The Rise of Blaufränkisch

It seems that in the last few years, Blaufränkisch (German for blue Frankish) has become Austria’s most successful red wine variety. It’s not a new grape: based on its name, we think that it had been growing in Central Europe since the Middle Ages. The name Fränkisch comes from Franconia, a German region praised for its quality wines in the Middle Ages, and so at the time, grapes that were producing superior wines were called Fränkisch. Better rootstock, denser plantings, better cover crops management and nuanced winemaking explain the recent rise in quality with more and more Blaufränkisch wines showing great complexity and finesse. Some producers describe Blaufränkisch using the “triangle” comparison: the grape has the elegance of Burgundy Pinot Noir, the pepperiness of Northern Rhône Syrah, and the structure of Piedmont Nebbiolo. Its home is Burgenland where many of the finest examples are grown. Carnuntum, a region just southeast of Vienna, is also a source of quality Blaufränkisch where they are especially fresh and elegant. Burgenland was part of Hungary until 1921, when most of it was annexed as Austria’s ninth and easternmost state after the dissolution of he Habsburg Empire. The exception was Burgenland’s capital Sopron, which was … Continue reading The Rise of Blaufränkisch

#WineWednesday Spotlight #92: J&J Eger Winery Eged Hegy Kékfrankos

Sixty miles west of Tokaj, the Hungarian wine region of Eger is one of Europe’s most northerly red wine appellations. It is famous for its Egri Bikavér, a red blend usually made from Kadarka, Kékfrankos and other international varieties. Kékfrankos thrives on the multifaceted volanic hills that protected the Eger vineyards from the cold north winds. Dr. Janos Stumpf, winemaker at the J&J Eger Winery and one of the “J” in the label, sourced his Eged Hegy Kékfrankos from dry-farmed vines on the Eged Hegy (Eged Hill). The wine is deeply colored and exhibits complex aromas of mint, sweet fruit and moka. On the palate, the wine has an amazing silky mouth-feel, and lots of freshness and balance. Perfect with grilled lamb chops and ratatouille. The other J of the label is Master Sommelier, wine critic and author John Szabo, who recently published Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power, an informative read on volcanic wines from around the world, including Hungary.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #71: Wetzer Kékfrankos

Sourced from healthy soils that are alive with flora and fauna and vinified in a 120+ year old cellar covered with microbiological flora, the wines of Peter Wetzer have a true identity and a distinctive sense of place. For Kerry Winslow over at Grapelive, the Wetzer Kékfrankos 2015 is a new Hungarian treasure: With its simple and stylish label and red wax capsule, the Wetzer Kekfrankos reminds me of Lapierre Morgon in many ways, it is ripe and pure with vibrancy, fresh detail and silky tannins. Kekfrankos or Blaufrankisch is less acid driven than Gamay or Pinot Noir, but close and it can have flavors that are like Loire Cabernet Franc at times, Wetzer’s is medium weight, fruit forward and loaded with blueberry, bright cherry, tree picked plum and earthy mulberry fruit along with mixed spices, loamy/mineral plus hints of cedar, anise and chalk. A subtle sweet and sour herb notes adds to the whole, and this impressive red highlights its sense of place, allowing the soils, which are iron rich in parts, along with limestone, loess and gravel, to shine through on the poised and vital palate. 92 Points, grapelive Read the whole tasting note here.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #57: Pfneiszl Kékfrankos

I’m back from France after spending a couple of weeks moving my Mom from the south of France to Paris, and drinking mostly Provence Rosés — her favorite wine. So it was good to be back home and with the evenings getting darker and cooler, switch to autumnal reds: medium-bodied wines like Cabernet Franc from the Loire, Gamay from Beaujolais, Barbera from Piedmont or Blaufränkisch from Burgenland, which should include Kékfrankos from Sopron, Hungary, as the two regions were part of the same wine district when Sopron was the capital of Burgenland during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Hungarian Pfneiszl estate of Austrian Birgit and Katrin Pfneisl illustrates precisely this point. The Pfneiszl family was originally from Hungary before escaping from Communism and settling just across the border in Burgenland where their surname lost its “z”. It’s only in 1993 that the family was able to re-acquired its Hungarian vineyards, now managed by the two sisters. Under the leadership of Birgit the winemaker, the Pfneiszl vineyards and winemaking are now certified organic. The Pfneiszl Kékfrankos, which is also called “Újra Együtt” or “Together Again”, symbolises the reunion of the family with their Hungarian side. It also means getting together with friends … Continue reading #WineWednesday Spotlight #57: Pfneiszl Kékfrankos

#WineWednesday Spotlight #25: Wetzer Kékfrankos

The town of Sopron, right near the western border of Hungary is where some of the best Kékfrankos (in Austria this grape is known as Blaufränkisch) comes from. Having strong cultural and viticultural ties to Burgenland as well, it makes sense that Kékfrankos is the most planted variety here. Sopron is unique to Hungary in its climate as well it’s traditions of vinification. Instead of being in or near the vineyards, cellars are located under the houses of the families making the wine. It is this rich historical environment where Peter Wetzer comes from; his house and cellar belonged to his family for five generations. Wetzer is striving to make wines that follow old traditions and are related to the appellation of Sopron in the closest sense possible: keeping natural flora in the vineyard, no tilling or trimming is practiced. The wine is fermented with native yeast, unfined and unfiltered. He does everything in the vineyard by hand. This traditional approach combined with the sub-alpine climate of cooler summers and milder winters results in a wine which is rugged and elegant at the same time. The darker fruit associated with Kékfrankos is accompanied by some tartness and acidity, it is a … Continue reading #WineWednesday Spotlight #25: Wetzer Kékfrankos

Hungarian Wine Tasting Review by Christine Havens

Recently Frank Dietrich led an in depth tasting of Hungarian wines at Soif wine bar in Santa Cruz, CA. The wines represented many of the major appellations and indigenous grapes of the regions. Wine writer Christine Havens attended this event and has graciously permitted us to share her blog post, in which she provides detailed notes of the wines tasted as well as a little of her own connection to Hungary. You can view the original post, and all of Christine’s other reviews on her site. Hungarian Wine Tasting at Soif Wine Bar & Merchants by Christine Havens. My mother is Hungarian. My father was mostly English with some other nationalities thrown in, like most Americans, his family tree included a pinch of German and a nip of Irish. My dad never talked about his heritage, but my mother has always been fiercely proud of her ancestry. I suppose that’s why I’ve always identified as Hungarian, the country with some of the world’s most beautiful women and a famously high rate of depression, pessimism and overall gloominess. After my grandparents had passed, photos of my great grandparents emerged from dusty albums stored and long forgotten in their basement. My predecessors … Continue reading Hungarian Wine Tasting Review by Christine Havens

Hungary’s Red Gold: Red Fangs Paprika, Kékfrankos and Kadarka

“I must tell you: Hungarian paprika is the best. This is not arrogant nationalism. This is a fact.”—Flora Gaspar My paprika education and enjoyment started and continues with Flora Gaspar at Da Flora restaurant in North Beach. Flora is someone I like to reserve at least two hours for even when I only have a few wines to share. Her encyclopedic knowledge of Hungarian history, language, food, and culture are based on decades of personal experience and heritage. That’s the first hour. The second hour is dedicated to her opinions about the first. She tackles all of the things that make wine and food so endlessly engaging. I’ve shamelessly plagiarized her insight and stories to further your Hungarian indoctrination. And although her restaurant (everyone should go) just turned 20 years old, importing Paprika under her Red Fangs label is just getting off the ground. To tie everything together, Flora has shared some of her favorite Paprika laden recipes, paired them with two Hungarian wines I will be bombarding you with in the coming months, and of course the opportunity to purchase some Red Fangs yourself. Before we get to the wines, recipes and the stories behind them told by Flora … Continue reading Hungary’s Red Gold: Red Fangs Paprika, Kékfrankos and Kadarka

A Bikavér for Halloween

“As we leave our outdoor grill to gather dust and cobwebs and start dressing our house for Halloween, it is time to cozy up with harvest reds,” says Patrick Comiskey, a senior contributor for Wine & Spirits Magazine, in his latest article for the Los Angeles Times. Harvest reds are wines that taste like early fall, warm without being too bold, fruity with savory flavors that evoke wood smoke, fallen leaves, and wild mushrooms. But where to find them? “Lately there is no better place to start than the lap of Europe, which on my map is Austria and Hungary”, says Comiskey. “Both countries are enjoying a resurgence among their red wines; each has an interesting collection of oddly named indigenous (or nearly so) varieties that are being revived.” In Hungary, he adds, “your options are more limited but potentially more exciting. Importers such as Blue Danube are bringing small-production wines into the market, like the Soproni Kekfrankos made by Pfneiszl (about $15). Kekfrankos is Blaufränkisch, a bit more gripping and rustic than Austrian versions. Hungary is also the continent’s last great repository of Kadarka, a thin-skinned red variety thought to have originated in Romania, with a clean and peppery … Continue reading A Bikavér for Halloween

Tasting Sopron at Kocsis Pinceszet

Alex working the bar. As we mentioned previously, we were rather big fans of Sopron. It’s a small, yet pretty town in a nice part of of Central Europe at the border of Austria and Hungary. The amount of quality wine that’s there can be a bit overwhelming. Thankfully, there are a number of wine bars in the area to provide a more compact method to sample the region. The very extensive local wine list. Kocsis Pinceszet sits just outside the old town center. Right about here on Várkerület utca. The interior of the place isn’t anything to write home about with its long wooden benches and tables, but it’s inviting and relatively homey. The owner’s name is Alex (which in Hungarian is said more like Ow-lex) and he’s a charming fellow who speaks Hungarian, German, and a good deal of English. The later of which is not too common in this area. The best part of this wine bar is the fact that you can find just about every single wine from around Sopron (both on the Hungarian as well as on the Austrian side of the border) and Alex knows everything about all of them. He has some … Continue reading Tasting Sopron at Kocsis Pinceszet

Exploring the Hungarian Side of Pfneiszl

A tasting out amongst the Pfneiszl vineyards that started with their Sparkelina. Pfneiszl is a young winery on old lands. Or actually, it’s an old winery on its own old lands if that makes any sense. Sopron at sunset You see Pfneiszl (or Pfneisl depending on which side of the Hungarian/Austrian border you’re on) is an old family winery based in both Hungary and Austria. It’s just that in Hungary, the 27 hectares that made up their wine growing lands were seized by the former communist regime of Hungary in the name of collectivization. After that happened, they had to “make due” with the 70 hectares that the family kept in Austria just on the other side of the border. In 1993, these lands were returned to the family after decades of pumping out cheap bulk wine that was mostly sold to Russia. By this time, on the Austrian side they had been making very well-recognized wines and in what must be one of the most incredible gifts I’ve ever seen from a parent, they gave this 27 hectares to their daughters to work up and establish as a Hungarian winery. These stories are not uncommon in the area of … Continue reading Exploring the Hungarian Side of Pfneiszl