Sat 4 Sep 2010
Found primarily in Austria and to a lesser extent in Germany and Hungary, the red — really blue/black — blaufränkisch grape makes a distinctive spicy, peppery, tarry wine that’s not easily forgotten; it’s definitely not cabernet, merlot or pinot noir. In Germany, the grape is called lemberger and, helpfully, limberger; in our own Washington state, the grape has established a toehold, under the lemberger moniker. A small amount of acreage is devoted to the grape in Friuli, where it is called franconia. The “fränkisch” part of the grape’s name means “of or relating to the Franks,” that is, the West Germanic tribal confederation of “barbarians” that was a principle enemy of Rome, conquered great swaths of Gaul and eventually, through alliance with the Merovingians and other convoluted historical developments, became — voila! — French. In Middle Eastern and Asian kingdoms, in those far-off days, all Europeans were commonly called Franks. Anyway,, we can take blaufränkisch to mean “the blue grape of the Franks,” which carries, both in cultural and linguistic terms, implications of superiority.
Blaufränkisch must be grown and treated carefully. The grape is naturally high in tannin and acidity, and it does not take kindly to a heavy hand with oak, a fact that does not prevent many producers in Austria from throwing heaps of new oak at the wine to create something “modern” and “American.” Blaufränkisch grows best in the Mittelburgenland and Neusiedlersee areas of the Burgenland region, in far eastern Austria along the Hungarian border. The wines have the advantage of being not only unique but relatively inexpensive. These three examples of blaufränkisch wines from 2007 that I tried this week all cost under $20 and represent Great Value.
The Glatzer Blaufränkisch 2007 offers a glowing medium ruby hue typical of the wines; despite their air of intensity and earthiness, the colors remain pleasingly moderate yet radiant. This wine hails from Carnuntum — students of history will recognize the formation of the name as a remnant of the Roman Empire –a vineyard region just to the north and northwest of Burgenland and southeast of Vienna. The rooty, earthy bouquet, definitely a child of the loam, is characterized by piercing slate-like minerality, notes of briers and brambles, blueberries and mulberries. In the mouth, the wine is warm and spicy, smooth and mellow, like an autumnal punch, and bursting with flavors of red and black currants and more blueberries. There are no edges here, except for a tingling backbone of clean acidity; the finish brings in hints of nettles, dry leaves and cloves. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Drink through 2013 to ’15. Very Good+. About $15 or $16.
The Paul Lehrner Gfanger Blaufränkisch 2007, from Burgenland, sports a shamelessly radiant medium to moderately crepuscular ruby color, like a bewitching wine in a Dutch still-life painting. The whole effect of the wine is dark, roasted and rooty, with loam and moss, ashes and leather bolstering intense and concentrated scents and flavors of blueberry, black currant and plums. Give this a few minutes as it unfurls layers of spice and dusty tannins, plum dust, a mine of dried flowers, sinews of vibrant acidity, adding dimension as it goes but maintaining a consistently deft, even daringly light-hearted demeanor. Beautifully crafted. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Drink through 2014 to ’17 with wild game, steak au poivre or hearty stews. Excellent. About $15 to $17.
Amazing and rewarding complexity in the Prieler Johanneshöhe Blaufränkisch 2007, Neusiedlersee-Huggeland, starts with aromas of black olive, tomato skin, bell pepper, black currants and mulberries, dusty slate and cedar, bacon fat and black cherry. This panoply of sensation wafts in a strand of singular purpose and confidence; here, one thinks, is a real snootful of wine. In the mouth, too, it exerts true authority without being heavy or obvious, weaving dramatic and spicy black fruit flavors — exotic, wild, piquant — with the grape’s unique dusty, brambly, tea-like earthiness. Nimble and edgy acidity keep one coming back for another sip. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Again, this is a wine for full-flavored game and red-meat dishes. Drink through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $19 or $20.
Terry Theise Selections for Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y. Samples for review.