Move Beyond Cab and Chard

Austria, Ahoy!


I’m always being asked to recommend an unusual wine, “one that isn’t Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay”. With media communications improving by the minute it’s getting more and more difficult but at a recent corporate event I saw a few puzzled expressions when I suggested Blaufränkisch. It’s one of my favourite Austrian reds and certainly falls into the ‘little known’ category. Austria is not a winemaking nation that automatically falls from our lips but that may be about to change as the ‘new kid on the block’ Leithaberg region has its sights on a shelf near you. Leithaberg’s (‘Leitha Mountains’, pronounced Letaberg), south facing vineyards slope gently to the shores of the Neusiedlersee, Austria’s famous inland lake about an hour’s drive south-east of Vienna in the province of Burgenland. For you geography nuts, the lake is about 45 kilometres long and about 11 kilometres wide but no more than 2 metres deep; intriguingly, its southern shores dip their toes into neighbouring Hungary.
Blaufränkisch is the top red grape of the Leithaberg region where its trademark tasting notes include ‘crisp chunky blackberry fruit balanced with attractive tannins’. The other ‘Austrian red grapes to look out for are Zweigelt and St. Laurent. Happily, the grape varieties are proudly announced on the front labels of Austrian wines which makes for far easier strolls up the wine aisle.  

Leithaberg’s limestone and schist rock vineyards rise to about 300 metres above the glistening Neusiedlersee. From these cool elevated sites you can spy on Hungary on a clear day and view the extent of the Leithaberg D.A.C. from Jois to the north of the lake to Morbisch and Zagersdorf in the south. By the way, D.A.C. stands for ‘Districtus Austriae Controllatus’, Austria’s status for special region-typical Quality Wines.

If you looking for a little musical history whilst sipping these Austrian reds, you can pop into the majestic church nestling in the vineyards overlooking the lake where Franz Joseph Haydn famously composed and tickled the ivories for many years, no doubt inspired by the local reds.

The Leithaberg vineyards are also well suited to white wines and for those who’d prefer a rich white look out for Grüner Veltliner, the variety that’s making a name for itself and lifting Austria’s reputation as it goes. The other white varieties that are allowed to carry the Leithaberg D.A.C. label are Pinot Blanc (known as Weissburgunder in Austria), our old mate Chardonnay and the little known variety, Neuburger.

For the wine tourist there’s far more to Leithaberg than its wines as its long been a favourite with visitors who flock to the region each year to enjoy the impressive Schloss Esterhazy castle in Eisenstadt and the wine enriched lakeside music festivals at Morbisch and Sankt Margarethen.

It’s rumoured that Joseph Haydn enjoyed dining out and brought a few cases of Leithaberg wines to enjoy during his time in London in the 1790’s. I’m not sure which ‘weinguts’ (Austrian for ‘winery’) he supported with his schillings but if he was composing today I think he’d be really happy with Weinguts Tinhof, Prieler, Nittnaus, Altenbuger, Birgit Braunstein, Hartl, Nehmer, Kaiser and Bayer Erbhof.

John Downes, one of only 340 Masters of Wine in the world is a corporate entertainer,cspeaker, television and radio broadcaster and writer on wine. Check out John’s website at Follow him on Twitter @JOHNDOWNESMW

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  • Where can I find a bottle of Blaufränkisch to try?

    Sep 20, 2016 at 11:19 PM

  • Snooth User: Seabrooker
    167088 56

    It's difficult to find in the USA, but the same grape is grown as "Lemberger" by a few growers in the NE. Try the one from Vynecrest in Breinigsville, PA, not far from Allentown, It flourishes in that climate, producing a medium bodied wine that has plenty of fruit without a lot of tannins.

    Sep 21, 2016 at 8:12 AM

  • I've been familiar with Blaufraenkisch for a long time; it's just about the leading German red wine grape. The Germans consider Blaufraenkisch wines to be in the category of "late Burgundies". (blaufraenkische Spaetburgunder). It is indeed similar to Burgundies except that it runs a bit sweeter. I like it.

    Sep 21, 2016 at 11:44 AM

  • yes I personaly know it , we talked about when I fallowed my wine course "Blaufränkisch"
    Would do a subject on wine been aged in barrel in Corle bay in the province of venetia .They submerge the barrils for 7months under sea water . The blend is Cab S. with Merlot 50/50. The name is called " Lagunare Ross' and is beautiful with a final of little minerality. Ciao Roberto Guidi sommelier

    Sep 21, 2016 at 11:49 AM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 10,431

    Desiree, I see that you are in Washington. Google "Washington Lemberger" and you will find multiple wineries in your neck of the woods that are doing it.

    Sep 21, 2016 at 2:25 PM

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