Every Sunday, with an educational edge, I explore specific appellations or sub-regions, taking you along for the ride. If it’s old news, then brush up on some fading facts; if it’s uncharted territory, why not learn something new? If you know something I haven’t mentioned, then feel free to comment and share your experiences. Check out past Sunday posts here.
A part of me gets really happy seeing this little flag on top of a wine bottle.
Austrian reds are all the rage these days. That’s probably a stretch, but recently the Blaufränkisch, Blauer Burgunder and Zweigelt talk is echoing louder than ever. Burgenland is the easternmost and least populated state in Austria. It leans on Hungary to the east, the country that it once belonged to. This is Austria’s warmest region and vineyards have been planted here since the Roman days. Of today’s 14,500 hectares of vineyards, 75% are planted with red grapes.
Blaufränkisch (also known less romantically as Lemberger in Germany and parts of North America, Kékfrankos is Hungary, and a host of other names around Eastern Europe), St. Laurent, and Zweigelt (a cross of St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch) are the most successful local red grapes. Joining this party are plenty from the usual French in-crowd like Pinot Noir (which they call Blauer Burgunder or Blauburgunder), Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The small percentage of white wine from Burgenland is made from grapes like Chardonnay, Scheurebe, Traminer and Welschriesling. If you have any doubts on your Scheurebe pronunciation, listen to sound clips of wine people from all over the world saying it here. I don’t know about you, but I’d trust the Germans on this one!
A Mittelburgenland vineyard from austrian.wine.co.at
In 1985 Austria’s wine industry crumbled when news broke that producers were fattening up their cheap wine by adding diethylene glycol. Since hitting rock bottom in the wake of the “Antifreeze Scandal,” Austria’s annual export value has made an incredible rise from less than 10 million euros to today’s value of 112 million euros. See full statistics here. The restored faith and reputation in Austrian wine is entirely due to the wine community’s strive for quality. Focusing on low yields through green harvesting several times a year and hand harvesting are now common practices.
The skinny Burgenland strip is chopped into four sub-zones, which beginning in the North, include: Neusiedlersee, the most planted area which wraps the north and east edges of the Lake Neusiedl and where Zweigelt plays the leading part; Neusiedlersee-Hügelland, on the west side of Lake Neusiedl, where Blaufränkisch gets the most love; Mittelburgenland (or Central Burgenland), where once again the locals favour Blaufränkisch; and the Südburgenland (Southern Burgenland), which contains the fewest plantings of the four, but offers some great mountainous vineyard sites.
I’ve enjoyed a couple Burgenland reds over the past year including the charismatic Heideboden blend from the young biodynamic producer Claus Preisinger (who we featured last year on saignée’s 31 Days of Natural Wine) and the beautiful “Siglos” Pinot Noir from the Gesellmann family, which I rave about here.
The personality of Blaufränkisch morphs depending how it is nurtured. You can reveal the lighter, softer and prettier side akin to Pinot Noir and Gamay or you can extract more character, throw it in oak and end up with a modern-style Syrah look-alike.
Roland Velich in a promo shot for Blaufränkisch Unplugged.
Moric is located in Neusiedlersee-Hügelland region of Burgenland. Their organically farmed vineyards include some very low yielding 110-years-old vines. Roland Velich gathers his inspiration from Burgundy and describes traditional, less manipulated Blaufränkisch as a merger of Burgundian Pinot Noir, Northern Rhône Syrah and Piedmont Nebbiolo. Last year Robert Parker scored one of Roland Velich’s wines (Moric 2006 Neckenmarkt Alte Reben) the highest the Wine Advocate has ever scored an Austrian red at 95 points. But don’t hold that against Mr. Velich.
Moric 07 Blaufränkisch
This wine’s beauty and freshness struck me immediately. The soft blend of cherry, wild berries, smoke and fresh oregano was not unlike an herbaceous example of Pinot Noir. Great lingering acidity. Delicious and left me wanting more. The price sits around $27, and I found it at William Cross in SF.
I’m excited that Austria is producing great reds to stand alongside their already world recognized whites. Burgenland is definitely a region to look out for and taste when you can.
Eric Asimov of the NY Times recently posted this article about Blaufränkisch, which is certainly worth a read.
As always, please feel free to contribute any information, experience or tasting notes that you feel are relevant and check back next Sunday. Check out past Sunday posts here.