Wieninger Nussberg Alte Reben
If there was ever a bedtime terroir story to tell my children, this one is certainly it. It is the height of terroir, Vienna in a glass, and is simply amazing wine.
The name provides the whole story, so I will take it straight from the top.
Fritz Wieninger’s surname literally means “man from Vienna,” and one thing I can tell you is that the Viennese are immensely proud of their city’s winemaking tradition. It’s the only remaining European capital making wine. Telling them you know of the city’s traditional Heurigen and their Gemischter Satz would be like me hearing a Viennese tell me of her wonderful experience tasting Rush Creek Reserve – we’re not just cheeseheads, were serious cheesehead gourmands whose products deserve every bit of worldwide fame they garner.
The Heurigen are Vienna’s traditional wine bars. And they only ever serve one wine each – the Gemischter Satz built from the vineyard literally right behind the bar – all of this within Vienna city limits. These Heurigen are prized for not just local, but each neighborhood’s, expression of wine.
The Gemischter Satz are considered heirloom vineyards, places of immense filial piety. Literally these vineyards are field blends (here consisting of Weissburgunder, Neuburger, Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner, Sylvaner, Zierfandler, Rotgipfler, Traminer and Riesling, among others). But what makes them truly special is the grandparents and great-grandparents who cared for them over the years.
Most blends, even field blends, a winemaker gets to play with the blend in the winery – a touch more of Merlot to round the Cab, a touch of Petite Sirah to stiffen the Zin. But with Gemischter Satz, it was only ever in the vineyard. So every year one of Fritz’s ancestors would have to make the call – more Neuburger instead of Rotgipfler? Was it weather, or was the Gruner particularly good this year? Is that small patch of clay better for Riesling or Traminer? And on and on and on, vintage after vintage, until these small vineyards take on their own subtle nuances, 30, 40, 50, and through 60 years of interaction of grapes, environment, and winemaker. (As Fritz put it to me, “There is my grandmother, the one in the middle of the label – she sure knew how to manage a vineyard.”) To say that each Gemischter Staz becomes its own special place would be a serious understatement.
But, despite all of this, these old traditions were dying out by the mid-1980s. They are hard to grow, harder to sell, and were considered unfashionable. When Fritz returned home after eneological school and a year interning in California, he was determined to make Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. As he puts it, “At first, I had no idea what my elders were talking about.” But then the beauty of the everyday wine of the Heurigen took hold, and there has been no looking back.
The World of Fine Wine has chronicled Fritz’s immense contribution to culture, history and wine (issue 40, 2013, pp. 100 – 113), and it’s a fascinating read. An even better endorsement for this wine came to me from Paolo de Marci, owner and winemaker of Isole e Olena in Chaniti. He was in the Brady Street store, pitching his wine, and spied this bottle. He stopped pitching, picked it up, and said, “This is a very important wine, a wine of soul, back home, I had to fight for all five cases I bought.”
Even better than ndorsements is what’s in the glass: There is a stunning depth, complexity and salty minerality to this wine. Sixty years of layering these grapes together via work in the vineyard have achieved a sensational harmony that is utterly refreshingo drink and yet carries its rich complexity with levity and charm. Every bottle I’ve opened I’ve never been able to stop drinking, it’s just that darn delicious. You may buy just one, but you will certainly come back for more.