Sunday, April 18, 2010

In the Glass: 2008 Gemischter Satz, Richard Zahel, Vienna, Austria

Picture: In Grinzigen beim Heurigen

Gemischter Satz is a Field Blend Wine

This is an unusual wine, made in an age-old Austrian tradition. It is a Gemischter Satz, which is made from a blend of grapes that are grown together in the field, and then picked and fermented at the same time. Not too long ago, this age-old Austrian tradition was about to die, threatened by the mania for "single varietal" bottling. But luckily, the tradition was maintained, the grapes remained planted in mixed vineyards of Gruener Veltliner, Riesling, Muscat, Ottonel, and other grapes. Typically, Gemischter Satz wines do not specify the grapes within.

Field blends are different from more typical blended wines – cuvees - like Bordeaux, where the various grapes are grown separately and vinified separately. Many famous wines are blended wines. Red Bordeaux is generally made from a blend of grapes. As a very broad generalization, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the blend in red wines produced in left bank of the Gironde estuary. Typical blends are 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and15% Merlot. Merlot dominate in Saint Emilion, Pomerol and the other right bank appellations. These blends are typically 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc & 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Another Cuvee is Edelzwicker, which I discussed in my “in the glass" column on my Blog on November 5, 2009. See below. In the past, blending was the norm in Alsace, and these blends were called "zwicker". Edelzwicker (noble-blend) is a "zwicker" made only from grapes considered to be noble.

The German Schiller used to be a Gemischter Satz Wine

In Germany, there is a wine called ‘Schiller” that is produced by blending red and white grapes before fermentation. It looks like a Rose, but it is not, at least not in the French tradition. You can find Schiller only in the region of Württemberg in the south of Germany. The wine got its name from the verb “schillern”. The verb “schillern” means “to scintillate”. “Schiller” is thus a wine with a scintillating color, reflecting the fact that the wine is a blend of red and white grapes. In the past, Schiller used to be a Gemischter Satz wine, but to my knowledge nobody does it any more. Today, Schiller is a blend, but not a field blend. See my posting of August 12, 2009 below.

Is Gemischter Satz Wine the True Terroir Wine?

Some people argue that Gemischter Satz is the true terroir wine. They say that winemakers can resort today to all sorts of tricks if the wine does not come out the way they want it. They can add acid if necessary, or tannins, or color, compensating in the wine cellar for what they did not get from nature in the vineyard. In the old days before the advanced techniques of today became available, they had to think ahead about what their vineyard give them. One could say that in the way they planted the vineyard you could see their vision of what would make the most complete wine.

In France, Jean-Michel Deiss from the Domaine Marcell Deiss is a well known proponent of this approach. Jean-Michel Deiss believes that the truest expression of Alsatian terroir comes from field blends. He has planted his best vineyards with numerous grapes, which he harvests and vinifies together. Jean-Michel Deiss treats them as a true field blend, and consequently harvests, vinifies and blends them together. Jean-Michel Deiss' approach is viewed by many as radical. He argues that his goal is a return to the methods, style, and traditions that gave Alsace wines such fame and fortune from the Middle Ages until the end of the 19th century.

Indeed, the Gemischter Satz practice was common throughout Central Europe in a time when most growers had very small vineyards. To reduce the risk of having no grapes - and no income - at all, they planted many varieties. It also was viewed as an approach that produces over the years a wine with consistent quality. To achieve this, they mixed varieties with a different ripening time and with different acidity levels, with a view of minimizing risk and ensuring a consistent quality of wine.

Gemischter Satz Wines in Austria

I typically drink the Austrian Gemischter Satz wines only when I am in Grinzing, Vienna, Austria. There, you typically drink the Heurigen wine, the wine of the current year, in one of the many wine taverns and these are typically Gemischter Satz wines.

That any wine comes from Vienna seems absurd on the face of it. Great urban centers are not known for their vineyards, beyond a novelty acre here and there. But Vienna is different. Around 1,700 acres of vines are planted within the city limits. Of the great metropolises in wine-growing countries, Vienna alone has its own appellation. Viennese viticulture stretches back centuries if not millenniums to early Celtic and Roman settlements. Most of the production is destined for Vienna itself.

Tasting Notes

2008 Gemischter Satz, Richard Zahel, Vienna, Austria

12 % alcohol, Gruener Veltliner, Riesling and Chardonnay

Light yellow in the glass, notes of petrole and green unripe apple on the nose, very refreshing, sour, high in acidity without the sugar to neutralize it, comes across very watery when you first drink it, but develops nicely on the palate, good party wine.

Weingut Zahel, Austria

Schiller Wine - Related Postings

Austria's 17 Best Zweigelt Wines - The 2010 Wein.pur List

German Wine makers in the World: A. Schlumberger, Austria

Wine ratings: Austria's best red wines - 2010

Wine ratings: Austria - Falstaff Top Red Wines 2009/2010

Austria's 13 Top Zweigelt Wines - The 2009/2010 Falstaff Selection

In the Glass: 2007 Edelzwicker

Wine Basics: Field Blends

German Wine Basics: Schillerwein - A German Speciality


  1. hi christian, thank you very much for your blog and highlighting the historical factors on Gemischter Satz. To know more about the winemakers, the wines and recent press about the wines that are currently imported to the US please visit.

  2. Carlo, you web site contains a wealth of information. Thanks.

  3. Hi Christian here's the link to the 2009 Rotes Haus, Wiener Gemischter Satz I've tasted a few days ago: