Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Blaufränkisch: Some Post-Tasting Thoughts

I was lucky enough to be invited to the recent Blaufränkisch tasting and luncheon at Gramercy Tavern, organized by David Schildnecht. First of all, let me tell you that there are a great many worse ways to spend the lunch hours between 12-2 pm than by sitting in a private room at Gramercy with a gaggle of smart wine writers and friendly Austrian wine makers, eating what had to be 7 courses and drinking good wine.

This was a challenging tasting for me. Firstly, I had almost no previous experience drinking Blaufränkisch. Secondly, no information was provided about the producers or the wines - no fact sheets, no bios, nothing. It was a choice between attempting to write the names of Austrian producers and wines that I was entirely unfamiliar with, or to simply drink the wines and consider them in what was for me essentially a blind format. But this worked out well for me - I had no preconceived notions, no biases. I was a clean slate. And everyone else had some familiarity with the producers and wines - I was the lone idiot, so this is not a knock on the organizers.

As an example, I did not know during the tasting that Roland Velich of Moric is a superstar that Peter Liem compared to the wine maker at DRC in his ability to coax greatness out of his terroir and his grape. And this certainly shows that I am not a distinguished taster of Blaufränkisch, but I was not moved by his wines.

In general, I liked the wines and I am quite curious to drink Blaufränkisch again, preferably at home with dinner (when asked, the producers suggested that one of the best pairings for Blaufränkisch is simply prepared beef). But as Eric Asimov noted in his post, I thought that some of the wines were made in a style that didn't seem to compliment the raw material.

We began with four white wines, and I was very impressed with two of them. The 2007 Prieler Pinot Blanc Seeberg was just delicious. Lean, focused, and completely dry, this wine was full of orchard fruit pits and peels. It was fresh, and eminently drinkable, and should cost about $25. The 2008 Umathum Traminer was a tasty and interesting wine. A blend of red and yellow Traminer from 45 year old wines on slate soils, this wine was vivid and expressive, and also completely dry. It should cost about $30. With these two wines, there was nothing that got in the way of the fruit and soil. Not so for the other two. The 2007 Moric Gruner Veltliner had a beautiful chalky and grassy nose and the broad and airy character of a wine that is fermented in oak. It didn't handle its alcohol very well, however, and the palate was not as harmonious as the nose. I found this wine to be intellectually interesting, but I'm not sure whether or not I'd want to drink it with my dinner. The other white was a Pannobile Chardonnay that I thought was completely overwhelmed by vanilla oaky aromas.

That kind of sums it up for me - the raw material seems to be of very high quality, the producers care about their impact on the environment and many are using biodynamic, organic, or sustainable techniques, most are fermenting with natural yeasts, and everyone's heart is in the right place. But some are subjecting their wines to an oak regimen that, to my taste, doesn't promote the best in the wines.

Of the reds, there were two producers whose wines really stood out for me. I very much enjoyed the wines of Uwe Schiefer. Schiefer is a veteran of the young Burgenland Blaufränkisch scene. His 2007 Blaufränkisch Reihberg, from vines between 45 and 80 years old on the Eisenberg hill (Eisenberg is considered to be the finest Burgenland Blaufränkisch terroir) was energetic and showed great purity. It is a balanced and expressive wine that showed something of the spicy, savory, fleshy characteristics that I now understand are typical of Blaufränkisch. It was very well balanced and I imagine that it would cellar very well. Schiefer also poured his 1999 Blaufränkisch Reihberg and I loved it. The nose was vividly floral, and the palate showed a lovely grassy, peppery undertone, but very mellow. The finish was long and left a pleasant menthol fragrance. I was surprised to hear that this wine saw 100% new oak. So it's not as simple as whether or not they use lots of oak - clearly there are other factors at play.

I also loved the reds by Murh-Van der Niepoort, although these wines were an anomaly in this group, as they are from Carnuntum, a region to the north of Burgenland. The producer said that she is most interested in freshness, and this is apparent when drinking her wines. I liked the weird savory roasted vegetable flavors of her 2006 Carnuntum Spitzerberg, but the 2007 was as good as any wine on the table, with beautiful floral aromatics and an ethereal texture that allowed the layers of fruit, soil, and flower to unfold gracefully.

I don't know the prices of the red wines I just recommended, but I bet that they are not cheap. I'm guessing a minimum of $50, perhaps more. If I'm right, these are not easy wines to experiment with, to just buy a bottle to see whether or not you like it.

Blaufränkisch is one of the parents of Zweigelt, a more commonly grown red wine grape in Austria. I am currently in possession of several liters of absolutely delicious and I would say terroir-expressive Zweigelt wine. I paid under $11 for each of those liters. I might feel differently one day, and there are people who are far more erudite than I who can argue differently, but right now I'll take my chances with Zweigelt for $11.


fillay said...

You must be talking about the Berger zweigelt. That stuff is ridiculously delicious.

Joe Manekin said...

Didn't like the Moric? I've tasted a few times in the past couple years and been impressed; maybe you had a sub-par bottle, or maybe you just don't dig it...anyway, you might try Lerner's Blaufrankisch, which for (I'm guessing here) around $17 is typically expressive and interesting.

Virag said...

You have to try also the hungarian Blaufrankisch, its an other kind of Kekfrankos(=Blaufrankisch). For example this one:
Its also a very good vintage.

Brooklynguy said...

fillay - i like the 08 Berger, but i actually prefer the more medicinal and complex 08 Hofer when it comes to the Zweigelt 1 litres.

hey Old Skool - it's not that i didn't like the Moric wines, i just preferred others in that format. the bottles were fine - Eric Asimov and Peter Liem, and perhaps other people too, loved them.

Stephan said...

Seems like the booklet that was sent out to all participants ahead of time might not have reached you.
You can few or download it by following this link:*pPNb*gEkg

Brooklynguy said...

hi Stephan - no, i most certainly did not receive that excellent booklet, and it would have been a big help to me. No one else had it either, so perhaps it never made it out, i don't know. thanks for sending it now.

Clarke B. said...

I've never been moved by an Austrian red--which certainly speaks to my relative lack of experience with them, but I feel like it still says something.

As balanced and "lovely" as some have been, I've found that, for my palate, they lack earth, grit. Even when savory notes are present, they're squeaky-clean--does that make sense? Wines of the grape rather than wines of the soil... The same thing that rubs me wrong about most of the reds from our sweet land of liberty.

Sorry to be a hater.

Tag said...

Very jealous of the tasting! Thanks for posting your notes...

@Virag - I second the Kekfrankos recommendation. Gere Attila makes a Kekfrankos called "Prestige" that I really enjoy.

@Brooklynguy - Check out Paul Achs' line of Blaufrankisch if you are willing to give the grape another chance. His "Edelgrund" is one of my favorites (drank it in Burgenland so not sure how much it would cost in US).

Anonymous said...

I really dig the Channing Daughters Blaufranksich, from Long Island! i dont usually drink local, but really in love with that winery's output, esp. the Blaufrankisch