Sunday, January 30, 2011

Kékfrankos versus Blaufränkisch at the Austro-Hungarian Tasting

The Second Flight at the Austro-Hungarian wine tasting was titled Hungarian Kékfrankos and Austrian Blaufränkisch and was designed to illustrate the "differences in terroir, climate and vinification" inherent in the offered wines.  Blaufränkisch and Kékfrankos are the respective names given to the same grape variety in Austria and Hungary, respectively (The same varietal is called Lemberger in Germany).

The wines tasted in this flight were: Heiman Estate - Baranya-völgyi Kékfrankos 2007; Gábor Karner Vitéxföld Kékfrankos 2007, Mátra; Ráspi Esatet - Gneis Kékfrankos 2007; Imre Kaló - Kékfrankos 2002; Weingut Krutzler Blaufränkisch Perwolff 2008, Südburgenland; Weingut Albert Gesselmann Blaufrnkisch Hochberc 2007, Mittelburgenland; Weingut Esterhazy Blaufränkisch Föllig 2008, Burgenland; Weingut Prieler Blaufränkisch Goldberg 1999, Burgenland.

Both Hungary and Austria have continental climates (hot summers, cold winters) and both have areas of the country where this climate is moderated by proximity to Lake Neusiedl.  The wines, with the exception of the 2008 Weingut Kutzler (95% Blaufränkisch, 5% Caberrnet Sauvignon), were all 100% varietal and all were made from grapes sourced from single-vineyard sites.  The Hungarian wines were from older vines (average age 47.5 years) than were the Austrian wines (average age 17 years).  While the soils in both sets of vineyards appear to have substantive limestone content, the soil in the Hungarian vineyards appear to have a high clay content while the Austrian soil seems to have more rock.

Hand picking of grapes was practiced at all of the wineries but there were clear differences in the fermentation and maturation processes both within and between countries.  No specific trends could be pinpointed for fermentation with the process occurring variously in concrete tanks, open vats, closed vats, and temperature-controlled, stainless steel tanks among others.  As regards maturation, the Hungarian wineries utilized Hungarian oak casks of varying sizes while two of the Austrian wineries used small oak barrels and a third split the juice between large oak casks and steel vats.  The wines were aged longer in Hungary (an average of 36 months) than in Austria (an average of 15 months).

2007 was a hot, dry year and the Hungarian grapes ripened fully, as can be seen by the average 14% abv and dark fruit aromas and flavors in the wine.  The Austrian Weingut Albert Gesellman was also from the 2007 vintage and also registered alcohol levels of 14%.   2008 was a late-ripening vintage and, combined with younger vines, resulted in slightly higher acidity in the Austrian wines from that vintage. The presence of oak was more evident in the Esterhazy and Prieler wines from Austria than in any of the other wines.  Those two wines were aged in small oak barrels (100% new in the Esterhazy case) while the others were aged in large oak casks. The relative performance of both the aged Blaufränkisch and Kékfrankos wines attest to the ageability of wines made from this varietal.

This flight was designed to highlight the effect of differences in climate, terroir, and vinification on the same varietal as produced in the two countries.  As far as I know, the climate is broadly similar in Hungary and Austria and, as such, would not be a major differentiating factor.  As a matter of fact, 2007 was a hot year and that fact is reflected in the complete ripening of the varietal in both countries and alcohol levels of 14% in the finished wine. There were no consistently different vinification practices between the estates from the two countries. In the aging of the wines, two of the Austrian producers stand out as using small oak barrels for maturation and aging and those wines do reflect a more tightly wound access to oak.

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