Blaufränkisch

Schnaitmann, Fellbacher Lämmler, Lemberger GG, 2009

Württemberg is not one of the wine regions the average wine drinker will know much about; most likely they will not even have heard about it. Now, I could tell you a that it is a rather interesting area - a red wine making region dominated by a plethora of growers associations and rivers - but the main reason I like to drink wines made by the local tribe of the Swabians is that I was born there. In fact, as a child I played not far from Rainer Schnaitmann's Lämmler vineyard.

So every now and then I need to go back, to check what my homies are up to.

Daniel Häcker, Lemberger (litre), 2011

Northwest of Stuttgart, there is a land of wooded hills and industrious little towns called the Stromberg. In the Stromberg, there is the tiny village of Schönenberg. In Schönenberg, there is an Inn called Lamm, the lamb. There, I've had some of the best, most unpretentious Swabian regional food of my life, and took away this bottle of home-produced Lemberger. Price tag: below 4 €.

Philipp Kuhn, Cuveé Luitmar, 2008

So there you sit in Tuscany, enjoying the evening sun and sipping on your Sangiovese blend - oh, wait! It is not Tuscany but the German wine growing region of the Pfalz (Palatinate) and you are not drinking a Chianti but a German red. Sounds unlikely? Well, unlikely it may be but certainly not impossible: Pfalz winemaker Philipp Kuhn is well known for his red wines and one of them, the Cuveé Luitmar, is indeed made of Sangiovese.

Not just Sangiovese but also Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch (also known as Lemberger) - not exactly what you would expect from a German wine...

torsten Thursday, 26/09/2013

Weingut Prieler, Leithaberg rot, 2005

Seven years is not a biblical age for a bottle serious red wine, but the Austrian wine scene being obsessed with youth and each new vintage, it is not quite so easy to find older bottles of interesting Austrian reds. Except if you manage to navigate this Wine Rambler's tiny cramped cellar. Recently, I got lucky down there, and found this. Upon seeing the label and suddenly remembering having bought it all those years ago, I made the executive decision that its time had come. It had that in common with the goose who had lost her life for Martinmas and was about to be cooked with some apples and red cabbage.

Leithaberg shining out of the murk:

The Leithaberg is a range of low hills northwest of Lake Neusiedl that a few winemakers from Austria's Burgenland region discovered for its cooler, steeper vineyards after they had become bored by the powerfully fruity, but somewhat complacent wines to be made from their lakeside plots.

Weingut Merkle, Ochsenbacher Liebenberg, Lemberger Spätlese trocken, Barrique, 2008

When last encountered on this blog, the plucky little Württemberg winery of Georg and Anja Merkle was in the immediate aftermath of a damaging freak frost. I reported on the brave face that Georg and Anja Merkle put on what was a serious (and completely undeserved) setback, as well as on their philosophy of quality winemaking (you'll find the full story here). It seemed to me then, as I tasted my way through their portfolio, and I tried to put this very politely in the article, that their red wines especially might be pushing too hard. Too hard for power, too hard for concentration, that, impressive as they are, they may sometimes have left lightness and charm behind in order to run with the big boys.

As it so happens, I found the biggest boy of those I took home with me last year still sitting in my cellar, silently flexing his muscles. So is it time for another look, and maybe a reassessment?

Winkler-Hermaden, Cuvée Caphenstein, 2009

It's nearly time to end my self-imposed quasi-lent (punctured as it was by a Wine Rambler committee meeting and its inevitable by-effects), and to get myself back in the mood for wine (as if that needed any extra effort), so let me report on an enjoyable discovery from last autumn: From Austria's southern Steiermark region, to be precise, a lovely corner of Europe with rolling green hills and scattered villages. It is predominantly a white wine producer, with emphasis on Sauvignon Blanc, which they do excellently, and aromatic varieties like Muscat and Traminer. But there is also red, and some of it is seriously good.

This basic red blend from the Winkler-Hemaden winery takes its name from the Castle where they reside. It's made up of Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent, two more or less indigenous grapes, and some Merlot for the ladies and the more internationally trained palates. Good mixture?

Weingut Kistenmacher & Hengerer, Lemberger Alte Reben, 2008

I confess that I read my co-Rambler Torsten's fine report on the marketing of German wine in the UK with the kind of sinking feeling that comes over me when faced with the strange irreality of wine marketing - a loop of popular perceptions created by marketing trends, which then need to be catered for by even cleverer marketing, a sense that I found nicely captured in Andrew Connor's comment as well. But how to leave the loop behind? By trying some goddamn German wine, instead of "German wine". Recently, we have been looking a lot at Württemberg, land of the engineers and car-parts manufacturers, and recently also the country's environmentalist stronghold, for that kind of new blood and new places. An example of how much can be achieved outside the classic growing areas, and outside pre-defined stylistic moulds, is the Kistenmacher-Hengerer winery of Heilbronn, a smallish town on the river Neckar.

So you're not quite prepared yet to move your Piesporter Goldtröpfchens and your Bernkasteler Doktors aside to make room in your cellar for this? Well then, here is our review:

Anita & Hans Nittnaus, Blaufränkisch Leithaberg, 2006

If the wine world were a fair place, I would not have to draw your attention to what should by rights be an iconic bottle of Austrian red wine. But I'm happy to: Anita and Hans Nittnaus are founding members of the Pannobile group of wine growers - the name is a combination of "Pannonia" (the historical and geographical name of the east Austrian and Hungarian plain) and the Latin word for "noble". When Austria was first working her way out of the hole it had dug herself with the infamous 1985 adulterated wine scandal with a whole new generation of wines, Hans Nittnaus's reds were hailed as revelations. Then, since the late 1990s, they were increasingly eclipsed by bolder, bigger, heavier-hitting bottles.

This gave him some pause, naturally, and eventually made him adjust his style. Not, however, and to his everlasting credit, in the direction that the wind seemed to be blowing, towards more oak that is, more concentration, and all the latest blinking cellar technology. Instead, Nittnaus went back to the future, towards purity of fruit, drinkability and precise varietal character. A case in point - the 2006 Leithaberg:

Philipp Kuhn, Mano Negra, 2007

Wow, this doesn't look very German! - with these words an English friend of mine greeted Philipp Kuhn's Mano Negra. I opened this bottle recently at a small tasting I had organised for friends. Most had never tried a German red, and none had ever seen anything (German) quite so intense in colour. This cuvée of Blaufränkisch (literally 'Blue Frankish) and Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the Pfalz, a region that keeps impressing me with its variety of exciting red wines.

Reichsgraf und Marquis zu Hoensbroech, Blauer Limberger, 2007

Nice try, Reichsgraf zu Hoensbroech, but you cannot fool the ever-alert Wine Rambler! We know that your whimsically named "Blauer Limberger" is no other grape than Lemberger, known in Austria as - say it with me - Blaufränkisch. In Germany, Lemberger has its home in Württemberg, to which the Reichsgraf's Baden sub-region of Kraichgau is very close.