Blaufränkisch : the Austrian parade horse

 

If zweigelt is regarded as the « easier » red Austrian wine, then blaufränkisch is seen as the grape with most potential. The parade horse, as the Austrian magazine Falstaff calls it. In general it produces wines that are medium to full-bodied, quite aromatic, spicy, and have a good acidic backbone. It’s mainly produced in Burgenland, which is in the east of Austria, most quality wines coming from those parts of the country. There are three different appellations or DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus – who invented this name?!) in Burgenland where blaufränkisch is either the only or the dominant grape for red wines.

Leithaberg is the most northern one, followed by Mittelburgenland, and then Eisenberg in the south. Burgenland lies at the west side of the Pannonian plain, a big basin in Central Europe, which means that the climate is decidedly continental, so hot summers and cold winters.

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The red area is Burgenland (map from http://www.austrianwine.com)

Leithaberg is the most northern DAC of the three DACs in Burgenland where blaufränkisch dominates and has a soil that’s rich in slate (= schiefer) and limestone. This is supposed to produce elegant and mineral wines with a good acidic structure. The two wines below are from that region but don’t actually carry the DAC classification. Not sure why though.

Blaufränkisch Fölligberg 2014, Weingut Leberl

The first aroma I have is rather lactic, like forest fruit yogurt. Then some peppernut, tobacco, a bit of smoke, and black cherries. The wine is fresh and quite structured with bold but ripe tannins. Ends with a chocolate bitter. A noble wine, but it deserves further cellaring. Contrary to what you’d expect from Leithaberg, no minerality here though. The vineyard is situated on a hill called Fölligberg, where there is a lot of clay. Maybe this explains the more powerful character of this wine.

Blaufränkisch vom Kalk 2015, Weingut Altenburger

Very refined and noble aromas coming from the glass. Blond tobacco, fresh cherries, and yes, a bit of minerality! These aromas remind me somewhat of a good Beaujolais, or even Burgundy. The wine starts fresh and ends fresh, and is nicely structured by the fine tannins. Very elegant, very fresh. This wine reflects the reputation of Leithaberg. Markus Altenburger is specialized in blaufränkisch and has a hands-off approach, not using selected yeasts for example. I would definitely like to try more from this winery!

Mittelburgenland is, quite logically as the name suggests, in the middle of Burgenland… It has a heavier, loamy soal. Add to that a minimum of 300 days of sunshine and only 600mm rainfall per year and you have a recipe for richer, more concentrated wines. 

Blaufränkisch von Lehm 2016, Gesellmann

Ripe forest fruit, cedar wood, a minty touch. The wine is very smooth, not overly powerful, rather medium-bodied with good acidity. Goes down very easily, pleasant to drink.

Blaufrankisch 7301, Weingut K + K Kirnbauer 2015.

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Probably meant as a quaffer, but I enjoyed this very much!

The nose seduces with its black fruit, underwood, and a touch of tobacco. This wine is very light on its feet, joyful an yet nicely structured. The finish is carried by the refreshing acidity. This is lovely! While this is an entry level wine, it is better than average and makes you pour another glass as soon as the first is finished. Great drinking pleasure. One of my personal favorites.

Blaufränkisch 2015 Mittelburgenland DAC Gold Reserve, Weingut K + K Kirnbauer

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This is the premium blaufränkisch of the same winery as the 7301. It has a very luxurious and luscious nose with ripe red fruit, cedar wood, it really jumps out of the glass. The wine is ripe, has a lot of fruit, kept in balance by the refreshing acidity. Black chocolate in the background gives it more depth. This is very approachable as it is now, no need to put this wine away. I cannot help thinking, though, that this wine is a bit “made” and perhaps a tad too easy for its price (+/-25€). Still, I can drink this anytime…

Eisenberg is the furthest down south of the Burgenland DACs. The landscape here is more hilly and slate dominates the soil on the hills. At the foot of the hills there is more ferrous loam, giving more powerful wines while the wines of the hills should be more elegant and mineral.

Blaufränkisch Ried Weinberg 2015, Eisenberg DAC Reserve, Kopfensteiner

This wine does not come from one of the hills but a plateau with heavy loam soil. Cherry liquor, cedar wood, a bit of caramel. The mouth feel is warm and the tannins are rather harsh. The high acidity gives freshness, but this is not my favorite blaufränkisch to be honest.

Food pairing

With all these wines of blaufränkisch I was curious what would match well with them. Duck was a pairing I found on several websites, so off I went to buy duck fillet, or magret de canard.

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Perfectly cooked duck, even if I say so myself!

I made the duck with a mash of celeriac and sautéed greens. The duck had a very powerful, earthy taste. We had the blaufränkisch of Gesellmann and Kopfensteiner with it :

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Even though the wines went relatively well with the duck, I somehow felt that a heavier wine would have been better. I rarely drink Cahors (= malbec) but here I could perfectly picture a good glass of black wine with my duck. The combination with the Kopfensteiner was a perfect illustration, however, of how red meat can completely absorb the tannins of a wine. This blaufränkisch had quite harsh tannins that made the wine not so pleasant without food. With the duck, though, all tannins were gone…

So, conclusion? I thoroughly enjoyed these wines of blaufränkisch. They are hardly ever heavy. Even if they are concentrated and structured, most of them have beautiful fruit and great mouthwatering acidity that make these wines approachable and digestible. In fact, with the trend away from very concentrated oak-driven wines, I am convinced there is a market for blaufränkisch. Another argument for blaufränkisch is that the qualit of the entry-level wines is already quite good, so if you spend 10-15€ on a blaufränkisch, chances are high that you will have a wine that is very pleasant and offers a good price quality ratio. Chances of finding that in Burgundy, for example, very low… Speaking of which, I am not going to pretend that blaufränkisch is an alternative for Burgundy pinot noir, but there were a few that made me think of a fruit-forward pinot noir, like the ones they make in New-Zealand for example. You might find it a bit hard to find these wines though. Even though there are quite a few shops where you will find a grüner veltliner or a zweigelt, if you want to buy a selection of blaufränkisch, you will have to revert to webshops. Or be lucky that you have a specialized shop in your neighborhood. But if you find a bottle, give it a try, and as always, let me know what you think!

Enjoy!

Zweigelt : Austrian glug glug?

In France they call glug glug wines the easy-drinking kind of wines, like a simple Beaujolais. Nothing wrong with glug glug wines. A light and refreshing red can be very nice in summer or with a simple meal. In France they also call these vins de bistrot, wines to drink in bar. In France it is very common to just have un ballon de vin, a (round-shaped) glass of wine when you’re out with friends. In many other countries the preferred drink will probably be beer, but bear in mind that in France beer costs more than wine… In Austria zweigelt is a grape that often makes this kind of easy-drinking, pleasant ànd affordable wines. In my recent exploration of Austrian wines, however, I have also come across very different styles of zweigelt, such as a very dry and tight rosé, and a very serious, must-have red. Here’s a taste of zweigelt :

Zweigelt 2015, Umathum, Burgenland

Burgenland is a region in the east of Austria that stretches all along the border with Hungary. Mostly red wine is produced there, and this zweigelt is produced by Umathum, a well-known winery from this region. This zweigelt is a very good example of the easy-drinking fruit-forward wines that this grape produces. It has a attractive smoky nose with a bit of leather and ripe cherries. The ripe fruit is the key element in this wine, no difficult tannins here, and it’s kept sufficiently fresh so it doesn’t get boring after one glass. This is einfach lekker, or simply good! Really the kind of wine that I would be happy with if I got this in a bistrot. Bought this at 12,90€.

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Zweigelt Rosé 2016, Markus Huber

As you might have read before, I am not a big enthusiast of rosé wines. I don’t mind them, but it is rare that there is actually a rosé that will stick with you for longer than the actual time in your glass. So I didn’t expect that much from this rosé. Remembering the ripeness of the Umathum Zweigelt, I expected this to be yet another sweetish rosé. No such thing with this Zweigelt Rosé, quite the contrary actually. The nose was very fresh and mineral, and actually did not have so much fruit. This perfectly could have been the nose of a very fresh white wine. The mouth feel continues in the same vein. There is a racy acidity here that makes this wine extremely tight and fresh. The acidic backbone give this wine structure and length. Absolutely no mediterranean rosé feeling here! I paired this wine with an eggplant oven dish and that was a complete mismatch… This rosé should actually be paired like a very fresh muscadet for example, so rather with a sole or a cod fillet, or sea fruit even. Very surprising!

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Zweigelt Luckenwald Reserve 2015, Nittnaus, Neusiedlersee DAC

And then the biggest surprise still had to come. I grabbed this bottle from a shop in Vienna’s airport, taking as much wine as I could in my suitcase and hand luggage, knowing that Austrian wines are not so commonly found in Belgium. It had a big sticker on it with a 93 score of Falstaff, an Austrian wine magazine. I tend to be rather prudent with medals, scores and what not, so again my expectations were not very high for this airport bottle. Was I wrong! The nose is a feast of all the black fruits you can imagine, very abundant and very chique! There is a cedar wood touch here that gives the wine a luxurious feel, while not overdoing it. From the first sip you feel that this wine is incredibly deep and long. There is a lot of everything here, and yet it is all perfectly controlled. Ripe black fruit, freshness, bold but ripe tannins. Big and structured, and elegant and balanced at the same time. There is only one word for this : impressive! I had no idea that zweigelt was capable of producing such a classy wine. And the best is yet to come : I paid 15,90€ for this at the airport. I think I urgently need to go back to Vienna!

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This wine even looks classy!