Up until a few months ago, I was not familiar with the Blaufrankisch grape. This variety was first documented in the 18th century, known then by the name Limberger being first grown in the town of Limberg. Blaufrankisch is a cross of the Heunisch grape with Blauer Groben. Blaufränkisch grapes have commonly been paired with Austrian Zweigelt grapes both typically found in the wine-growing region of Burgenland- the eastern-most region of Austria, bordering Hungary. It is there that wine making thrives amongst the protective hills, deep, heavy clay and a climate with cool nights and no hot sun during the days. This combination produces a grape that yields wine with an intense, fruity, earthy and spicy character.
Southern Burgenland is Austria’s smallest wine growing region with less than 500 total hectares under cultivation. It is here that four generations of the Wallner family have managed the 8 hectare WeingutWallner wine estate, now run by Gerhard Wallner, a winemaker passionately committed to the development of regionally characteristic red wines. Wallner believes good wine needs to have personality, and this philosophy has been the foundation for wines that have won numerous awards. Gerhard Wallner’s wines are best summed up as being delicious, hearty wines that show off the unique spicy character and clarity of the best of the region. Today his parents Anna and Josef support him in the vineyard where the late ripening Blaufrankisch grapes are characterized by deep wood berry or cherry tones. The Wallner’s vines range from 18 to over 90 years old and they have increased quality by leaving more canopy on the vine thereby shortening the space between rows, forcing competition that strengthens the cultivar. This being Blaufränkisch country this variety dominates most of the 30,000 bottle production.
I spent an evening in Vienna recently before returning to the USA after a business trip to Hungary. I had the opportunity to return to Plachutta, a restaurant well known for quality Austrian meat dishes such a Tafelspitz and Weiner Schnitzel. Having recently had the New Jersey version of Blaufrankisch (Tomasello) I did not need to have my arm twisted when the wine steward recommended the Weingut Wallner Blaufränkisch Reserve. This wine, made exclusively from estate grapes from vines over 20 years old, and grown in heavy clay, slate permeated soils, had the strong, spicy, minerally character that gives Blaufrankisch its reputation. Known generally as a wine needing a few years to reach full potential, the 2007 vintage was just the right aging for my palate. It had a medium ruby color in the glass and a fruity nose- wild cherry, blackberry being most notable, along with a hint of vanilla. The wine was dry with balanced tannins and the flavor had good length. As one would expect, it paired well with my filet as would also be the case with other beef, pork and game meats. Even if you can’t find Weingut Wallner, I recommend trying an Austrian, or even a Jersey Blaufrankisch to broaden your wine experience while nicely complementing the steak you just took off the grill.