They would be cultivated, harvested, and vinified together, so that a wine of consistent expression could be offered each vintage.
Several, white grape varieties are cultivated, harvested, and vinified together, so that a wine of consistent expression can be offered each vintage.
Today, producers from top to bottom have perfected this equation, often focusing on a blend of main varietals and more obscure additions in an effort to differentiate and position their Gemischter Satz into stylistic hierarchies.
Released after March 1 each year, the preceding vintage is eagerly presented around the country with fanfare and pomp. The 2015 tasting in Vienna was held in the stately Festaal of the Rathaus, and the confidence in the room oozed out of every pulled cork and twisted cap.
Austrian wines across the board this year are being hailed as potentially great, especially reds. The extremely hot summer coincided with a long, temperate autumn with interspersed rain that allowed grapes to ripen on the vine and mature fully.
Concerning white wines, the pressure was more on managing over-ripeness, picking fruit that balanced the high potential alcohol levels with enough acidity to keep things fresh and lively.
This vintage’s particulars played out clearly amongst the latest Gemischter Satz. Most showed full, juicy, well-balanced fruit, but some tended towards the overtly glycerol characteristics of too much alcohol and flat, lifeless acidity, with some – believe it or not – tending to be under-ripe with eye-watering acidity.
The highlights of the tasting were truly memorable, both as wines in their own right and as ambassadors for the Gemischter Satz. Some producers are noted for wines of simple pleasure and typicity, while others have been able to present nuances and flourishes of the sublime. If each year’s blend maintains this standard of excellence, Viennese wine could cast a shadow far beyond the city limits, with no fear of imitation.