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Red fruit and spice from Austria

Wine of the week: ’01 Blaufränkisch Gfanger a good food partner
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I doubt the new governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, would have raised a glass of anything other than a good California wine after his inauguration this week. Although it might have been seen as politically incorrect, the Austrian-born governor could have also done nicely with a glass or two from the old country — a crisp, aromatic Grüner Veltliner, perhaps, for a white, or a spicy Blaufränkisch if he were in the mood for a red. Indeed, the wines of Austria are well worth seeking out.

While Gruner Veltliner has been getting some buzz as a well-qualified alternative to Chardonnay, Blaufränkisch (translation: Blue Frank) is a first-rate food wine still waiting to be discovered, or re-discovered, as I did a couple of weekends ago with Paul Lehrner’s 2001 Blaufränkisch Gfanger, named for the specific vineyard in which the grapes are grown. In fact, I would not hesitate to add it to my list, in last week’s column, of worthy Thanksgiving wines.

My reacquaintance began, not with wine, but with a plan to see a movie. In typical fashion, I showed up at the theater five minutes ahead of time and acted surprised, New Yorker that I am, that the film was sold out. Fortunately, there is always wine shopping, and 67 Wines & Spirits was just up the street for a little browsing.

Over toward a corner of the second floor, past the reds of Oregon, California, Chile, Argentina, France, Italy and Australia, sat four or five from Austria, including the Lehrner Blaufränkisch at $13. Bart Hopkins, a buyer for the store who knows I look for the unusual, pointed them out with a slight tentativeness. It wasn’t a hard sell.

The fun thing about wine — the essential thing, really — is how you match it with food. Blaufränkisch is a spicy, perfect-for-fall wine that will drink nicely with a range of hearty foods, from a peppery steak to Italian sausage tossed with garlic in pasta, to turkey to various cheeses and pizza.

Surprisingly light in color — its appearance reminded me of a Beaujolais — the Lehrner comes on decisively with a heady aroma of berry fruit and herbs followed by cherry, blueberry and raspberry notes in the mouth. The finish is long and peppery. This is a unique wine, light on one hand, layered and complex on the other. The style? Terry Theise, an importer who is something of a deity in the German and Austrian wine world, describes Lehrner’s reds this way:

“It’s an adult style of red wine, emphasizing fruit over tannin and structure over everything else.” He adds that the wine “must be refreshing, not fatiguing and is bored by bombast or opacity.” I would say those are pretty much words to live by when it comes to producing good wine.

The Lehrner property is in the Mittelburgenland region, which borders Hungary and is red wine country, more or less, most of it devoted to Blaufränkisch, with lesser amounts of St. Laurent (another traditional variety), Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Lehrner’s Blaufränkisch Gfanger is attractive, original and well priced. Full of fruit and spice, it’s a dare-to-be-different wine that will intrigue your guests during the holidays.