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?
Schuster – Neusiedlersee Hügelland
Paul Achs –
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
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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...
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
...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 –
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 –
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.
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.
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...
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.
(loam & iron) blackberry and black cherry fruit, finely structured
(loam & limestone) rather elegant, densely packed, subtle minerality
– Spiegel: (loamy
sand) spicy, dark berry fruit; very ripe
Weingut Muhr-van der
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
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.
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
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...