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The Lemberger Grape


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About Lemberger

(Synonyms: Blanc Doux, Blau Fränkisch, Blau Fränkische, Blauer Limberger, Blaufränkische, Blaufranchis, Blaufranchisch, Blue French, Borgonja, Burgund Mare, Cerne Skalicke, Cerne Starosvetske, Cerny Muskatel, Chirokolistny, Cierny Zierfandler, Crna Frankovka, Crna Moravka, Fernon, Fränkische, Fränkische Schwarz, Franconia, Franconia Nero, Franconien Bleu, Franconien Noir, Frankinja, Frankinja Modra, Frankovka, Frankovka Cerna, Frankovka Crna, Frankovka Modra, Imbergher, Jubiläumsrebe, Gamay Noire, Gamé, Karmazin, Kék Frankos, Kékfrank, Kékfrankos, Lampart, Lemberger, Limberg, Limberger, Limberger Blauer, Limberger Noir, Limburske, Maehrische, Modra Frankija, Modra Frankinja, Modry Hyblink, Moravka, Moravske, Muskateller Schwarz, Nagy Burgundi, Nagyburgundi, Neskorak, Neskore, Neskore Cierne, Noir De Franconie, Oporto, Orna Frankovka, Portugais Lerouse, Portugais Rouge, Portugieser Rother, Pozdni, Pozdni Skalicke Cerne, Schwarz Limberger, Schwarze Fraenkische, Schwarzer Burgunder, Schwarzgrobe, Serina, Shirokolistnyi, Sirokolidtnyj, Sirokolstnii, Skalicke Cerne, Starovetsky Hrozen, Sura Liscina, Szeleslevelü, Teltfürtü Kékfrankos, Vaghyburgundi, Velke Bugundske, Vojvodin.)

Background

Map showing the Franconia region of Germany

Lemberger is a red-wine grape probably originating in the Franconia region of what is today Germany; indeed, on the world stage its commonest name is actually Blaufränkisch, meaning "blue wine of Franconia". Its more common name in American viticulture, Lemberger, arose in Germany because during the 19th century the wine was imported to there from Lemberg, a location in Lower Styria (now a part of Slovenia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire).

The grape's history probably extends back into the middle ages, though the first definite mention of it was not till 1862. As the "synonyms" list above shows, it—like many older grapes—has had a myriad of names, but the only other one an American is likely to see on a bottle beside Lemberger or Blaufränkisch is Kékfrankos (the Hungarian version of the name).

The wine is not a big part of the American wine market, probably for several reasons. One is the multitude of names, all complex for the average American to read or pronounce; and the simplest and most widely used by American wineries making it, Lemberger, is likely too suggestive of the stong-smelling Limburger cheese (to which it has absolutely zero relation). Another reason is that while the grape can make quite good wine, it remains relatively obscure on the world market; indeed, quality wines of this grape in modern times probably go no farther back than a couple of decades.

A typical Lemberger is something that doesn't exist, there being two main and diverse styles: one is a strong, full-bodied wine reminescent of some of California's bigger Zinfandels; the other is lighter and softer, reminiscent of a better Pinot Noir. What is common to both styles, however, is a bluish-red color and a somewhat "spicy" nose and taste. The underlying taste elements are typical of good reds, notably dark-berry flavors such as black cherry, blackberry, or red currant— plus that grace note of spiciness. All versions will age, but some are vinified for it and will turn into smooth, almost silky wines, while others, more assertive and fruit-forward, want little bottle aging.

Besides eastern and central Europe, Lemberger/Blaufränkisch is vinified in Australia and the U.S., the latter mostly in Washington State. In Europe, Austria is today the leading producer.

In its native regions, styles vary. Some differences are attributed to region: Blaufränkisch from Austria's Neusiedlersee-Hügelland region is often said to be "richer and more full bodied", while elsewhere the overtones of spiciness are more pronounced. Austrian Blaufränkisch of the ordinary sort, such as Mittleburgenland DAC Classic, tend to be lighter renditions, and are typically unoaked; wines labelled Burgenland DAC Reserve show greater body and are typically oak-aged.

While the wine is made throughout the wine-making world, it is chiefly in Washington State that New World Lemberger is grown (though Australia is apparently starting to ramp up its production of Blaufränkisch wines). In Washington, styles also vary, again ranging from light, Pinot-like renditions to heavier Zinfandel-like versions, on even to fortified wines in the style of port. Nowadays, some makers are trying to avoid the false Lemberger/Limburger association by calling their wines from this grape by various proprietary names (such as "Blue Franc"). To the extent that Washington Lembergers share qualities, they are those of being fairly dark in both appearance and flavor (notably dark berries, such as black cherry), with spicy and pepper overtones—in other words, the leading characteristics of the grape. The relative lack of domestic interest in Lemberger/Blaufränkisch makes the wines something of a steal for selective—we emphasize that word—bargain hunters (because better Austrian bottlings can get pricey fast).

Factoid: Lemberger has been called "the Pinot Noir of the East" owing to its popularity and reputation throughout Eastern Europe.


Some Descriptions of Lemberger Wines


Some Lembergers to Try

(About this list.)

There are many, many Blaufränkisch wines available, even within our price limitation of $20 or under. Many, though, seem very scarce, often carried by only one or two retailers. Also, critical evaluations are all over the lot, with most critics' lists having little if any commonality with those of other critics. We have winnowed the list down to the following; most are Austrian, but a commonly cited Washington State wine is also included.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
Nittnaus Blaufränkisch "Kalk Und Schiefer"
(Austria, Burgenland; "Kalk und Schiefer" means "limestone & shale".)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Fluid yet mineral and bone dry on the end. I meant to make a previous vintage of this a wine of the week and it is certainly worthy of attention. Very distinctive. Very bright fruit with a suggestion of sucking stones. Extremely appetising and vigorous. 12.5% [alcohol]. But I have similar, almost as enthusiastic notes on previous vintages. 17/20 points.

2007 vintage: This is a serious and impressive wine. The tannins are dark and concentrated, with firm black fig, damson and berry fruits, balanced with acidity. It is powerful, with all the best qualities of Blaufränkisch on view. 91 points.
2011 vintage: A very quintessential Blaufränkisch, this boasts a light-footed balance of cherry, dark berries, sprightly acidity and medium body in a sleek and elegantly silhouetted frame, with ripe, soft tannins. 88 points.


Fresh, reasonably concentrated, not very complex but has charm and zip. Quite long. 16.5pts/20 (88/100pts).

The "2008 kalk und schiefer blaufränkisch" by weingut hans & anita nittnaus is a lovely deep red wine, dark fruit, tobacco, "kalk and schiefer" means "lime & shale" and the wine certainly has great mineral flavors as well.

Dark, with earthy fruit flavors and a touch of oak.

The winemakers Hans and Anita Nittnaus have a fine reputation and this is a surprisingly good wine from Austria. The Blaufrankisch grape is native to Hungary and is extensively grown in Austria's finest region, Burgenland. This example was young and would have probably benefited from more age. Bright purple in colour, this wine had raspberries and white pepper on the nose. It is said that the palate tastes of beetroot: certainly there was an earthiness the complemented the oak well. Quite zesty with a hint of blueberries on the finish.

But it is in red wines that the Burgenland is slowly making a reputation. Try the Nittnaus Blaufränkisch Kalk and Schiefer (Chalk and Slate), bursting with violet pastilles, cinnamon, raspberry, cassis and black pepper. This was one of the best Blaufränkisch-based wines I tasted during my entire stay in Austria, and it deserves a place at your table.

Bright blueish crimson. Dusty, warm sackfuls of curry spices on the nose and then bittersweet berries on the palate. No shortage of character!



Paul Achs Blaufränkisch "Heidenboden"
(Austria, Neusiedlersee; "Heideboden" means "Heatherland".)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Tannic, red fruits and a firm structure characterize a wine that offers spice and wood as a backdrop. There is power here, partnered with elegance. 89 points.

2008 Heideboden - a vineyard dominated by gravel and humus, though the wine seems to reject these conditions, and is instead quite simple, bright and fruity, though still nicely dry.

[I]t smelled like a clump of violets growing in damp soil and may have been the least typically Austrian in its exuberance and lighthearted take on the grape.

Luckily, a few under $30 bottlings give some sense of blaufrankisch’s new wave: . . light, fresh, juicy 2008 Paul Achs Heideboden . . . .

Tart fruit flavors, spicy; a bit tannic and closed.



Kiona Lemberger
(U.S., Washington State.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Color: Clear garnet. Nose: Comforting, dark cherry, plum, rose, tar, black licorice, dark chocolate. Palate: Big, mouth filling, dry cherry, edged with tar, plum, and dry sage, a lot of fruit front palate, acid on the gums. Very consistent over the first hour, the acid and tannin integrated well and expressed a plush palate with a long finish. A good match to the savory dinner of slow cooked steak with carrots, celery and mushrooms. Day two: Earthy cocoa, currant, cigar box on the nose. Candy cherry on palate, not sweet, dry but with that candied intensity. Smooth drinking, still dry on the gums, fine tannin, luxurious mouth feel, medium light body. If I didn't know better I would have guessed Cabernet Sauvignon. Skip the food, on day two this wine screamed drink me. Thoughts: The Kiona Lemberger was very good at opening and a good companion to the dinner I prepared. If you have wine leftover, you will absolutely enjoy it the next day. Drink today and over the next 5 years. Strongly Recommended.

A medium-bodied wine with a full nose of black cherry, pepper, and a bit of spice. While these notes are not uncommon, I could detect a dryness in the profile I was not expecting. I had a sense this wine was unique, and the sip would prove to be just that. The palate came across in flavors of earth, blackberry, and black licorice. The sip rounded off with spice and pepper, and smooth tannins. The Lemberger has a nice taste to it, certainly unlike anything I’ve had before. . . I would buy this wine again, and will keep my eye out for other labels of Lemberger as well, to get a better feel for this varietal. Kiona Vineyard 2009 Lemberger: ★★★ good wine

Classic aromas of strawberry, dark chocolate, black pepper and cedar include huge notes of clove and horehound. On the palate, it’s surprisingly big with black cherries and bittersweet chocolate, backed by strawberry/rhubarb compote, juniper berry and lime juice.

Lemberger, also known as Blaufränkisch, was planted here in the 1970s—the winery believes it was the first commercial bottling in the country. This is a seriously good wine, worthy of special attention. It could be mistaken for a particularly fine country wine from Italy, southern France or Spain, with its old vine complexity, red and blue fruits and whiff of tanned leather. 90 points.

This is a rich wine, similar to a Cabernet or Merlot, but with a spicy finish in the background. Aromas of blackberries, pepper and cloves. Mildly tannic with a velvet mouthfeel. It was aged in American and French oak. This wine will pair well with pasta, roasts and grilled meats. Outstanding now, but this wine will benefit from additional bottle age of 3-5 years.

This lemberger gives a hint of blackberry on the nose, with a promise of more to come. On the palate, the first thing to hit is loads of black pepper, followed by raspberries. As it unfolds in the glass, the raspberry turns full bore to blackberry, pepper, and spicebox, including clove and cinnamon. Moderate tannins, nice balance and acidity; the finish goes on for 30-60 seconds.

The 2005 has a clear, deep maroon color and a powerful nose of dried fruit, some cranberry, spice, a little mushroom, and alcohol. The sip starts out with a tart dark-berry profile, but is slowly overtaken by a black-peppercorn backbone that eventually consumes the finish. The spice comes on like an old dam about to break – a few drips here and there, then a deluge. The body is a shade lighter than medium, the tannin is moderate and well incorporated. The Syrah/Shiraz drinker will particularly like this one. It’s just got a nice rounded dark berry flavor with some pep in its step. Hard not to like. Of my list of seven ‘standouts’, this is the standout so far.

Kiona is certainly among the best producers of Washington lemberger and it is no doubt a result of the respect that is given to the grapes in the vineyard and the juice in the winery. [Winemaker Scott] Williams even treats his lemberger to several months in oak barrels, giving it a bit more complexity. His 2001 version is bursting with tart red berry fruit flavors and real zingy acidity. If you serve it just a bit cooler than most red wines it really brings out the freshness.

The Kiona Lemberger was, not surprisingly, very fruity. It had flavors of blackberry and blueberry (think blueberry syrup, not fresh blueberries.) As the evening progressed, it began to taste a bit like an Ocean Spray Cran-Something Cocktail which sounds bad but wasn’t. This was a very tasty wine.

The 2005 Kiona Lemberger is a fantastic take on this popular Eastern European grape. Kiona was the first winery in the US to plant Lemberger back in the 1970s and they’ve been rocking the stuff ever since. This particular wine sits somewhere between a Cabernet and a Merlot with flavors of dark fruit like blackberries and cherry. This silky smooth wine also has a killer finish (how long the flavors stay in your mouth after you swallow).

100% oak aged Red Mountain, this wine has prominent aromatics of dark fruit and plum, with hints of spice and leather as a backdrop. A gorgeous deep color leads to a nice, drinkable medium mouthfeel with a taste of tart pomegranate or cranberry and a bit of spice on the finish.



Walter Glatzer Blaufränkisch
(Austria, Carnuntum; this is not their more expensive "Reserve" botling.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
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• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

A perennial best buy is the varietal Blaufrankisch from the Carnuntum's Walter Glatzer, an organic producer whose wines seem to reflect an ever greater confidence in and awareness of the potential of his vineyards. In 2009, the pepper and earth-scented Blaufrankisch offers flavors of beef stock, leather, and darker fruits. There is remarkable distinctiveness, purity, and balance that make it simply impossible to resist a second sip! With air, the wine adds dimensions of cedar, licorice, and a more complex melange of spices. This is a producer who deserves every discerning consumer's ardent attention, as Glatzer's wines offer much sensual and intellectual satisfaction at exceedingly reasonable prices. 89 points.

Pepper and spice notes accent this soft, ripe and full-bodied wine with forward black-fruit flavors. It exhibits typical Blaufränkisch characteristics of leather and pepper to go with the fruits, but this rich wine is not for aging. Drink now. Screwcap. 87 points.

♣ Wine Spectator (28 February 1998), 87 points.

A touch reduced. A touch of bonfire smoke. Nice, ripe, solid black fruit beneath, rounded with a sense of plum and cherry acidity. 12 months in used barriques. 87/100.

The Glatzer Blaufränkisch 2007 offers a glowing medium ruby hue typical of the wines; despite their air of intensity and earthiness, the colors remain pleasingly moderate yet radiant. . . The rooty, earthy bouquet, definitely a child of the loam, is characterized by piercing slate-like minerality, notes of briers and brambles, blueberries and mulberries. In the mouth, the wine is warm and spicy, smooth and mellow, like an autumnal punch, and bursting with flavors of red and black currants and more blueberries. There are no edges here, except for a tingling backbone of clean acidity; the finish brings in hints of nettles, dry leaves and cloves. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Very Good+.

[T]here are always some apparent exceptions to even a well-founded generalization, and . . . the ones with which I am most familiar that succeed in a fruity, forward, relatively reductive style [include] Glatzer (from the same Carnuntum region wast of Vienna).

Plenty of smoky, dark fruit flavors but a tad oaky as well.

A rustic nose, with blueberry flavors. Finishes short, with acidity that’s on the edge of too much.

Dark ruby color; red berry, oak, cinnamon nose; red berry, oak, cinnamon palate; medium-plus finish. 87+ points



Anton Iby "Classic" Blaufränkisch
(Austria, Mittelburgenland.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

The 2010 IBY Blaufrankisch Classic begins with a really wonderful fruity aroma with tons of berry and a little baking spice. The wine also tastes very fruity with a plethora of berry flavors -- mainly cranberry, red cherry, blueberry and blackberry along with some pepper and spice. This is a lighter bodied example of the variety and might even be good slightly chilled. It ends with more fruit and a nice medium-long finish. Taste Rating: 8; Cost Rating: 5; Overall Rating: 7.3. Recommended Buy.

This wine revealed tart red berries, some blue fruits, and a little bit of herbs. There are some notes of pepper and spice. The prickly acidity enlivens the wine. There is a good aftertaste. This is a refreshing wine that may be drunk in the near term though the back label suggests it will age for 3-6 years.

Earthy, pleasing flavors of berries and minerals with a touch of oak and earth.

Appropriately, this blaufränkisch smells ummmm…. blue. Like blue violets that is. It’s very floral on the nose and, dare I say, delightful. The floral aromatics are backed up with spicy berries. In the mouth, it’s a nice, medium-bodied wine, offering raspberry, white pepper and plum flavors. It has a touch of tannin, giving some texture to the mouthfeel. The finish is medium in length with berry, mushroom and salty mineral flavors. This is a very fun wine.

This is fresh and easy to drink, its bright red fruit flavors held in place by silky tannins and taut, racy acidity. 89 Points.

This is certainly classic Blaufränkisch, showing an herbal character, plus notes of ripe red plum and beetroot, with a firmly tannic edge. The wine is already in balance and can be consumed now. Screwcap. 87 points.

The 2009 IBY Horitschon Blaufränkisch Classic lulled us into submission with its soft, yet energetic, juicy raspberry flavor, and delighted us with its very approachable velvety-smooth tannins. If you’re a fan of Old-World Pinot Noir and have never tried an Austrian Blaufränkisch before, this ‘Classic’ should sing a sweet tune for you! 3 Stars out of 4 for the 2009 IBY Horitschon Blaufränkisch Classic. The back label suggests decanting this wine for 0-3 hours. We drank less than half the bottle on the first night and put a piece of Saran wrap and aluminum foil over the decanter opening. On day #2, it was even better!

This wine is 100% Blaufrankisch sourced from 3-30 year old vines. It was aged for seven months in large Austrian casks. Tasted over two nights there were brighter black cherry fruit with a good core of fruit running through. The flavors were a touch tart at first with mild notes of pomegranate and citrus. With air a hint of blue fruit came out and the wine became chewy.



For a Splurge

There are a couple of likely candidates; we chose the one with slightly greater availability, the Gernot and Heike Heinrich Alter Berg Blaufränkisch.

• That wine at 1000 Corks
• That wine at Wine Searcher
• Its Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.
• Its CellarTracker pages.

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