Know Your Grapes: Blaufränkisch
We are not sure exactly when and where Blaufränkisch first appeared, but it is likely to be the Middle Ages in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. First named in 1875, it goes by Lemberger in Germany and Kekfrancos in Hungary. Brought to America by German immigrants, it has struggled to find a market under the Lemberger name due to sharing a name with the strong smelling cheese, though several wineries still call it that (especially in Pennsylvania).
Blaufränkisch is the parent (along with Saint Laurent) of Zweigelt, and is Austria’s second most planted red after it. It likewise common across East Central Europe, earning the title “Pinot Noir of the East.” In America, it has a strong presence in British Columbia, Washington State, the Finger Lakes, as well as limited plantings in many other states from Maryland to Indiana to Idaho. It is ascendant in America, as more AVAs find it a European varietal that can withstand the summer humidity that is the deathknell for many French vinifera. Blaufränkisch needs a longer growing season since it does ripen late, and the grapes are known not to develop after flowering if the weather is too cool.
In the glass, Blaufränkisch is deep in color and full of vim. Just as often oaked as not (and when oaked, restraint is key), it lends itself to a wide variety of styles from lighter and fruity to spicy with a lot of backbone. High in tannins, medium plus acidity, medium body. Dominant notes often include blackberry, cassis, pepper, cherry, and earth. Blaufränkisch is hardly ever above $30 and often less, and thus a great value. Suggested pairings are lamb, meatloaf, schnitzel, goulash, and tomato dishes.