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Blaufränkisch is a great grape variety

by Dorli Muhr

How should the Central European red grape variety Blaufränkisch be assessed? Is it, for example, a great variety on a par with Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo? An international summit in Lech am Arlberg in mid-December 2022 answered this question with a resounding "yes"!

Wine experts and journalists from all over the world travelled to the gourmet alpine hotspot of Lech in Austria to analyse the Blaufränkisch variety and define its potential in the international fine wine market in a one-day workshop.

Yes! 

First, the most important thing: Blaufränkisch is unanimously recognised as a great red wine variety of the world, because it fulfils all the parameters expected of an exceptional red wine, such as ripening potential, reflecting the terroir, complexity, distinctiveness and finesse.  

After tasting more than 50 top Blaufränkisch wines from 17 different wine producers spanning the 1986 to 2020 vintages, the jury panel agreed on the following varietal description: 

“Freshness and acidity combined with a precise fruitiness and tightly woven body. The aromas correspond to those of dark berries, together with a smoky spiciness and notes of dried herbs.”

David Schildknecht (Vinous, USA) added:“What makes Blaufränkisch so special is a freshness and vibrancy that you usually only find in white wines.”

A reflection of its origins

What the jurors confirmed time and again during the tasting was the talent of Blaufränkisch to express its origin without the variety itself taking up too much room. "A great wine," says Sascha Speicher (Meininger's Sommelier magazine, Germany),"should primarily demonstrate its terroir. If the first thing I notice is the grape variety, it’s not a great wine.” Harald Scholl (Vinum magazine, Switzerland) echoed that sentiment. “Historically great wines have always been defined by their origin and appellation, never by their grape variety."

A selection of the wines for the tasting. ©Anna Stöcher

Distinctive freshness & finesse

Blaufränkisch also benefits greatly from its distinctive acidity, which can give the wine a high degree of freshness and finesse. As Denmark's Rene Langdahl explained: “Nowadays, freshness is the key characteristic that enables us to classify a wine as great. This was not the case thirty years ago when grapes often didn’t reach full ripeness. In many winegrowing regions, wineries face the problem of producing overly fat wines. Blaufränkisch, on the other hand, is still able to display this freshness even in hot, very dry years – a freshness that is expressed through the wine’s vertical structure and its distinctive, fine bitterness.”

Current trends “suit Blaufränkisch perfectly”

In general, experts advise winemakers against producing powerful, over-extracted and wood-heavy wines. We are currently seeing a significant move away from over-ripe wines,” explained Jamie Goode (wineanorak, UK),describing the development of the international wine scene. “Producers are continually learning how best to work the vines to ensure perfect ripeness without ending up with excessive gradation. We are living in very interesting times – perfect for Blaufränkisch to show us what it’s made of.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, Jamie Goode summed it up this way: “If you make a wine with 15% alcohol and a lot of new oak, there is no matter which varietal you use, it is just sh...” 

Sascha Speicher & Jancis Robinson ©Anna Stöcher

Great aging potential

The experts also paid particular attention to another characteristic used for defining a great grape variety – its ageing potential. “I have never drunk a Blaufränkisch that tasted better during the first ten years of its life than it did when it was older,” explained Clemens Riedl from trinkreif, one of the event organisers. “Blaufränkisch simply needs ten years to develop, especially when it comes to single-vineyard wines.”

“Only we can do that!”

Winemakers need to work to the highest standards if they want their Blaufränkisch wines to be rich in finesse, display typicity of origin and have a good ageing potential. This begins in the vineyard, where the yield needs to be significantly restricted (max. 3,500 kg / ha) in order to produce first-class wines. Many wineries are already aware of this, which leads to the overall high quality of Austrian reds. According to David Schildknecht, Austria has seen a new self-confidence emerging with many believing that specific wine styles – such as those produced from Blaufränkisch – can only be produced in Austria. “There is a clear trend moving away from “We can do that, too!” towards “Only we can do that!””

The Blaufränkisch Summit was a joint initiative organised by trinkreif, Lechzürs Tourism, Hotel Almhof Schneider and supported by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board.

Sara Døscher ©Anna Stöcher

The participants:

  • Marc Almert, world champion sommelier, Baur au Lac, Switzerland

  • Willi Balanjuk, wine journalist, A la Carte, Ö 

  • Philipp Braun, food journalist, Oberösterreichische Nachrichten, Austria

  • Ivan Carvalho, food journalist, Monocle, Italy

  • Sara Døscher, wine journalist, VG, Norway

  • Romana Echensperger MW, wine writer, Germany

  • Joshua Greene, wine journalist, Wine&Spirits, USA 

  • Jamie Goode, wine journalist, wineanorak.com, UK 

  • René Langdahl, wine journalist, renelangdahl.com, DenmarK 

  • Linda Perez, wine journalist, Svenska Dabladet, Sweden 

  • Stephan Reinhardt, wine journalist, Robert Parker Wine Advocate, USA 

  • Jancis Robinson, wine journalist, Financial Times, UK 

  • David Schildknecht, wine journalist, vinous.com, USA 

  • Jürgen Schmücking, food journalist, GaultMillau, Austria

  • Harald Scholl, food journalist, Vinum, Switzerland

  • Sascha Speicher, wine journalist, Sommeliermagazin, Germany

  • Roland Graf, Trinkprotokoll, Austria

  • Gabriel Stone, wine journalist, Drinks Business, UK 

  • Pauline Vicard, wine analyst, Areni, UK 

  • Elena Rameder, Sommelier, trinkreif, Austria 

  • Roland Velich, winemaker, Austria

  • Clemens Riedl, wine merchant, trinkreif, Austria 

 

The event was also attended by the following sommeliers from restaurants in Lech Zürs:

Josef Neulinger (Almhof Schneider),Anna Kleinle (Arlberg),Martin Prodinger (Sandhof),Markus Winkler (Aurelio),Günther Meindl (Berghof).  

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About Arlberg Weinberg

Lech Zürs am Arlberg offers guests remarkable skiing, outstanding culinary delights, and the finest of wines. The “Arlberg Weinberg” event, traditionally held in the first week of December, lavishes attendees with fantastic wines, culinary highlights, and captivating events. The program is tailor-made for wine lovers who also enjoy time on the slopes and joys for all the senses.

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Lech Zürs am Arlberg during winter
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Julia Jochum
Project Assistance - currently on maternity leave

After studying photography at the Höhere Graphische Bundes- Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt in Vienna, Julia decided to study journalism. This ultimately led her to journalism. She has been supporting the team at Wine+Partners since February.