Gemišt, a word borrowed from the German where gemischt means mixed (both the Croatian and the German words are pronounced exactly the same) describes a traditionally very popular drink, made by mixing white wine (usually dry wine) with sparkling mineral water in various ratios. In English it's usually called spritzer, which is a similar name to one of the variants of the drink known in Croatia. Recently I’ve seen gemišt described as a “white wine cocktail”, and I guess you can call it that, and there is a similar version made with red wine in the Croatian south, where it’s mixed with still water and called bevanda.
Gemišt is a traditional drink in central Croatia, where a lot of white wines appropriate to be mixed with sparkling water is grown and made, and the tradition has been around for a long time, and it’s been documented that continental Croatians had gemišt in the 19th century. In 1915, early 20th century, a teacher from Samobor, Milan Lang, wrote the book “Samobor, folk customs and life” published a thousand-page book (!) in which he writes: “Each house has their own wine. Many people love to mix their wine with the Jamnička sparkling water. Most water is spent during the summer.”
And, of course, let’s not pretend that the Croatians came up with that idea, since the Old Greeks had the list of 6 “allowed” wine-water (they used still water, though) ratios they recommended. All of those ratios were much more on the “watery” side than what we’re used to, and the poet Homer wrote about mixing one part wine with 20 parts water!
There are several reasons why people used to mix their wine with water, one of them being that in the past in this region the wine was of a significantly lesser quality, and mixing such oxidized wine made from over-ripened grapes did in fact improve the taste. The other reason is that you’re less likely to get drunk if you’re diluting wine (especially if it’s high in alcohols) with water, and it is easy to get used to, especially during the summer.
There are various “approved” ratios of wine and water in Croatia:
- The most usual one is “2 u 8”, 2 parts water poured into 8 parts wine (don’t even bother doing your 4th grade math and asking why it’s not “1 in 4” – I have no idea), to soften it just a bit, and to give it a bit of a fizz.
- The other often mentioned ratio is the so-called “polkač”, or “half-way”, where equal parts wine and water are mixed. That one will almost certainly not get you drunk.
- The third one is somewhat unusual, and has a specific name of its own: škropec. It’s made by pouring the glass full of wine, and than just sprinkling (in Croatian, “poškropiti”, thus the name) a few drops of mineral water. I was never quite able to understand why anyone does that, since you really can’t taste it, but the tradition exist and some people swear by it, saying that it’s the way to drink your white wine.
- There are, of course, other ratios as well, 2/3 etc., and every "proper" fan of gemišt will tell you that their ratio is the absolute best because of various reasons,
And then there’s špricer, which is white wine mixed with club soda, not sparkling mineral water, which is very rare to come by these days since most bars don’t really have the club soda machines any more, but it used to be very popular.
The wines often used to make gemišt are Moslavac, Kraljevina, Škrlet, Rajnski Rizling and Graševina – the white wines with higher acids, dry wines with neutral aroma and without any flowery accents. So, avoid Traminac, Pošip, Malvazija, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon or Chardonnay when having a gemišt.
As for the mineral water to be used: it’s a centuries old point of conflict among Croatians, since we’re divided between those who swear by Jamnica mineral water and those who say that the only “proper” gemišt is made using Studenac water. Anyway, good thing this is a wine site, so we really don’t have to get into that, however, if this article made you curious, perhaps you could try both waters with the same bottle of wine, and find out yourselves if there’s any difference at all.
A scene from one of the most popular Croatian movie classics of all time "Tko pjeva zlo ne misli", in which the main character has a gemišt (or two, but who's counting):