Thursday, April 7, 2016

Blaufränkisch at ProWein in Düsseldorf, March 2016

the highlight of ProWein this year was a little toddle I took down the spicy paths and byways of Blaufränkisch, reinforcing my consistent conviction that we do indeed have another great red variety on our hands. And in addition to trying the new wines that acquaintances led me to sample – Paul Kerschbaum from Horitschon showed great promise – I made sure to connect with old friends, some of whose wines I had sold at one point or another.

many of the wines I tasted from a few of the younger producers carried too heavy a burden of cooperage – although not nearly so severe as what I was to encounter visiting the growers of Württemburg in the German hall to chew through their Lemberger wines – same plant, different handle – but with the exception of Graf Adelmann, whose wines did indeed show the nobility that the name of the estate suggests, a good number of the German wines were choking on enough new oak to muzzle much of any varietal character.

so, my sample set: six excellent estates ­– five geographic distinctions and one generational. What do the wines have in common, and what distinguishes them from each other?

Wachter-Wiesler – Südburgenland/Eisenberg
Uwe Schiefer – Südburgenland/Eisenberg
Moric – Mittelburgenland
Rosi Schuster – Neusiedlersee Hügelland
Paul Achs – Neusiedlersee
Muhr-van der Niepoort – Carnuntum

there are two grape varieties that, better than any others, carry the message of the soils in which they are grown to the taster: the white wine variety Riesling – currently everybody’s darling but my best bedfellow since before the current crop of sommeliers was out of diapers – and the red Pinot Noir (specifically its Burgundian incarnation). Recent developments in the world of Blaufränkisch indicate that while the variety may not transmit a sense of place as dramatically as Pinot Noir, it certainly sets a good example – especially since the trend toward monovarietal vitality has gotten growers looking to Burgundy and Piedmont for their models, rather than Bordeaux or Napa. And I am noticing a tendency in the variety not to go very far beyond 14% alcohol, even in the very ripe years among growers who prefer the aggressive style.

something needs now to be said: these are wines that will repay time in the cellar. Handsomely. Just because young Blaufränkisch (unless it’s lost in the lumber or painfully extracted) is not nasty and harsh does not mean that its flavours have evolved. Far from it – tasting wines from the early years of the century now, it is clear how well and how beautifully they develop and how many secondaries and tertiaries achieve expression that would not seem out of place coming from the best reds of the Côte d’Or. So don’t drink the wines when they are young! Austria offers a variety called Zweigelt (some have reverted to calling it ‘Rotburger’) that is perfectly suited for doing exactly that.

Weingut Wachter-Wiesler
so, starting with the youngest, to taste Christoph Wachter’s Blaufränkers is to be immediately glad that the fellow is likely to remain in service of his vines and in command of his cellar for the next few decades. And many of the older generation give him a nod as the coming standard-bearer.
...I know of no other entry-level Blaufränkisch from any of the regions where the variety flourishes with such spirit, poise and focus as it does in his Blaufränkisch Béla-Joska. Even from the significantly challenged vintage 2014, where there was hail and brimstone and worse that fell upon the Eisenberg, Wachter has managed to create a true classic of a Klassik. Given a fair shake from the weather, there seems to be little limit to the expressiveness of Christoph’s wine.
...the 2012 Eisenberg DAC Reserve Alte Reben showed extraordinary depth of flavour, sour cherry paradise with nuances ranging from citrus to chocolate; the combination of full-bodied satisfaction and mineral elegance was truly marvellous.

Weingut Schiefer
not too far away on the floor of the Messegelände was the booth of Uwe Schiefer, likewise a denizen of Südburgenland. To taste Uwe’s wines after Christoph’s was a lesson in very fine distinctions, where the younger man’s Blaufränkisch showed more in common with those of the elder than any dramatic difference.  (Mr Wachter, when grilled, would go no further than saying that his wines had perhaps an extra touch of freshness. Possibly true.)
...Schiefer Szapary 2012 was the single Blaufränkisch I liked the best from the entire sample set, although any margin would’ve been quite marginal... This wine had a remarkable depth to its aromatic arc, complex and seductive; then a magickal texture on the palate, deep black cherry and raspberry fruit followed seamlessly by a fine sense of minerality, beautifully integrated tannins and a very light touch in the alcohol department –13% – with a total dream of a finish. Schiefer has also spread his net northward, and is now producing some very respectable Blaufränkisch of the Leithaberg DAC persuasion...

Weingut Moric
according to a recent conversation with Heidi Schröck, the master of Moric, Roland Velich, is the one individual most deeply responsible for reorienting Blaufränkisch production away from the Bordelaise paradigm toward more refined monovarietal stylings like those of Burgundy. There were others involved, certainly, but Roland does stand out. One of my favourite impressions of Moric is how expressive the wines are in years that are traditionally viewed as ‘leaner’, like 2007 and 2010. His 2007 entry level Blauf remains a favourite of mine. 
...the 2013 old vines bottlings from Lutzmannsburg and Neckenmarkt are fascinating to compare and contrast... Splitting very fine hairs here, the vines in the two complementary sites can be over 100 years old, and planted to great density, producing very small berries... Hard to pick between them – the Lutzmannsburg Alte Reben is a bit more floral, a bit more chew to it than the spicier Neckenmarkt Alte Reben bottling. Both have marvellous depth of flavour and gripping minerality. What they do not have is any sort of attention-getting artifice to them.

Roland Velich is a devil with the decanters. I spent several hours before, during and after dinner with him and Hannes Schuster at his home in Großhöflein one evening in December. As usual had egg on my face from the blind tasting – what I swore was Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru turned out to be the 2007 Sankt Laurent Zagersdorf from Hannes, while the wine that absolutely had to be Moric Blaufränkisch Lutzmannsburg AR 2006 was actually Nuits-St.-George Clos de la Marechal 2005 from Fréderic Mugnier...  p.s. Roland get your piano tuned –

Weingut Rosi Schuster
Hannes Schuster is known as one of the top handful of Sankt Laurent producers in Austria, but his Blaufränkisch expresses just as clearly the great care he takes with his vines in St Margarethen and Zagersdorf, including phasing out the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with which his mother Rosi put the estate on the map back in the 1980s. And if Hannes was once upon a time regarded as Mr Velich’s devil’s disciple, he has done much to individuate in the past several years. The only reason this notion might persist at all is that Hannes is more of the silent type, who prefers to let his wines do the talking... One of the soils that Blaufränkisch loves is the sandy loam like that of the Schuster estate in St Margarethen. For me, the highlights are Sankt Laurent Zagersdorf, and the cuvée of SL and BF –
...but then there is the 2013 Blaufränkisch Sankt Margarethen, which showed a marvellous bouquet of floral tones on top of sour cherries and raspberry, revealing a lovely mineral component at the second whiff. On the palate, the core of sweet fruit is remarkable, for both density and liveliness, while the tannins are ripe and nicely integrated already. Very long on the palate and enormously satisfying, with spicy minerality in the finish.

Weingut Paul Achs
for an extended sitdown with Paul Achs, I was joined by colleagues Constance Chamberlain and Konstantin Schindlmeißer, a tasting punctuated by lively banter. Early in his career, Paul had worked in Sonoma as a wine-school dropout from Klosterneuburg. And some traces of California have always seemed to me an element present in the Achs style – embracing and accentuating ripeness – though this could well be because of the significant summer heat that is a factor when one is growing grapes in the town of Gols.
...Paul’s Blaufränkisch Edelgrund is as noble as ever, a lovely whiff of ripe blackberries and dark chocolate, palate likewise more black fruit than red – it combines presence with agility, depth of flavour with refreshment value. This is the wine that typically shows up in by-the-glass programmes at elite NYC addresses like Per Se and Gramercy Tavern...
...and the three great single-vineyard Blaufränkisch show their contrasting personalities even as they even did in the years before Paul pulled back the influence of cooperage in his élevage.
– Ungerberg: (loam & iron) blackberry and black cherry fruit, finely structured
– Altenberg: (loam & limestone) rather elegant, densely packed, subtle minerality
– Spiegel: (loamy sand) spicy, dark berry fruit; very ripe

Weingut Muhr-van der Niepoort
and here we are not in Burgenland anymore... Dorli Muhr doesn’t even put the name of the vine on the label of her Muhr-van der Niepoort Spitzerberg, but is there any noble variety other than Blaufränkisch that could articulate the site’s unique personality in the sizzling summer heat of Carnuntum? Pinot Noir wouldn’t fare nearly so well under those climatic conditions. The Spitzerberg has a core of granite blanketed by layers of limestone that is home to old vines, 40–60 years of age, which yield a wine that is simply unsurpassed for elegance among my sample set.
...surprise or no, that there seems to be every bit as much liquid stone in the 13er Spitzerberg as there is in the Szapary from Schiefer? The flavour profile leans toward red fruit, with a hint of cedar and matchstick in the aromatic profile; very generous on the palate with lovely floral and spicy finish aromatics.
...there is also a young vines Blaufränkisch from this estate called Liebkind that is instantly appealing, though more of a style that would be at home in Rust or Großhöflein.


any of the examples here, one could say ‘this is Blaufränkisch.’ These growers all favour the subtle and understated approach, but the variety manages to put up with a greater degree of ‘winemaking’ as well while remaining expressive and secure in its identity...

Monday, January 18, 2016


...apart from the story in the Gospel according to John, which I had hammered into me early in my Presbyterian Period (is that like Devonian or Cretaceous?) my initial encounter with the mythical figure came thanks to Alfred Lord Tennyson, who offered little new beyond adding a little seasoning of rhyme to the parable. My first meeting with a different sort of metaphorical Laz came thanks to an early acquaintance with the angry Anglo-Irishman who remains to this day my favourite poet, William Butler Yeats.

One of his very literary and barely-stageable plays, Yeats’s Calvary presents a different sort of resurrected Lazarus, one who angrily upbraids the Saviour:

                        For four whole days
I had been dead and I was lying still
In an old comfortable mountain cavern
When you came climbing there with a great crowd
And dragged me to the light.

Lazarus goes on to bellyache even further about not being allowed to remain comfortably and snugly deceased... 

But here, a bottle of wine from out of the tomb!

Friday evening found me in the kitchen making a racket with the pots and pans...
Wanting to move away from my traditional salmon sauce of mustard and lime, I kept the ginger and searched the deepest depths of my former sample-cellar for some superannuated bottle to go in the pot. What bottle of which wine – ostensibly way after its time – did I find?

Josef Umathum, Traminer (Gelber & Roter) 2008

But preparatory to shredding the ginger (gingembre, zenzero, Ingwer) I tasted the wine. Wow! Decided to drink it instead; saved salmon for the morrow, defrosted some sausages, rerouted the baby spinach from salad to skillet and had at it:
– first a simple salad with half an alligator pear and some Kalamata olives.
– Italian sweet sausages (from the local butcher) in cast iron with wilted spinach, one scallion (an expensive scallion, now up to $2 per bunch in the supermarket) and pignole nuts over penne pasta with olive oil and aceto balsamico

I loved Gewurztraminer when I first started with wine, preferably the French version from Alsace without the ü... which I quickly outgrew, abandoning it for Chenin Blanc and Riesling and other varieties with more actual gitupngo. Best ever was a Domaine Weinbach Furstentum Vendanges Tardives 1989 with Kathy Faller at her estate in 2000, exceptional partially because my hostess paired it with a wonderful slice of ripe Münster that had turned to fromage... The Austrian Traminer, whether Gelber or Roter or blended, is typically more delicate than the Alsace version – my historical favourite has been the Roter Traminer from Lackner-Tinacker...

But back to Mister Umathum. This Burgenländer I had thought to have been four-little-paws-up-in-the-air. Was not. Most certainly not.

Medium gold, aromas slightly attenuated, more floral than spicy; a marked patina (the Germans say Firne) to the nose, but nothing oxidised. Very generous fruit on the palate, pears and passion fruit, bit of mango with a coating of caramel, floral still and a good balancing bit of acidity going down the hatch. Lovely finish aromatics (I guess one is supposed to say retronasal nowadays...) floral as could be. The sort of wine one tends to drink by itself before drinking other wines, but a bottle that did very well with the savoury element in the rather hearty and unsubtle dish.

Umathum’s more modest wines can sometimes live long and useful lives. Four years ago as part of VieVinum there was a Sankt Laurent dinner at Restaurant Hansen in Vienna. Where Pepi’s entry level 1991 SL at 20 years of age was one of the stars – even with bottles from Pittnauer, Schloss Gobelsburg and other luminaries on the table...

Monday, November 24, 2014

... a boy and his wok, chapter one ~

    when I was a windy boy and a bit...

that's the start of a famous poem by Dylan Thomas, but having been myself at one point a windy boy, I am reminded in reading this of a time in my career when I set about to learn all that I might about matters of interest spread out far and wide—
which led the spread of course to include food and wine.

I remember the first time I made a terrific mess of a match. I was just learning my way around the vineyards of France, and learning the intricate routes and branches of my own batterie de cuisine.

one night I had my favorite nonhorizontal girlfriend over for dinner at my grad-stoodent digs in Boston. I had recently learned about ginger, which to this day is one of the signature elements that sails forth from my wok or sauté pan (often with a bit of garlic on its breath)...

and I was learning about what goes with ginger; one of these things is honey. And I hadn't become as shy of commercial chicken at that point as I am now, so was quite pleased to concoct a concoction of chicken breasts with ginger and limejuice and honey, and not much else except rice and lima beans, steamed both.

I had also just discovered Sauvignon Blanc. And along with this came the realization that the best SBs come from lands laid out along a little lazy waterway called the Loire... in a far-off wine-producing nation, name of France.
...and so I served a really nice bottle of Pouilly-Fumé from Baron de Ladoucette—
alongside the dish that would coldbloodedly murder it.

imagine the smoky and tart, bracing character of the sauvignon being turned to bitter and angry—the ginger was not at fault, but rather the stuff out of the Pooh-bear jar and the lime. Ouch! One too sweet, the other too acidic... and wine caught right in the pincers’s grippington...

my dinner guest was gracious and patient with me; the friendship survived, and I am proud to say that I have never had such a hazardously wasted wine experience since then—although my career of trial and error still involves much in the way of error.