Blaufränkisch: from zero to 60 in fifteen years

In 1993 Englebert Prieler, an Austrian vintner, decided for the first time to bottle a single-vineyard wine from the grape variety Blaufränkisch. When it came time to sell the wine, he priced it the same as his better known Cabernet Sauvignon. However, the Blaufränkisch bottles languished unsold until a Swiss collector bought them all as a block. Adding insult to injury, the asking price at the winery was only 20 schillings (about 1.50 euro) a bottle.*

Things have changed. The 2006 vintage of that same wine, a fuller style of Blaufränkisch, now sells for about $130 per bottle in the U.S.

While Blaufränkisch is hardly a household wine term, it has risen from nothing in 1995 to, well, more than nothing. During that time, growers in eastern Austria, the grape’s ancestral home, have started to take care with the grape to plant it in good sites, reduce yields and stop blending it with other varieties.

schildknecht Smart moves. I tasted through over a dozen of the top examples at a recent press event organized by David Schildknecht (pictured, right), critic and writer for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. Schildknecht suggested that Blaufränkisch is one of the grapes that most transparently reflects the soil and setting where the vine grows but, in non-wine-nerd terms, it’s a grape that delivers in many styles and, thus, could have broad appeal.

When I asked winemaker Roli Velich of the Moric winery which grape was the most apt comparison for Blaufränkisch, he suggested no fewer than three: pinot noir from Burgundy, Syrah from the Northern Rhone and Nebbiolo from Piedmont. I could see the blend of finesse, power and aromatic intrigue that he invoked across the wines that afternoon.

For example, Velich’s old vine 2002 Neckenmarkt ($85, if you can find it), aged 22 months in small, old oak barrels, had an herbal lift to the mature fruits on the aroma and fine tannins that actually could probably age for quite a while longer.

spitzerberg Then there was the lighter style of Blaufränkisch, such as the wines of Muhr & van der Niepoort. In 2002 Dorli Muhr, who owns a public relations firm, acquired the vineyards near the Spitzerberg, a smallish–this is Austria, after all–mountain southeast of Vienna where she vacationed as a child. The 2006 Spitzerberg ($45, next time you’re passing by a Vienna wine shop) has delicate, alluring floral aromas with fresh, vibrant acidity. The 2007 Spitzerberg, with a featherweight 12.2% alcohol, has similar aromatic appeal but more tannic structure. There’s a reason for this:

Dirk van der Niepoort, Muhr’s ex-husband and arguably the most talented winemaker in Portugal, made the first few vintages, including the 2006. But by the next vintage, as the marriage ended, Muhr had to make the wine herself. The couple had introduced the Portuguese method of foot treading the grapes; Muhr now has about a third of her grapes stomped a la Lucille Ball, and over a dozen producers in the area have taken up the method. The idea is to get better extraction without crushing the grape seeds, which can impart bitter-tasting compounds.

And then there’s Blaufränkisch’s ability to age. Winemaker Uwe Schiefer brought an “old” Blaufränkisch along–old being 1999. Such is the Austrians’ delight at drinking their wines young, that Schiefer did not even have any of his own 1999s remaining: he bartered six of his 2007 Reihburg vineyard for a bottle of his 1999 Reihburg, one from a local restaurant and another from friend. While the 2007 was nebbiolo-like with savory tannins, the 1999 was quite delicate, delicious and comported itself in the glass surprisingly like a Barolo.

The only trouble with Blaufränkisch is that even though it’s only been a decade-and-half since the grape had trouble selling, now the wines are pricey and difficult to find.

Schildknecht argued that, like pinot noir, it is very difficult and thus best to avoid making low-priced Blaufränkisch. Fortunately, there are at least a couple entry-level options, such as the Moric 2007 Blaufränkisch (about $22). It’s delectable, with a grind of black pepper on the aroma.

The only trick will be hunting it down, but it’s worth the effort.

A version of this post was republished on Forbes.com.
*UPDATE: Silvia Prieler, daughter of Englebert and the source of this figure, says in the comments below that the actual figure was 200 schillings or about 15 euros

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22 Responses to “Blaufränkisch: from zero to 60 in fifteen years”


  1. There are actually quite a few wineries in Washington that do a good job with the grape. It’s often labeled Lemberger and is usually a great QPR.


  2. In the 90s I tried a lot of Blaufrankisch wines which were quite extracted, very ripe and obviously oak-influenced; made in an attempt to capture fans of more modern, international-style wines. They didn’t tickle my fancy in the slightest; that style just didn’t work for the grape.

    Consequently, it pleases me that these days the considered opinion is that Blaufrankisch is best made in a light, elegant style with a light hand when wine-making. A few days ago I had an excellent Uwe Schiefer 2007 which was quite beautiful and a real charmer, somewhat Burgundian in style. The man himself dropped by my site and left a comment on my note (I was flattered); he said they were not really for long-term ageing. When they taste so good young I don’t think this matters in the slightest.


  3. You can find some good examples of Blaufrankisch for under $20 from Zantho (imported by Vindivino) and Walter Glatzer (Skurnik).


  4. Channing Daughters in South Fork, LI makes a nice and affordable Blaufrankisch. Not sure if LI is the ideal growing environment for that grape, but their style was the lighter style that was mentioned above. I usually like fuller-bodied palate slammers so my liking this one says a lot.


  5. There’s an Austrian wine fair next week in Dublin which I hope to get to. Plenty of Blau and Zwei at it as well as GruVee.


  6. Blaufrankisch at $100 a bottle! What is the wine world doing? These are at best light style wines that are closer to Gamay or ersatz village pinots. Occasionally one sees a wine that has a bit of something extra. But over $25 a bottle would be a con job.


  7. Now Zweigelt is another kettle of fish. This varietal has real class and incidentally Blau is usually blended with Zwei. BTW those seeking interesting Austrian varietals should try to find a rose made from Schilcher. Very unusual. One of the more intriguing wines I have tried in recent years.


  8. I’m a hugely enthusiastic about Channing Daughters (in fact, getting ready to soon write up more of their white wines – some of the most interesting in North America – in The Wine Advocate). But neither their Blaufränkisch nor the many Washington State or Germany (principally Württemberg) renditions have very much in common with those of eastern Austria or their cousins in Hungary (where the grape is known as Kékfrankos). This disparity is no doubt a reflection of clonal heritage, styles, soils, and microclimate – and I suspect I just listed those in reverse order of importance, but that’s speculation.

    Just to amplify the point Tyler alluded to about it being difficult if not a fool’s errand to attempt to craft inexpensive Blaufränkisch, the reason is that the grape – which seems to share with Syrah an inherent reductive proclivity – resists being turned into tasty punch via exclusively tank vinification and early bottling. That’s great for Austria’s native Zwigelt (a crossing between Blaufränkisch and another impressive native – and child of Pinot – St. Laurent) just as it is for Gamay. But Blaufränkisch treated this way is no more interesting than is Pinot punch (of which, heaven knows, the world has too much already). In French terms, Bläufränkisch demands extended élevage.

    That said, there are always some apparent exceptions to even a well-founded generalization, and Theo mentioned precisely the ones with which I am most familiar that succeed in a fruity, forward, relatively reductive style, namely Zantho (directed by Pepi Umathum who was part of the recent New York entourage) and Glatzer (from the same Carnuntum region wast of Vienna where Muhr’s Blaufränkisch is grown).

    Nearly all of the growers whom I’ve come to think of as the most eloquent exponents of Blaufränkisch have U.S. importers, and there are quite a few really outstanding wines in the $25 range, among them – just sticking with growers mentioned in this article – Silvia Prieler’s Blaufränkisch Johannishöhe; Roland Velich’s basic Moric Blaufränkisch (which Tyler cited); and the bottling of pure Blaufränkisch from the Spitzerberg that Dorli Muhr labels as “Carnuntum.”


  9. I really think that the “basic-blaufränkisch” (similar to village wines) – matured in big oak casks, f.e. from 10hl to 30 hl can be very impressive and drinkable from bottling, but they will be best, earliest from 3 to 5 years in the bottle. the greater wines (single vineyard vines from 40 to 80 year old vines), as f.e. neckenmarkt alte reben 2002 or reihburg 1999, recently shown in gramercy tavern new york need a minimum of 8 – 10 years before starting to drink, but its no problem to age them up to 20 years!you can find my wines at http://www.weygandtwines.com


  10. David, I assume it’s a typo, but you may want to edit “The Wind Advocate.” I can already see the headline splashed all over the World Wine Web, “Dissension in the Ranks: Schildknecht lashes out at boss and voicing his true opinion calls publication ‘The Wind Advocate.’”

    BTW, I’m glad Tyler is comfortable attending an event sponsored by a Wine Advocate writer and David is comfortable positively posting on this board. It says a lot about both of you and goes a long way in representing the ability to maintain constructive criticism and an open dialogue.


  11. This is part of the Austrian Red Wine Revolution.

    http://schiller-wine.blogspot.com/2009/12/wine-ratings-austrias-best-red-wines.html


  12. Thanks Theo! I see that by its format, I have to leave the corrections to the boss of this site. (Thanks in advance, Tyler.)

    I had intended to add Schiefer’s Königsberg to my quick list of nearer-$25 bottlings and that too I omitted out of haste.

    Incidentally, this tasting was sponsored by the growers with help from their importers, the marketing branch of the Austrian Government, and the State (“Land”) of Burgenland, but since the idea to do it was mine and the message & format (designed to demonstrate site-sensitivity, age-ability, and stylistic diversity)were ones whose viability I had demonstrated in tastings I had done in Austria, my advice was taken on various particulars; I had the pleasure of attending; and I was given more credit than I deserved considering who actually did the heavy lifting. (Thanks are also due the growers of Long Island, tasting whose recent bottlings gave me a proximate professional reason to be in New York.)


  13. I am sorry for the misunderstanding in communication of the pricing. The Goldberg Blaufränkisch 1993 was about 200 Schillings (15 Euro). Now, 13 years later, the Goldberg costs €45 in Austria.
    One sentence more about Blaufränkisch:
    I know all this comparison of Blaufränkisch to Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Syrah (20 years ago to Cabernet Sauvingon in Austria), but a character of a great grape variety is unique and stands on its own and that is Blaufränkisch for me.


  14. Glad you liked the piece and there are some Blaufrankisch fans out there.

    Chris Robinson – sorry you haven’t had a BF that moved you bc I am sure you have had many fine wines based on your previous comments here. As to Zweigelt being a better grape, my understanding is that it is a descendant of BF (and Sant Laurent) and is easier to have a higher crop, thus cheaper. And the resulting wines are more priced for everyday consumption, a parallel to your gamay analogy. But David S. is here and he would be the one to give you an authoritative answer on that–and perhaps convince you.

    David – Thanks for stopping by! Very good to see you here. Unfortunately I didn’t try the Carnuntum so I will have to look for it.

    Theo – yes, peace reigns throughout the wine world!

    Uwe – thanks for stopping by!

    Silvia – okay, thanks for the corrected price. I have noted this in the piece above. As to the today’s price, sadly the only retailer in the US (as displayed in winesearcher) with the Prieler sells it for $130, quite a different price than 45 euros, unfortunately…

    And to everyone: check out the pillowy Prieler pinot blanc 2008!


  15. Chris, there’s nothing I can add to the old saw De gustibus non est disputandum except that I don’t know a single Austrian grower who has both Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch who would tout the former over the latter. Zweigelt’s forte is fruit and more fruit. It can render delicious and at time interesting wines, but in precisely those respects that we attempted in this New York tasting to showcase Blaufränkisch – sensitivity to terroir; age-worthiness; and potential stylistic range – I view Zweigelt as far behind. Furthermore it’s distinctive virtues are so different from those of Blaufränkisch that it constitutes an impediment to growers or importers who wish to promote “Austrian red wine” as a category difficulty
    in that the entryl level / glass pour (call it what you will) Zweigelt hits entirely different sweet spots and meets very different criteria in pairing with cuisine than does the Blaufränkisch.

    Re Pinot Blanc – do not get me started: this is one of my real soap box cépages – check out BOTH (yes, there are now two) Prieler Pinot Blancs, the Seeberg (a vineyard source for decades) and now also a bottling called Leithaberg, both in the U.S. market. I have experienced Pinot Blanc from this domaine going back even before the days of Siliva’s dad Englebert (who made this estate’s reputation) and have yet to taste one that was passé.


  16. There used to be quite a bit of Lemberger (aka Blaufrankish) grown in Washington state. Not many wineries took it seriously, people ripped out the vines. It can make a serious wine here in WA state, too bad it’s not fashionable around these parts… We are starting to see some interest in Zweigelt here in the state. People are always looking for something different…


  17. Wonderful discussion here. And to those who simply can’t get enough of Blaufrankisch, Gruner, Zweigelt, dry Riesling, Morillon (Austrian name for Chardonnay)and their siblings, consider coming to Vienna May 29-31 for VieVinum, a semi-annual celebration of Austrian wine. I’m told this year will be an opportunity to taste practically every wine made in the country in one place.

    Also, Willi Klinger and the Austrian Wine Marketing Board will be puttin’ the show on the road here in the US in NY and San Francisco on May 3rd and 5th respectively.


  18. late to the party, I know, but, a coupla things—

    1. first thanks to Silvia Prieler, who gave me a couple bottles of her 07er Leithaberg Blaufränkisch at the Austrian Cultural Forum tasting—one of them went down the hatch instead of a big Tempranillo with shell steaks on Friday night, and truly did not invite comparison with any other variety—but was quite excellent.

    2. couple years ago I turned Württemberg upside-down looking for a Lemberger that could hold a candle to Blauf from Burgenland—and although I found a couple that were as expensive, the wines didn’t come close.

    3. And here permit me a bit of hyperbowling: Zweigelt. Named for Dr Fritz Zweigelt, who wanted to call it Rotburger, but got overuled by popular demand.
    I partcipated in a blind tasting in September 09 for the Austrian magazine WIne-Times and the Österreichische Gastronomie Zeitung, which took place in Weiden-am-See, Burgenland.
    Nine-member international jury: France, UK, USA, Belgium, Sweden, Bavaria, and the host country represented.
    We tasted 400 wines blind over the course of 5 days, flighted according to variety. There may have been 80 Zweigelts. Out of which maybe 75 were delicious. I would’ve been happy drinking nearly all of them. Out of a similar number of Blaufränkisch, perhaps 33% were attractive. And certainly the Blaufs could be more profound than the Zwiggers—it was certainly expected of them. But the Zweigelts didn’t take themselves so seriously, and so were frequently for this very reason more succesful.
    I think Zweigelt may be a better blender than Blaufränkisch—especially with international varieties. The two do work and play well together, though

    4. nb. Sankt Laurent—observed during the same tasting—was the variety most frequently abused by the winemaker, and the murder weapon was usually François Frères…

    5. …and a little ditty about the previous generation of Blaufränkisch in Burgenland—
    http://wine-wein-vino-vin.blogspot.com/2009/11/foiled-again.html


  19. Kiona Lemberger from Washington has brightened our Thanksgiving table the last two years. Great food wine, and none too shabby for just sippin’.


  20. Sorry I missed this earlier. For years I have felt that Hungary should focus on Blaufränkisch because some of the best examples I’ve had come from that area. Remember that what is now eastern Austria and western Hungary were not always separated, so both sides claim the grape, although in the US we tend to favor the German name. I agree with David completely in that I’ve never met a grower who would tout his Zweigelt over the Blaufränkisch.

    Just east of the Austrian border, in Sopron, there is some wonderful Blaufränkisch and some of it is in fact made by the same producers who are working in Austria. The natural “home” of it, according to some, is Szekszárd, although I’m not aware of many imported from there.

    I like the grape a lot and I’m glad to see the growers getting some attention, and I hope the trendies who are discovering it realize that there is a lot of other great wine made in Austria and Hungary. I hesitate to say it, but I think rather than compare this grape to syrah from the Northern Rhone, it might be more interesting to compare their syrah to that of the Northern Rhone. Both countries are also making some pretty good syrah these days!


  21. [...] is the kid that always got called last by his teacher. * Dr. Vino thinks that Blaufrankisch is the best red you’ve never heard of. Little does he know that you know. This entry was posted in Blaufrankisch, Uncategorized, [...]


  22. hey evrybody,
    Is someone can recommend me on very good bluefrankish wine? In the “figilmuller” Austrian restaurant (famous “schnitzel”)the sell house wine blufrankish which was flowers. It was not bad at all!!!. I will appreciate your expertise opinion.


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