What do you mean you never heard of any of those grapes? For one, they are all synonyms of the same grape, just from different regions. The grape in question is a black-skinned wine grape grown widely in Austria and Hungary, and to a lesser extent in neighboring Germany, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Croatia. Miniscule quantities are also grown in the United States, most notably in New York’s Finger Lakes but can also be found in various parts of Washington state (the Rattlesnake Hills, Horse Heaven Hills, Yakima Valley), and such far-flung states as California, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Colorado. The common feature in Blaufrankisch wines from all of these places is a fruit-forward profile with aromas of spiced black cherries.
In Austria, Blaufränkisch is the second most popular red-wine variety behind Zweigelt – a crossing of Blaufränkisch with Austria’s other signature red variety, Saint-Laurent. Blaufränkisch is grown in almost every Austrian wine region to some extent, but its stronghold is unquestionably Burgenland. Classic Austrian Blaufränkisch wines are intensely colored, medium-bodied reds with brooding, black-fruit flavors and a hint of peppery spice. Those made around Lake Neusiedl, and in Sudburgenland, can be particularly full-bodied and spicy.
In Hungary, where it is known as Kékfrankos, the variety occupies almost 20,000 acres (8100 ha) in total – nearly three times its Austrian coverage. The majority of this is located in the vast but little-known Kunsag region, where it is rarely made into anything intended for export. Its other Hungarian homes include Sopron in the northwest (on the eastern shore of Lake Neusiedl) and Eger in the northeast. Both of these regions have strong histories of wine production, and have the potential (in the right hands) to lead Hungary into a new era as a wine-producing nation, with Kékfrankos as their flagship grape. It has already played a pivotal role in Hungary’s most famous red wine, Egri Bikaver, better known as Bull’s Blood.
Blaufränkisch was long thought to be genetically identical to Pinot Noir, and even Gamay Noir, which explains its Croatian and Bulgarian nicknames Borgogna and Gamé. Modern DNA profiling has now shown that it is at least related to both of these varieties, as they are all descendants of Gouais Blanc.
And I’m telling you all this for what reason?
Well, I came across a Hungarian Kékfrankos that is pretty tremendous. The 2010 Weninger Kékfrankos Balf is a charming wine with great varietal character. The wine is from Sopron, specifically the small village of Balf, which is on Lake Neusiedl. The warm thermal springs of the area are loaded with minerals and not only contribute to ripening the grapes fully, but also add levels of complexity and minerality to the finished wine.
The grapes are selectively hand harvested with only native yeast strains used to start the fermentation, which takes place in stainless steel tanks. After three weeks of maceration, the wine is pumped into large oak barrels, held in passive, non-climate-controlled cellars. The wine is then put through full malolactic fermentation to soften the acids and broaden the palate. After a year in barrel, the wine is bottled without being fined or filtered.
The vineyards are estate owned with vines varying in age from 13 to 40 years. Viticulture is biodynamic and uses no pesticides. In 2010 there were 6,300 bottles produced, a comparatively small production by most modern winery standards.
The wine is delightful. Bright, lively fruit dances on your palate, held aloft by firm, crisp acidity. Fresh cherry with dark notes of rose petal and violets abound. On the finish, loads of black pepper and allspice combine in layers of complexity. Ideal for summer – the wine takes a slight chill well and the spicy finish echoes well the tastes of the grill.
At an average bottle price of $9.99 before the discount, you know that 12 of those 6,300 bottles will find a home in my wine cellar!