If you've never had an Austrian sparkling wine (called "Sekt" in Austria and Germany), then you are like me. Or more precisely like I used to be until today's Thanksgiving dinner when I tried my first bottle. And boy, what a wine! For years, I've been searching for a wine that goes with Russian cold appetizers (salads, cured meats and fish, all kinds of salty, vinegary, and savory goodies), and this most excellent sparkler fit the bill perfectly. Perhaps it's the relative similarity of Russian, German, and Austrian cuisines that makes Austria's wines suit the Russian table?
My family were impressed (not an easy feat for a gang used to drinking everything from Shaoxing rice wine to tequila to vodka). Wiener Gemischter Satz Sekt is not the type you are likely to see even in the most esoteric wine shops (but check wine-searcher.com, this wine costs ~$30-35), and is yet another fabulous find in my recent chain of Austrian revelations!
Vienna is the only capital in the world that has vineyards within its frontiers. The traditional wine from Vienna is the "Wiener Gemischte Satz" - a field blend of Austrian white grape varieties. This wine was only sold in the Viennese wine bistros until in 2003 Richard Zahel, the "father of Viennese Gemischte Satz" (according to his website) began marketing it more broadly. Today Zahel’s "Gemischter Satz" is offered in 4 different styles. The Premium Wine "Nussberg Grande Reserve" consists of 9 old Austrian varieties like Grüner Veltliner, Rotgipfler, Zierfandler, Traminer and others. In 2007, Zahel created Gemischter Satz Sekt, a Champagne style sparkling wine made à la Mèthode Traditionelle (traditional method of Champagne, i.e. second fermentation in the bottle) with grapes harvested and co-fermented from Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Traminer from the famous Viennese Nussberg vineyards (shown in the Vienna wine map on the right). Fine bubbles, medium weight, nice balance between fruit and acid. This is the type of sparkling wine that can convince those who "don't get" Champagne to give sparkling another chance. Even after the fizz subsides, the remaining still wine tastes good!
After drinking 3 different Austrian wines in the last week, I am shocked that these superbly food-friendly, well-made wines have been under my radar for this long. While I don't see them knocking Burgundy or Barolo off their high horses, these Austrians are a delight to drink for those of us who enjoy not just trophies but everyday honest-to-goodness bottles that don't break the wallet. In this Thanksgiving season, that is something to be thankful for. Here is to the obscurity of the wonderful wines of Austria. How long will that last?