June 13, 2013

Joe Appel: Vienna the rare urban center with a living winemaking tradition

By JOE APPELL

(Continued from page 1)

There are several reasons. Primarily, Vienna’s field-blend approach derives from its agricultural tradition: Gardeners and farmers know that a mix of crops is essential to soil productivity and long-term health, and guards against vagaries of shifting weather. It’s how all wine used to be made.   

In addition, the art of gemischter satz winemaking necessarily remains in the vineyard, where oenologists and harvesters must collaborate to decide the optimal time to pick. If the season’s weather was optimal for Grüner, then you pick when the Grüner is ripe. If the weather favored the Weissburgunder, favor it back. Gemischter satz is about paying attention, and respecting the transitions and variations from vintage to vintage, vineyard to vineyard.   

Finally, these wines resist ex post facto compensation in the cellar. The different grapes start their conversation as they grow together through the season, and they continue talking at crush. A cellar technique intended to help one trait originating with a particular varietal would adversely affect a different trait deriving from a different varietal. You can’t fine-tune your manipulations, so you’re better off not manipulating.   

Cool story, but for naught if the wines aren’t good. The wines are fantastic. To get in something like a Chardonnay the multiplicity of directions, the flavor complexity, the balance, the adaptability to all sorts of food offered up by even a basic gemischter satz, you’d have to pay three times as much for good French Burgundy, twice as much for good German Riesling or an Italian white from Friuli.

That is not hyperbole. (Gemischter satz are dry wines, by the way.)   

In Maine, there are two Vienna gemischter satz available, distributed by Wicked Wines. I recently poured one, the   

Weingut Cobenzl Wiener Gemischter Satz Classic 2012 ($13), at a private wine tasting, among other wines I thought were pretty good. The Cobenzl GS blew every thing else away. People kept coming back to this wine, again and again, captivated by the juicy freshness, the Samarkand spices, and the deep floral aromas.   

To anyone who would listen, I told the story of gemischter satz, and the especially compelling story of Cobenzl itself: The winery is literally owned by the City of Vienna and its citizens. Talk about civilized: a city that puts tax revenue toward its own unique wine!   

But most people don’t even care about the stories, despite my entreaties. They just want to drink something superb. With this wine, for less than 15 bucks, they can. Of the average 300,000 bottles Cobenzl produces each year, 90 percent is consumed in Vienna. A portion of the remainder is available now, here, though the supply sometimes dips. Act fast.   

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog, soulofwine.com  , continues the conversation, and he can be reached at: soulofwine.appel@gmail.com

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