We recently returned from the European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC) in Vienna, Austria and over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing some insights and discoveries from that conference. The EWBC is an event where wine writers from around the world converge to discuss their craft, share ideas, improve their wine knowledge and discover some new wines.
The conference was, as they always are, very insightful and I have several discoveries I want to share with our readers. So many, that I’ve struggled to decide where to start. But I have to start somewhere, and so it’s going to be by introducing you, my friends, to a beautiful gem from Austria called blaufränkisch.
Blaufränkisch is a red wine variety found in central Europe and is particularly important in Austria, where it’s the second most-planted red grape variety. Zweigelt is more planted in Austria, but to many vintners blaufränkisch is more important. It can be found throughout Burgenland, where this variety is flourishing. Some call it the pinot noir of Central Europe. I expect that over the next few years the demand for blaufränkisch will continue to grow, spreading to the United states — and Burgenland will be the prized region for this wine.
I call blaufränkisch a gem, because it is truly beautiful. It’s not just the deep red color that makes it beautiful, but the complex spiciness, luscious fruit flavors, outstanding structure and earthy mineral notes. While younger blaufränkisch is certainly approachable, nearly every one I tasted had the structure for at least a few years of aging — and the few aged examples I was able to taste were phenomenal. This isn’t a wine I’ll be tucking away for 25 years, but a few years will be good.
If you’re someone who likes to bring a different wine to a party to wow your friends, this is one type of wine you may want to check out. Unfortunately, blaufränkisch is a wine that I haven’t come across at very many US wine shops, but I hope that changes—and I expect it will. If fact, if any US importers are interested in recommendations of some blaufränkisch producers to pursue, then read on… and feel free to contact me for more details.
The most impressive blaufränkisch I tasted came from three different DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus) regions: Eisenberg, Mittelburgenland and Leithaberg. Each of these regions have a DAC system to classify those wines that best represent the fruit and spice qualities that winemakers in the area have agreed to be varietally correct.
For Eisenberg DAC and Mittelburgenland DAC there is both a “classic” and a “reserve” DAC classification. Classic wines from both DACs are available to consumers in the fall the year following the harvest and have little-to-no noticeable oak and an alcohol level between 12.5 – 13%. Classic wines tend to be a little less expensive—although, arguably, less elegant—than those with the Reserve classification. Reserve wines are available in March the second year following the harvest, are aged in large oak casks or small oak barrels and have a minimum alcohol level of 13%.
Mittelburgenland also has a DAC Riede classification, which are sourced from a single vineyard, and labeled with that vineyard. Mittleburgenland DAC Riede is must have an alcohol level between 13 -13.5% and must be matured in large oak casks or used barriques — but may only exhibit light oak characteristics. These wines may be released to consumers October 1 following the year of harvest.
For Leithaberg DAC there is only one level to the DAC classification and these wines are released to consumers in the fall of the second year following the harvest, but they have little or no use of oak.
I did notice what I perceived as an apprehension to use oak throughout Burgenland. But as I explored this a little further I learned that this is really a correction from an overzealous use of oak in years past. The pendulum is currently swinging away from oak in Austria as winemakers are seeking to produce more elegant wines. At the same time there are some producers who were being more adventurous—yet thoughtful—with their use of oak and getting phenomenal results. I was particularly impressed with Hans Igler in this vein.
Even though our readers in the US may have a hard time finding these wines, I want to share some of my top picks from this trip to Austria. Those readers located in Europe will probably have better luck finding these wines. Due to limited time at these tastings, I did not do my typical ratings but rather captured tasting notes of those that stood out. Here are the highlights of what I tasted.
The Eisenberg DAC is the southernmost DAC region in Burgenland, or more specifically, in Südburgenland (South Burgenland). The best value will be found from wines with the classic DAC designation. These are younger, more fruit-forward wines but still have the mineral and spice characteristics for which blaufränkisch is known. A couple wines with this classification that stood out for me were:
- Weinbau Jalits 2009 Blaufränkisch Eisenberg – The nose is very spicy and floral. On the palate it’s all about red berry flavors and tannins that are almost chewy. The finish is long and filled with fruit and spice.
- Weingut Poller 2009 Blaufränkisch Eisenberg – The color is a deep, deep purple. Lively fruit aromas erupt from this wine. The fruit is a little more restrained on the palate, but nice. Strawberry and apple peel flavors stand out. The acidity and tannins are both spot on.
The Eisenberg DAC Reserve wines are aged for at least two years in oak. These wines are generally more expensive than their classic brethren, but I found a couple value-priced examples worth noting.
- Weingut Rennhofer 2008 Blaufränkisch Eisenberg Reserve – This is a very well balanced and approachable wine with cherry and iron notes. The finish is nice and spicy.
- Weingut Poller “Kokomandl” 2008 Blaufränkisch Eisenberg Reserve – With fresh blueberry and cinnamon aromas, this made me think of a blueberry muffin. The intensity of the nose is outstanding too. The flavors are tart blackberry and blueberry with gripping tannins and outstanding acidity.
OK, this may be a little confusing but bear with me. You can generally think of Mittelburgenland as a region (i.e. middle Burgenland), but technically it’s a classification. Wines produced in this area have to be submitted (and approved) for DAC status in order to market them as “Mittelburgenland” wine. But there are wines produced in this region, and sold without the Mittelburgenland name. The first wine from this region I want to tell you about is one such wine.
- Hans Igler 2007 C4 Blaufränkisch – Hands down, this was my favorite blaufränkisch that I tasted throughout Burgenland, and ironically it doesn’t have a DAC classification. The nose has incredible intensity, with aromas of licorice, tar, caramel, red currant and mineral. The palate is equally outstanding, with herbal dark berry flavors and black licorice with exceptional concentration. It has great structure and could easily age 10-12 years or more. This is absolutely a superb wine!
There was one wine I tasted with the Mittelburgenland DAC Classic designation that caught my attention:
- Weinbau Reinfeld 2008 Mittelburgenland DAC Classic – Red is the theme with this wine. Deep red color. Red currant aromas on the nose. Cherry and raspberry flavors with good concentration. The tannins and acidity are spot on. The finish brings spicy fruit and mineral.
In the Mittelburgenland DAC Riede classification, there were a number of wines that caught my fancy. But this is where I wish I had time to photograph each bottle that I tasted because in my post-tasting research I’m having a hard time identifying these particular wines. You see, the Mittelburgenland DAC Riede classification includes a specific vineyard in the name of the wine, and those locations weren’t listed on the tasting sheet I was provided. As I look up the specific vineyards for the wine that I liked I’m finding that some of the producers have multiple wines with the DAC Riede classification and unfortunately I’m not sure which ones I tasted. Therefore, I’m not listing those that are unclear and I’m left with only a couple recommendations.
- Hans Igler 2008 Blaufränkisch Hochberg Mittelburgenland DAC – Medium red in color, this blaufränkisch has spicy aromas with allspice, soft red fruit and a slightly smoky quality. The palate is brought to life by a bright acidity and flavors of rhubarb and raspberry. The tannins are perfect. The finish is shows soft red fruit flavors and mineral.
- Weingut Hufnagel Blaufränkisch 2008 Mittelburgenland DAC Riede Neuberg – This wine has a deep purple color. It’s lively on the nose with sharp spice and smoke aromas. It’s very well balanced and has both red and darker fruit on the palate. It’s slightly tannic on the finish, but still a very nice wine.
As I already mentioned, with the Leithaberg DAC there is not a classic or reserve designation but only one set of DAC standards for red wine. There are a few white wine varieties that can have a Leithaberg DAC classification, but with red wine it’s only blaufränkisch. The wines I tasted with this classification were all very good. These wines are from the Neusiedlersee-Hügelland region in nothern Burgenland, west of Lake Neusiedl. Here are a few of the blaufränkisch from this region that particularly stood out.
- Hofbauer 2008 Leithaberg DAC Blaufränkisch – The jewel-red color of this wine is beautiful in the glass. The nose is filled with lively, fresh fruit aromas, mineral and nutmeg. It tastes like a light raspberry sauce with a touch of nutmeg. It’s very approachable up front and spicy on the finish, with a lingering ripe raspberry flavor. This is an exceptional wine.
- Birgit Braunstein 2008 Leithaberg DAC Blaufränkisch – This light red wine is not one that I would tuck away in the cellar, but is perfect for enjoying immediately. The nose is filled with fresh red berry and light spice, while the palate has black cherry and strawberry flavors. The acidity makes it crisp. And it has a nice, long and fruity finish.
- Wagentristl 2008 Leithaberg DAC Blaufränkisch – The nose on this blaufränkisch is a little tight, but has an interesting herbal quality, it’s somewhat mint-like. There’s also some plum on the nose. In the mouth it has blueberry flavors with heavy tannins. It finishes with iron and berry flavors. I expect this would be a good bottle to age a few years and will be even more interesting then.
- Weingut Welkovits – 2008 Leithaberg DAC Blaufränkisch – This wine is bursting with nutmeg, cherry and floral black pepper aromas. It has really nice fruit flavors, like raspberry and cherry. Some nutmeg and mineral flavors add complexity to the palate. It finishes with plenty of spicy black pepper and mineral.
One other wine that I enjoyed from the Neusiedlersee-Hügelland region, but is not classified as Leithaberg DAC, also came from Welkovits. This is a small, family winery with very limited distribution. I highly doubt you’ll find this anywhere in the US at the time I’m writing this, but I hope that some ambitious importer seeks it out… and stocks it in my neighborhood.
- Weingut Welkovits 2008 Blaufränkisch Selektion “Johannes” – Deep red in color, this wine has a ton of complexity and loads of fruit. On the nose it has soft blueberry, strawberry, cherry, black pepper and nutmeg. A hint of oak is also detectable. The palate is full and fruity with blueberry and wild cherry spiced with nutmeg. It has crisp acidity and good overall structure. It finishes with black pepper and cherry flavors.
Thanks to Julia Sevenich for clarifying the Mittelburgenland DAC specifications for me. Be sure to read her stuff at julia7ich.com.
While I did pay to attend the conference and paid for my own travel expenses, there are sponsors to the event that add significant value to the event. Some of those sponsors took me, and a number of other attendees, on a two-day press junket to Burgenland after the conference. The reason I’m telling you that is because the FTC requires me to disclose any affiliation, compensation, gifts, etc that I receive related to writings here. I have no issues with providing that transparency, but I don’t it to come off like I’m bragging, “hey, I’m cool… I went on a wine press junket.” It’s not like that at all. While it might sound like a big party, everyone who attended took it very seriously and was there to learn about and discover the wine. I hope we’ve helped you discover a new wine too.