European Winebloggers II: Blaufrankisch and a mystical Riesling

written by Michael Oudyn

“Love at first sip on the Danube”– The European Wine Bloggers do Vienna

We  bloggers were mostly tasting  whites  (see last post). About 80% of Austrian wine is white afterall: a lot of best-seller Gruner
Veltliner, some fantastic Rieslings, a few noble rotters. But we learned on a two-day road trip through Burgenland, which hugs the border with Hungary, Austria is producing quite nice reds as well.

Danube river love at first sip

Love at first sip backdrop

We were treated, in effect, to a 48-hour total-immersion crash course in Austria’s signature red: Blaufrankisch, In a nutshell: it can be “bold and spicy” to “soft and juicy” according to Karen Mac Neil who compares it to Zinfandel. It can be ”intense and zesty with flavors of blueberries, red cherries, and redcurrents” according to Oz Clark. Most common alias: lemberger in Germany and Washinton state. Etymology: Frankisch from the medieval Franks like Charlemagne which gives it a nice pedigree, and Blau from the blue color it gives your teeth, lips, and mouth after tasting 84 of them in one day.

At 10 a.m. at the Moschendorf wine museum we swirl, sniff, savor, and spit about 27 Blaufrankish from Eisenberg DAC.  Then 26 more from Mittelburgenland, and so on for two days. Okay, I didn’t really taste all of them and my tasting notes got a little sketchy and repetitive.  The great French food mystic Brillat-Savarin said: ”The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star.” Well, that would be an exaggeration.  But a new grape can be fun, especially when you tramp through its vineyards on a rainy day, help the winemaker push his truck out of the mud between his vines, and stick your head into its empty barrels at the winery.

I was developing a certain fondness for Blaufrankisch, but tastings are just tastings and we were told over and over again that Blaufrankisch is a food wine, not to be drunk alone but enjoyed with a meal and good company. Its first real test came at the home of winemaker Hans Moser, he of the truck, mud, and drizzle. Three wine bloggers and four members of the Mayer family sat down to “a typical Austrian wedding feast” of beef broth soup with dumplings, boiled beef with potatoes,  vegetables, and horseradish, their entry-level “Blaufrankisch exclusiv,” and a chardonnay. And here  this uncomplicated red could really shine. And the chardonnay worked real well, too. Austrians, and Germans, have no problem pairing white wines and certain red meats. (So after the red-wine-with-fish craze, can white-wine-with-meat dinners be far behind?)

My second Blaufrankisch meal was at a small dinner party back in Barcelona. Hans Moser had thoughtfully put some Blaufrankisch von Leithagebirge in our doggy bags as we left his winery and it was eyed, sniffed, and tasted it with due respect: “Deep purple,” said Janet the photographer.  “A little aggressive at first,” said Francoise; the tannins were a little rough on an empty stomach. But when we started in on the Spanish sausage and jamon serrano it was just what the doctor ordered.

I wanted more of my new toy, so I hit the specialized Barcelona wine shops. First stop: the Vila Vinoteca with its extensive selection of imported wines, a rarity in Spain where drinking anything foreign can smack of treason. I asked for the Austrian-wine section and was directed to the darkest, dimmest, furthest corner of the shop. I got up on my tippy toes and peered into the entire Austrian selection: eight dusty bottles of Riesling and Gruner Veltliner; nothing red, no Blaufrankisch. My  last hope was LaVinia, another large foreign importer. Their Austrian selection was, by comparison,  huge; a dozen or so bottles mixed in with the Germans, and one was actually a Blaufrankisch. An ET 2002 from Ernest Triebauer in Burgenland to be precise; I snapped it up. The next night it was served up with a filet of beef. “Aging nicely”; “A good balance of acid and tannin.” Very good indeed.

According to the  official Austrian press “Blaufrankisch started off the Austrian red wine boom”. The boom still seems mostly in-country with a little wish fulfillment thrown in.  But The Austrian Wine Board has high hopes that Blaufrankisch will someday be for Austrian reds what Gruner has become for her whites: a popular wine the world over, immediately identifiable as Austrian. And there has been some recent international critical acclaim.  Hans Nehrer of the Austrian Wine Academy attributes this to a change in wine-making philosophy. “We used to try to make  big fruit bombs, but now we are letting (Blaufrankisch) be itself.”  Out of respect for its esence they are “resisting the temptation to imitate the ‘generics’”, which they ironically/dismissively calls international Cabernets and Merlots.  Wine writer Erin McCoy told me it was “the latest craze in New York City.”  But my spy back in Massachusetts reports finding only one Blaufrankisch after visiting her usual wine haunts. Stay tuned.

I grew to like Blaufrankisch, but it was not love at first sip. My Austrian arrow-in-the-palette moment was like this. It is 9:30 A.M. and we bloggers, old friends and new, are quietly floating down the blue Danube (brown, actually.) A lazy fog hovers over the river and clings to the terraced vineyards which rise straight up from the silent banks. An exquisite riesling materializes in our hands. It is a Smaragd Riesling from the Wachau. I like that it is a smaragd because this is the highest rank in the prestigious Wachau region. I like that it is a smaragd because a smaragd is an adorable emerald- green lizard native to those parts. I like that the wine is delicious with a nice early-morning acid pick- me-up. The experience is almost mystical. “Riesling Achleiten Smaragd from Weingut Karthauserhof” is scribbled down on my notes. But  wine can mimic life, and names can be meaningless in these irrepeatable  flash affairs of the heart and palette.

But back to Blaufrankisch. Let’s finish it off with a baseball metaphor: Blau Frankisch may not be a world beater. You probably shouldn’t bring him out to pitch game seven of the World Series. But he’s balanced, reliable, and a good change of pace from the usual international reds. And, while not cheap, he doesn’t break the bank. So, why not give this food-friendly Austrian rookie a chance to work his way into your red-wine starting rotation?  If you can find some, that is.

The Smaragd Lizard of the Danube

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2 Responses to “European Winebloggers II: Blaufrankisch and a mystical Riesling”

  1. Nata Says:

    “in Spain where drinking anything foreign can smack of treason”

    ……oooo yes… SOBRE TODO EL VINO, SI ESTO ES EJJJPAÑA HOMBRE, DONDE VAS CON VINO AUSTRIACOS… eeestos gringos que no saben..!

  2. Diane Slater Says:

    I am a buyer for Cape Cod Package Store in Centerville – we have recently GROWN. I have Blaufrankisch AND St Laurent on my wall! Tho it is not eay to buy for me here in MA – looking for more avenues to get these wines!??

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