Once you nail the consonant-heavy names of Austria’s star red grapes, Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt may well become regular go-to treats
If Grüner Veltliner is the gateway into Austria’s maze of delicious local wines — as I suggested in last week’s round up of its local varietal white wines — then Blaufränkisch is a treasure hidden at its heart. Austria’s red wines tend to be relatively light in style, although, as with its white wines, a diversity of terroir, winemaking approaches and unique local grape varieties alongside international grapes, is reflected in a range of styles and price points.
From my recent sampling of some of those available on the Irish market, they fall into three general brackets: nuanced Blaufränkisch that would bring real panache to a dinner table; impressive Blauer Burgunder (Pinot Noir) that sits between Burgundy and Germany’s Spätburgunder in both price and style; and juicy, easy-drinking Zweigelt, which is more approachable in price.
You may come across some blends too, perhaps featuring Austria’s third key red grape, the velvety Sankt Laurent, while small amounts of Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are also grown. Many of the Zweigelt that I tasted struck me as perfect picnic partners, or at least deserving of a balmy evening, and Austrian Pinot merits a closer look, so we’ll return to both again. This week, we’re honing in on that treasure — Blaufränkisch — with one richer take on Zweigelt thrown in by way of introduction.
Just a third of Austrian vineyards are dedicated to red grapes and most of these are in Burgenland, below Vienna and running south along the Hungarian border. The most commonly planted red grape is Zweigelt, which was born in 1922 as a cross of Blaufränkisch and Sankt Laurent.
It is in the Mittelburgenland DAC in particular that Blaufränkisch is thriving, representing half of all vines planted here. In the past, Blaufränkisch was often produced in a rather rich, tannic and heavily oaked style. Recently, however, producers such as Roland Velich of Moric in Mittelburgenland have looked to the likes of northern Rhone’s Syrah, Burgundian Pinot or Piedmont’s Nebbiolo for inspiration, and led a move towards a more refined and elegant style of Blaufränkisch that is lighter in alcohol and extraction and less reliant on oak.
Other notable Burgenland DACs for lighter, refined Blaufränkisch include Leithaberg and Eisenberg. Further north of Burgenland, Niederösterreich is primarily white wine country, but Carnuntum DAC is a notable exception, home to celebrated winemaker Dorli Muhr, who recently snagged a whopping 94 points from Wine Spectator for a single-vineyard Blaufränkisch — the highest for any Austrian red wine.
If you fancy your own treasure hunt, look out too for Blaufränkisch from Prieler and Preisinger, while Wellanschitz’s Neckenmarkt Blaufränkisch klassisch 2019 (€18.50, winesdirect.ie) is a young, edgy intro to pair with charcuterie. We’ll revisit Zweigelt, but should the sun blaze in the meantime, producers to try include Tinhof, Meinklang, Türk, Waltner, Wellanshitz and Moser — or blends of Zweigelt and Sankt Laurent from Judith Beck (Ink) or Preisinger (Puszta Libre).
Moric Blaufränkisch 2016, Burgenland
€26, 12.5pc, On the Grapevine, Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie
An entry-level introduction to Velich’s terroir-driven Blaufränkisch, from 10- to 50-year-old vines from limestone and loam soils in Mittelburgenland. Wild yeasts, minimal sulphites and no filtering, fining or — famously — new oak let this sing its own son. Rustic and punchy, with lively notes of sauerkraut and tomato leaf, yet perfumed, lithe and very juicy on the long finish. Pair with fermented foods or spiced beef broth.
Heidi Schröck Riede Kulm Blaufränkisch 2017, Neusiedlersee DAC
€27.99, 13pc, The Corkscrew, Redmonds
From a sustainably farmed, southeast-facing vineyard (‘ried’) overlooking Lake Neusiedl near the city-village of Rust, comes this joyful beauty with subtle oak, cranberry and violet notes, balanced freshness and fine chalky tannins. Think stylish Sunday lunch of roast white meat or poultry.
Zull Zweigelt 2018, Niederösterreich
€18.65, 13.5pc, O’Brien’s Wines, obrienswine.ie
A richer Zweigelt from Weinviertel north of Vienna, with ripe raspberry and red cherry fruit, generous spice and soft tannins. Pair with anything from duck or game to salt cod with chorizo.
Dorli Muhr ‘Carnuntum’ 2017, Carnuntum DAC
€25, 12.5pc, Higgins Clonskeagh, Ely Maynooth, wineupstairs.ie
Blaufränkisch and Syrah (2:1) blended with minimal intervention to charming effect. Smoky but bright, fleshy yet structured, and versatile enough to pair with fish.
Tinhof Blaufränkisch ‘Eisenstadt’ 2017, Leithaberg DAC
€23, 13.5pc, Honest2Goodness, Glasnevin, h2gwines.ie
Layering sour cherry and elderberry with bay, pot pourri and choc-mint, this shows how well-handled oak can support Blaufränkisch’s lively expressiveness. Go rare beef and umami pairings.
Dublin City Brewing Company (dublincitybrewingco.com) will open Dublin’s largest indie brewery (and visitors’ centre, when permitted) in the Parnell Centre this spring. To celebrate, it is teaming up with local food producers for a new monthly Tasting Club. February’s sold-out event saw head brewer Fergal Murphy (ex-Guinness) joined by neighbouring chef Kwanghi Chan of Bowls. This month’s event (7.30pm, March 25) will be announced on March 1, 2021.