It is no secret that I have a disproportionate passion for Wiener Gemischter Satz, compared that is to most sane wine obsessives. It’s not just the flavours, nor an interest in field blends in general. Once you’ve seen these unique, semi-urban, vineyards around Austria’s Capital City, it’s hard not to form an attachment. Once you get deeper into the terroir you are captivated…and captured for life. Gemischter Satz field blends can come from any part of Austria’s vineyards, but Wiener Gemischter Satz is, for me, the heart and soul of Vienna.
Fritz Wieninger runs the best known family winery in Vienna, and has done since his father generously stepped back in 1987. The domaine has an international reputation, largely based on serious wines made from the likes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, along with autochthonous Austrian varieties, so Wieninger is far from being all about Gemischter Satz (so nor will this article focus just on that wine), but it is symptomatic of the drive, energy and love for his region which Fritz demonstrates that he pretty much single-handedly revived this most traditional of Viennese wines. Before we taste some wines, the Gemischter Satz story is worth relating.
Wieninger farms around 50 hectares of vineyard biodynamically (certified by the Austrian biodynamic organisation, Respekt). In addition, Wieninger manages (since 2014) the smaller Grinzing-based producer, Hajszan Neumann (about 100,000 bottles a year), which is also biodynamic (with Demeter certification). Both companies are kept totally separate in terms of vineyards and production, and indeed have quite different identities (as we shall see, a little more experimentation is possible at the smaller operation). Wines for both are however now made at Wieninger’s facility at Stammersdorf, with the original Hajszan Neumann facility on Grinzinger Strasse used for storage.
Wieninger’s vines are situated in the two most prestigious parts of the Vienna vineyard, Nussberg (sometimes “Nußberg”) and Bisamberg, to the north of the city, just above Stammersdorf in the case of the latter, and they are separated from each other by the River Danube and its canal. Both have different soils and different climatic conditions. Nussberg is a true hill, with vines (between 230 and around 350 metres altitude) protected to the north by woodland (rising to around 500 metres), whereas Bisamberg is relatively flat in comparison, more of a very gentle incline. It sees more wind and sun, and 20% less rain.
Bisamberg is described as having mainly sandy loess soils with calcarous sub-soils, highly water permeable. Nussberg comprises various limestone types mixed with clay higher up. There is no doubt that the terroir of each (geology and topography, plus resulting micro-climates) gives quite distinct wine characteristics, the main one stated as being the creamier texture and deeper fruit in the Nussberg wines.
So back to the Gemischter Satz story. The single vineyards of both Nussberg and Bisamberg have become well known in more recent years, both for the traditional Gemischter Satz field blend and for single varietal wines. Rieds Herrenholz, Kaasgraben, Preussen, Rosengartel and Ulm, for example, are all bottled separately in one form or another.
It is the vineyard named Ulm that I would like to focus on for a moment. It sits on the eastern end of the Nussberg hill, before the terrain drops down to the river below. It’s also very close to the city outskirts and the suburban village of Nußdorf. When Fritz took over this vineyard it was full of different vine varieties, all mingled together and at first he considered grubbing the vines up and planting this special site to Riesling. But before jumping in he talked to various people with expertise in the history and terroir of Vienna’s vineyards, who helped him to realise what I think deep down he already knew, that here he had a unique collection of vine varieties, all more than fifty years old. It would be crazy not to make a wine from what he had there.
Vienna, and Austria in general, is certainly cool climate viticulture, although you’d not think so because seven of the last vintages here have been classified as “hot”. Co-planting different varieties was always a good insurance against one variety failing to achieve ripeness. As well as more well known grapes like Grüner Veltliner, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Welschriesling, there are rare autochthonous varieties like Rotgipfler, Zierfandler and Roter Veltliner, and the much planted crossing, Neuberger.
The traditional practice, now made law under the Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC regulations (2013), was to pick everything at the same time and to co-ferment all the grapes together (Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC must comprise at least three co-planted and co-fermented varieties). The result from Ulm was pretty much a revelation to Fritz. Not only was the wine wonderful, and indeed complex, but it was reviving a tradition which reflects Viennese culture, that of serving a blended wine with simple food in the city’s semi-rural heurigen and buschenschanks (which I shall explore in another article).
Fritz Wieninger has been responsible not only for initiating the rebirth of Gemischter Satz in Vienna, but in its active promotion worldwide. This wine style has, in a decade or more, grown an international reputation among wine aficionados, and it is largely down to Fritz’s tireless work that this has come about.
We spent five hours with Georg Grohs, who heads up marketing and sales at Wieninger, with Fritz popping into the mix from time to time. He’d just got back from a relaxing holiday and he was gearing up for the earliest ever Vienna harvest, checking on the equipment, the team, and then the vines, both for ripeness and any sign of disease or insects. After a tour of the winery, we settled down for an illuminating tasting.
Georg Grohs, our excellent, friendly, host heads up some pics of the Wieninger winemaking facility at Stammersdorf
We didn’t just run through the Wieninger list. There are way too many wines for that. We tasted a well thought out set of pairings, each designed to highlight different facets of the wines and vineyards. These pairings provided a remarkable focus and a genuine learning experience.
Wieninger Ried Herrenholz Grüner Veltliner 2017 (Bisamberg) vs Wieninger Nussberg Grüner Veltliner 2017 – These wines, despite one being a single vineyard, see the same treatment in the cellar, which includes six months on lees. The mineral texture and grip of the Bisamberg wine contrasts with the creamy weight of the Nussberg. Herrenholz has bright acidity typical of loess-grown, wind-exposed, Grüner Veltliner, with lemon fruit. The Nussberg wine, off chalky clay soils, has a touch more weight and gras, with a different, bitter, touch, which one would say helps with food pairing.
Hajszan Neumann Ried Haarlocke Grüner Veltliner 2016 vs Wieninger Ried Kaasgraben Grüner Veltliner 2016 – The vintage here was one of the best ever for Grüner in the region. The Haarlocke site is at the western end off the Nussberg, and sees little morning sun (it tends to arrive around 13.30 in summer). It has amazing texture, with grapefruit and tea. Quite herby. Anyone mention pepper? No, none. Kaasgraben is a vineyard close to Sievering, above the village of Grinzing, with quite a lot of quartz. Vines are sixty years old, and the wine is really elegant. It is often mistaken for Riesling. Oh so good!
Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC 2017 vs Wieninger Bisamberg Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC 2017 – Gemischter Satz has various styles. Wines labelled simply with the DAC are usually lighter, and those labelled with a single site are more weighty and complex, and will age. Between the two you will see wines labelled “Nussberg” and “Bisamberg” (their are, of course other designations, with wines from Mauer, Rodaun and Oberlaa south of the city, and other locations hardly known to foreign visitors, but Nussberg and Bisamberg are the great Vienna Crus).
One fascinating difference between these two wines is the grape varietal composition. The straight bottling contains (on the left, above) eleven varieties, whereas the Bisamberg designated bottling in 2017 contains just three (Pinots Blanc and Gris plus Chardonnay), from 55-year old vines. Both are aged in stainless steel, and the former makes a perfect lighter lunch style.
Hajszan Neumann Wiener Gemischter Satz “Ried Weisleiten” 2016 vs Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz “Ried Rosengartel” 2017– Weisleiten is a NNE-facing site which has a very recognisable character in the bottle. Five varieties (Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner and Neuberger (a Roter Veltliner x Silvaner cross) make a chalky-textured wine. Heinz Neumann originally grazed sheep between the vines here, and Wieninger is considering bringing them back.
Ried Rosengartel is in some ways one of the most iconic of the Wieninger Gemischters, and this 13.5% 2017 is stonkingly good. The harvest was quite early and warm but the grapes were at peak phenolic ripeness when picked. There are five varieties here too, but this time it’s Grüner Veltliner, Weissburgunder, Neuberger, Riesling and Traminer. It has a slightly smoky note, and will certainly age…if allowed.
Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz Nussberg “Ried Ulm” 2013 vs Mystery Wine – The glorious Ulm is quite yellow in colour. The 2016 vintage of Ulm was voted one of the “Best in Show”, the top accolade at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2018, but in giving it a drinking date to 2021 the judging panel failed to understand the style, as our 2013 proves. This wine from that original site (which we talked about above) comprises nine varieties (I won’t list them). The Decanter judges did pick up on the sensual nature of this bottling, with a juicy richness, here in the 2013 enhanced by five years post harvest.
What was more remarkable, but educational, was that this 2013 had been open, albeit refrigerated, for three weeks. 2013 is a very good vintage, if you have any. The new 2017 when released will cost a bargain €25, the slightly more prestigious Rosengartel, €36.
The mystery wine? We did thankfully spot that it was a Riesling. Bisamberg Riesling 2004 was the wine, essentially a basic bottling, not a single vineyard. I can only say that this was shockingly good for such a supposedly lowly designation, which proves how even the basic level of wines will age if given an opportunity. Even today you’d pay less than €20 for this wine on release (the 2016 Nussberg equivalent is listed at €18).
Our final two pairings were very different, first a couple of the top Wieninger “Grand Select” cuvées, finishing with two of the experimental Hajszan Neumann bottlings.
Wieninger Grand Select Chardonnay 2016 & Wieninger Grand Select Pinot Noir 2015 – Vines for the Chardonnay are 40-years-old. The wine is super classy with rich buttery notes and a little oak, quite full-bodied The oak doesn’t dominate, and in fact the 2016 has been aged in only 10% new oak barrique, the rest being second or third fill.
The Pinot is from the hot 2015 vintage, where the growing season saw five weeks during which temperatures topped forty degrees. 25% of the stems were put back into the must, which helped bring freshness to the wine. It has good colour but this does not strike as a hot vintage wine. Georg was pleased with that comment. He said that Fritz had been told the same thing by sommeliers. This bottle had been open for eleven days, but still showed tannic structure and vivacity. The Grand Selects are on sale at the winery for €48/bottle.
Both of the Grand Select wines are fine wines in every sense. They are clearly wines which appeal to a certain type of collector and diners in Michelin-starred restaurants. If they are wines of a style I no longer buy, that is not a criticism in any way. What I do think is that it is a testament to Fritz Wieninger that, having produced wines like these, and gained great international praise for them, he still makes, and lavishes equal care on, wines made from autochthonous varieties, and especially the great traditional wines of his city. Neither one nor the other is more important, though what lies deep in Fritz’s heart I can only imagine.
I said that the last two wines were experimental. Wieninger has a certain international standing, and a home market set of expectations, which discourage going too far off piste. With the Hajszman Neumann wines, with their much smaller production, they can try new things. One such experiment has been in the use of concrete eggs and the gradual diminution in the use of sulphur, perhaps the final piece of the jigsaw that begins with biodynamics.
Hajszan Neumann “Natural” – Gemischter Satz 2015 & Traminer 2016 – Both of these wines see five months on skins in concrete egg before a gentle press into eight-year-old 500 litre barrels for just five days. They are bottled unfined and unfiltered. The Gemischter is a lovely pure orange colour. It has texture and a certain savoury quality, apricot fruit, with a touch of bitter orange citrus on the finish.
The Traminer is cloudier, a bit more textured, and a bit more raw, but that quality really enhances the wine. This was my favourite of the two for that very quality, though I really liked them both. I hope these wines reach the right audience because they remind me of the experiments of one of the larger biodynamic Jura producers, Domaine de la Pinte. It is also clear that, just like Friuli’s Ribolla Gialla, Traminer lends itself very well to skin contact.
We finished our long morning with Georg by taking a trip up into the vines, first to Bisamberg where we hooked up with Fritz again, and then over to Nussberg to get down and dusty in Ulm, and then Kaasgraben. The latter is a tiny, half-hectare, site with 55-year-old vines surrounded on two sides, and thus is well protected, by the villas which creep up the hill from Sievering (we are not far here from Jutta Ambrositch’s vines for her Sieveringer Ringenspiel with even older vines planted in 1952). In Ulm we could pick up oyster shell fragments from the chalky layer of a former sea. In Kaasgraben the ground is full of quartz. This is real terroir.
With Fritz and Georg at Bisamberg
Oyster shell with chalk and sandstone, Ulm vineyard
The half-hectare Kaasgraben, partly surrounded by the encroaching wealth of Sievering’s villas
I hope this article didn’t seem too long. For me, it was a genuine lesson about a region and wines I already love. Sometimes it’s nice to focus on smaller producers and bring their wines to the attention of a wider audience. Other times, though, the larger estates can teach us a lot. Their wider spread of vineyards tell the story of a wine region, as here at Wieninger.
Added to that, of course, there are not that many wine regions, and indeed capital cities with proximate vineyards, which owe such a debt to one man. For all the international accolades he has received, Fritz Wieninger will surely be most remembered a hundred years from now as the man who revived one of this great city’s greatest cultural traditions, Wiener Gemischter Satz. Vienna owes him.
In the next article I write on my recent trip to Austria we will travel up into the vines on the Nussberg, and discover Vienna’s traditional wine institutions, the heurigen and Buschenschanks, including those that pop up in the vines in summer, giving visitors a unique and wonderful view as they sip on their Gemischter Satz.
Weingut Wieninger is at Stammersdorfer Strasse 31. Take the Tram number 31 from outside Schottenring U-bahn station (U2, U4 lines) for 40 minutes to the Stammersdorf Terminus. From here the Wieninger Winery is a gentle 15 minute walk.
The Tasting Room is open Monday to Friday (8am – 4pm) and Saturday (10-4), but it is advisable to phone first before heading out all that way.
Link to Weingut Wieninger here
Wieninger’s UK agent is Liberty Wines
Wieninger has its own Stammersdorf Heuriger, just a few minutes from the winery, which is very well regarded, but it is only open Friday to Sunday in season. If you continue up Stammersdorfer Strasser before you reach the vineyards of the Bisamberg you will pass a number of other small Buschenschanks offering wine and simple food, though you cannot guarantee they will be open, and outside the summer months they probably won’t be. If they are then you may be in for a treat if you prefer authenticity to the larger tourist Heurigen you find in villages like Grinzing.