The Very Best of Blaufränkisch Wine


Blaufränkisch is a Cabernet lover’s best friend, but still very much its own grape. And that's an asset in today’s wine climate. Generations of wine drinkers stuck to the same old grapes - but this is an era that privileges discovery. Blaufränkisch is not new, per say, but an increasing number of Americans are gulping it down by the bottle. Plantings are found in Italy (as Franconia Nera), Germany (as Lemberger), and Croatia (as Borgonja). Austria, however, is the grape’s true home. The Blaufränkisch name first appeared in 1862 at a grape variety exhibition in Wien. The International Ampelographic Commission in Colmar, France, officially adopted Blaufränkisch in 1875. Now it’s late 2019, and sommeliers at the best wine bars and restaurants across the United States are sure to have it on hand. Retailers also understand the power of Blaufränkisch to satisfy their customer’s palates and pocketbooks. It’s a value purchase, to be sure. There are so many fantastic Blaufränkisch producers. Here, I will highlight my current top ten.

I am so impressed by Blaufränkisch’s layers of complexity. The gamey, spicy notes are unmatched. Cherry flavors turn to cassis when the grapes are very ripe. The structure is firm. Its essence is earthy. Acidity is high while the tannins are grainy and fine. Blaufränkisch takes well to oak, which softens the acidity and amplifies fruit character. Wines created with Blaufränkisch have a dark, ruby color that is particularly striking in its beauty. Blaufränkisch is Austria’s second most planted red variety after its offspring (when crossed with Sankt Laurent), Zweigelt. It accounts for 6.5% of Austria’s total vineyard area.
And now, the top ten  (in no particular order): 


Jalits Blaufränkisch 2015 is a premier bottle from Eisenberg. Eisenberg, Austria’s smallest appellation, is renowned for its Blaufränkisch. Thousands of years ago Eisenberg was known for high quality ore which was farmed and sold to the Roman empire. In modern times, the iron-rich soil contributes to the terroir of superior quality Blaufränkisch. In this bottle: Dark rich black fruit notes (currant and blackberry) are concentrated and full. Thick black fruit notes, sticky tannins and a bit of resin, smoke, earth, and black cherry on top. Sharp red cranberry fruit note on the finish.


The 2016 Hillinger from Leithaberg DAC is not to be missed. Leithaberg is a high-quality sub-region bordering Hungary. It is home to the much-heralded Leithakalk soil. Blaufränkisch is particularly good at expressing mineral notes of Leithakalk, a marine-based limestone sediment only found in the foothills of the Alps. This bottle is made by winemaker/entrepreneur Leo Hillinger, known for his role on Austria’s television version of ABC’s Shark Tank (called 2 Minutes – 2 Million). Hillinger also spearheaded the Austria’s Next Top Winemaker series. The bottle boasts vanishing black fruit aromas - currant and plum with some floral notes. Thick blackberry and black cherry flavors. Gripping tannins. Dark chocolate on the mid-palate. Finishing with full earth, tart acidity and more drying smoke.


Then there's this phenomenal 2016 Höpler from Burgenland. Burgenland selections are especially attractive thanks the Pannonian Plain’s warming winds. Nearby hills protect the grapes from harsher conditions. The grapes can get at least three hundred days of sunshine per year, and rainfall is low. This bottle is a steal at around twenty bucks. Hopler exports roughly seventy percent of its product, and much of it ends up in US restaurants run by luminaries such as Jamie Oliver, Thomas Keller, and Bobby Flay. Consider a visit to Hopler the next time you pass through Burgenland; it's an incredible journey in and of itself. Nearby Steppe National Park offers biking, hiking and bird watching.  In the quaint town of Eisenstadt, the province’s capital, visitors celebrate the region’s famed composer Joseph Haydn. Each September the ten-day Haydn Festival fills the concert hall of the Esterházy Palace with the master’s music. The 2016 Hopler brings clean cherry and cranberry aromas. There are loads of candied red fruit in here – cinnamon, cranberry, cherry, and a distinct creaminess alongside refreshingly tart acidity.


Weingut Steindorfer Blaufränkisch 2015 is from their Kaiserberg vineyard (also in Burgenland). It’s located on a beautiful hill with stunning lake views. The vineyard itself was once the garden of a famous Kaiser who lived in a nearby castle called Schloss Halbturn. It still stands today, hence the name Kaiserberg. The grapes were hand-harvested, and it shows on the palate. Red cherry and strawberry fruit give way to some herbal notes followed by a tar-like smokiness. The tannins truly grip on this one.  


Günther & Regina Triebaumer’s family has been making wine since 1691. Now they are firmly entrenched in the 21st century, Hence, their forward-thinking 2018 Blaufränkisch rose. It achieves a perfect balance between what you love from a red wine and from a white wine. Acidity is buttressed by heft. Strawberry and cherry notes linger with the lightest touch of spiced garden herbs on the finish. This is a Thanksgiving Day winner at around $10 bucks a bottle, but hard to find. Tell you retailer to call their importer, Circo Vino.r


The 2016 Hareter is an organically produced Blaufränkisch wine. It spent fifteen months in large oak barrels prior to bottling. This method of aging elicits the deep earthiness for which the grape is known. The palate is thick and the tannins grip. Red currant and cranberry with a touch of cigar leaf on the finish. This is a deep, complex, serious wine at a $20 price point. This, I consider, a rare and fine treat.


Anita & Hans Nittnaus are synonymous with quality Austrian wine. Family winemaking dates back in 1684, but Anita and Hans took over the current location is 1984. In 1990, Hans Nittnaus created the term Pannobile from the word Pannonia (a Roman word describing the terroir) to indicate terroir-driven premium wine using primarily indigenous grapes. Since 1994, Pannobile is also a consortium of nine winemakers in the town of Gols, each of whom create their own distinct Pannobile wine. They are worth seeking, as is the Kalk & Schiefer Blaufränkisch 2016 by the Nittnaus family. The grapes are grown on lime and slate soils. It shows. Smoky earth turns to plum and prune with a dash of licorice and olive. Dark chocolate lifts to the palate, peppered with ripe cherry notes. An excellent wine.


Natural wine lovers (and those who are indifferent) won’t be disappointed with Heinrich. All Heinrich wines, including the 2016 Leithaberg Blaufränkisch, go through spontaneous fermentation. They are often left to sit with the skins for several weeks. The wines remain on their lees for an extended period of time, too. The rich mineral aromas are a bit savory. The palate is one of dark fruits - smoked blackberries and black cherry. It’s tart and edgy with chewy tannins and a smoky finish.


Shaarei Orrah 2015 is a sweet, late harvest Blaufränkisch. While it is recommended to serve this as an apertif or with desserts, I feel the exotic, savory flavors (bouillon, red fruit leather) are suitable with a main course - especially for those who prefer a sweeter palate. The winery was first in Austria to produce icewine, and is the only producer of kosher wines. The winery has been certified organic under the rules of Austria Bio Garantie since 2007. It's widely available in the United States for about twenty dollars.


Gut Oggau  Joschuari Blaufränkisch 2015 is a project in the small town of Oggau in Burgenland. The winemakers, Stephanie and Eduard Tscheppe-Eselböck, have created a fictional wine family on their limestone and slate soils. Every family member, or wine, is named and defined in terms of its own personality. This one, Joschuari, is tall, dark, and handome. His fruit flavors are big and bold. His grapes were vinified with skins in barrel for three weeks. The fruits are powerful and rich, with lots of dense earth and rich mineral notes on the finish. 

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