An Introduction to Blaufränkisch and Grüner Veltliner
By David Brookes
There are certain wine varieties that you just have to pronounce with a foreign accent. I can’t imagine saying spätburgunder without a slight Germanic lilt to my voice and if I blurt out poulsard or trousseau without a discernible French swish, I feel incomplete and dirty. So with that in mind, I would like to summons your inner Arnold Schwarzenegger, circa ‘Terminator’, and say the following grape varieties - blaufränkisch and grüner veltliner. Both Arnie and these varieties hail from the same country, Austria, so you know it makes sense.
Grüner veltliner is a white grape variety whose star shines brightest in North-West Austria in the wine regions of Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal. Here it grows in a series of terraces that rise above the Danube River in one of those picture-perfect scenarios you see in all the wine magazines.
It’s a natural cross of traminer and an obscure Austrian grape variety called St. Georgener-Rebe and has no issues achieving physiological ripeness in the temperate northern European wine climates where it is grown.
So if you were to pour yourself a glass of grüner veltliner what could you expect? Well, for starters it is a dry white wine. You would expect to see fruit flavours of pear, lemon and grapefruit which edges into the spectrum of peach and yellow apple if the grapes are picked riper. You’ll also find hints of soft spice, green bean, ginger, honey and one character that is a dead giveaway in a blind tasting for me - white pepper. Grilled nuts and creamy notes come into play if the wine has been aged in oak.
The Austrian wines come in several styles from fresh and light in body with a savoury edge and sapid minerality to the wines finish; to the richer, more complex reserve wines that many famous wineries release. It is super delicious and its savoury style lends well to a well-earned versatility in the food and wine matching stakes. Austrian wineries to look out for include - F.X. Pichler, Prager, Nikolaihof, Bründlmayer, Hiedler, Weingut Knoll, Arndorfer, Franz Hirtzberger, Schloss Gobelsburg, Herbert Zillinger, Nigl, Ott, Weingut Jurtschitsch and Salomon Undhof.
Grüner Veltliner in Australia
Down here in the antipodes there has been a bit of a flurry of activity in the grüner veltliner camp also with plantings in New Zealand the Adelaide Hills in Australia. One of my favourite Australian grüner veltliner comes from the Hahndorf Hill winery in South Australia. They produce three grüner’s - from crisp and racy to more serious, nutty and complex. My personal pick is the Hahndorf Hill grü which is textured and fruit pure with a scintillating line across the palate. They are pioneers of the variety in Australia and the grü has been voted the best grüner veltliner in the world outside of Austria at the ‘International Grüner Veltliner Tasting’ in Vienna, which is high praise indeed!
Okay, Blaufränkisch. That’s a bit tougher to say. Try blouw-FRANN-keesh, remembering to give it your finest Arnie impersonation and you should be good to go. Blaufränkisch is a red wine and a delicious one to boot. It’s a cross between gouais blanc, remember that one? We chatted about it a couple of weeks back. Anyway, it’s a cross between gouais blanc and blaue zimmelttraube, which kind of sounds like the noise I make when I sneeze… but I digress.
Again, you’ll find blaufränkisch predominantly in Austria where it is the most important variety in the Mittelburgenland wine region but you’ll also find it scattered around the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia under various synonyms the most famous of which would be lemberger (Germany) and kekfrankos (Hungary).
If we were to compare it to another red wine it would probably be closest to something like a pinot noir or gamay perhaps with a few more bass notes and a little more depth and fruit weight. Imagine a gamay/pinot noir/syrah love triangle and you are on the right track.
You will find deep dark and black berry and dark cherry notes here and it is a wine style that is juicy and vibrant, packed with spice and ranging from fresh and bouncy all the way through to complex, structured wines built for a few years of careful cellaring. Favourite Austrian producers of mine include Moric, Muhr-van der Niepoort, Pittnauer, Prieler, Weingut Tesch, Gut Oggau, Ernst Triebaumer, Hans Igler, Christian Tschida and Krutzler.
Blaufränkisch in Australia
Closer to home, the Adelaide Hills and again, in particular the Hahndorf Hill winery is my go too for Australia’s best blaufränkisch. Their Blueblood Blaufränkisch is supple, silky and fruit-pure with generous spice notes and a cascade of gentle tannin, it’s a beauty.
So if you seek something different, go in search of these two wonderful wines from Austria. I can’t guarantee that you’ll burst into song like Austrian nun Maria Von Trapp in ‘The Sound of Music’, but I can say with confidence that the crisp, savoury lines of grüner veltliner and the pure fruit and spice of blaufränkisch will certainly put a smile on your face.