Blaufränkisch: The Ultimate Chameleon

Burgenland - Vineyard with a rainbowMy first rendezvous with Blaufränkisch (pronounced as blouw-FRANN-kisch) happened during my London wine schooling days. It was one of the grape varieties that we had to taste as part of our course curriculum and doing an in-depth taste research of this variety was not considered a top priority. So, when I received an invite from Wine Austria for the International Wine Summit in June 2015, I promptly joined in. The tour was aptly called “Pannonian Highlights – Burgenland & Carnuntum” in depth. After an enlightening visit to Austria and sampling its wonderful wines, Gurjit Singh Barry shares his experience and knowledge with SI

About Austria
I love to quote Christian Dworan from the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, “There are no Kangaroos in Austria” is how he usually addresses the audience. As we all know, Austria is a beautiful and a small winemaking country in Central Europe sharing its borders with eight countries – Germany, Hungary, Italy, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Austria is well known for its great white wines with refreshing high acidity from their very own Grüner Veltliner. Apart from this, there are also great sweet wines made from noble-rotted grapes. And then they also make some ice wine. What many people don’t know, including me before I took this trip, is that Austria is a great country for reds, producing versatile styles, ranging from light and easy-drinking to full-bodied, intense and aromatic. Cooler areas are to sparkling wine, what sunshine is to the production of age-worthy red wine. This is possible in the region of Burgenland, a place we visited and were blown away by the range of reds available there. With in-depth soil and grape synergy studies as also better clonal selection, over the years a few grape varieties have managed to establish their stronghold here. To name a few permitted red grape varieties, we have Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt, Blauer Portuguese, Blauburger, St. Laurent, Pinot Noir and the usual international suspects.

The grape(s)

We tastedBlaufraenkisch1 quite a few grape varieties but this trip was a great opportunity to taste the versatility of Blaufränkisch and am pleased to announce that the expressions of soil and winemaking that this grape is capable of carrying off is simply amazing.

For the record, Blaufränkisch was first documented around 18th century in Austria. At that time in what was then Germany it was suitably referred to as Limburger or Limberger – derived from the town of Limberg in today’s Maissau in Niederösterreich.

As a grape variety, Blaufränkisch is the crossing partner for various new grape varieties such as Zweigelt and Blauburger among others.

This thick skinned and late ripening grape variety gives wines, which are known for their cherry and other red berry notes as also its sharp acidity. Aggressive when young, the well-made versions have great ageing potential and show great finesse with velvety nuances when sufficiently ripe.

Fusion of soil and grape
The most interesting conversation happened with the young and dynamic winemaker, Franz Ludwig Weninger who explained to me how the type of soil contributes to the varied expressions of Blaufränkisch grape variety. Across Burgenland vineyards, Blaufränkisch is grown on loam, clay to slate, and schist to lime soils.

Loamy soils retain moisture in summer and produce classic Burgenland Blaufränkisch wines that are fruity and juicy with peppery spice. Limestone is a viticulturist’s best friend as it provides excellent drainage among all soils, producing wines which are mineral and full of finesse. Schist soil acts as a storage heater emitting warmth back to the grapes at night very much like the pudding stones in Châteauneuf-du-Pape in France; producing powerful wines with a lot of depth and complex aromas. Clay vineyard soil produces the spicy version of Blaufränkisch. Carnuntum that lays south of Vienna also offers a lip-smacking and elegant Blaufränkisch.

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Among the wines we tasted, here are a few that I personally enjoyed. The selection criterion was strict and the wines were rated on the overall balance of fruit, acidity, tannins, depth of flavor and complexity. The wines were a great example of honest winemaking and expressed their terroir beautifully. Here’s my list:

  1. Wellanschitz Blaufränkisch Klassik 2013 Hochberg, Burgenland
    Classy & elegant with ripe red fruits and slight mineral aromas. Nose has pronounced presence of spices especially pepper. Palate is complimented with aromas present on the nose and high level of  tannins which show good potential to mature and make the wine last long.
  1. Weninger Blaufränkisch Reserve 2008 Dürrau, Burgenland
    This wine is six-years-old and comes from a cool climate vintage. Because of the terroir it is possible for the tractor to go in only till the fifth consecutive row in the vineyard making it one of the toughest terrains to work. The wine is well balanced with flavor of fruits and elegant tannins with a spicy finish.
  1. Kerschbaum Blaufränkisch Reserve 2009 Dürrau, Burgenland
    Tight tannins yet classy. Great ageing potential and spicy.
  1. Artner Blaufränkisch Klassik 2013 Mittelburgenland DAC
    Classic Blaufränkisch from the house of Artner – dark red juicy fruits, with medium tannins and high yet balanced acidity.
  1. Grenzlandhof – Reumann Blaufränkisch Klassik 2013 Mittelburgenland DAC
    The winery is located near the Hungarian border and here we have a classic again winning our hearts. It’s brimming with blackberries and red cherries complemented by soft yet firm tannins followed by a long finish.
  1. Lang Blaufränkisch Reserve 2013 Hochberg, Mittelburgenland DAC
    Deep garnet color and dark fruit on the nose; palate is velvety with tannins that wrap around deep jammy blackberry and mulberry fruit.
  1. Szemes Illa und Oskar Blaufränkisch 2012 Hochberg, Mittelburgenland DAC
    Juicy tannins and spicy on the palate. Elegant!
  1. Tesch Blaufränkisch Reserve 2013 Hochberg, Mittelburgenland DAC
    Deep ruby with berry compote on a bed of chocolate. Complex on the nose yet clear fresh cherry fruit and well-structured tannins with long finish. Classy!
  1. Vereinte Winzer Horitschon Blaufränkisch Reserve 2011 Dürrau, Mittelburgenland DAC
    Nutty, cherries, tobacco, earthy and mineral notes. Spices, coffee and chocolate on the palate with bold tannins.
  1. Straka Blaufränkisch Reserve 2012 Eisenberg DAC
    Fine blueberry and cherry fruit, pleasant oak paired with spicy and juicy tannins on the palate.
  1. Schützenhof Blaufränkisch Klassik 2013 Eisenberg DAC
    Easy drinking. Black fruits on the nose with slight minerality on the palate. Clean fruit aromas with soft tannins.
  1. Wallner Blaufränkisch Reserve 2012 Eisenberg DAC
    Spiced dark fruit on the nose with pepper and cinnamon. Long persistent finish. Very pleasant.
  1. Stubits Blaufränkisch Reserve 2012 Kleincsater, Eisenberg DAC
    Juicy red fruits rolled in sweet spices with cherries on the nose. Juicy tannins yet tightly made.

Apart from the wines that I tasted in Austria, there were others that stole my heart. Sigh! I won’t be able to fit everything into one feature. But if I am given a chance, I would love to go back and continue my wine expedition – to explore and expand my tasting repertoire.

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