Growing grapes is an endevour fraught with risk. Today, we’re conditioned to think of varietal wines, but this idea of just Merlot or Chardonnay is fairly new. Monovarietal planting only became widespread with the advent of dedicated vine nurseries in the 20th century. Before that, field blends of mixed, coplanted varieties were the norm.
Since compulsory monovarietal planting by aristocratic decree (like Pinot Noir in Burgundy) was rare, field blends were a kind of natural insurance, spreading risks like weather, frost and disease over various grape varieties. Unlike blends made from finished wines in the winery, field blends are coharvested and cofermented. Every year, field blends shimmer with different characters, resulting in individualistic wines.
Field blends are “the most effective way to return all nuances to each terroir and to express all its facets.” —Jean-Michel Deiss
A generation of winemakers with renewed appreciation for biodiversity and a desire to express place more than variety has lead to a revival in field blends. Andy Robinson, winemaker for Seghesio in Sonoma Valley, farms more than 100-year-old vineyards of Zinfandel mixed with Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet and Carignan.
“They offer truly unique expressions of the areas in which they are grown,” he says, “They are a part of California history.”
For Jean-Michel Deiss, of Domaine Marcel Deiss in Alsace, who has deliberately planted field blends, they are “the most effective way to return all nuances to each terroir and to express all its facets.”
In Vienna, this farming is enshrined in law as Gemischter Satz (literally, “mixed planting”). What makes these wines so exciting?
“On one hand, it’s the mix of the different varietal aromas; on the other, it’s the symbiosis of the different ripening patterns,” says Viennese winemaker Fritz Wieninger. “While some grapes are superripe and give tropical notes, others barely are and bring zesty, racy liveliness.”
Domaine Marcel Deiss 2012 Mambourg Grand Cru White (Alsace); $66, 94 points. Making vineyard rather than varietal wines, Marcel Deiss blends from different members of the Pinot family. It has a strongly dry spice element as well as fresher fruit and a touch of pears. It needs to age several years, so drink from 2017. Le Serbet. Cellar Selection. —Roger Voss
Quinta do Vallado 2013 Reserva Field Blend Red (Douro); $65, 94 points. Most of the Douro’s older vineyards produce field blends from the random planting of vines. In this wine, some of the vines are over 80 years old, making for a complex, tannic wine packed with ripe red fruits and acidity. Still developing, it should not be drunk before 2019. Quintessential Wines. Cellar Selection. —R.V.
Wieninger 2014 Rosengartl Gemischter Satz White (Vienna); $55, 93 points. The normally rich Rosengartl comes in a much more slender body for the 2014 vintage. There are glimpses of opulence contributing to a beautifully defined texture on the midpalate. The finish is whistle-clean. Bravo. Winebow. —Anne Krebiehl
Seghesio 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel (Sonoma County); $40, 92 points. With its grippy black fruit and black pepper, this is a ripe, bright and softly layered wine, true to its old-vine status. Cinnamon and leathery pepper combine on the lengthy finish. Drink now through 2021. Cellar Selection. —Virginie Boone