Wine production is divided between technically correct, inexpensive, mass-market wines and wines that are more unique and ambitious. These are the kinds of wines Austria produces. Blaufränkisch is an outstanding example. Reva K Singh reports
There was a time when a mention of Austrian wine would have been met with a blank stare or the assumption that you meant Australian wine! Now, no longer. Austria has made a name for itself around the world as a fine wine producing country. Gruner Veltliner, Austria’s signature white grape is what established its reputation in the first place but Austrian red wines are not far behind. Blaufränkisch, in particular, has achieved international acclaim. Grown mainly in Austria, the Blaufränkisch grape produces a spicy, elegant red wine with earthy mineral notes and juicy fruit flavours, as well as a refreshing acidity that makes it a versatile food wine.
Austria lies in a temperate zone similar to that of Burgundy at 47° to 48° N. It has a moderate to cool climate and produces aromatically intense wine styles. There are 48,000 hectares of vineyards, 32,000 registered winemakers and 6,500 wine estates. Austria’s winemakers are focussed on quality rather than quantity and the best wines are estate-bottled.
Austrian wine producers are concentrated in the eastern part of the country in the states of Lower Austria, Burgenland, Steiermark and Vienna. Lower Austria (30,000 ha) and Burgenland (14,560 ha) are each “controlled appellations of origin” or distinct wine areas.
Only the two highest categories – Qualitätswein and Prädikatswein – are permitted to print their area of origin on the label. In 2002 the Austrian Wine Act allowed quality wines with a typical regional origin and clear taste profile to use the term DAC along with the name of the region where it came from. In 2006 Blaufränkisch wine from central Burgenland was the first wine in the region to be given DAC status as Mittelburgenland DAC starting with the 2005 vintage. Mittelburgenland DAC was later joined by Leithaburg DAC, Eisenberg DAC and Neusiedlersee DAC.
Burgenland – The Land Of Sunshine
Bordering on the Hungarian plain, Burgenland enjoys a warm Pannonian climate, warmed by the currents that blow in from the east. With bright, sunny days and the highest average temperature in Austria, it is sometimes called the land of sunshine. Burgenland as a wine area is known for the quality of its wines ranging from fruity, mineral white wines to powerful, expressive reds, as well as outstanding sparkling wines and “noble” sweet wines. Blaufränkisch takes centre stage in three of the four Burgenland areas. In Mittelburgenland Blaufränkisch is the leading variety with 55% while in Neusiedlersee DAC the indigenous red grape Zweigelt takes precedence. Carnuntum, a little south of Vienna is another source of good Blaufränkisch.
Blaufränkisch is capable of immense variety ranging from light-bodied, subtle wines approaching a slightly, peppery Pinot Noir style to denser versions that are closer in richness and texture to Syrah. The differences in Blaufränkisch ranging from an elegant wine with fine, juicy freshness to concentrated, heavily extracted and oaky wines are due to Burgenland’s many different soils and micro-climates. In the warmer areas, concentrated wines are matured in new oak barrels resulting in a modern, international style. Further west at the foot of Leithaberg and the more southerly Eisenberg, delicately scented styles, with silky tannins and mineral depth reminiscent of Burgundy, are produced.
Even though these areas cover only 6000 hectares of vineyards, they contain tremendous diversity. Both Eisenberg DAC and Leithaberg DAC are prized for the mineral character of their wines despite the differences in the two styles. The same goes for Mittelburgenland DAC which comes from an entirely different soil structure. Made in small quantities, Austrian wines have a distinct character and are never boring. Although very few examples are available in India yet, they stand out and are unmistakable for their quality. Thanks to Burgenland’s innovative and pioneering wine producers, the region’s wines have received innumerable awards and accolades in recent years, even with international varieties and full-bodied red wine blends.
Speaking as a panellist at a tasting of Austrian wines in London, Jancis Robinson professed her growing enthusiasm for Austrian red wines, especially Blaufränkisch. Most interesting, she said, was the fact that Blaufränkisch’s taste profile is so in tune with the current zeitgest. It is what people in so many countries are looking for in a wine – a wine that can express place, a wine that is refreshing, marked by great freshness but not excess acidity, and very much a wine that can go with food.
In conclusion, Austria is a great terrain for the production of wines of diverse styles. Visit the vineyards and experience the wine in its natural environment along with the country’s numerous other attractions.
A version of this article appeared in print in Sommelier India, August-September 2015
Origin: Austria. Blaufränkisch was first documented in the 18th century in Austria. At that time, in what was then Germany, it was called Lemberger, from the town of Limberg – today Maissau – in Niederösterreich. Parentage: Natural cross breeding of the Heunisch variety and an unknown grape. Blaufränkisch was used as a partner for Austrian new breeds including Zweigelt.
Vineyard area: 3,225 ha, 7.0 %. An autochtone variety, Blaufränkisch is found especially in the wine-growing regions of Burgenland as well as in eastern Niederösterreich (Carnuntum). Grape cluster: Large, conical, moderately compact with bluish-black grapes.
Ripening time: Late
Importance, conditions: It is the leading variety in Mittelburgenland, which is also referred to as “Blaufränkischland”. This region delivers origin-typical wines. Blaufränkisch bears DAC status (Districtus Austriae Controllatus, regionally typical designation) in several winegrowing regions. In Niederösterreich, the area of Carnuntum is known for its excellent Blaufränkisch wines. The variety is highly demanding of its vineyard site. Coulure easily occurs if the weather is cool during the flowering period.
Wine: The typical palate of this late ripening variety is characterised by deep wood berry or cherry tones, and characteristic acidity. Blaufränkisch can yield wines with dense structure and prominent tannins. The wines are often impetuous in their youth, but develop velvety facets when sufficiently ripe. Fuller, stronger versions have good ageing potential.